Nanoleaf Elements review: Finally, smart lights that match your furniture

These faux wood LED light panels are more tasteful than the rainbow-hued ones every YouTuber and Twitch streamer has at home.

Nanoleaf was founded in Canada in 2012 and started off making smart lightbulbs, but it’s the company’s LED-laden panels that have made it a household name.

The first of them, originally dubbed “Nanoleaf Aurora” (but now simply known as “Nanoleaf Light Panels,”) were triangular panels with multicolor capabilities released in 2016. They quickly established the brand for gamers, streamers, designers, Instagrammers, and smart lighting fans.

A year later, a module that let the panels react to audio followed, then the 12-sided Nanoleaf Remote, and thereafter a series of new panels. First, square ones that supported touch for the first time, then a mixture of interoperable panels in different shapes. And now Elements, Nanoleaf’s most refined, elegant, and understated offering, and one it hopes will be deemed as attractive when switched off as when on.

The sixth element

Each corner of the hexagonal panels is individually illuminated.Craig Wilson / Input

Hexagonal panels aren’t new to Nanoleaf, but single-hue ones are, and so is the ability to illuminate each corner of each panel individually. That fairly granular control enables really pleasing visual effects, like one scene that makes the panels resemble a gently crackling fireplace.

Built-in mounting panels with adhesive strips pre-attached make for easy installation.Craig Wilson / Input
The connectors for Nanoleaf's Element panels that clip into the center of any of each panel’s six sides.Craig Wilson / Input

Nanoleaf has also refined the panels themselves significantly over their various generations. While the original, triangular panels required three Command Strips each, affixed directly to the panels, each Elements panel comes with a removable mounting panel with an oversized Command Strip pre-installed. Not only does that vastly simplify installation (or make it easier to change layouts down the road) but it makes the panel connectors more robust than their predecessors because they clip into each panel, rather than merely sliding into them. It’s the little things that really add up.

Install and adore

Nanoleaf’s “virtual layout” feature in its iOS app uses augmented reality to let you see how the panels will look in your space.Craig Wilson / Input

Installing 10 panels took about 30 minutes, not including the time required to settle on a layout. I already had hexagonal mirror-finish panels on the wall I wanted to put them on, but decided to simply install the Elements on top of them (in part because I thought they’d look good together, and in part, because the mirror panels look set to rip the paint off the walls and I didn’t want to repaint before installing the Nanoleafs).

Deciding on a layout is made easier thanks to Nanoleaf’s in-app “virtual layout” feature that uses AR to help you envision what your arrangement will look like. A word of warning, though, it’s only available for iOS devices, not Android ones.

Thereafter, getting the panels up and running was easy. I opened the Nanoleaf app and scanned the code on the rear of the physical controller to pair my phone to the panels. (The physical controller, like the power cable, can be connected to any panel via any of its available sides.)

Apple loving

Pull the two handles to lift the pile of panels out of the box.Craig Wilson / Input

I had no trouble adding the panels to both my wife’s iPhone and iPad and my Android phone, but the iOS version of Nanoleaf’s is unmistakably slicker than the Android one. Sometimes, on Android, tapping a device on the app’s home page will toggle it off instead of opening its settings, for example. And trying to adjust the touch controls for the panels on Android regularly results in the app hanging and having to be restarted.

Given Nanoleaf’s primary market is North America, perhaps the Apple bias isn’t surprising, but it is something to be aware of if you’re an Android user. Thankfully, you’re not limited to HomeKit support, though if you want to use touch controls on individual panels to trigger other devices in your house (a feature I only learned about through deep menu diving), only HomeKit allows for that.

Elements feels like Nanoleaf’s most mature product yet.

I had no problems using the Google Home app to adjust the Elements, or using either the Android or iOS apps to create schedules, and I can control them via voice commands to my Google Nest speakers without any problems. I can’t vouch for the Alexa support, but if it's as good Google’s, Echo users shouldn’t have any problems.

Get touchy

The controller can be connected to any panel and has five touch-sensitive buttons.Craig Wilson / Input

Though I have them scheduled to come on around sunset and turn off at 10 p.m. (a visual reminder that it’s time to start winding down for the day) and I can control them with voice commands, I find I use the Elements physical controller and touch support frequently, too.

