Nanoleaf's New Smart Bulb Is the One to Beat for HomePod Mini Owners

Illustration for article titled Nanoleaf's New Smart Bulb Is the One to Beat for HomePod Mini Owners
Photo: Wes Davis/Gizmodo

There are two kinds of smart bulbs in this world—those that work well, and those doomed to languish in drawers with all of your other bitter regrets. If you haven’t done your research, or just failed hard a lot, you have probably come to the same conclusion many of us have: Just buy the friggin’ Philips Hue bulbs. Yes, they’re pricey, but the rest of the market is largely a wasteland; the affordable alternatives are so absolutely terrible that the fact you paid any money for them at all feels a little like punishment.

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Enter Nanoleaf Essentials A19 bulbs. Built on the back of Thread, the latest wireless standard to enter the smart home fray—see our explainer here—these bulbs promise to be super fast, being the first to capitalize on the Thread capabilities of Apple’s HomePod Mini. They’re also relatively cheap at $20, effectively hitting a sweet spot in pricing that, if they work well, should probably make Hue-maker Philips sweat—but only a little. The benefits of these bulbs remain contingent on the presence of a HomePod Mini, which we’ve yet to see real sales figures on. Otherwise, it’s just a (very nice) Bluetooth bulb: slow as the dickens, and buggy as the…well, as the buggy dickens.

Aesthetically, there can be no doubt of these bulbs’ Nanoleafiness. Their Archimedean solid shape—which I am not going to type the name of—is very much in keeping with the company’s insistence that light need not come from a fully-rounded enclosure. It’s like bringing a low-poly indie game object to life!

Setup was characteristically easy and done fully through the iOS Home app. The bulb felt like it maybe took a bit longer than most devices to pair with my home, and it was a little herky-jerky out of the gate, but after it finished up whatever initialization it needed to go through, I found it very responsive. So responsive, in fact, that if you’d broken into my home and put it in one of my normally Hue fixtures, I wouldn’t have noticed for days.

Thread or no, there was no major speed boost over Hue via Siri on my HomePod Minis, with both bulbs responding within a perfectly-fine 1.5-ish seconds on average. For grins, I set the Nanoleaf up as a Bluetooth-only light, and I can safely say: Just don’t. When it did work, it took more than twice as long, sometimes much, much longer at around 20 or 30 seconds.

Illustration for article titled Nanoleaf's New Smart Bulb Is the One to Beat for HomePod Mini Owners
Photo: Wes Davis/Gizmodo
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As for color reproduction, the bulbs are fantastic, as you’d expect them to be, coming from Nanoleaf. Accurate though they are, however, they were extremely dim when using colors, so it’ll take more of them to live out your Miami Vice fantasy. Conversely, when using normal, brighter white light, the dimmest setting feels like it could’ve been dimmer still. That said, at 1100 max lumens, the Essentials bulb does white very well.

Thanks to a recent firmware update, I was able to test Apple’s Adaptive Lighting feature. Throughout the day, it goes from cool to warm lighting, being at its coziest in the wee hours. Not to be outdone, the Nanoleaf app’s Circadian Lighting takes it a step further, letting you set the shades you want for the start and end of your day. Also in their app, you can set color-changing scenes, and it’s promised they’ll soon also take on features from the flat panel lights like Screen Mirror. Like any good HomeKit device, however, you needn’t use their app to use the bulb—the Home app will suffice, if your needs are simple enough.

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The feature set already baked into the Essentials A19 is bonkers for the price, but only if you have a HomePod Mini. Provided you’ve got one, the bulbs work just as fast as Hue’s, and in the time I spent with it, more reliably, as promised. Thread’s claims of a more stable network so far seem true. That said, is the Essentials bulb a revelation? No, it’s still a light bulb, albeit a very cool one. But it’s $30 less than the biggest player in the space, and as far as I’m concerned, is exactly as good at doing its main job: Being a light.

README

  • The first Thread-compatible smart light definitely makes the case for Thread as a serious, non-hub competitor to the typical smart home equipment.
  • Has excellent color and response time.
  • The Nanoleaf scenes are fun to play with, if not as impressive as they are on their panel light brethren.
  • Its blocky, geometric shape is unique and more fun than other options.
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DISCUSSION

vocalshrapnel
vocalshrapnel

I’ve had six of them for almost a month and they’re ok, but overall lacking. Maybe I expected too much.

I bought them because of the price point and the fact that I didn’t “need” a hub, but ended up buying a homepod mini shortly after because of the lag with bluetooth. The homepod mini in itself is a waste unless you’re totally in the apple ecosystem, while I have an iphone i don’t subscribe to apple services and as a result can’t really do anything with it that isn’t faster (and quieter) on my phone, so it’s just a thread hub that sits behind a plant. That’s another discussion though.

The day the bulbs arrived they rolled out a firmware update to add colour scenes, which is good because I was initially annoyed that they were just static colours prior to the update, but even after another app update this week, the experience isn’t great.

They have “scenes” for their other products that you can download, but nothing for the bulbs. You can create scenes on your own, but the amount of colours you can set within a scene are limited in comparison to their panels (7 on the bulbs vs 20 on the panels). Up until this week, you couldn’t assign a dynamic scene to bulbs within a group (you can group bulbs for a single on\off fucntion) and had to set it one bulb at a time. Now you can at least set dynamic scenes within groups, but you can’t do the entire group at once, you have to build the scene from scratch on every single bulb and THEN set up a group and then assign the scene to each bulb one at a time. Just let me build a scene once and then assign that scene to a group FFS.

There are no timing functions within the nanoleaf app, you have to set that up in homekit. I’d love to have a function or scheduled task that could adjust the brightness like wemo switches allow (turn on at xAM, raise brighness from x% to x% over 30 minutes, etc), but that’s not a thing, it’s just choose your scene and off\off.

The circadian lighting is also a bit janky. I actually like the colour temp when it’s done through the nanoleaf app, but I couldn’t save circadian lighting to a group so as soon as I changed to another colour scene I would have to reassign circadian lighting back to each bulb one at a time. I’ll have to see if they fixed this with the latest app updated. Homekit has “adaptive lighting”, but I don’t get it, it’s always just bright white and maybe gets a touch warmer if you dim the bulbs, it’s not automatic throughout the day at all, so it just kinda sucks.

Overall, if you have a homepod mini and want cheaper smartbulbs, it’s probably the way to go. If you don’t have a homepod mini and you don’t use apple services, maybe going with Hue is better, the price point is similar with the homepod factored in and I’m guessing the software is better with the Hue. If you just like static light scenes, nanoleaf bulbs are fine, but once you start going with dynamic colour scenes and circadian lighting, there are a lot of hoops and manual steps to go through when it should be a setup once and press a button scenario.

I really hope things improve quickly with the firmware and app.