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These smart ceiling lights are the best home accessory I didn't know I needed

Nanoleaf's new Skylight panels can get plenty bright and colorful with a tap of a button. Just make sure to set them up properly.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Nanoleaf Skylight smart light
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Nanoleaf Skylight is now available in a starter kit with three light panels at $250; each expansion pack costs $70.
  • These smart lights are a fun way to add a new, smart light fixture to an area that can change colors and offer modular installation to fit your style. 
  • Unfortunately, each panel looks dark in the middle, the Skylight is installed in place of a lighting fixture and not plugged in, and it's an expensive system.

Can you imagine an area in your home where you'd install modular smart light panels? Maybe it's a dark hallway, a dining room, or a living area that could use some color now and then. When I saw the Nanoleaf Skylight, I pictured my office as the perfect candidate. It's a dark room with no overhead lighting, since it was meant to be a formal living room when my house was built 25 years ago. 

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I could imagine creating a fun light fixture with the modular Skylight panels on my ceiling -- maybe a rectangle outline, a pyramid, or just a staggered look. So I was pretty bummed upon learning that these panels can only be installed by hardwiring, as they're meant to replace an existing light fixture. Nevertheless, when the Skylight opened to preorders and I got to review a unit, I was still excited to check it out.

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Then the lights arrived, and I thought about where to install them. I got four panels: three in the starter pack and one in the extension pack. I figured I'd install them all to see how they performed together, but I couldn't find the perfect spot.

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The square Nanoleaf Skylight panels have a modern look and feel, but most of my house is traditional in style, millennial homeowner that I am, so I struggled to decide where to install the panels. I had just finished remodeling my dining room with fresh wallpaper and paint, but the Skylight wouldn't look great as the centerpiece in what looks like an old English drawing room.  

I also wasn't willing to swap out a ceiling fan for the panel, and I have many ceiling fans at home. Ultimately, I opted to install the Nanoleaf Skylight on the stair landing because it's right past the entryway and it's always a dark area downstairs. 

Nanoleaf Skylight smart light

The Nanoleaf Skylight set to white.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Since this space is narrow, I installed the panels in a straight line, which was my first mistake. This setup gave my Nanoleaf Skylight a troffer light panel look, especially when set to a cool white. 

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Installing the Skylight is easier than it seems when you open the box. You must find the first panel to replace your existing light fixture and add the others sequentially. This first panel will also power the rest of the panels that make up the Skylight.

A colorful Nanoleaf Skylight.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Each Nanoleaf Skylight panel is a square 12 inches by 12 inches, and each starter kit has a main panel and two companion panels. The white base holds a string of LED lights that line the inner edges of the panels, and the cover diffuses the light. 

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Once you've installed the first panel on the light fixture, you can add the subsequent panels consecutively, as they'll need to be plugged into the main panel. 

Nanoleaf Skylight smart light

This is the look I was going for, but I quickly realized I'd need more panels to achieve it.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

After installation, I easily set up the Nanoleaf Skylight with the Nanoleaf app and Apple HomeKit. I wasn't been able to get the Nanoleaf Skylight to work with Amazon Alexa or Google Home, for some reason. 

The Skylight is easily the brightest light inside my home. Each panel delivers up to 1,400 lumens of brightness in a white setting, which is very bright for an indoor light fixture. I also love that I can choose from millions of colors and set scenes where the colors seem to bounce from one panel to the next.

Nanoleaf Skylight

The Nanoleaf Skylight with mint colors.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Each panel only displays one color at a time, so creating a true gradient effect is easier if many panels are set up together. Because the LEDs line only the inner edges of each panel, the lights always look darker in the center of the panels. I hate to say it, but the lack of LEDs in the center of each panel reminds me of a dirty light fixture. I'm sorry to put that image in your head.

ZDNET's buying advice

Since installing the Nanoleaf Skylight, I haven't encountered any operational issues, aside for the technology not working with Alexa or Google Home. My family and I love the extra light in what has always been a dark area in the home, and we enjoy that the light fixture can set a party mood on its own.

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As a white light though, I feel like the way I set up my four Nanoleaf Skylight panels in a straight line detracts from its strengths. At worst, the panels look like a drop-ceiling light fixture when set to cool white; at best, it seems like an odd choice for a light fixture that would likely go unnoticed by most. I wish I had set up the panels in a staggered pattern to give a more modern look, but I've accepted the design for now. 

The biggest downside to the Nanoleaf Skylight is its cost. The starter kit with three panels costs $250, and each expansion panel costs $70. This is not unexpected: Nanoleaf products are pricey, especially compared to other smart lights. 

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