Nanoleaf Aurora review: Admit it. You kind of want these LED panels.


Your Aurora panels will show up in the app exactly as you've arranged them on the wall.

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From there, the app will walk you through its controls. Your panels will appear in the app exactly as you have them arranged on your wall. You can tap on an individual panel to change its brightness or color, or you can pick a "palette" of colors for the panels to draw from using whatever transitional animation you select. Color changes can sweep across your setup from panel to panel, fade in and out for a breathing effect, or burst out randomly at various spots. You can control the speed of all of these transition effects, along with fine details like direction and smoothness.

Oooh. Aaah.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Once you've designed a light pattern that you like (animated or otherwise), you can save it as a scene. It'll join those pre-configured Nanoleaf scenes in the app -- you can trigger any of them with a tap on your phone, or by asking Siri to run it if you're using an iPhone, a la "Hey Siri, set the Forest scene."

You can also cycle through all of them by pressing a button on the base attachment (and yes, you can delete those pre-configured Nanoleaf scenes in case there are any you don't want).

Nanoleaf's app also lets you see and control other HomeKit-compatible smart lights -- an advantage of the standardization HomeKit offers. That includes color controls for Philips Hue bulbs. Group bulbs like those into the same room as your Aurora panels, and you'll be able to tell Siri to change everything's color all at once using a command like, "Siri, set the bedroom lights to green."

You can also control the Aurora panels directly from Apple's dedicated Home app for HomeKit. You can't create patterns or adjust individual panels, but you can adjust the overall color and brightness of your setup, or tap to run a scene you've already created in the Nanoleaf app. On top of that, you can pin those scenes into the HomeKit section of your iPhone's Control Center for a speedy way to switch scenes on the fly. All of it, including the Siri controls, worked perfectly throughout all of my tests.

What's missing

I'd like to see even more features for Aurora. The first one that jumps to mind is a music-syncing mode in which the panels would change colors in rhythm with whatever tunes you're listening to. That seems like a no-brainer for a design-oriented, party-friendly setup like Aurora, but you won't find it anywhere in the Nanoleaf app. Here's hoping Nanoleaf changes that with an app update in the not-too-distant future.

Another feature I'd like to see is a wake-up mode. Though you can schedule the Aurora panels to turn on and off at specific times, you won't find many options for customizing those lighting changes. You can't, for instance, schedule the panels to gradually fade on over the course of an hour at 6 a.m. each day.

A sunrise/sunset wakeup mode is reportedly in the works.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

That's a trick I use with a color-changing Lifx smart bulb in my bedside lamp, and it makes it a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning. To their credit, Nanoleaf tells me we can expect to see a sunrise/sunset feature in the app within the coming weeks.

Additional platform compatibility would help bolster Aurora's case, too. Alexa controls are already on the way, with a skill for Amazon's virtual voice assistant due out by the end of the year. Nanoleaf's team also has Google Home on their radar and says that they'll make an integration happen "whenever the new smart speaker is ready."

I'd also like to see an Aurora channel on IFTTT. This would let people trigger lighting changes using things like GPS location, important notifications, weather and other IFTTT-compatible smart home gadgets.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

The future is bright for these colorful smart panels. There's really nothing else quite like them. They won't fit with every aesthetic, but they're still versatile enough to offer broad appeal. Art lovers could have a field day decorating their apartments with them. Parents could use them as the ultimate nightlight for their kids. College football fans could set them to shine the school colors in a man cave or a game room.

They also take full advantage of what Apple HomeKit brings to the connected living space. Aurora is better because of HomeKit -- and HomeKit is better because of Aurora, too. That's the kind of smart-home symbiosis that's worth buying into.

Above all else, Nanoleaf's Aurora panels are fun. They take the novelty of color-changing smart light and run further with it than Hue, Lifx or anything else ever has. I'll admit it. I kind of want them.

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