Nanoleaf has made a name for itself as a company that offers crazy lighting – shapes such as triangles, hexagons and squares that shine the many shades of a rainbow.
A unique lighting option, for sure. But they are not for everyone: because they are wall-mounted panels, they have advantages for throwing a light, but also disadvantages for controlling where that light goes.
However, by 2020, Nanoleaf has returned to the basics of lighting with Essentials: a new A19 bulb, also known as the standard bulb used here in the United States, and a light strip. Both can produce both white and colored lighting for $ 19.95 and $ 49.95, respectively.
We spent the last few weeks with Nanoleaf Essentials – testing them, playing them and using them as we would any CNN Underscored product – and had the chance to talk to Gimmy Chu, co-founder and CEO of Nanoleaf.
The bulb is not meant to be a shiny product and was really derived to provide the “essential”. Smart name. Chu describes it as being designed “to serve different purposes in the home. Sure, we have our light panels and they are great. Sometimes you just need a light to put it in a lamp. Sometimes you need something to light up under a desk or closet, and that’s where the light strip makes sense. ”
They are not a complicated smart lighting solution, but rather they are based on the basics of your home. They are also less scary for most people, and the bulb is very affordable for everything it offers.
We spent the last month with several Nanoleaf Essentials bulbs – in fact, we switched to them completely in our test space. It looks like a classic A19 bulb with a bent tip, designed from different triangles that fit together. These bulbs are LEDs, so they do not work very hot or use a ton of electricity. And for $ 20, it offers customization. If you want bright pink lighting over the kitchen counter, you can set it to bright pink lighting. Do you want the usual white lighting on your desk? You can have that too. You can control these options through the Nanoleaf app on your smartphone, Android, or iOS, or through a connected smart ecosystem (either Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit).
But here’s the real point – there are two forms of connectivity in the Essentials bulb: Bluetooth or Thread. Chances are you know the first one, it’s the same way your headphones connect to your phone or how you pair up with a speaker to play music. In our tests, it worked when you have two or three bulbs, but it’s not as instant as a Philips Hue bulb, for example. You also need a smart speaker nearby, such as Google Home or Nest Mini, to bring you instant connectivity. They act as a Bluetooth hub to keep the bulbs online and ready for interaction. However, other connected devices compete for these Bluetooth points.
“The thread is like the child who loves Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ZigBee. And the protocol that will be the future of the smart home “, said Chu. It is essentially a network that lives on Wi-Fi from home, thanks to a device called a “border router”. In essence, this keeps all your wired devices on the network and ensures that they are constantly ready for your control. All the more so, it eliminates the need for specific hubs for any product.
But the coolest thing about the wire is that it’s a mesh system. Like the Mesh routers we just tested closely, each Thread device works together to build the network and make it stronger. As Chu said, “the more devices you have, the stronger the network.” The border router is a kind of command center for creating the Thread network and making sure that all devices are online.
So where can you find a border router? Well, now it’s just in the HomePod Mini. And it explains why Chu and the Nanoleaf team worked closely with Apple to launch Essentials – and build it. In our conversation, he mentioned that they worked with the team for easy association in the Apple Home and HomePod Mini application. The latter is the missing link to make Thread work. We expect other border routers to come out and connect these devices, as Nest Hub Max already has Thread connectivity inside. And there’s a separate consortium with the big smart home players working on Thread.
For now, though, this smart, instant, smooth view of the house is a perfect match between the Essentials bulb and the HomePod Mini. And, as Chu suggested, the benefits would come in the form of better reliability and control. Unlike Bluetooth, where your device needs to find the light and connect to it or connect through a smart speaker, such as a Google Home connected to it, every Essentials bulb is networked.
“Every device [in the thread network] has an IP address, is connected directly to the internet. Having an IP address makes that part of the internet have a direct connection to anything else on the internet. And this is a very strong thing “, remarked Chu. Most importantly it helps control the device. Setting up a Nanoleaf Essentials bulb compared to a Philips Hue bulb is much less painless. You don’t have to juggle another hub that needs to be connected to the router or bother counting how many connected Bluetooth devices you have.
It’s also something that Z-Wave and ZigBee can’t match – with either of them creating another network through a hub, but it’s not really standardized, which can lead to compatibility issues.
Through HomeKit, Apple’s smart home ecosystem, I just opened the “Home” app on my iPhone, screwed the bulb into the device, and scanned the HomeKit code included in the box. The iPhone uses Bluetooth to quickly connect to the light bulb, and then switches it to the HomePod Mini to connect to your Wi-Fi network.
Little did we or anyone else know about this last step and that a Thread network is starting. It’s also secure and doesn’t require you to remember a long password. And it is adjusted by order through the Nanoleaf application, the Apple Home application or through Siri (Apple’s voice assistant) in just a matter of microseconds. It is also faster than a Philips Hue bulb, based on our tests. And, although they can sometimes disconnect from the network, I have not encountered any connectivity issues with Nanoleaf Essentials.
It is a very strong foundation and extends to the light band. I tested two of them and set them up the same way – once using Bluetooth and once using Thread via Apple Home. And right now, the buy-in here has a HomePod Mini to get this stellar experience.
The hope is that other companies will join Thread and we fully expect it to come this year. The latest Eero routers feature Thread inside and can help increase the Thread network in your home. It’s just a matter of more devices starting to accept it. And Nanoleaf has a big win on the table – Philips Hue underlay, which many consider the gold standard for smart lighting. Traditionally, you should spend money on a white and colored light bulb plus a hub to get that moment on your Wi-Fi smart lighting experience. A starter kit with 4 bulbs and a Hub will give you $ 199.99, because a pack of 2 color bulbs is $ 90 and a hub is $ 59.99.
Nanoleaf actually does this for $ 20 plus a HomePod Mini for $ 99. The missing part now is to get a cheaper frontier router and open it beyond the Apple ecosystem. If you are currently in that ecosystem, however, it is a recipe for success that can bring significant savings, if your search is to intelligently light your entire home.
At this time, Nanoleaf Essentials are sold directly from the company’s store for $ 20 or $ 50, respectively, and directly from Apple. And we expect Nanoleaf to expand on this product line in the near future, although Chu would not make promises when. If you’re in the Apple ecosystem with a HomePod Mini, we think the $ 20 Essentials bulb is a perfect way to start the smart lighting experience. They become quite bright and give you hundreds of color combinations to choose from. And if you’re in the Google ecosystem now with a Nest Mini or two, they offer a solid, but not as fast, experience with the Essentials bulb.
Chu also assured us that hexagons, triangles and square lighting panels will not disappear.