In 2016, Nanoleaf changed the smart lighting world by creating the category of modular smart lighting with the launch of Light Panels. Fast forward to today…and we see all types of RGB light panels on the market. So with all these new brands popping up, how do you tell the quality of a product and decide which is best for you?
This brings me to today’s main topic…why Nanoleaf Shapes are truly the best modular LED light panels on the market! These are the successor of 2016’s OG Light Panels and are arguably some of the highest quality light panels from a technical perspective. I know I’m not the most unbiased here, but it’s true. Stick around so I can explain why.
In this blog, we are doing a deep dive into Nanoleaf Shapes software and hardware so you can learn what truly sets these panels apart. If you’re going to be spending all that money on a smart lighting product you should know what you’re getting!
Honorary Mentions: Before I jump in, we have Nanoleaf Engineers Benjamin L., Faisal A., and Aliakbar E. to thank for sharing the ins and outs behind Nanoleaf Shapes software and hardware. 👏
Starting With Software: What Sets Nanoleaf Shapes Software Apart From Other LED Light Panels?
The software behind Nanoleaf Shapes is a huge factor in what sets these RGB panels apart from other brands—from exclusive Nanoleaf features to improvements on features that exist across many light panel versions.
1) Layout Assistant
This is a really neat benefit that can be accessed through the Nanoleaf Mobile App.
Layout Assistant helps you virtually plan your Shapes layout—it will even detect layouts that aren’t possible. You can select the exact number of panels and then create your own design, check out our design inspiration page for ideas. Another option is the shuffle button, which will randomly generate layouts. It can be particularly helpful if you are just starting as well! Once you decide which layout is best for your space, it will show you what kits you need to purchase to make this virtual layout become reality.
For iOS users, this feature goes one step further with an augmented reality component—allows users to design layouts and preview them in their space virtually. Layout Assistant uses your smart device’s camera to allow you to test run layouts in the actual spot you want to set them up. This augmented reality addition will be coming soon for Android users.
LayoutDetect™ is a unique technology found across all of the Nanoleaf light panels (Lines, Shapes, Canvas, Elements, Rhythm Light Panels) and it’s what allows our creative community to enjoy any design—allowing the colors to flow intuitively and seamlessly across any layout.
The Controller automatically identifies the panel type and where it’s located. This makes it possible for colors and animations to seamlessly and intuitively flow across any layout you create, even if you add new panels. It also makes some of our hardware features possible like Touch Actions detailed above.
Connect+ is another feature that’s exclusive to Nanoleaf! Since we have many different types of light panels, this software allows you to connect panels of different shapes, sizes, and product lines. Connect any of the Nanoleaf Shapes (Triangles, Mini Triangles, Hexagons) and Nanoleaf Elements together to explore unique designs.
From a technical standpoint, Connect+ is an extension of LayoutDetect, identifying the panel type and where it’s located. We also intentionally designed the Linker Slot and the Linker to be the same for all of these product lines so they could seamlessly connect.
4) Rhythm Music Visualizer
Nanoleaf’s Rhythm Music Visualizer syncs up your lights and the sounds around them in real-time, creating a dynamic visual light show reacting to the beat of your music. It uses the microphone in the Shapes Controller to pick up on sounds and beats, which is optimized so there’s minimal delay between detecting the sound and reacting to it.
If you’ve already done your research, you may have noticed other smart lighting brands likely have this feature as well. But what you don’t know is that Nanoleaf does it differently! Different motions are specifically optimized for each genre of music based on high and low frequencies. We’ve created advanced algorithms to tap into this and deliver the best possible experience.
Depending on the music you’re listening to, the visualizer will intuitively pick up on lower or higher notes and transform that into different colors and animations to elevate the listening experience. For example, the Rhythm Scene “Beat Drop” will react with a more explosive reaction to genres with lower frequencies, and “Streaking Notes” assigns different colors at different times for low versus high frequencies. So the panels don’t just “hear” sounds, they listen and understand them, and then deliver a corresponding reaction specific to that sound as a way to enhance it.
5) Screen Mirror
Enhance your entertainment with Screen Mirror and watch the colors from your PC screen reflect onto your panels for a more immersive movie or gaming experience. Nanoleaf’s Screen Mirror has four different modes designed to provide both flashy and subtle effects to suit your preference. The Screen Mirror feature can be found in the Nanoleaf Desktop App and works with Nanoleaf Lines, Shapes, Canvas, Essentials, and Rhythm Light Panels.
So how does it work you ask? This feature is purely software-based! It uses native display capture APIs built into Windows and macOS to obtain information about the contents of the display. This information is filtered into color data based on the chosen Screen Mirror mode and then sent over the local network to selected Nanoleaf devices using Nanoleaf’s External Control protocol. This feature is optimized for each platform to ensure minimal latency and low resource usage. And since the data is pulled directly from your PC screen rather than through external methods, the colors are highly accurate.
6) Open API
The Nanoleaf Open API specifically allows for third-party developers (such as yourself) to create their own custom experiences with the lights. So if you have the technical knowledge, you can programmatically take full advantage of the flexible control the Open API offers. Try Touch Data Stream and Stream Control for finer control over the panels!
