Question: What do the best RGB lights for gamers, YouTubers, Streamers and forward-thinking interior design aficionados have in common? Answer: They’re probably all from Nanoleaf.
If you’re on the hunt for RGB lights that effortlessly span the gap between functional illumination and art installation, then you’re in the right place.
Coloured lights are the single most magical thing you can put in your room – change my mind! Granted, I’ve had a lighting obsession since I was but a whipper-snapper, but RGB lighting has never been so revered and loved as it is today. Not only has it permeated the gaming and creative cultures, being used to devastating effect on platforms like YouTube and Twitch, but it’s also guaranteed to turn your real-world walls from drab to FAB.
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In the modern world of RGB illumination, Nanoleaf is royalty - from its range of ‘Essentials’, including smart, extremely energy-efficient lightbulbs and a party-ready lightstrip, to its piece-de-resistance range of interlocking light panels. These offer full RGB, touch control and the ability to display myriad lighting presets, mirror your screen colours and even sync to your music through an internal mic!
If that sounds like an info overload, don’t worry. In this article I’ll break down the very best RGB lights that Nanoleaf have to offer, listing the features and specs and, by the end, apologising for the hit on your bank balance… sorry in advance!
Who is Nanoleaf?
This innovative company formed in 2012 and soon released Nanoleaf One, the world’s most energy-efficient, and steam punkesque-looking, lightbulb.
Fast forward five years and a brace of additional, equally impressive lightbulbs, and Nanoleaf launched Light Panels in 2016; a cross between an art installation and functional illumination with the ethos of ‘LEGO as lighting’. Not only are they design geniuses, they also quickly carved themselves a niche in the world of YouTube, gaming and funky interiors thanks to some incredible products.
After opening these products to the global market in 2017, they’ve strengthened this LEGO approach, adding innovative features, quirky new designs and enhancing desirability across the board. Also, since the company’s About Us page teases ‘This is just the beginning…’, there’s plenty to get excited about.
Let’s start off with the essentials – literally. Getting the obvious out of the way, this lightbulb lets you choose from 16 million colours and features voice control with Google Assistant or Apple Homekit, which is all pretty standard these days.
Strangely, it won’t connect to Alexa, though it is one of the first Thread-enabled smart bulbs to hit the market (for more on this, see our Shapes overview below).
It also features Bluetooth connectivity, though I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a noticeable lag. If you don’t fancy voice control, the Nanoleaf app is packed with control features and lets you dim the brightness, set your colour of choice or even select Scenes, which will have your bulb cycle through a series of complementary colours to set the mood. You can even set custom schedules – a staple of smart bulbs.
If you want to upgrade your bulb and your mood, circadian lighting is on offer. Changing the white balance to match the natural light to the time of day, it’s designed to balance the body’s internal rhythm as if you were basking in natural light. It’s a genuinely nice touch that you never knew you needed.
Of course, if you wanted to keep it traditional then you can do that too. It’s happy to be set to white, anywhere in its 2700-6500k range, and it will offer up a maximum 1100 lumens – which is bright. It’s rated to offer at least 25,000 hours of light, is incredibly energy efficient and, importantly, comes in both screw and bayonet fitting.
Granted, Thread aside, there’s nothing here that’s cutting edge compared to similar bulbs on the market. That said, when you consider the Philips Hue offering is over twice the price, it becomes an extremely tempting buy…
Probably the hardest sell in the entire range. Lightstrips have carved a popular niche in modern times, largely thanks to sites like Amazon being flooded with basic kits that can be picked up relatively cheaply.
They’re a great way to illuminate compact areas that require a little finesse (I use mine to light up a series of box shelves for example). So, the fact that the Nanoleaf Lightstrip comes in lengths of only 1 or 2m and costs over £45+ means that it needs to be pretty special.
Luckily, it is rather special. First up, you get the common 16m+ range of colours, a very bright 2000 lumens white light that can be set between 2700 and 6500k, and a reassuringly chunky design.
