Nanoleaf Smarter Kit review: Nanoleaf's nifty smart bulb kit needs a little time

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MSRP: $99.00

The Good Nanoleaf's connected LEDs are some of the coolest-looking smart bulbs you can buy. The hub shares its HomeKit-powered Siri controls with third-party bulbs, and you can dim Nanoleaf's bulbs manually by flipping the switch off and on.

The Bad Android users won't be able to control the lights until next year, when Nanoleaf joins up with Google Weave. You also can't schedule automated lighting changes, or tie your bulbs to things like motion sensors -- though this might change as HomeKit improves.

The Bottom Line These are attractive bulbs that work well, but we're waiting for deeper integration with HomeKit before buying in.

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7.7 Overall
  • Features 6
  • Usability 8
  • Design 9
  • Performance 8

Nanoleaf's Smarter Kit is the latest connected home offering to support Apple HomeKit, the set of smart-home control protocols programmed into the iPhone and iPad. Screw the funky-looking lights in and sync them up with Nanoleaf's dodecahedron-shaped hub, and you'll be able to control them alongside other HomeKit-compatible devices, or dim the bulbs up and down using your phone. And, thanks to HomeKit, you'll be able to tell Siri to turn them on and off, as well.

The two-bulb Nanoleaf kit sells online for $100 (converted roughly, about £65, or AU$140), which is a lot to spend on smart bulbs that don't change colors or color temperatures. For comparison, the non-color-changing version of Philips Hue's starter kit, which is also HomeKit compatible, costs $80, while the non-HomeKit compatible WeMo LED Starter Set is down to just $50. Nanoleaf's bulbs are pricey, too -- extras will set you back $25 a piece, compared with the $15 you'll spend for the white-light-only Hue bulbs, or for generic Zigbee bulbs like the Cree Connected LED and the GE Link LED.

Nanoleaf's hub can actually control some of those cheaper third-party bulbs as well, and the eye-catching design of both the bulbs and the hub might be enough to tempt you to buy in. I'd consider waiting, though. As of now, you can't schedule automated lighting changes in Nanoleaf's app, and there isn't an easy way to sync the bulbs up with things like motion detectors. Android users will have to wait a bit, too. For now, the Nanoleaf bulbs are iOS only, though the company is also an Early Access Partner for Google Weave, which Nanoleaf tells me should bring Android support into the picture sometime in early 2016. Until then, I say keep these bulbs on your watch list.

Distinctive design, forgotten features

The top selling point for this lighting kit over other lighting kits like it is that it looks darned cool. Like the Nanoleaf bulbs that came before them, the Nanoleaf Ivy smart bulbs are 3D-printed jigsaw assemblies with light-emitting diodes on the outside. It's a unique and geeky aesthetic, but it has a practical purpose, too -- each of those 3D-printed pieces helps conduct heat away from the diodes that sit on them.

The system's hub -- a black dodecahedron with a glowing pentagonal ring of white LEDs on top -- looks just as unique as the bulbs. It's a refreshing design choice, as most smart home hubs are ugly plastic pucks that you end up stashing out of sight. With Nanoleaf, you can leave the hub out in full display to help class your place up a tad.

The slick-looking Nanoleaf Hub puts other hubs to shame.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The app is less of a design standout, and sticks to a more traditional approach. It looks fine and it's simple enough to use, but it isn't quite as polished as some of the other HomeKit apps we've tested out.

To get started, you'll open the app and plug in your hub. The app will scan for it and ask for its HomeKit pairing code. Once you snap a picture of that code or enter it manually, you'll be up and running.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Next, you'll add your lights. This is one of the small points where the app lacks polish, as there's no way to start the pairing process in the app, and no explanation of how to add bulbs at all. You'll need to pull out the instruction booklet to find that you scan for bulbs by tapping on the top of the hub. It's not a huge deal, but adding those instructions into the app would have been helpful.

With my bulbs turned on, the hub scanned for them and added them to my setup in less than a minute. The app gives you the option of renaming each one, which you'll definitely want to do -- those names are what Siri will use to identify each bulb. You can't, however, change the device's icon. Each light gets the same little Nanoleaf-y bulb designation, regardless of what type of bulb it actually is.

The Nanoleaf Hub can control third-party smart bulbs alongside its own lights. It shares Siri support with them, too.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

This isn't quite ideal, since Nanoleaf's hub can control third-party bulbs. For my tests, I used a Cree Connected LED and a GE Link LED, both of which cost $10 less than the Nanoleaf Ivy LED. Each one paired on the first try, and worked fine as I tested them out, but the option to customize their icons to designate them as non-Nanoleaf bulbs would have been a nice touch.

Still, with the third-party bulbs, Nanoleaf gets the important stuff right. Each one worked in tandem with Nanoleaf's bulbs, and each one worked well with Siri, too. That last bit is an important contrast with Philips Hue. Though Hue's platform has long supported third-party bulbs, it doesn't share its HomeKit compatibility with them. We've got several Cree Connected LEDs paired with a HomeKit-compatible Philips Hue Bridge in the CNET Smart Home -- we can control them through the Hue app, but we can't control them with Siri commands.

The app allows you to group lights by room per HomeKit's standards. By doing so, I was able to group a Nanoleaf bulb, a Cree bulb, and a GE bulb together in one room, then tell Siri to dim them all up and down at the same time. It worked well, though the bulbs dim at slightly different speeds, which caused a fraction of a second's worth of delay between each one.

You can dim Nanoleaf's bulbs using a regular light switch thanks to some cool trickery.

Chris Monroe/CNET

With the Nanoleaf bulbs, you can also dim each light manually using the light switch -- the same trick we saw with the Nanoleaf Bloom. Here's how it works. When you first switch a Nanoleaf bulb on, it'll slowly dim up to full brightness over the course of a few seconds. At any point during that fade, you can lock in the brightness level by flicking the switch off and on in quick succession.