Nanoleaf’s new Essentials Matter smart lighting line is a huge step in the right direction for the smart home. With three lights available now — an A19 bulb, a BR30 bulb, and a light strip — and more coming soon, the Essentials are inexpensive, easy to set up, and will work with every platform. They’re cheaper and brighter than Philips Hue bulbs and have many of the same features without needing a proprietary hub. They work over Thread, which makes for a speedy light bulb, and as Matter devices they are compatible with any Matter ecosystem. This includes Google Home, Apple Home, Samsung SmartThings, and Amazon Alexa, which just announced its Matter-over-Thread support.
But there are caveats, especially for Apple Home users. First, these are Matter-only devices. Unlike the old Nanoleaf Essentials line, these lights are not HomeKit certified. Although they work with Apple Home through Matter, they don’t support Apple-specific features like Adaptive Lighting. They also require a Matter controller and a Thread border router (which can be one device but must be from the platform you want to add them to) to use them outside of Nanoleaf’s app. You’ll want to do this as Nanoleaf’s app is limited compared to a lot of lighting platforms, such as the fully featured Hue app. For example, it doesn’t support schedules for the Essentials bulbs, and Matter bulbs can’t be added to groups with other Nanoleaf lights.
The Essentials Matter line is excellent value for full color, tunable white, and dynamic lighting-capable lights.
If you want to expand or get started with smart lighting, the Nanoleaf Essentials Matter lights are a good option. But Apple Home users, especially those with earlier Essentials bulbs, will find them a step backward — at least for now. It’s possible these issues will get resolved as the Matter standard matures, if Apple adds Adaptive Lighting capability for Matter bulbs, and as Nanoleaf moves its new and existing products to Matter. The company has said its old Essentials line will not get upgraded to Matter and has been discontinued, but it will continue to be supported.
I tested the Nanoleaf Essential Matter A19 bulb ($19.99), BR30 bulb ($19.99), and 80-inch light strip ($49.99, $19.99 for 40-inch expansion strips). Nanoleaf also has a GU10 bulb ($49.99 for a three-pack) and a recessed downlight ($34.99) on the way. It’s not a vast ecosystem compared to competitors like Philips Hue, GE Cync, and WiZ, but it’s a good start. Especially when you consider that with Matter, it’s easier to mix and match smart bulbs from different manufacturers.
The Essentials Matter line is also excellent value for full color, tunable white, and dynamic lighting-capable lights. Comparable Hue products start at $49 for a single A19 bulb, the same price as a three-pack of Nanoleaf bulbs. Products from TP-Link, GE Cync, and WiZ are cheaper but use Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth Mesh, compared to Thread for Nanoleaf and Zigbee for Hue. Thread is a low-power, low-latency, local mesh network built for smart home devices. The more powered Thread devices — like smart bulbs — you have, the stronger the connectivity will be. Wi-Fi can be less reliable and slower to respond, although WiZ’s Wi-Fi lights also support Matter.
The A19 Nanoleaf (1100 lumens) is as bright as Hue’s highest lumen $49 bulbs, with better color clarity and deeper dimming. The BR30 (1000 lumens) and light strip (2200 lumens) are similarly bright and colorful. But as an ecosystem, Nanoleaf falls behind Hue on product range, software, and features. The app is slow and laggy, confusing to use, lacks basic features such as scheduling and grouping beyond rooms, and there aren’t as many accessories to control your lights.
However, when paired with a compatible Matter platform, Nanoleaf’s lights perform excellently, making them a good choice if you want to build out a Matter smart lighting setup. Control through the Apple Home app, Google Home app, and SmartThings app is instant, actually faster than flicking a light switch (aside from the fact you have to get out your phone and open the app…). Voice control is a beat behind the app but barely noticeable.
You can pair the lights with motion sensors and smart buttons from other manufacturers (including Hue) in any Matter platform. I tested them with a Hue motion sensor and a Wemo Stage Scene Controller in Apple Home, and the lights reacted quickly and simultaneously. Meaning they all came on at the same time, with no “popping” or delay. Occasionally, I had some brief “no response” problems in both the Matter and Nanoleaf apps, which may be related to Thread network issues; more on this later.
If you already have smart lights set up and want to add to them, Matter devices will work with any platform and with any device already on that platform. So, if you have Hue bulbs set up in Apple Home or GE Cync bulbs through Google Home, you can add Nanoleaf bulbs to that platform and control them all simultaneously in groups and scenes using motion sensors or smart switches.