As with other strips, it comes with a peel-off sticky back – courtesy of 3M - to attach to the surface of your choice, a controller box that sits between your 1.8m power lead and the start of the strip itself, and gives you basic physical control over brightness and colour changing. Each strip is also topped off with a connector that allows you to add extensions (1 and 2m options are available) and increase the length to suit your needs up to 10m.
What really makes this shine is the ability to download Scenes – as found in all entries on this review. Scenes command your Lightstrip to alternate between colours at differing speeds and in different orders, and can be either created or downloaded from the wide range of user-uploaded options on the app.
It’s a vast step above the tacky, dare I say vulgar, disco flashing of my cheaper set. Just like the A60 light bulb, you can hook this up to your Apple HomeKit or Google Assistant (still no Alexa) or use your Thread-ready Apple 4K TV or HomePod Mini for the ultimate control experience.
So, while the price is undeniably higher than your run of the mill alternatives, it offers a vastly better user experience. Plus, it’s still cheaper than other tech-packed alternatives.
Now we’re getting into cool country! Not that the first two aren’t cool in their own right, of course, but the following products are one step beyond. The Shapes range – as the name suggests – are panels that include multiple LED lights and come in a couple of different shapes and sizes that offer a lot of similarities and complete interconnectivity…COMPLETE interconnectivity!
However, there are a few small differences that are worth noting. Before we look at the individual breakdown, I’m going to explain what the similarities are to make your choice easier… or maybe even harder.
All Shapes offer a full 16m+ RGB colour gamut with a GRI of 80 - if you’re into colour accuracy. The basic ‘white’ light can be set between 1200-6500k and, depending on your choice, belts out up to 100 lumens – which is thankfully dimmable.
You also draw on the benefits of LED with a 25,000-hour life. Another feature to point out is the fact that a single controller unit can command 500 panels, though you’ll need to attach an additional power supply per every 21 or so panels, depending on your choice.
They all offer the same features too. Music Sync allows an internal mic to pick up and react to sounds, like a wall-mounted graphic equaliser. You can create or download different colour Scenes (or Motions for the Music Sync feature) to customise the effect to your personal taste.
The Screen Mirror feature is guaranteed to fully immerse gamers into their play of choice. Downloading Nanoleaf’s desktop app will allow the panels to pick up the screen colours and display accordingly.
This feature is only available for Windows or MacOS - no consoles. If you think this sounds cool, believe me, you’re not thinking hard enough, it’s epic! Star Wars Squadrons is a personal highlight, and the company even released a starship layout schematic to celebrate the launch.
All Shapes include Connect+, which basically means you can mix’n’match as much as you like. Want to add some Triangles to your Hexagons, then top it all off with some Mini Triangles? Go for it. They also boast Touch Control, which can be split into three distinct parts.
The first is reactive. Tap, double-tap or swipe on a panel and it will respond by cycling through Scenes, adjusting brightness or one of the other programmable commands. The second, possibly cooler, is the ability to set actions using Apple Homekit. This means you can set individual panels to activate or interact with other smart devices, like lights, kettles or any other smart device you’ve linked up. Lastly, you can download games from the app.
These include Simon Says, Whack A Mole and Pacman. I probably won’t be using this feature much, but it’s still a great three-pint talking point, and gives a huge amount of depth if you’re using them in a child’s room for instance.
I also want to give a special shoutout to the app. In this day and age of poor UI and the necessity to pump out any old tripe to be relevant, Nanoleaf has actually put some serious thought into theirs.
Not only is it simple enough to manage and set up your kit, but it’s also got one of the most intuitive dashboards when it comes to controlling your lighting rigs. Furthermore, you can design your own new lighting Scenes from Nanoleaf or download pre-created ones from the wider Nanoleaf community. You can fine-tune your panels, calibrate them and set schedules or actions to really flesh out that true smart home feeling. It really is a breath of fresh air and simply works the way it should.
