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

Rotate any one of the remote's twelve faces to the top to trigger a lighting change or a HomeKit scene -- but good luck remembering which side is which.

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Ry Crist
Ryan_Crist2.jpg
Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

5 min read

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.

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7.2

Nanoleaf Remote

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.
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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.

Color-changing smart lights kicked it up a notch at CES 2018

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"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.

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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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The Remote is Nanoleaf's second dodecahedron-shaped product. Its first was the hub for Nanoleaf's smart bulbs, which were released back in 2015.

Chris Monroe/CNET

It's worth noting that this isn't the first time Nanoleaf has embraced the humble dodecahedron in its product design. Back in 2015, the company released a smart bulb kit with a familiar-looking, 12-sided hub. I loved the look back then, and sure, I love the look now.

The difference, of course, is that the hub just sits on your router shelf looking cool as hell as it quarterbacks your smart lights. The Remote is a whole different doodad. You have to pick it up to use it, and since you can only see six of the twelve sides at any given time, you'll inevitably end up futzing around with it trying to find the side you want.

As I did so, I worried that I'd accidentally trigger something I didn't want to trigger. To Nanoleaf's credit, that never happened so far as I could tell (it seems to be pretty good at avoiding false positives), but worrying that it would meant that I was never totally comfortable using it.

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You can assign HomeKit scenes to each side of the Remote using Apple's Home app.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Still, the Remote worked as I tested it, triggering Nanoleaf light changes as promised, and triggering HomeKit scenes, too. To do so, you'll need to jump from the Nanoleaf app over to Apple's Home app, where the Remote shows up as a HomeKit accessory. Just like the Nanoleaf app, the Home app lets you assign different scenes or presets to each side, except all of your other HomeKit gear gets to come along for the ride.

For instance, I assigned HomeKit scenes that open and close the CNET Smart Home's smart shades to sides 1 and 2. Then, I was able to wow my colleagues by triggering those scenes with a quick repositioning of the Remote.

One other neat trick -- if you have a Nanoleaf light panel setup with the Nanoleaf Rhythm module attached, then you can brighten or dim your panels just by rotating the Remote clockwise or counterclockwise. Unfortunately, this won't work for your HomeKit lights, since Apple's software doesn't recognize those kinds of gesture controls.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Critical hit, or critical miss?

I play Dungeons & Dragons with a few of my co-workers from time to time, and I can just imagine playing in a room lit by Nanoleaf's light panels, with the DM using the appropriately shaped Remote to trigger different-colored presets during our quest -- green for forests, red for a demon's lair and so on. In niche cases like that where geek cred matters, the Remote could be a star.

But there's a thin line between geek cred and gimmickry, and the Nanoleaf Remote skirts it. At $50, the price is right for an oh-what-the-heck splurge, and I could even see it helping existing Nanoleaf users to use their light panels a little more. But controlling those panels is just as easy with the app, or with voice commands (they work with Siri, Alexa and the Google Assistant, so you've got plenty of options). Plus, while power users will appreciate a HomeKit remote than can handle 12 different scenes, remembering which one falls on which side gets confusing fast. Nanoleaf's Remote is certainly nifty -- I'm just not so certain that it's necessary.  

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Nanoleaf Remote

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 5Design 7Performance 9
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