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The panels are fun, bright, colorful, and a crowd pleaser.
They won't fit every decor and are more for the novel factor than practicality.
Traditional lighting, a choice between glaringly bright yellow tones or the dull and often dim light produced by energy-saving light bulbs, is beginning to feel somewhat ancient in comparison to what is now available to us.
The Internet of Things (IoT), mobility, and Wi-Fi-connected devices all gave rise to the concept of the "smart home," gadgets and appliances connected to the web and our mobile devices for a more convenient and smarter experience.
You can buy anything from fridges which run self health-checks to locks which allow you to remotely open and close doors -- although this does not always go to plan -- as well as robot vacuums and, of course, smart lighting.
There are a number of different solutions on the market suitable for a range of budgets. The Playbulb is a limited but budget-friendly Bluetooth-based smart light bulb and 'candle' range, while the Philips Hue range of lamps and bulbs offers incredible colors, timing, and scenes -- but is more expensive.
Many smart lighting solutions focus on light bulb replacements and standalone lamps, but Nanoleaf, beginning as a Kickstarter campaign back in 2012, is a company which attempts to use your walls to innovate in the home and commercial lighting industry.
The company's latest product, the Nanoleaf Aurora, is a smart lighting kit made up of panels. For a starter kit, containing nine panels and everything you need to get started, you will be spending $199.99, with $59.99 for each additional three-panel expansion kit.
At first glance, the idea of panels which light up and display combinations of color and hue on your wall in whatever design you wish seems fun and novel. But are they worth the money? ZDNet finds out.
Installation and setup
It could not be easier to get started. For the purposes of testing, I used both a Nanoleaf Aurora and an expansion kit. The starter pack comes with nine panels, a quick start guide, power supply, connectors, and adhesive mounting strips.
Each panel is nine inches per side and can be connected to each other with small plastic chips which contain the circuits needed to link up the power supply from one panel to the next.
Once you have connected up the panels by slotting one chip into each inset and connecting the power supply to your outlet, you can maneuver the panels into whatever pattern you wish.
By design, however, the panels will easily slot in and out of each other, so be careful -- and it is easier to create a pattern from one panel to the next on your wall using the adhesive strips to keep each panel firmly in place. I recommend starting from the "bottom up" when you are putting together your arrangement, as the connectors are a bit flimsy and do not snap into place.
Once you are happy with the arrangement of your panels, you then visit the Nanoleaf website to register your device. Afterwards, you download either the iOS or Android application.
The application is called the "Nanoleaf Smarter Series." You must create an account -- which requires your name, email address, and a password -- or login via Facebook to access the app.
When you open up the app, you create a "Home" group and then select "Aurora." However, to set up new panels, you must allow the app to access your location and GPS data, at least during setup.
Once your Aurora has been found, the app will connect to your home Wi-Fi. The process takes several minutes to complete before you are given the option to assign your Aurora to a room if you wish -- a handy feature if multiple Aurora devices are present in your home. You can also schedule different lighting and scenes depending on the time of day -- but there are no 'wake up slowly' functions as you might find in other smart lighting products.
Functionality and performance
The Aurora works with Apple HomeKit voice activation, iOS devices, Amazon Alexa, and Android. You need iOS8+ or Android 5.01+.
However, you can also use the included controller for basic functions, such as turning the lights on and off or to select pre-saved or pre-loaded scenes. At the moment, the controller is part of your wall system, but there are plans to introduce a remote in the future.
When you first set up your device, you can run through a tutorial which teaches you how to "paint" different colors on separate panels.
You may also choose from a wide selection of pre-loaded scenes -- Flames and Snowfall being my favorites -- or browse and preview "Featured" scenes which are available for download.
Many of the scenes available are incredibly vibrant, with colors that match well, as well as glow and dim automatically. You can also set a wide range of effects including bursts and sweeps through each panel.
Considering how bright the panels are out of the box, the range of dimness to brightness is key to creating different ambiance depending on the room you have installed your Aurora panels.
You can also ask your preferred voice assistance to change the scene. Testing with both HomeKit and Alexa, the Aurora does an excellent job and I did not have to repeat myself when asking the lights to turn off or change the scene.
The Nanoleaf Aurora, simply put, is fun. I have no doubt that having an Aurora on the wall is a conversation starter and can certainly boost the mood if you're hosting a party, but it can also serve as anything from a dim nightlight for kids or mood lighting for a quiet night in.
However, it is not a lighting solution focused on practicality. I consider it more akin to art; a pretty, light-giving display which you can tailor to your own taste.
According to the Nanoleaf Aurora Roadmap, Nanoleaf is currently working on updated the apps for iOS and Android, as well as a Rhythm upgrade module, expected to land later this year, which will sync the lights to music.
The company is also requesting feedback on the idea of creating a repositionable, magnetic mounting kit for Aurora kits in the future, which in my opinion, would be an excellent addition to the range -- as sticky adhesive doesn't really seem to cut it for the price you have to pay to get started.
Our tastes and opinions on decor also change over time, and by making the lighting repositionable around the home, it will likely appeal even further, too.
If you're looking for a smart and customizable lighting source beyond the basics, the Aurora is not likely the right choice for you -- a Philips Hue setup would be better. However, if you're looking for a fun, novel, and modern solution -- with an emphasis on the enjoyability and creative factor -- Aurora is worth every cent.