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

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.

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.

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.

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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