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After wowing smart home users (including us) with its eye-popping, touch-sensitive smart light panels, Nanoleaf has launched an “Essentials” line of more traditional smart lighting products, including a color A19 bulb. Like most things Nanoleaf, the Essentials A19 comes with a few twists, including its trippy, 120-sided design and its support for Thread, an IP-based Internet of Things (IoT) protocol backed by the likes of Apple, Google, and Samsung SmartThings.
Thread is a low-power, high-reliability, and security-focused protocol that’s been percolating for more than six years, but it’s only supported by a handful of products, which means its potential has yet to be fully realized. The same could be said for Nanoleaf’s Essentials A19 bulb, which boasts some interesting features—including the ability to sync with music, Mac and PC monitors, and Nanoleaf’s own Shapes light panels—that aren’t yet ready for prime time yet. Another wrinkle is the fact that the bulb’s most advanced features rely on a Thread border router—a device that acts as a bridge between a Thread network and another networks, such as Wi-Fi—and for now, there’s only one consumer model: the $99 Apple HomePod Mini.
Still, the $20 Essentials A19 is a compelling smart bulb, what with its unique design, its easy setup, and its compatibility with Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant. And if you’re not ready to invest in a HomePod Mini, you can still control the bulb via Bluetooth.
For now, there are just two products in Nanoleaf’s Essentials line: the A19 bulb we’re reviewing, and a $50 smart LED lightstrip. A promotional image from Nanoleaf depicts a variety of other interesting lights, including BR30 downlights, decorative candle bulbs, and GU10 and/or GU24 downlights, but the A19 and the lightstrip are the only two products that have been officially announced.
The most arresting thing about the Nanoleaf Essentials A19 bulb is its nifty, 120-sided shape, also known as a rhombicosidodecahedron (yes, that’s nine syllabels). Functionally speaking, though, the A19 is a typical bulb with an E26 base that will fit in a standard light socket.
Rated to last up to 25,000 hours, the Essentials A19 bulb is tunable from a warm 2,700 Kelvin, similar to a bedroom incandescent bulb, to a cool 6,500 K, which is closer to daylight on a hazy day. The bulb can also cast up to 12 million colors, which you can choose from a circular palate in the Nanoleaf app. Capable of emitting up to 1,100 lumens of brightness (roughly equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent bulb), the A19 had no trouble lighting up my bedroom, and it would serve equally well lighting a desk or another workspace.
Getting the Nanoleaf Essentials A19 up and running was easy. Using the Apple Home app, I just scanned the QR code on the base of the bulb; the Home app quickly added the bulb to my collection of HomeKit devices, and that was it. (Want to know more about HomeKit? Read this story.) If you prefer Google, you can use the Google Home app to add the bulb to your Assistant-controlled smart devices.
You don’t need an Apple HomePod Mini to start using the bulb; if you like, you can simply control it via Bluetooth. Bluetooth control of the bulb, however, entails some pretty significant limitations, starting with the fact that you’ll need to be in the same room (or reasonably nearby, as in 33 feet or so) to connect to the bulb. You’ll still be able to add the A19 to scenes and schedules, but if your phone is out of range, the scenes won’t be applied and the schedules will fail to trigger.
To take advantage of the Essential A19’s more advanced functionality, you’ll need that HomePod Mini or another Thread Border router. I started testing the A19 using Bluetooth, because the HomePod Mini wasn’t available. Once Apple’s smaller smart speaker arrived, I didn’t have to do anything special to connect it to the bulb; as they like to say in Cupertino, it just worked.
With the Essentials A19 connected via Thread, it suddenly began responding to my commands much more quickly (it was a tad sluggish when using Bluetooth), and I could control the bulb from all the way across my apartment, or even from across town. (Like the full-sized HomePod, the HomePod Mini acts as a HomeKit hub allowing for out-of-home control of HomeKit devices).
Features and functionality
Nanoleaf has ambitious plans for its Essentials collection of lights, including the ability to mirror the colors on your Mac or Windows display, to sync with its Shapes light panels, and to sync with your music. Essentials bulbs, including the A19, will—eventually—also work with HomeKit’s new Adaptive Lighting feature, which automatically adjusts the hue and brightness of your lights according to the time of day in your particular region. For now, though, those features are all still in the works, and once they do arrive, they’ll all require a Thread connection.
The Essentials A19 does have plenty of primed-and-ready features. Take circadian lighting, which (similar to Apple’s Adaptive Lighting feature) automatically adjusts the light according to the time of day. We particularly appreciate that Nanoleaf’s circadian lighting feature works both with Thread connections and via Bluetooth.
The Nanoleaf app offers a redesigned touchscreen color palate that makes it easy to pick a color or a white color temperature; you can also plug in a hex color code or RGB value to get a precise color, a rare option in a smart bulb app. You can also group the Essentials A19 bulb with other Essentials lights, Nanoleaf’s Shapes light panels, or other compatible smart lights (including those from Philips Hue) for creating color scenes.
One thing you can’t do using the Nanoleaf app is any form of scheduling (which is otherwise possible for the Nanoleaf Shapes series). If you want to put the Essentials A19 bulb on a schedule, you can do so using the Apple Home or Google Home app, which both offer standard daily and weekly schedules, as well as sunrise/sunset triggers. You can also add the A19 to HomeKit automations and Google Assistant routines, including the Assistant’s Gentle Sleep and Wake feature (which gradually dims the light at bedtime and ups the brightness in the morning).
While the Essentials A19 bulb is (as you’ve probably gathered by now) compatible with HomeKit and Google Assistant, it’s not compatible with Alexa, which marks something of a break with Nanoleaf’s previous smart lights. A Nanoleaf rep didn’t offer a timeline for when Alexa support might arrive, or whether it will arrive at all.
As I’ve already said, Nanoleaf’s Essentials line, including the A19 bulb reviewed here, show plenty of promise, and we can’t wait to see the final, feature-complete lineup. We’re also eager for the arrival of more Thread border routers, including some cheaper options than the HomePod Mini. For now, though, this A19 bulb remains very much a work in progress.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.