NanoLeaf Canvas is Bold, Beautiful, and Expensive

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $199 (9-Pack)
NanoLeaf Canvas panels in shades of blue and white.
Josh Hendrickson

NanoLeaf Canvas is an LED system vastly different from the usual strip lights you see in smarthomes. Comprised of touch-sensitive LED light squares, you decide the shape and configuration. Simply put, it’s beautiful to behold—if you can afford it.

Here's What We Like

  • Beautiful beyond words
  • Integrates with Google Assitant, Alexa, or Siri
  • Rythym mode is so much fun

And What We Don't

  • Mildy hard to set up
  • App is unstable
  • Expensive

Most smart LED lights come in long strips and are relatively simple. Hang them somewhere, choose a color, enjoy. But NanoLeaf’s Canvas is different. The lights come as square panels, and you join them together to build a shape of your desire. With enough panels, you could effectively create a pixel picture, like a whale or Pac-Man ghost. But you’ll pay a pretty penny along the way.

Setup is a Bit Difficult

Inside the NanoLeaf box, you’ll find square LED panels (between 4 and 25 depending on the kit you chose), command strips, a plug, and enough linkers to join all the panels. The linkers are long narrow rectangles with metal stripes on either side that somewhat resemble the inside of a USB port.

A single Canvas panel, plug, and linker set with a quarter for scale.
The control panel has several buttons for power, shuffle, and rhythm mode. The words on the panel are a sticker you peel off. Josh Hendrickson

Once you figure out the layout, you want to mount the canvas panels by sticking the command strips to a panel and then attaching it to the wall. Next, slip a linker into one of the ports on the backside of the square on the wall; each square has three ports to utilize. Then put the commands strips on the next panel and slide it onto the linker and push against the wall to get a strong sticky seal.

That part is a bit tricky because you have to angle the square just right so the linker will slip into the new panel without the sticky command strip touching your wall too soon.

Just repeat that process until you have all your panels placed. The plug adapter for the device resembles a linker end and utilizes the same ports, plug that in, and you’re ready to pair. Pairing is, thankfully, easy to do. You can either scan a QR code included in the package or touch your device to the control panel for pairing. That part was and quick—the first time (more on that later).

When you’re placing everything, you’ll want to pay attention to where you put the control panel. This particular panel differs from all the rest in that it has touch buttons on it for power, dimming, turning on rhythm mode, and shuffling the current scene. It’s best to place that in an easy-to-reach spot. One thing I liked about the Canvas is that the control panel can go to any spot in your layout, and the plug can be connected to any port on any panel. I buried my power cord in the wall for a cleaner look; otherwise, you’ll have a white cord hanging down your wall.

Once You Turn It on the Canvas Is so Pretty

In a moment of honesty, I’ve agonized over the pictures I’ve taken of this Canvas review unit. None of them do the system justice. In-person the Canvas looks incredible. They stand out as unique, but they’re also bright and vibrant. My entire family fell in love from the moment I turned them on.

9 Nanoleaf panels showing sea green colors.
Josh Hendrickson

And I appreciate that the panels aren’t just static lights. Like most LEDs, you can choose colors to display, like all red or green panels. But, the NanoLeaf app (for Android and iOS) includes scenes you can choose from as well (or you can make your own). NanoLeaf created some of these scenes, and users created others and uploaded them for everyone to enjoy.

They’re not just static scenes either, some move and shift colors on their own; others interact with your voice and music. The Canvas has a microphone, and it does a surprisingly good job of thumping the lights to the beat of a song. Additionally, the panels are touch-sensitive. Run your hand along the squares, and the lights will shift with your touch.

My six-year-old loves to touch the panels and loves to turn on music and start up a dance party. And on occasion, I’ve found my wife playing with the lights too. I can’t blame either of them; they look fantastic, and it feels like the lights are playing with you. In rhythm mode, you can sing, and the panel lights will dance with your voice.

An App to Change Everything

NanoLeaf’s app provides your primary method for making changes to how your Canvas panels work. Here you can download additional scenes, interactions, and even games. You can also use the app to integrate with Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri, and IFTTT. One nice bonus for iOS users is Homekit compatibility.

