Nanoleaf Essentials Review
by Stan Lemon
Feb 21, 2021
I’d like to think I have a modest yet informed smart home game. We are an Apple HomeKit house. I love Apple’s position on security, especially when it comes to technology for my home. While HomeKit is great it can make it challenging to find affordable devices. I’ve used smart plugs for a long time and recently decided I wanted to try bulbs. Each of my master bedroom lamps plugged into a smart plug. I use HomeKit automation to turn them on in the morning. The problem is they come on at full brightness and make waking up a bit jarring. What I wanted was for them to increase brightness over a half-hour. So I decided to look for dimmable smart bulbs.
The go-to for smart bulbs is Phillips Hue. They seem like a decent enough product; the reviews are good. They need a dedicated hub to work with HomeKit. The entry cost is also pretty expensive. Because of this I started to look around and first landed with a set of bulbs from Sylvania. With the Sylvania bulbs, I experienced a lot of lag between triggering action and it taking place. Sometimes the action never triggered. The lamps with these bulbs were pretty far from my router. I suspect this is why they were not very responsive. I ended up returning the bulbs.
That leads me to Nanoleaf. I’d never heard of this company before. They’re not on Amazon, but they are on the Apple website. From what I gather they primarily make decorative lightings like tiles and strings. They also have a line called Essentials, which includes an A19 socket bulb. This is exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t interested in a multi-color bulb, but that’s all they make. I wanted to control the bright white to cool spectrum and the multi-color bulbs let me do that.
What made the Nanoleaf bulbs special was the inclusion of the Thread protocol. Most likely you’ve never heard of Thread. Thread is for Internet of Things devices. It is low power and works in a mesh. If you have other Thread enabled devices they benefit from proximity to each other. It so happens that my HomePod Minis support Thread. Because it uses Thread, the Nanoleaf bulbs are as close to instantaneous as possible. There will always be a delay with wireless products. With the Nanoleaf it's barely perceptible.
Setup was a breeze in the Home app. You use the Add Accessory button in the Home app and scan the HomeKit code. It takes a few seconds but then you have total control of the bulb. The only downside is the Home app itself. The app allows control of the brightness and color. If you have more than one bulb though, good luck trying to match the colors between them. The Home App could benefit from a recently used palette.
I set up a bunch of automations in the Home app to increase bulb brightness by 10% every five minutes. It works, but I wish this process was more streamlined. What I want is to go from 10% to 50% over thirty minutes starting at a specific time. One of the other things I automated was turning the bulbs on when my ecobee detects motion. Between 6 pm and 10 pm, if you walk into the master bedroom the ecobee will turn the lights on. Then if the motion stops for a while it will turn them off again. I wish the Home app allowed more complex scheduling of automations. You can either choose sunset to sunrise or specific times. What I want is thirty minutes before sunset until 10 pm. Maybe in iOS 15!
These bulbs are competitively priced to other smart bulbs. Granted a smart bulb is way more expensive than a standard bulb. They are not available on Amazon. The only place I could find them was on Apple’s site. There is a standalone app available but it’s not necessary. If you do use it, I recommend setting it up after configuring the bulbs in the Home app. The Nanoleaf app is the only way to update the bulb firmware as far as I can tell.
If you need smart bulbs and are in the HomeKit ecosystem these seem to me to be the best option. There are other HomeKit bulbs out there but they either need a hub or have latency issues. Nanoleaf combines functionality and responsiveness in a competitively priced bulb for your HomeKit smart home. Grab some over on Apple's website.