Nanoleaf Canvas review

Nanoleaf Canvas lighting brings a riot of color and vibrancy to the smart home

If elegant luminaires like Philips Hue are classical music, Nanoleaf Canvas is most definitely disco. Glorious disco.
If elegant luminaires like Philips Hue are classical music, Nanoleaf Canvas is most definitely disco. Glorious disco.
If elegant luminaires like Philips Hue are classical music, Nanoleaf Canvas is most definitely disco. Glorious disco.

Highs

  • Dazzling array of scenes and features
  • Integrated music/light sync
  • Comprehensive setup instructions
  • Fantastic controller app
  • Google Assistant, Alexa, IFTTT integrations

Lows

  • Sticky pad mounting can damage walls
  • Some color accuracy issues

When it comes to choosing smart lighting for the home, the selection falls into three camps. You can, of course, pick from plethora of color-changing LED bulbs available on the market today and install in any lamp. Alternatively, luminaires with integrated LEDs like Philips Hue Signe combine style and smarts to lift any home interior.

The Nanoleaf Canvas makes an altogether more powerful statement. A $248 starter kit (actually named “Smarter Kit”) includes nine touch-sensitive, square light panels that fix directly to the wall in a design of your choosing, individually supporting 16 million colors. Unlike Nanoleaf’s triangular first-generation panels, Canvas ships with an integrated audio sensor, allowing your lights to sync with movies, TV, music or games.

A brief hands-on with Nanoleaf Canvas at IFA 2018 colored us impressed and left us wanting more, and few months later, we finally have the opportunity for a full review. The headline? If elegant luminaires like Philips Hue Signe are akin to Debussy, Nanoleaf Canvas is most definitely disco. Glorious disco.

As a fully wall-mounted lighting solution, Nanoleaf Canvas offers a more complex installation than a mere lamp, requiring owners to take a little time to plan, design and then implement their solution. As the name suggests, Canvas is part lighting, part illuminated art installation, with the ability to dominate the décor of any room. Up to 25 light squares (available in four-pack extensions kits) can be connected to a single power supply, while a single controller supports up to 500 panels, allowing a generous palette of pixels to play with.

Canvas is part lighting, part illuminated art installation, with the ability dominate the décor of any room.

The compact Nanoleaf Smarter Kit arrives with eight standard light squares (5.9 inches), a control square (which lights up just like a standard square, but includes the brains of the operation), nine linkers (which act as connecting cables, but are in fact thin PCBs) and a power supply. Also in the box, you’ll find 28 sticky mounting tabs, which affix to each corner of a panel for mounting.  A screw-mounting kit for Canvas is being planned, but won’t be available until the second quarter of 2019.

The tiles themselves are well constructed, and the linker strips slide neatly and securely into their connecting slots. As a bonus, the linkers also ensure your tiles are neatly lined up during installation.

Comprehensive setup instructions make installation easier

The good news is that Nanoleaf’s accompanying app (iOS/Android) does a fantastic job of guiding you through layout, connection and configuration of the light squares. A neat layout assistant provides inspiration for however many light squares you’re installing. As you lay out your Canvas, you’ll need to ensure each square is able to connect to at least one adjacent square using the linker strips. It’s a little fiddly and, at times, it may feel like you’re playing a giant version of a tile puzzle, but it’s worth taking time to get right before mounting.

Nanoleaf Canvas review
Terry Walsh/Digital Trends

Connect power and hook Canvas up to your Wi-Fi (via the app) and you’re ready to explore the possibilities of your new light installation. We found connection to be mostly simple, although it took a few tries to enable Canvas’ wireless network connection. Pairing our smartphone to the connector square (during which a code is passed between devices using NFC) was also a little clunky.

Our review kit was from an early pre-production batch and suffered severely from uneven light edges, which you can see in some of our photos. Nanoleaf contacted us ahead of the review to let us know that final retail units do not suffer from this problem. We have one of those on the way and will update this review with our findings.

Touch-sensitive panels create a riot of fun and color

Canvas can be operated in a variety of modes. Touch-sensitive buttons on the control panel allow you to switch between rhythm mode and shuffle as well as select color scenes and change brightness settings. Using the Nanoleaf app isn’t mandatory. That makes Canvas a great choice for kids’ bedrooms, enabling them to have fun with light settings through touch.

At times, it may feel like you’re playing a giant version of a tile puzzle, but it’s worth taking time to get mounting right.