On to Hardware: How Is Nanoleaf Shapes Hardware Different From Your Average Modular RGB Light Panels?
Nanoleaf Shapes hardware has been very carefully thought out to deliver the best possible experience—one of ease, creativity, and convenience!
1) Ultra-Thin Profile
Nanoleaf Shapes are remarkably thin at only 0.39 in/1 cm when mounted on your wall. The thinness of each panel makes them an ideal choice for people in small spaces who have limited square footage to decorate with.
The extremely thin profile is a result of hundreds of hours of development work from our design and engineering teams. With any thin smart lights, it becomes difficult to fit everything inside efficiently and then on top of that create evenly diffused lighting. We solved these issues with our customized LEDs and our creative positioning of these LEDs inside of the panels, angling them in such a way that the light spreads across each panel evenly.
FUN FACT: It took our amazing Nanoleaf engineers more than a year to get to a point where they were happy with the light distribution and thinness of Shapes.
2) Snap-on Linker Slot System
Next on the list is the Nanoleaf Shapes Linker Slot system. If you don’t already know, each panel is connected using what we call “Linkers.” There are “Linker Slots” on the backs of each panel and you just snap the Linker in like LEGO to connect each panel.
The keyword here is SNAP! Let me explain. Once upon a time, we had a Linker Slot system where the Linkers simply slid into the slots. Our original light panels use this method, and our Canvas panels still do. Over time and with product testing and user feedback, Nanoleaf learned that this may not be the most convenient way to connect the panels. You see, if you want to rearrange your panels that are already on the wall or replace a panel that happens to be right in the middle of your layout, it becomes a lot harder to do so with slide-in Linkers. It’s much easier, faster, and more secure with snap-on Linkers, so for the Shapes product line this was a must.
3) Screw Mounting Solution
The Nanoleaf Shapes “Mounting Plates” are actually quite a cool accessory because it’s an all-in-one solution and it’s another lesson we learned over our decade of innovation.
You’ll notice on the back of each Shapes light panel there is a circular Mounting Plate containing two small holes. This Mounting Plate is where the Mounting Tape goes for you to place the panels on your wall, but it also allows you to Screw Mount your Shapes for installations on textured surfaces or ceilings. You’ll also notice that this accessory is designed to detach from the panel and stay on the wall so you know exactly where to drill the screws.
A lot of work went into designing this fun little Mounting Plate so we could create the easiest possible solution for you! But we’re quite happy with it because it allows anyone to have both mounting solutions right out of the box.
4) Physical Controller
Anyone should be able to control their smart lights at any time, regardless of having instant access to their smartphone. This is why Nanoleaf Shapes have an actual physical Controller attached to them.
On the Shapes Controller, you’ll find a Power button, Dim/Brighten buttons, a Next Color Scene button, a Next Rhythm Scene button, and a Shuffle button. The Shuffle button will give you access to around 100 scenes that are selected by the Nanoleaf team from the “Discover” tab in the Nanoleaf App. So you instantly have access to many, many lighting Scene options with Shapes even before you pair with a smart device.
The actual Controller gives you access to some other cool features too. The Shapes controller will also act as a Thread Border Router, enabling Thread devices to automatically run on Thread. Plus it has “Hotspot Mode” which enables Shapes to have their own Wi-Fi network in places that don’t have a Wi-Fi router so you can still pair them with your device to control the lights and set colors.
5) Capability To Create Larger Layouts
One of my personal favorites about Shapes is the ability to create massive and creative layouts and there’s a lot behind this.
Shapes Controllers can support up to 500 panels at one time, the capability for this actually exists in both the panels and the Controllers. This is enabled with a processor chip but what’s more impressive is the communication protocol we created—allowing them to scale so well and easily.
Larger layouts will need more power depending on the type of Shapes (Triangles, Mini Triangles, Hexagons) and how many you use. Although we do offer a PSU calculator and solutions to guide users on where to place PSUs.
6) Touch Actions And Controls
Last but not least, Nanoleaf Touch Actions transforms each light panel into a touch-reactive smart button to control any or all your HomeKit products—allowing for a seamless smart home experience. You can configure each panel to activate different HomeKit Scenes with a press, double press, or long-press. For example, make mornings easier by assigning one panel to activate all of your morning activities with one touch—open the smart blinds, turn on the smart kettle, and play your favorite lighting Scene “Morning Sky”. Touch Games are another unique and fun feature enabled by touch. You can play classic games like “Whack A Mole” by tapping the panels as they light up.
This feature works by using a capacitive touch sensor and a software feature that we touched on in the previous section called LayoutDetect™ to build motions and Scenes. Unique tools like touch create limitless possibilities.
✨Bonus Fact ✨
If you’ve made it this far, you’re in for a treat! 🍭 Here’s a fun bonus fact: we’ve made a conscious effort to not use plastic wrapping or extra materials in our Nanoleaf Shapes packaging. So aside from the software and hardware, these light panels are more environmentally smart as well.
If you’re looking for more fun tidbits we have the best online community! Join the Nanoleaf Facebook Community where fans of everything Nanoleaf come together and share creative ideas. Also find us on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter (@Nanoleaf), or Facebook (@theNanoleaf).
Before you go, which “behind the scenes” features are you most surprised about, share your thoughts with us!