Nanoleaf’s Shapes and new, wood-like Elements panels will both include Thread border routers

Not only do Nanoleaf’s latest light panels boast a “wood-look” finish, they also come with controllers that connect Thread devices to the internet. Shapes panels will also get Thread functionality.

nanoleaf elements touch warm

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Nanoleaf’s latest line of eye-catching light panels arrive today with a pair of surprises: a textured, wood-like finish designed to look handsome even when the panels aren’t glowing, and controllers equipped with Thread border routers. Oh, and it turns out that Nanoleaf’s Shapes line will be getting Thread functionality, too.

Available starting today, Nanoleaf’s new Elements line follows in the footsteps of last year’s Shapes light panels, complete with a modular design and the ability to tap and swipe the panels to change lighting scenes and even control other smart devices. But while Nanoleaf’s other light panels look somewhat meh when they’re turned off, the Elements panels boast a “wood-look” finish for a warmer, more natural look, even when the panels aren’t glowing.

Controllers with Thread

Meanwhile, the touch-sensitive controller that snaps onto an Elements installation has a surprise under the hood: a Thread border router that can connect other Thread-enabled devices to the internet. A software update due shortly after Nanoleaf’s unveiling today will turn older Shapes controllers into Thread border routers, too. 

Up until now, only two consumer products worked as Thread border routers: the second-gen Apple TV 4K and the HomePod mini. With Nanoleaf’s announcement, the number of readily available Thread border routers just doubled. (Google’s Nest Hub Max, second-gen Nest Hub, and Wifi mesh router will eventually be Thread border routers too, but their Thread radios are currently dormant.)

An IP-based standard that’s won accolades for its stability and emphasis on security, Thread is a low-power, low-latency IoT protocol that’s backed by Apple, Google, Samsung, Qualcomm, and other tech titans. Thread is also a pillar of Matter, an exciting new smart home standard that promises to unite the Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit ecosystems.

A small but growing number of smart devices support Thread, including Nanoleaf’s line of Essentials lights and a variety of smart products from Eve Systems, including its Eve Energy smart plug, the Eve Aqua sprinkler controller, and Eve Door & Window sensors. But while the Essentials lights and the Eve Energy smart plug work as Thread routers that can connect other Thread devices together (the battery-powered Eve Energy and Aqua devices are Thread endpoints), they’re not Thread border routers capable of connecting Thread-enabled gadgets to the internet.

A Nanoleaf rep noted that while the controllers on Elements and Shapes installations will act as Thread border routers, the installations themselves will run on Wi-Fi, not Thread.

More about the new Elements line

Now, back to the physical design of Nanoleaf’s new Elements line. There isn’t any actual wood in the Elements panels, I’m told; instead, the light panels have been “carefully engineered to create the feeling of real wood,” complete with a “unique texture” that lets you “feel the detailed grains,” a Nanoleaf rep said.

nanoleaf elements panel hands on Ben Patterson/IDG

Nanoleaf’s new Elements light panels have a “wood-look” design, complete with a tactile grain finish.

Nanoleaf sent me some Elements samples yesterday, and while I haven’t had a chance to install them, I have handled the panels themselves, and they look as handsome as advertised—and yes, you can feel the wood (or “wood-like”) grain. I’ve relegated Nanoleaf’s other, more plastic-y panels to my office, but the homier Elements panels might just make it into my dining room. Keep an eye out for my full review. 

While the wood-like Elements panels are easier on the eyes than the Shapes panels, they’re quite a bit dimmer: just 22 lumens per panel, according to Nanoleaf, versus 100 lumens for the Shapes panels.

The Elements line also marks Nanoleaf’s first non-color light panels. While the current Shapes line and the older, triangular Light Panels and Canvas Smart Light Squares can glow in millions of colors, the Elements panels only light up in while color temperatures ranging from 1,500 to 4,000 Kelvin. That makes sense given the faux-wood design, but still, those groovy animated colors will be missed.

Finally—and perhaps as a way to compensate for the lack of color—the corners of the six-sided Elements panels can light up independently, allowing for “surreal organic motions,” Nanoleaf says. That’s an interesting new design feature, particularly given that the tips of Nanoleaf’s hexagonal and triangular Shapes panels don’t light up at all. The newer panels also glow from the back for a “double-lit” effect.

Despite their differences, the Elements panels can be connected to panels from the recent Shapes series, Nanoleaf confirms, and they share the same basic functionality, including music syncing (courtesy of integrated microphones), scheduling, touch controls, and circadian lighting.

Besides their Thread abilities, the Nanoleaf Elements light panels are compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, SmartThings, and IFTTT, just like the Shapes series is. 

Like most of Nanoleaf’s smart lighting products, the Elements line isn’t cheap. A “Smarter Kit” with seven Elements panels, a controller, and a power supply costs a steep $299.99, or $100 more than the seven-piece Shapes starter kit. A three-panel expansion pack (minus a controller and PSU) goes for $99.99.

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