All three Essentials lights have the same features and color options, with RGB color changing, tunable white light, and dimming capability. The whites are clear and bright, and the colors are deep and rich. The bulb’s design — a series of triangles, squares, and polygons (technically a rhombicosidodecahedron) — seems to refract the colors better than the traditional smooth shape. But it’s a distinctive look that won’t appeal to everyone.
The light strip also isn’t diffused, so you do have to deal with that pinprick look if it’s visible — as it was in my setup, installed under a kitchen counter. But I do like the included controller on the strip that lets you not only turn it on and off but also dim, brighten, and change scenes manually.
The Nanoleaf app comes with several preloaded scenes you can use to turn the Essentials into mood-setting lights. My two personal favorites are Blaze, which sets the lights to a sort of flickering firelight, and Cocoa Beach, which is a mod-ish pink, blue, apricot melange that fits in nicely with my mid-century modern styled home.
There are hundreds of options, which do need to be downloaded to each bulb — a somewhat laborious process. You can also create your own and even dial things into the exact RGB value if you’re a super color geek. Once you create a scene — which works across all Nanoleaf lights, including its LED panel products — it can also be synced to other apps, such as Apple Home, via the cloud. But it will only work on Nanoleaf lights.
Nanoleaf also has its own circadian lighting feature that automatically adjusts the lights from a gentle glow in the morning and evening to simulate sunrise and sunset to a brighter, more energizing daylight tone during the day. This is something I look for in smart bulbs, as it’s one of my favorite smart lighting features.
But Nanoleaf’s implementation is quite basic and very fiddly to use. I also found it unreliable, only sometimes successfully shifting to the correct hue. Nanoleaf only allows for three time periods — morning, daylight, and evening — which I find too limiting. Philips Hue’s similar Natural Light function breaks the day into five customizable time periods — including a night light setting so you’re not stumbling around in the dark.
Nanoleaf’s previous line of Essentials bulbs worked with Apple’s Adaptive Lighting feature, but the Matter bulbs don’t support it. Nanoleaf founder Gimmy Chu told me that he hopes Apple will allow Matter devices to use Adaptive Lighting. In the meantime, the circadian lighting feature in the Nanoleaf app is better than nothing.
A big promise of Matter is easy setup and cross-platform compatibility. With the Essentials lights, at least one of those things is true. Setting them up with one smart home platform was easy, whether I did it directly to the platform or through Nanoleaf’s app, as the company strongly recommends. However, pairing it with a second or third platform was where things got sticky.
To set up the lights in Apple Home, I opened the Home app, tapped the plus button, and selected Add Accessory. I scanned each device’s Matter QR code and went through the standard onboarding process for Apple Home — name the device, add it to a room, and so on. I did need to have an Apple Home hub that supports Thread — which includes all current Apple HomePods and most Apple TVs.
I also tried setting the lights up from Google Home initially to see if the process was as easy. It was — easier even. After resetting the bulbs, I just brought my Android phone close to each one, and the phone detected there was a Matter device ready for pairing. An alert popped up right on the home screen — meaning I didn’t even have to open an app. After tapping the notification, I scanned the device’s QR code, and the phone presented me with available apps to pair with — in this case, Google Home and Samsung SmartThings.
I chose Google Home, and the system checked I had all the necessary requirements (including a Matter controller and Thread border router — in this case, a Nest Hub Max). Once past this approval process, the setup proceeded just like adding any device to Google Home, allowing me to name it and assign it to a room.
With both setup flows, the initial pairing process in the app took a good couple of minutes as the software and hardware did their thing behind the scenes. But I didn’t have to do anything — no account sign-up, no linking of clouds, no Wi-Fi password entering, no swapping between apps or the phone’s settings. None of that fiddly setup you’ll be accustomed to if you’ve ever set up a smart device. I just sat and watched some colorful animations.
From here, I could add the bulbs to the Nanoleaf app if I wanted to access Nanoleaf-specific features — such as the color scenes and adaptive lighting — and for firmware updates. For this, I had to download the Nanoleaf app, create an account (or choose Apple or Google sign-in) and allow the app network access.
The compatible bulbs then showed as available for setup in the Firmware Update section of the Nanoleaf app, and I scanned the bulb’s QR code to add it to the app. Currently, you will need the Nanoleaf app for firmware updates. It’s also possible to set up the bulbs starting in Nanoleaf’s app and then pair them to any available Matter platform from there. This is also the route to take if you don’t have a Thread border router, as the lights can pair to your phone using Bluetooth.
The fact that Thread border routers from different manufacturers don’t talk to each other yet is a big issue for Thread devices and Matter generally.