When you tap a panel, it becomes interactive – illuminating or sending out a ripple, depending on the scene. You’ve probably already guessed that simple color games like Simon, Whack-a-Mole, and memory tests are available to launch via the app. OK, it’s no Nintendo Switch, but they offer fun family diversions on a rainy day; simply running your hand over the Canvas squares and seeing the results is a simple pleasure. Gesture controls can also be programmed, allowing scene and brightness changes through swipes on a light square.

For more ambitious users, Canvas boasts integrations with the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa for simple voice commands, while a ton of IFTTT recipes can be enabled to hook your lights to a dizzying array of devices and services.

Beautifully crafted app provides easy exploration and inspiration

Most Canvas owners will be content to delve into the fantastic Nanoleaf app to explore the swathe of scenes and settings on offer. The app neatly balances simplicity with sophistication, enabling quick and easy access to a wide range of colorscapes for casual users. A few taps and Canvas springs to life with preset palettes like Northern Lights, Forest, Inner Peace and Falling Whites. There’s even a Nemo option for Pixar fans.

Swipe right for functional lighting options – Warm White, Reading Light and Daylight, while you can also explore a host of jazzier alternatives in the Rhythm and Interactive tabs. Each setting is neatly presented with simple power toggles and a brightness slider allowing easy tweaks.

Two features separate the Nanoleaf app from other lighting controllers. First, a suite of scene creator tools allow you build your own presentations, with simple color selections and a swathe of available motion effects available to try and tweak. You’ll find your Canvas light squares respond immediately as you build your palette, making experimentation a joy.

If you’re seeking inspiration (or a little lazy), hit the Discover tab to preview and download community-created color schemes and light shows. Purple Moonbeams and Candy Cane Fireworks not your thing? Just keep swiping – there are hundreds of vibrant scenes to download and play with.

One of the most accomplished smart home controller apps we’ve encountered in 2018.

Elsewhere, you can set hourly, daily or weekly schedules for automatic playing of scenes, gradually dim or brighten the lights for evenings and mornings, or toggle lights when you’re on vacation to deter unwanted visitors. Add useful tutorials on using features in the app, and it all adds up to one of the most accomplished smart home controller apps we’ve encountered in 2018.

In terms of performance, aside from the production issue we highlighted earlier on our review sample, Canvas is bright enough to illuminate a wall, even in daylight, although color rendition is more intense in darker rooms. Accuracy is reasonable, but not spectacular. Nanoleaf claims Canvas supports 16.4 million colors, with a color temperature range between 1,200K and 6,500K. We certainly found some discrepancies (particularly in the blue and purple ranges) between colors selected in the Nanoleaf app and what was rendered by the light squares. A Hex color selector in the app allows a precise selection of colors – but again, Canvas couldn’t render the full spectrum we anticipated. For most users, this won’t be an issue, but those seeking absolute accuracy may be disappointed. Up to 25,000 hours of use per panel is reasonable, but like most lights, you will need to replace panels following heavy use.

Otherwise, Nanoleaf Canvas is a joy to use, adding fun, personality, and vibrancy to any room. Versatile layouts and an enormous selection of scenes ensures feature lighting reflects your personal tastes, while integrated interactivity through touch and rhythm is a real delight. At $248, it means that Canvas is somewhat of an investment, but one that will pay back on a daily basis. Beware, though, much like Sonos speakers, buy a Nanoleaf kit for one room and it won’t be long before you’re installing these fabulous feature lights throughout your home.

Warranty information

Nanoleaf Canvas is supported by a two-year warranty covering manufacturer defects.

Our Take

The versatile Nanoleaf Canvas is a delight, bringing vibrancy, fun and real personality to the smart home. Nanoleaf’s first-class application makes exploration and experimentation a treat. With a swathe of user-generated scenes and interactions available for download, rooms can benefit from a different vibe 365-days a year.

Is there a better alternative?

Nothing quite delivers the ease and impact of Nanoleaf Canvas in the smart lighting world. Of course, Philips Hue offers a wide range of RGB LED light bulbs, light strips and a growing range of luminaires and the previous-generation Nanoleaf Aurora remains a slightly cheaper (and clunkier) alternative.

How long will it last?

Canvas is firmware upgradable, and a huge range of downloadable scenes will ensure your interest is maintained throughout its life. Like most LED lights, Canvas has a limited lifespan, but 25,000 hours should provide plenty of longevity.

Should you buy it?

If you’re seeking to lift a room with light, there are few systems as versatile or as vibrant as Nanoleaf Canvas. Highly recommended.

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