The NanoLeaf app showing the main screen, scenes selection, and layout assistant.

NanoLeaf went the extra mile and properly supports themes in voice assistants, so if you have an interactive scene for the Canvas called “Winter Wonderland,” you can tell your assistant “turn on Winter Wonderland,” and it works.

The app can also assist you with setup. If you have the right device, it can create an AR image of potential Canvas configurations you can throw on your wall. And usually, the app will detect your exact Canvas configuration while pairing. That is when the app is working correctly.

A Few Occasional Hiccups

Unfortunately, not everything is perfect with NanoLeaf. In the beginning, the entire system seemed unstable, and the Canvas panels seemed to turn off on their own when we were using them.

It turns out the Canvas has touch gesture controls, with double-tap as an on and off gesture by default. It seems unnecessary considering the control panel has a power button and often left us confused about why the panels suddenly powered off.

The NanoLeaf app showing a "not connected" message.
Once again, the app can’t connect to the Canvas panels.

The app itself isn’t always stable, sometimes I load it up and find it’s unable to connect to the Canvas device. A few reloads later, and everything is working. During my time with Canvas, I’ve seen fewer and fewer failures to connect, but it still happens occasionally.

I also made the mistake of trying to pair with both my Android phone and my iPad so that I could test on all both operating systems. On iOS, NanoLeaf integrated HomeKit capabilities, which is great. But that includes using the HomeKit cloud to store settings like downloaded scenes.

On Android, NanoLeaf created its own custom cloud for the same purpose. And when I paired both OS’s with Canvas, the entire thing stopped responding. I eventually had to factory reset and start over… this time with a single OS. If you live in a multi-person setting with different operating systems, you may want to keep that in mind.

The app also includes “Interactive Scenes” that make that Canvas function in a game mode. You can download a game that resembles Simon Says, a Pac-Man clone, and a few others. But none of them were any good. I always failed at level one on every try.

And this last point is a warning more than a complaint. Most LED strips come with terrible and pointless double-sided sticky tape that falls apart in a day. That’s not true at all with NanoLeaf. The command strips included are super strong and sticky. I have plaster walls, and I chose durable paint designed to take a beating for my walls. So I was able to pull an attached panel off my wall without causing any damage. But I had to exert a surprising amount of effort to get the panel to pop off, and I’m sure the process would damage some walls and paint jobs.

Still, I’d rather have the stronger command strips than the cheap double-sided sticky tape that drops my expensive LED panels in a day.

An Expensive Extravagance

There’s no getting around the fact that NanoLeaf is expensive. The starter kits come in three forms, a four-panel kit for $80, a nine-panel kit for $200, and a 25 square kit for $500. At very best, that works out to $20 a panel.

Nine Canvas panels showing shades of orange and white.
This Finding Nemo scene is pretty fun. Josh Hendrickson

And it’s true; you can buy light strips for far cheaper. But, coming from someone who owns quite a few light strips, they don’t look anywhere near as impressive as Canvas. This product is a step above any other lighting solution I’ve tried.

The best way I can describe the difference is to compare a Chevy Corvette to a Chevy Cavalier. Technically both are cars that will get you from point A to point B. But one looks amazing and sexy, while the other just does what it needs to without bankrupting you. It’s likely not possible to convince someone who is dead set on buying a Cavalier that a Corvette is a viable option.

That goes the same for NanoLeaf, which is a premium product and priced as such. The better equivalent is Philips Hue. Consider the fact that a four-pack starter kit of color-changing Hue bulbs is $180, and the price isn’t so far out there anymore. For a little more, you’ll get a light that’s prettier and covers more area.

These lights are an extravagance. But if you decide to splurge on an indulgence, you certainly won’t regret it. They’re just that beautiful. Before I installed the NanoLeaf Canvas set, I had serious questions on whether the product could prove it should command the high price. After I turned them on for the first time, those questions were answered immediately. Yes, yes, they can.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $199 (9-Pack)

Here’s What We Like

  • Beautiful beyond words
  • Integrates with Google Assitant, Alexa, or Siri
  • Rythym mode is so much fun

And What We Don't

  • Mildy hard to set up
  • App is unstable
  • Expensive

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »

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