Talking of the Scenes, they are the icing on the cake that really makes Nanoleaf the Mayor of lighting town. They’re presets that tell your Nanoleaf how to act in terms of display colours and cycle speed.
Some gently phase between colours, while others offer the kind of trip you’d be familiar with if you were big into the 90s German techno scene. While you can create your own – I haven’t been brave enough yet – you can also use the Discover tab on the app to browse the many user-uploaded options.
This lets you trial it first to see if you’re feeling the vibe. You can then download it to live on your list for instant activation. It probably doesn’t sound like much, but give it 24 hours and I guarantee you’ll have a favourite. Personally, I adore the soft neon thrills of Cyberpunk, but I’m also partial to a bit of Blurple.
Finally, they all allow for integration with the usual range of smart hubs. You can hook up with Homekit, Alexa and Google Assistant. They’re also compatible with IFTTT – so much fun to be had – the Nanoleaf Remote, Razer, Synapse, SmartThings and Homey. If that’s not enough, a future firmware update will give them the ability to become thread border routers, which is set to be the smart home tech of the future.
If you don’t know Thread, it’s basically a new tech network that swaps out traditional smart hubs in favour of your personal devices and allows every enabled device to be its own router, passing that signal on and extending your network reach in the process. However, at the time of writing, it’s only supported by the new Apple 4K TV and HomePod Mini.
Now that we’ve got everything out of the way, let’s look at some of the coolest things you can buy this decade.
Offering everything we’ve stated above, the Triangles are an update of the original Panels range, which I personally invested in, that launched the lighting LEGO ethos. As suggested, they’re triangular in shape (Equilateral if you’re a curious math nerd) and fit together with the included Connect+ links.
Each panel is 0.6cm thick, 20cm tall and 23cm wide – so equilateral-ish. They weigh a svelte 141g each and attach via the included double-sided sticky pads, requiring 3 per triangle. Each side has two connection ports – 6 in total – allowing for a large range of layout options.
In terms of brightness, these offer the second-highest output, behind the Hexagons, bathing you in a glorious 80 lumens per panel. They have the full range of features listed above, including the full 16m+ colour gamut, Screen Mirror, Touch Control and Music Sync, and each shape has an energy consumption of 1.5w. I’m not an electrical, or practical in any way at all, but I’m assuming that’s pretty low thanks to the LED design.
Like a majority of the range, with the exception of Elements, you can link up to 500 Triangles per controller, but you will need multiple power supplies, with Nanoleaf stating that one plug can support 28 panels (this changes if you mix different Shapes, but the website has a handy PSU calculator). That said, if you live in a house with a wall big enough to fit 500 of these things on, we’re guessing you didn’t skimp on plug sockets.
The kit I’m testing comes with nine panels, as well as the controller, sticky pads, connectors, power supply and handy 2.5m cable. However, you can also buy a four and 15-strong kit, as well as expansion packs from £49.99 or replacement panels from £12.99. You can even buy Flex Linkers, allowing you to build around corners or put some physical space in your designs.
As above, these Hexagons are, at their core, identical to the Triangles. You get the 16m+ colour range, full integration with the range of smart hubs and the cool features like Screen Mirror, Touch Control and Music Sync. They’re built with Connect+, meaning you can mix’n’match with the other Shapes – and even Elements – and are available in kits of 5, 9 and 15.
You’d imagine the different shape means a slight change in dimensions, right? Nope. Amazingly, despite the physical difference, they’re still 0.6cm deep, 20cm tall and 23cm across. However, they weigh a little more, with each unit topping the scales at 208g – meaty!
Each side offers a single connection port, making 6 in total. The biggest change here is the fact that it gains an extra 20 lumens, offering 100 versus the Triangle’s 80. It’s not huge, but these are exceptionally bright and can be used as both an ambient light with the range of colours or by dimming the output, as well as your main light if you place them sensibly enough.
