Some time ago I put my hand up to review the Nanoleaf Starter Kit (Strip), Shapes and Lines range. Having already played with LIFX and immediately converted to the deep, neon-drenched world of the LED smart lighting elite, I couldn’t say no. At my abode -- a home and office affair shared with a partner, a now 10-year-old son and a pug named Hulk -- I was open to placement opportunities for setting up the lights where and however I pleased. This was troubling, however, as both my living and playing areas for home were the same space -- the lounge. I had a small office as well, which is where I initially decided the lighting should live. At least the Nanoleaf Shapes; arranged in such a way as to highlight my signed Tony Hawk skateboards adorning my wall, while also filling out the visual background of my on-camera space for the many developer interviews we get to do.
The Lines could wait until a suitable idea arrived. (And I’ll get to lighting placement and ideation shortly, but it’s important, which is all you need to know for now.)
Oh, and that strip found a home right behind my epic -- and super-rare -- 1:1 scale Darksiders Chaos Eater sword. Purple quickly became its permanent necro-powered hue and my living space, an arcane armoury as a result. At least, that’s what I think.
Setting up these new lights amidst an already LED-tailored space thanks to LIFX was actually much easier than I thought. In particular, though, the Nanoleaf Shapes (and Triangles expansion) scared me the most. They’re mountable on walls with a supplied double-sided thick wall tape you place on swivel mounts. You then connect the hexagon or triangle-shaped, err… shapes to them. They’re swivel so that you can have some wiggle room when connecting the plates to one another which, if you’re building large, you’ll be incredibly thankful for.
"I was worried they’d be difficult to remove should the worst happen -- moving house..."
The reason these scared me so much was two-fold: I didn’t want to get the layout wrong as I was putting them up in a very tight space. And two, I was worried they’d be difficult to remove should the worst happen -- moving house. You see, we don’t own yet, and despite ScoMo’s recently genius idea that my Nanoleaf concerns could be easily put aside if I just dipped into my loose change coffee cup (which is real) and simply bought a house (which is unrealistic), the truth was I didn’t own the wall I was decorating, and apparently coffee is more important to me than said ownership of the loadbarers, so a mortgage was still a ways off. (Don’t worry, this comes to a head, shortly.) So I ran a test and risked losing the ‘sticky’ by placing one mount, leaving it for a full 24 hours, and then proceeded to pull it off to see any potential damage.
Cyberpunk gods be praised, not a mark was left on the wall and I think the spot where it was might now be even cleaner than before.
So I went ahead and created my masterpiece. And sure enough, it was an excellent design, despite not being wholly visible through my webcam due to verticality. But also sure enough, the owners of the house we rented made a brash decision and we found ourselves in that most annoying of annoyances -- forced to move.
"I used the hex and triangle Shapes at my disposal to cut through the space, with a horizontal ascension leading away from the corner..."
Frustrating as the situation was, it incidentally afforded me the chance to move my Nanoleaf setup as well. In any review circumstance, the likelihood of having to shift not just the physical lights, but also your entire thinking, layout and overall spatial design, is kind of rare unless you have a specific area designed as such. So this was a unique opportunity. In the initial lights setup, I had an already-established space predicating the position of my lights. In this new scenario, the lights could have a larger say in how any space they’d be involved in was set up from the start. Not an ideal life event, but professionally I looked at this as the best opportunity to get the most out of every aspect of the product: modular design, robustness and multi-room illumination. The end result was an entire shift in where I had the lights setup, and now with more room in our new abode, I could also give life to the Lines set as well.
Now, the lounge, which is where I play and review most games utilising an 8K 75” Samsung QN900 Neo TV and HW Q800T 3.1 Soundbar, was the first to get the full new treatment. And with a game reviews setup like that, I didn’t plan on undercooking its potential. An empty feature spot above the panel made the early setup feel flat and low -- not a good sensation for such a large screen. So, I used the hex and triangle Shapes at my disposal to cut through the space, with a horizontal ascension leading away from the corner.
