Nanoleaf light panels review: An easy way to join in the mood lighting craze

by Peter Griffin / 25 July, 2018
The Nanoleaf Aurora can help set the tone in a room, rather than provide direct light. Photo / supplied

The Nanoleaf Aurora can help set the tone in a room, rather than provide direct light. Photo / supplied

The LED-powered mood lighting craze is gradually taking hold in Kiwi lounges as a growing selection of networked lighting devices offer eye-pleasing alternatives to the bog standard light bulb.

LEDs or light emitting diodes have become the go-to technology for lighting in the last decade - they emit light behind your TV screen and smartphone display and are increasingly replacing less efficient incandescent bulbs and halogen lamps in homes and offices everywhere.

LEDs, which can fit into many existing light sockets, tend to be a bit more expensive to buy, but consume less power and have a long life - typically up to 15,000 hours or 13 years if used for three hours a day, according to Consumer New Zealand, which has put together a helpful guide to buying LEDs.

You can pick up an LED bulb for around $3, so they are an efficient, cheap means of lighting your home.

But the way LEDs can be configured and controlled digitally to give numerous lighting options has been coupled with the Internet of Things movement to put a lighting dashboard on your smartphone.

LED bulbs like the Philips Hue range (from $50 per bulb) are fully networked wirelessly and can be controlled with voice controls using Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Mood lighting to the max

Taking the theme further is the Nanoleaf Aurora, lighting which features interconnecting LED panels to let you deck out rooms of your home with custom-designed lighting. The beauty of Nanoleaf’s Aurora is that it is just like setting up any new consumer electronics device, it doesn’t require the help of an electrician or even any technical knowledge to set up.

The LED panels can produce 6.7 million colours. Photo / supplied

There are a lot of LED lighting strip kitsets for sale online, but most of them require more convoluted set-up and rely on a dedicated controller rather than an app on your phone.

With the Aurora Smarter Kit you get nine triangular LED panels and a controller which lets you toggle power on and off and flick through lighting themes. The LEDs measure 25cm along each side and are 8mm thick. They can produce 6.7 million colours, a feature that comes into its own as you start playing with the colour palette on your smartphone to configure the exact colour design you want. They are tunable in intensity ranging from 1,200 Kelvin, a dull glow to 6,500 Kelvin, which is intense and hard to look at.

The idea is to link the triangles together with little connector tabs that come in the box to send a signal through all of the panels. Stupidly, I ignored the suggested patterns Nanoleaf includes in the manual and embarked on creating my own artistic Aurora light installation.

I went for a rather boring pyramid design and placed the panels above my computer screen. It certainly wouldn’t see me considered for Wellington’s next Lux light festival.

This had the unfortunate effect of focusing too much illumination in one spot just above the screen which also emits a fair bit of glare. I discovered my mistake too late - the included adhesive pads that allow you to easily stick the LED panels to the wall are for one-time use and Nanoleaf includes just enough to stick all nine panels to the wall. I’ll have to buy new stickers to reposition my lighting creation.

Beware: Once those panels are stuck, you're pretty much stuck with them. Photo / Peter Griffin

The second issue I had frustrated me for over 24 hours. I found I wasn’t able to sync my smartphone with the Nanoleaf Aurora, an essential action as the Aurora’s core functions and settings are controlled via the smartphone app.

I tried numerous resets of the Aurora, the app and my smartphone to no avail. A browse of the Nanoleaf help forums revealed numerous other people had similar syncing issues. In the end, the Nanoleaf helpdesk supplied the answer - turning off the Bluetooth connection on my phone, which sometimes interferes with the initial sync. From there, I was away, but it was an unsettling start to my lighting adventure.

Still, once my phone was connected I was able to rapidly move through the pre-configured lighting settings, such as Northern Lights or Twinkling Midnight Sky. You can set your own colours and if you have Aurora panels set up around the house, create groups of preferred colour schemes to change the entire lighting scheme with the tap of a button.

Everything works over your wifi network with lighting changes happening swiftly.

Getting your rhythm on

An optional plug-in to the Aurora, the Rhythm Sound module ($100), listens for background noise or music and syncs the panel light changes to match. You can choose from rhythm patterns Nanoleaf has created or set up your own. This is where the Aurora really shines, when you set it to music at a party, the panels pulsing with colour as the rhythm modules picks up the sound from your stereo. Video gamers apparently love it flashing away while they play Fortnite or Counterstrike.

Beyond the nine panels in the starter kit, you’ll need to invest in additional panels to expand your lighting creation. Up to 30 panels can be operated from one controller. I could see the lighting design become addictive - the bigger the installation, the more impressive it looks.

The voice assistant support works quite well, letting you simply speak into your smartphone to control the lights, rather than poking around in the app.

On an iPhone, simply choose one of the pre-set commands, such as “Hey Siri, set my lights to 50%” or “Hey Siri, set my bedroom lights to green”. Nanoleaf also has a series of LED light bulbs that can be controlled alongside the panels in the app. Alexa and Google Assistant work in much the same way.

The Nanoleaf Aurora is really for feature or background lighting to set the tone in a room, rather than providing direct light for practical purposes. But for bringing atmosphere into a setting, lighting up a party or adding a surreal element to home theatre or gaming, it is a visually impressive and versatile option.

Nanoleaf Light Panels

Pros

Great colour range in panels

Can be expanded and reconfigured

Cons

Need new adhesives to re-mount

Gets expensive for larger installations ($120 for every three additional panels)

 

Price: $340 (Nanoleaf Aurora Smarter Kit with nine panels)

Rating: 7/10

 

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