As with the Triangles, Thread support is built-in and, at time of writing, is just awaiting the firmware update to enable the functionality. And while you’re still able to join 500 panels with a single controller, the Hexagons have a slightly thirstier 2W consumption and a single power supply can only support 21 Hexagons before you need to bring another plug onboard.
One thing we love is the in-app Layout Assistant which offers augmented reality to preview your designs before you go all Blue Peter with the double-sided sticky tape. Not only can you set your desired pattern and see it, real-time, in the space of your choosing, but it’s smart enough to let you mix the various Shapes to give you the full effect – a real godsend!
What? Triangles again? Kirk, you’ve been staring into the light too long! No, I’m not going LED-loco, these are mini triangles. Only available as a five-panel starter kit (or as a 10-strong expansion kit minus the controller), these are great to add an accent of colour to smaller spaces.
As the above image shows, you can also consider them the pebbles that bring together the larger building blocks in a stone wall– sorry, I’ve been binging Clarkson’s Farm #teamGerald!
Sticking with their Mini moniker, they measure a mere 11.5cm wide and 10cm high, though are still 0.6cm thick. They tip the scales at a teeny 40g and boast a trimmed down 3 connection points – one per side.
Despite the diminutive size, they still offer the same level of functionality as the rest of the Shapes range. You get Music Sync, Screen Mirror and Touch Control. They’ll still give you 25,000 hours of light, are fully dimmable and work with the full suite of virtual assistants.
One thing that does scale down is the power output, with the Minis only capable of 22 lumens. It’s by far the dimmest offering here, but it’s more than enough for a touch of neon accent lighting.
As I mentioned, they’re more about adding to the aesthetic than casting a floodlight over your space. However, although they offer the lowest output per panel, you can actually connect a whopping 77 per single power supply, which will more than makeup for any brightness shortcoming.
The Canvas is an interesting proposition. Coming before the concept of Connect+ was introduced, these are standalone squares that mirror the rest of the line but won’t intermingle. You still get the full gamut of 16m+ colours, a reasonable - but not as bright – maximum 44 lumens output per panel and a 25,000-hour life.
They’re compatible with your normal smart assistants, such as Apple, Amazon and Google, but also with the Nanoleaf Remote, Razer Synapse, SmartThings and Homey. You can also loop them into your favourite IFTTT routines if you’re an advanced smart home fanatic.
Like the rest of the Shapes range, these panels offer screen mirroring with the desktop app, in-built Music Sync and the same level of Touch Control as well as Touch Actions with your Apple HomeKit device.
Though half the power output of the Hexagons and Triangles, it’s more than enough for a visually arresting ambient light and shines whether you’re planning on using them for your YouTube recording space or kids bedroom as a fun interactive design.
The square build, which measures 15x15cm with a slightly chunkier 1cm depth, also brings a host of new layout possibilities that can’t be easily found with the rest of the line-up. They also incorporate the controller directly into the panel.
You can run the power lead straight into the side and a dedicated Canvas gives you the full range of controls along the edge, though it can be a bit fiddly as you’re starting out. Pretty incredible if you consider that they still support up to 500 units per controller (how big is your wall?), with a respectable 25 limit per power supply.
While you may not be able to incorporate these with the Nanoleaf products, and the intuitive touch features can now be found across the newer Shapes range, there’s no denying the appeal to those who want to keep their designs clean and geometric. Honestly, the Canvas are still well worth a look in 2021.
Consider this Nanoleaf for grown-ups. In fact, drawing its inspiration from ‘bringing natural elements indoors’, consider this the 21st-century version of lounging on the rug of an alpine lodge, bathing in the glow of a warm fire. With a wood-effect finish, these hexagons strip back on the RGB colour options and screen mirroring mode of the Shapes, opting instead to provide a choice of warm or cool light,
Dynamic Glowing Effect and ethos that states: smart tech infused with lighting design. Imagine wood-panelling that emits a gentle maximum of 22 lumens of light. It’s not the brightest here, but consider this part art deco, part ambient lighting that will tie a room together tighter than the Dude’s rug.