The shape and placement of the lounge has allowed for me to use the lights as a sort of framing option alongside one of ambience; I can guide peoples’ eyes to the features corner of the space, which is a glass display cabinet with some very cool collectibles in and around it, while also using it as a means to expand anything I’m playing or watching at any given time. Or in just lighting the room based on function. One minute I can have it entirely dressed in a Cyberpunk 2077 aesthetic that literally bleeds from the TV and illuminates the room in so much drenched neon, or just lighten and pastel the space for when the in-laws rock up. The versatility of the LED Nanoleaf range, which includes static and animated lighting options (otherwise known as “Scenes”), and a community-driven library to draw from, or submit to, is a veritable tool for all occasions. And in addition to the Shapes detailed above, I’ve also utilised the Strip once used to power a collectible sword, to now fill a unique cavity, allowing for a soft glow that still highlights some cool stuff, but also works to fill the room.
"I should also mention at this point that the lights and parts are all incredibly robust, but also super lightweight, allowing for ideation on-the-fly..."
The Lines then did the opposite, in terms of how they were eventually displayed, with my office space and its subsequent layout dictating the placement of them. This was less difficult than at first I thought and with the hexagonal connection points between each Line addition (with five connection points), I was able to chop and change as I saw fit, with those connector points being the only part of the setup fastened to the wall (again, via a double-sided adhesive). I should also mention at this point that the lights and parts are all incredibly robust, but also super lightweight, allowing for ideation on-the-fly if you’re the sort of person or unit in constant need of change. (Though I’d add that the chameleon nature of the actual lights and available Scenes allows for so much differential when crafting mood(s).)
The LIFX Beam lights I have framing most of my display units are good, but come baked with a limited set of themes. You can build your own, but the layout via the app is a bit clumsy. With Nanoleaf I’ve found being able to draw from the community uploads infinitely more rewarding, and searching for keyword themes has led me to everything from Master Chief to RuPaul’s Drag Race and beyond. There are options for music, where lights animate according to beat (which uses the microphone in your phone), as well as preset animation options and more. The community has a slew of options for almost every occasion, but so too does Nanoleaf official. You can also create from within the app yourself and also upload to the community library. My only issue with access to the library is that you’re limited in how many Scenes you can download to your device.
And actually, on the app it is a bit of a mess to navigate, and really needs to be simplified. I’ve also run into issues with lights dropping off from the network and then having to either do a hard reset on the light, or even a full power-cycle on my modem, just to have them rediscoverable. Moreover, losing the scan code from the packaging can make this an added frustration. In one instance the app could clearly detect one of the lights (Strip), but every time I tried to add it, it simply wouldn’t connect. In the end, it just came back by itself one day, though this was an isolated incident.
"Though one of the more fun aspects is that both kits will run through Razer Chroma, and in here you have near Photoshop-level options for creativity..."
I think a bit more thought and time into the app would go a long way to make this as good a product as it can be, and you can also manage the lights via other Home apps as well, but I also found this laborious in terms of setting up, especially when trying to craft a single access point for competing lights (Nanoleaf and LIFX). Though one of the more fun aspects is that both kits will run through Razer Chroma, and in here you have near Photoshop-level options for creativity, if you're a creator type. And this again speaks to the modular aspect of the lights, and with Nanoleaf in particular.
And so what you get when investing the admittedly steeper cost than some of the current lower-end brands on the market, specifically with Nanoleaf, is a number of ranges to suit your needs. In my own instance Shapes, Lines and Strip (Starter Kit) have all combined to build out the two most important areas of my living space, and in one aspect, were easily moved and redesigned when life got in the way. They live peacefully with the LIFX lights I also have, which is a bonus, and more importantly, amplify all aspects of my home and WFH life -- be it playing games, watching the likes of The Witcher on Netflix or just hosting family and friends through soft or loud colours and animations, I can’t imagine a life without LED lighting anymore.
What we liked
Lightweight yet robust
Razer Chroma compatible
Easy to mount and remove
A range of community-created scenes to download
What we didn't like
Capped at the number of scenes per lighting group you can download
A wonky app that is difficult to navigate in areas
Not all Nanoleaf ranges can be linked (Lines to Shapes, for example)