Nanoleaf Smarter Kit review: Nanoleaf's nifty smart bulb kit needs a little time
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
If you flick the switch off and on when the bulb's at full brightness, it will slowly fade down -- you'll lock it in by flicking the switch off and on once more. Finally, if the bulb is off, you can turn it on in a dimmed down nightlight mode by flicking the switch three times -- on, off, on. All of that takes some getting used to, but it's an admittedly handy feature -- and one that you won't find with other smart bulbs.
Still, there are some key smart lighting features that you won't find with Nanoleaf -- namely, a function for scheduling automated lighting changes. That's a pretty big omission -- scheduling lights to turn on automatically when you wake up, when the sun sets, or when you're away on vacation is basically Connected Lighting 101. With iOS 9, HomeKit products are supposed to be able to offer these sorts of functions, but we haven't seen any of them do so yet.
Nanoleaf tells us that additional functions are on the way. In addition to deeper integration with HomeKit, Nanoleaf plans to add in support for geofenced lighting automations that turn bulbs on and off automatically as you come and go. We'll keep an eye out for their arrival, and update this piece accordingly when they get here.
Smart functions aside, these are still light bulbs we're talking about -- so are they any good? And will the weird design affect the quality of light in your home?
The answer to that last question is no. Beneath a lampshade, the bulbs cast the same sort of even, omnidirectional light as you'd expect from a more traditionally shaped light source. That makes them a solid pick for just about any common household fixture, except for recessed fixtures, where you'll be much better off with a non-omnidirectional floodlight.
Nanoleaf claims that the Ivy bulbs put out 800 lumens of brightness from a power draw of 7.5 watts. That power draw checked out in my tests, but the brightness claim did not. Instead, the bulb clocked in at closer to 700 lumens. It's not a hugely noticeable difference, but it's something to be aware of before buying in, especially if brightness is especially important to you.
The rest of the specs held up fine. I was especially impressed with how efficient these bulbs are. With 700 lumens from 7.5 watts, the bulbs put out about 94 lumens per watt -- a better number than any of the other smart bulbs we've tested thus far. Use the Nanoleaf bulbs an average of 3 hours per day, and each one will add less than a dollar to your energy bill -- per year.
Nanoleaf vs. the competition
|Nanoleaf Ivy LED||Philips Hue White LED||Cree Connected LED||GE Link LED||Belkin WeMo LED|
|Lumens (measured / stated)||703 / 800||801 / 800||872 / 815||855 / 800||829 / 800|
|Efficiency (lumens per watt)||94||84||76||78||87|
|Yearly energy cost||$0.90||$1.14||$1.38||$1.32||$1.14|
|Color temperature (measured / stated)||2,950 K / 3,000 K||2,674 K / 2,700 K||2,696K / 2,700K||2,830K / 2,700K||3,058K / 3,000K|
|Dimmable range||0 - 100%||0.9 - 100%||7.8 - 100%||10.2 - 100%||3.8 - 100%|
|Lifespan||30,000 hours||25,000 hours||25,000 hours||25,000 hours||25,000 hours|
|Weight||3.15 oz.||3.80 oz.||1.90 oz.||6.20 oz.||2.75 oz.|
|Warranty||3 years||2 years||3 years||2 years||2 years|
|Starter kit price||$100||$80||N/A||$50||$50|
|Bulbs per kit||2||2||N/A||2||2|
|Price per bulb||$25||$15||$15||$15||$25|
The Nanoleaf bulbs also impressed me with their perfect dimming capabilities. While most dimmable LEDs will only dim down to a certain point before the light drops out, the Nanoleaf bulbs will dim smoothly down to zero. That combines nicely with the manual-dimming feature to make this bulb an excellent pick for anyone who likes the lights down low.
As for color temperature, the Nanoleaf bulbs are slightly cooler and less yellowy than most of the "soft white" options out there, coming in just shy of a stated 3,000 K. If you want something more akin to daylight, you'll need to look elsewhere, as Nanoleaf doesn't offer any higher color temperature bulbs, nor does it currently offer a color tunable bulb.
That might change soon, though. Nanoleaf CEO Gimmy Chu tells me that Nanoleaf bulbs with full color-changing functionality are in the works for early next year, though he cautions that they'll likely look a bit different than the Ivy bulbs. "We'll need to do adequate color mixing in order for it to look nice, but we have a cool design that will still accommodate the A19 size constraints," Chu said.
Also in the works: support for a greater number of smart-home platforms. In addition to plans to expand HomeKit functionality and to jump in with Google Weave, Chu tells me that support for voice control through the Amazon Echo smart speaker sits at the top of Nanoleaf's to-do list.
Nanoleaf's smart bulbs look terrific, they work well, and they boast a cool manual dimming feature that you won't find with any other app-enabled lights. But -- at least for the time being -- they're also tied strongly to Apple HomeKit, which right now still feels like a work in progress. You still can't schedule lighting changes, for instance, nor is there an easy way to sync your lights up with things like motion detectors.
All of that is supposed to change soon, but if you wanted to wait for it to happen before buying in, I wouldn't blame you one bit. Still, if you're bullish about HomeKit (or if you've already committed to building your smart home upon it), then these bulbs deserve your consideration.