Because the panels are in my home office/makeshift pandemic gym, I love tapping the physical “respond to music” button, dimming the overhead lights using my voice, and starting a workout with the volume cranked up. Similarly, it’s cool being able to swipe left or right to move through scenes, up or down to adjust brightness, or simply double-tap a panel to toggle them on or off (you can customize responses to gestures in the app) rather than the precision needed to hit the right controller button.

Choose a scene, adjust brightness, or toggle the panels on or off.Craig Wilson / Input
Elements panels support touch controls.Craig Wilson / Input
HomeKit users can use individual Elements panels to trigger multiple smart home devices with a touch.Craig Wilson / Input

New edge illumination on the panels is a welcome touch, too, and makes them appear to glow and pulse more convincingly than Nanoleaf’s previous wares. From the packaging to the installation and setup, Elements feels like Nanoleaf’s most mature product yet.

And the Elements panels are also an instant conversation starter when we have parties on the terrace outside and they’re pulsing along in sync to the tunes, especially with people who aren’t familiar with Nanoleaf products or have only seen its color-changing panels before.

There’s no doubt the Elements look more attractive when turned off than the white, plastic panels that make up the rest of Nanoleaf’s range, but whether the wood finish (it’s not wood, but a wood-print PVC overlay) is worth sacrificing a wider color palette for will likely depend on what you want to do with them. If you’re looking for a decor element that can also provide illumination, Elements are ideal. If you want full-color for Instagram shots of your (wo)mancave, you might want more than just shades of white.

Paint with light

Mmm, side illumination.Craig Wilson / Input

Many users may never delve into Nanoleaf’s custom scene-creation features, happy to make do with the preinstalled scenes, or downloading other users’ shared creations in the app. But if you do have the inclination, you can really finesse how your panels behave.

Nanoleaf’s “Scene Creator” lets you choose whether to create a static or dynamic scene, which motion pattern to use in the case of the latter, and how you’d like each individual panel to react. A paintbrush tool makes it possible to change the illumination on one portion of a panel, and with a little patience and experimentation, the results can be impressive.

The Scene Creator lets you pick attributes for each panel.Craig Wilson / Input
Users can choose from fixed or dynamic scenes.Craig Wilson / Input
Every element of a scene can be finely tuned.Craig Wilson / Input

This customizability also increases the panels’ longevity enormously. I shake up the scenes on my existing Light Panels every few months and have used them to display seasonal colors or other event-specific palettes, like autumnal hues in fall, the colors of the U.S. flag on election-watching night, and green-red-and-white at Christmas.

To that end, Elements will let you choose to display full-color scenes from your library or other users, but will do its best to translate them into Elements' available gamut of 1,500-4,000K white light. The results are... fine. But you’re better off picking from the dozen or so default scenes or making your own.

Premium all over

Even the packaging of the panels is carefully considered.Craig Wilson / Input

Nanoleaf’s evidently integrated everything it’s learned over the last five years into the Elements panels. But this refinement comes with a bit of a price hike. A starter pack of seven Elements panels (which includes the power supply, controller, and connectors) will set you back $299.99, and each set of three additional panels (plus connectors) costs $99.99.

Compare that with the multi-colored Shapes hexagons, square Canvas panels, or the original triangular Light Panels (each $199.99 for a starter pack, and $69.99 for three extra panels) and that’s a not-insignificant mark-up, especially if you’re planning to buy a lot of them.

That said, LED lights tend to last for years, and Nanoleaf rates the Elements panels’ lifespan at around 25,000 hours — which equates to 1,041 days if you run them all day, every day, which would be a weird thing to do. I’ve had my regular Light Panels for about three years, moved them between multiple apartments (and countries), and use them for at least a few hours each day and they show no signs of dimming, let alone failing. They’re an investment, but not one you should expect to make often.

Sure, gamers, streamers, and club owners might stick to Nanoleaf’s more colorful options, but I expect Elements will be showing up in decor magazines, boutique hotels (and their bars), and on the shopping lists of interior decorators ever more regularly in months to come.

The Elements panels are smart lights for grown-ups. Clearly Nanoleaf — much more a grown-up itself these days — is betting that’s an untapped market, and I suspect it’s right.