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I buy and test a lot of smart devices for the home and yard, and many do important things—running heating and cooling, for instance; securing your home, or cleaning your house. But the piece of smart home tech that made me happiest this year—the only one I’m buying for friends (and buying a lot of)—does nothing more than light up. Nanoleaf lights are my pick as the best smart tech purchase for the holidays. In a world with a lot of dark stuff happening right now, Nanoleaf is LED-based dopamine.
Unlike many smart tech companies, Nanoleaf only makes one thing: really cool lighting. And maybe because of their focus, they do it really well. Their core retail products are LED light strips and shape panels for the wall. These are broad-spectrum LEDs with infinite colors that use backlighting to create subtle or vibrant illumination on the walls, ceilings, under couches, behind mirrors … wherever you want to stick them.
The Nanoleaf screen mirroring kit
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Credit: Amanda Blum
If you are someone who watches television, movies, or plays games, then you’ll want to start with the Nanoleaf 4D Screen Mirroring Kit ($79.99) It comes with a small camera you attach to the top or bottom of your TV, and a strip of LED lights that you stick to the back of your television frame. The camera picks up the colors from the screen, and the light strip echoes those colors, behind the television. Using the settings, you can make the lights more vivid or subdued and you can have them sync to the sound.
The cinema aspect is very nice, and not distracting, but I personally found I preferred to just use the color schemes in the app—you can create your own, too. The lights can still be sound reactive, so if you just play music, they’ll react subtly to the beat.
Nanoleaf shape kits
Nanoleaf sells kits of flat wall tile shapes ($79.99-$149.99) – triangles, octagons, lines and more—that will stick to your ceiling or walls. No matter where they are in the room or even in the house, they can replicate the 4D screen mirroring effect that the screen mirror kit above has—you tell the app where in the room the additional panels are, and it continues the spectrum to those panels. You can mix and match the shapes, and add in whatever Nanoleaf products you want.
The panels are hard plastic, and come in black, white or a wood panel, all with a matte finish that doesn’t look cheap on the walls. They’re so shallow that they barely pop off the wall, and attach with surprisingly tough adhesive. Kits come with multiple tiles, and you can choose how to arrange them, creating all kinds of sculptural effects. The shapes themselves are also touch reactive, so you can use them to control the lights. Set up the lights into groups or rooms, and you can have each group acting independently, or all together.
Access from your desktop or mobile
Nanoleaf operates on Matter, Threads, bluetooth and wifi; anytime you want to add a device, it just requires scanning the QR code on the device itself into the app. I had no problems pairing the devices initially. For the most part, they stay paired, although I have had them show as disconnected a few times, even though they were still functioning. The app had a bit of a learning curve—settings for each device were hidden in two possible subpanels—but truth be told, once the lights were set up, I almost never had to go back in to change the settings. There is a calibration tool for the screen mirror, and then you can group your lights together or affect them as groups or individually.
Additionally, Nanoleaf has figured out something many smart tech companies haven’t—mobile apps are nice, but desktop apps are a great bonus. I loved being able to change lights from my desktop as I operated Sonos or Hulu.
Bottom line: these smart lights are for everyone
I am not a gamer, and never once thought neon was a reasonable piece of home decor, so if I was explaining Nanoleaf to myself, I’d probably think them garish and not my thing. If I hadn’t been sent these units to test, I’d have never bought them for myself. But having had them a month, I’d have to be dead for these lights to be uninstalled. They make you giddy and lighthearted. When I turn them on, I feel measurably calmer. Occasionally, once I’m in bed and all the lights are off, I’ll turn the Nanoleafs back on, to get an Aurora Borealis effect in my room. It’s remarkably peaceful.
I have, in the last few weeks, bought kits for friends with young kids on the spectrum, for multiple friends going through divorces, and for a friend in her 70s recovering from surgery. The sheer delight each of them has experienced once they were set up and on is measurable. There is something to happy lighting. Smart tech can do all sorts of remarkable things, bringing accessibility, efficiency and connectivity to people. But it’s rare that technology can do happiness.