This Thing Rules

I can't stop fiddling with Nanoleaf's smart home remote

This dodecahedron does a lot more than turn on the lights.

Canadian company Nanoleaf is best known for its wall-mountable (or ceiling-mountable) LED light panels which come in a range of shapes and sizes, and have become a must-have for gamers looking to Instagramarize their dens. But its range of color-shifting panels isn’t its most interesting product. Neither is its recently launched smart bulbs, nor its LED strips. Oh no, the best product Nanoleaf makes is a dodecahedron chunk of frosted, white, plastic called the Nanoleaf Remote.

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A dozen options — Powered by a pair of (included) AA batteries, and good for months on a charge (Nanoleaf claims over 300 days), the Remote allows you to control Nanoleaf’s various color-changing panels via physical actions. You can set each of the 12 sides to trigger a different scene in the Nanoleaf app, and you trigger them by positioning the Remote so the applicable side you want to activate faces up.

For instance, I use sides one through six for a mixture of static and gently shifting color “scenes,” and seven through 12 for a selection of dynamic ones that react to audio (the Remote relies on Bluetooth and requires the Nanoleaf Rhythm module that’s included with most starter kits). I used to have side one set to turn my light panels on, and side 12 set to switch them off, but now rely on the schedules I’ve set up or toggle them by barking instructions as my Google Home speakers.

Touch beats tap — When I flip the Remote to change settings, it changes color and emits a pleasing, gentle buzz of haptic feedback to make it clear it’s registered the selection. Rotating it on its vertical axis adjusts the brightness of the resultant scene (clockwise twists increase the brightness, counter-clockwise ones reduce it) and produces further reassuring haptic vibrations.

It glows, it buzzes, it keeps guests entertained.Craig Wilson / Input

Changing which side does what requires a few in-app taps, which is great, because though there are color schemes I’ve grown attached to, I like changing the others up every few months (number 6, for instance, tends to change with the seasons, and last fall triggered a selection of yellow, orange, and red hues on the panels mounted in my living room).

In addition to being an instant conversation initiator with visitors, having a physical controller also saves me the indignity of asking Google to “Turn on the Nanoleaf Light Panels and set scene to ‘Rhythmic Northern Lights’ at 50 percent brightness.”

Even more options with HomeKit — Though the Remote was designed for Nanoleaf’s own gear first and foremost (it works with its Light Panels, Shapes, and Canvas panels), if you’re an Apple HomeKit user and you own a Home Hub device (like a HomePod or Apple TV), the Remote has even more tricks in store for you. Rather than just controlling Nanoleaf’s hardware, you can use the Remote to control anything you can do in HomeKit. So, for instance, you can set it to trigger a scene that dims a selection of lights, turns on your smart TV, and closes the blinds all with a single turn, assuming all of the devices in question work with HomeKit.

Being limited HomeKit is kind of a bummer, though. Sure, there are those Apple fans who don’t mind if their smart lock doesn’t work with Alexa or Google Assistant, are happy to limit their smart home purchases to those offered by Apple’s approved partners, or don’t mind spending hours in Homebridge getting non-HomeKit gear to work in Apple’s ecosystem. And yes, HomeKit offers great security, an intuitive interface, and solid multi-device control. But there are plenty of people who use Amazon or Google’s smart home devices (or a mixture of them) despite also owning iPhones, iPads, and / or Macs.

Hopefully, Nanoleaf will broaden the Remote’s smart home control capabilities down the road, but for now, it’s an object I use daily that gives me a little spark of joy every time I touch it and which makes my smart home feel not just smarter, but more tactile, intuitive, and human-friendly. It also makes me feel even more like a magician than my smart plugs do, which is saying something.