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Nanoleaf Remote review: Novelty for novelty's sake from Nanoleaf's HomeKit remote

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The Good Nanoleaf's eye-catching, one-of-a-kind remote works as promised, triggering lighting changes as you rotate different sides to the top. You can also use it to trigger your Apple HomeKit scenes.

The Bad Remembering which side triggers which preset gets confusing pretty fast.

The Bottom Line Nanoleaf's Remote is just as likable as the panels it controls, but the unintuitive design makes it more of a geeky gimmick than anything else.

7.2 Overall
  • Features 8.0
  • Usability 5.0
  • Design 7.0
  • Performance 9.0

Credit the team at Nanoleaf for their creativity. After getting their start making geektastic, inside-out LED light bulbs, the company broke out in a big way two years back with triangular light panels that change colors. Now, for $50/£50 (or a little less than $70 in Australia), Nanoleaf offers a 12-sided dodecahedron remote for those panels that can trigger your favorite lighting presets whenever you rotate a new side to the top. Like the panels and the Ivy smart bulbs that came before it, there really isn't anything else quite like it.

Rotate different sides of the Remote to the top to trigger your different lighting presets.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Even better -- the Nanoleaf Remote is an Apple HomeKit gadget, which means that you can use those 12 sides to trigger your HomeKit smart home scenes, too.

That makes Nanoleaf's Remote one of the most unique HomeKit accessories you can currently buy, but the creative approach is far from intuitive. Remembering which preset you've assigned to each side is tricky enough, and fumbling around in the dark to find the right face is no easy task, either.  

As a result, I never quite felt comfortable with the Remote during my tests at the CNET Smart Home. Using it always required more of my attention than I wanted to give it.

If you're willing to forgive those obvious usability quirks, then the Nanoleaf Remote offers geek appeal to spare, and could serve well as a conversation starter for your connected home's coffee table. 

I think some people will really, really like it (most obviously folks who already have Nanoleaf's light panels on their walls) -- and at $50, it's not the biggest investment. Just know that the charm wears off real fast once you start spending more than few seconds trying to find the side that turns the damn lights off.

"This is all kinds of dumb and amazing."

That's how my colleague Morgan Little put it when he got his first look at the Remote in action. He summed it up pretty well.

The Remote is certainly ooh-and-aah interesting, but it's also inherently impractical, and hard to imagine as much more than a novelty gadget for the geekiest of smart homes. Then again, you could have said the exact same thing about Nanoleaf's color-changing light panels, and those went on to become the company's biggest hit.

Like a lot of remotes, the Nanoleaf Remote runs on two AA batteries, which come included.

Ry Crist/CNET

To use the Remote, separate the two halves and insert the two AA batteries that come included. The Remote uses Bluetooth to send its signals, so you'll need to pair it with the base station for the Nanoleaf light panels, which only takes a few seconds in the Nanoleaf app for Android and iOS devices.

If you don't own any light panels, you can still use the Remote on its own as a dedicated HomeKit controller, but you'll need either an Apple TV, an Apple HomePod or a dedicated, always-on iPad to pair it with, and you'll need to configure it alongside your other HomeKit gadgets using Apple's Home app.

Once the Remote is paired, you can use Nanoleaf's app to assign whatever presets you like to each side. The Remote offers tactile feedback as you flip between them in your hand -- not only does it vibrate whenever a new face is detected up top, but it also shines out in different colors corresponding to the presets you've picked, too.

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