The only hiccup I encountered in these two setup flows was with Google Home. The bulb paired fine but then was unresponsive in the Home app. Troubleshooting determined that my Google Thread border router wasn’t close enough — and I didn’t have enough Google Nest Thread devices between the bulb and the Google Nest Hub Max to create the connection. I have five Thread border routers in the same room as the light bulbs, but none of them are from Google, so none of them work with Google Home. (It worked fine once I moved the Nest Hub closer.)
The fact that Thread border routers from different manufacturers don’t talk to each other yet is a big issue for Thread devices and Matter generally, as Thread is one of two wireless protocols the standard uses. It’s more of a problem for “mature” smart homes than the newer ones. I have five Thread networks in my home right now — one Apple, one Google Nest, one Eero, and two from SmartThings — and I don’t foresee an easy path for merging them all into one.
Theoretically, they aren’t competing with each other, and Matter devices on one Thread network can still communicate with Matter devices on another — at one point, I had the BR30 bulb on the Google Home Thread Network and the A19 bulb on the Apple Home Thread network, and everything worked fine. But one Thread network will be more robust and reliable than five separate ones.
Multi-admin is still a mess
In the above setup scenarios, I paired the bulbs to two platforms separately. But a big promise of Matter is Multi-Admin — controlling your devices from any platform and with any voice assistant, thanks to an easy, local sharing process between the platforms. All you should need to do is generate a code from one app and enter it into the other, and your gadget will work no matter which voice assistant or app you use to control it.
When I tried adding the bulbs to a second or third platform from Apple Home and Google Home, I ran into problems — just as I have every time I’ve tried to do this with Matter products.
While you’ll still see many of Matter’s benefits in a single-platform household — better security, local control, and faster response time — using multiple platforms is useful. If I pair the Nanoleaf bulbs to Apple Home initially, I should then be able to add them to Google Home, so my daughter can turn on the light using her Android phone or Samsung SmartThings so I can turn it off from my Samsung smart fridge. But Multi Admin is inconsistent and frustrating to figure out, and most of the time, it just doesn’t work.
Multi Admin is inconsistent and frustrating to figure out; most of the time, it just doesn’t work.
I could pair the Nanoleaf bulbs from Google Home on an Android phone to Apple Home on iOS by generating a QR code in Google Home and scanning that with my iPhone. I could share a bulb from Apple Home to Google Home on Android by manually typing in a pairing code generated by the Apple Home app. (When Google Home’s iOS app supports Matter, this process will be easier.) But I couldn’t add devices to SmartThings from either platform.
While I eventually got all three Nanoleaf lights working on all three smart home platforms (I didn’t test on Amazon Alexa as the feature wasn’t available yet), I was only successful when starting from Samsung SmartThings on an Android phone using a SmartThings Station as a Matter controller and Thread border router, then sharing to Apple Home or Google Home.
The common failure point here is SmartThings, and while it’s likely an edge case that anyone would want or need to pair a light bulb to three different platforms, the fact is it should work, and it doesn’t — not without jumping through a lot of hoops in a specific order.
Another big promise of Matter is mixing and matching Matter-compatible lights from any brand and using them in any smart home ecosystem without creating a bunch of third-party user accounts and connecting them to the platforms in the cloud. And here, the Essentials worked flawlessly.
Nanoleaf’s inexpensive bulbs can do everything Matter allows — which is limited by the Matter spec to turning on/off, dimming, and changing color. If you don’t go all in on Nanoleaf bulbs, then the cool extra features in Nanoleaf’s app aren’t going to do you much good, but that’s the case with any other smart lighting line, including Hue’s.
Mixing and matching will make it easier to outfit your home with smart lights but at the expense of some of the more interesting features of smart lighting — color scenes, circadian lighting, and so on. Each smart home platform could enable some of these features, but there’s a tension here. Manufacturers like Nanoleaf risk becoming commodified by allowing their signature moves to be open to any old light bulb with Matter certification. This is why Wemo recently pulled out of making Matter devices.
There are a lot of companies offering color LED lighting, many with similar features to Hue and Nanoleaf: GE Cync, WiZ, Wyze, Meross, and TP-Link Kasa and Tapo, to name just a few. But only a few of these have promised Matter support, and only one has delivered — WiZ, whose bulbs can be had for as little as $8.50 each, started rolling out its update last week.
Nanoleaf is currently the only option that works over Thread. In terms of brightness, color quality, dimming, and response time, the Nanoleaf Matter bulbs are as good as Hue’s for much less money, though they lack several Hue features like scheduling and grouping. And while many Wi-Fi options are cheaper, in my experience, Wi-Fi-connected bulbs are slow and unreliable. While Thread still has issues to work out, its speed, solid performance, and comparative reliability are three things I know I want to see more of in my smart home.