Triangular, color-changing LED light panels you can control on your Android or iOS device, or by using spoken commands: That's the pitch for Nanoleaf Aurora, one of the most design-centric devices for the connected home that we've ever seen.
This isn't your typical smart-home gadget. It doesn't promise to make your life more convenient or your home more comfortable. It isn't even a very practical light source. Instead, Nanoleaf Aurora is a design play for the connected living space. It wants your smart home to express itself.
And you know what? All of that is fine. People buy pretty things to hang up on their walls all the time -- so why not a pretty-looking smart light setup?
At $200 (about £165/AU$260), the nine-panel Nanoleaf Aurora starter kit doesn't come cheap. But it isn't outrageously expensive, either, especially when you consider how eye-popping these panels are -- or that the cost is roughly as much as you'd pay for a three-bulb Philips Hue starter kit.
Like those Philips Hue bulbs, the Aurora panels work with Apple HomeKit, the smart home standards built into iPhones and iPads that run the latest iOS software. HomeKit lets you toggle your lights and devices right from your phone's Control Center or by using spoken Siri commands, and the Aurora panels do an outstanding job of putting it all to work. Compatibility with Amazon's Alexa is coming by the end of this year, too, so you'll soon have a second means of voice control.
All of it adds up to a cutting-edge in-home experience for out-and-proud smart home enthusiasts. You don't need these things on your walls -- nobody does -- but it's tough to deny that they make a pretty compelling case for novelty smart lighting.
A future we were promised
If you're a fan of classic sci-fi, or if you just watched a lot of cartoons as a kid, then maybe these things look familiar. Color-changing light panels have been a mainstay of faux-futuristic pop culture for decades now, lighting up countless spaceships, alien bases, and dwellings of tomorrow. Now, Nanoleaf thinks it's time these panels lit up your living room, too.
And why not? They look terrific, thanks to a design that leans on a modular build, geometric simplicity and bold, vivid colors, all of which combine to offer a wide range of display options.
You can connect any panel to any other panel using an SD card-like connector chip to join their sides. Power flows through all of them from the base attachment, which can handle up to 30 panels. If you want more than the starter kit's nine panels, extras are available in three-packs for $60 each (about £50/AU$80).
Setting everything up is a bit of a delicate process. Those connector chips don't feel terribly sturdy and they don't snap into place. As I hung everything, I worried that I wasn't using enough of the included sticky tabs to keep everything snug and secure.
Nanoleaf doesn't provide a whole lot of guidance as far as best mounting practices go; it pretty much just tosses you an envelope of those sticky tabs and say, "Have fun!" Everything stayed on the wall for the duration of my tests, but I still would have appreciated some more specific instructions.
That said, I was beyond impressed with these panels once I had them up and running. They're plenty bright (about 100 lumens per panel), the hues are vivid and true, and the preprogrammed, color-changing scenes look great (you can make your own in Nanoleaf's app, too). They made a strong first impression on just about everyone who saw them, including co-workers of mine who think color-changing smart lights are kind of dumb.
With the Aurora panels affixed to your wall, your next step is to download the Nanoleaf app to sync them up with your phone. Doing so is pretty painless. The base station broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal when you plug it in. You connect to that signal in your phone's settings, then sync it up with your own home network, all of which meet Apple HomeKit's rigorous security protocols.