Keeping with the LEGO ethos, you can connect these together in any way you wish (Nanoleaf has plenty of suggestions if you require some inspiration though, and you can use the AR Layout Assistant to pre-plan). Unlike the other options, which allow 500 panels per controller, the Elements whittle it back to a respectable 80 with a maximum of 22 per power supply.
They also retain the touch control, allowing you to perform the usual range of gestures and actions. Plus, there’s the ability to use voice control via Homekit, Alexa, Assistant, IFTTT and SmartThings, though not the Remote, strangely.
While I love the high-octane neon draw of the flashier – literally - line-up, this unique product is an interesting proposition. Evoking the nostalgia of 70s Scandinavia with a high-tech twist, you can use them to create ‘calming nature-inspired scenes’ like a crackling fireplace and gently moving clouds.
This is largely due to the Corner Control function that lets each corner function independently to create shimmering effects. You also have access to 11 scenes off the bat, or you can create your own to really make the experience unique.
A nice touch is the fact that it’s built with Connect+, meaning it will work with any of the other Shapes range if you wanted to get experimental. Granted, it won’t belt out every colour under the rainbow, but it will phase between a warm 1500 and cooler 4000k to match the other hues being pumped out, even with the Music Sync mode if that’s something you’re in to.
While the Shapes or Canvas are some of the coolest things I’ve ever tested - in a very satisfying, flash way - Elements is one of the classiest. And if you want an installation that fulfils the talking point quota, while offering something unique, beautiful and evocative, then this is designed specifically for you.
Are there any downsides?
Well, this wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t get a bit ruthless and pick out some of the niggles I’ve found. Honestly, there aren’t many, but…
• Price: Yes, they aren’t cheap. But, for what you get, they’re more than reasonable. Not only do they offer a futuristic lighting rig that’s fully customisable, adds an extra dimension to any room and are often bright enough to illuminate your entire room, but they’re also as cool as they are unique.
• Sticky pads: This one stings on a personal level. One of the main complaints you’ll see in the reviews is the strength of the sticky pads. Personally, I’ve got mine in my summer house office, which is literally an insulated pine sauna – figuratively. The heat in here gets unbearable in summer and I fell afoul of melting pads, coming in to find my entire layout crumpled on the floor.
That said, it’s testament to the build quality that everything worked perfectly after I invested in some extra-strong Gorilla double-sided tape that’s resistant to 100 degrees! If you’re putting this in a sensibly temperate room, I think you’ll be fine as long as you follow the instructions.
• It’s only 2.4Ghz: This one may or may not cause you headaches. I’m using a powerline wi-fi extender, and by default my network is running on 5Ghz. Sadly, Nanoleaf isn’t compatible with 5Ghz, deciding to stick with 2.4Ghz only.
This isn’t a huge issue since I can switch my phone to my backup network that’s 2.4Ghz and carry on regardless. However, if you aren’t savvy in this area and find yourself with a 5ghz setup, you’re going to have to do some googling to get it talking to your network and open up the app functionality.
• Scenes don’t transfer: I’m a big fan of Scenes. I spent hours testing and downloading as many as I could. Naturally, this means my original Light Panels have a lot of Scenes stored in the app. While the feature to download to individual, multiple or all devices is great, I can’t seem to transfer them over easily.
This means I now have to go and download my treasured Blurple and co all over again! Not a big thing, especially as most people won’t have multiple light setups, but something I’d welcome nonetheless.
The true test of quality for a reviewer is whether you’d spend your own money on the product. That’s a simple test for me since I invested in the original Panels Rhythm kit before I lined up this review.
Apart from the very small niggles above, I don’t have a bad word to say about them. They offer something almost completely unique, are built to a very high standard and can genuinely span all walks of life and tastes. There really is something for everyone.
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