Smart LED panels: Nanoleaf and inexpensive alternatives in a comparison test The LED panels from Nanoleaf impress with many colors and smart functions – but they are expensive. Techstage compares them with alternatives from 40 euros. 8:05 p.m. tech stage

smart led panels nanoleaf and inexpensive alternatives in a comparison.jpeg
smart led panels nanoleaf and inexpensive alternatives in a comparison.jpeg

The LED panels from Nanoleaf enchant with impressive colors and smart functions. But they are really expensive. We compare them with cheaper alternatives from 40 euros.

Nanoleaf is the first manufacturer to successfully launch smart, modular light modules. The plate-sized light tiles are usually stuck to the wall and shine in all imaginable colors. They also react to language assistants. It looks bathes the room in dreamy colors. Pure white is also possible for neutral room lighting.

Nanoleaf is awesome in all its colors and shapes, but it has one big catch: it’s really expensive. But there are now some alternatives that want to be just as chic and just as smart at a lower price. We compare the original with cheaper alternatives from Govee and Cololight. We also refer to ways in which experienced hobbyists can print/solder/program their own Nanoleaf clone.

The first LED tiles launched by Nanoleaf in 2017 are triangular. In the beginning they were called Nanoleaf Aurora (test report) , now Nanoleaf has developed them further and calls them Shapes Triangles . They are compatible with the Shapes Hexagons and Shapes Mini Triangles and can be combined with them as desired. This is how little works of art are created. Nanoleaf also sells the Nanoleaf Canvas (test report) , a rectangular variant of their light panels.

Nanoleaf Shapes 

Before sticking the light tiles to the wall, you should put them together on the floor or a large table and connect them to check their final shape. Because once they are on the wall, it is difficult to make changes afterwards. The glue-and-click system is basically simple and the shapes are much better than the canvas. Because this time the LED panels click into a small shell. If you detach the light tile from the wall, the bowl sticks to the wall. You can then remove the adhesive strip without leaving any residue and remove the bowl. This keeps the paint on the wall where it should be. Nothing breaks.

After the first module has been connected to the power supply, the other panels are plugged into the appropriate ports using short connectors. These immediately start to glow. The app, which is connected via WLAN, automatically recognizes the inserted shape, even if changes are made afterwards.

The enormous variety of colors and the fine transitions are particularly impressive, even at low brightness. Even if they are set to dark, they still manage to display all colors clearly.

The app offers many possibilities. At times, users can even feel overwhelmed by the many features. There are a lot of preset scenes there. The number is almost endless, since scenes created by others are also available. If you want, you can create and save your own complex scenes. This also verbally activates Alexa and Google Assistant. However, those who control Nanoleaf via Alexa routines only have one-color variants to choose from.

Nanoleaf is expensive, but works reliably. The elements are highly modular, some touch-sensitive and many modules can be put together to form a large picture. In addition, thanks to the many fine colors, they simply look incredibly cool. But be careful: With the Shapes, Nanoleaf has launched a new generation that is compatible with each other, but no longer with the old Nanoleaf versions. So if you want to buy Nanoleaf today, you should grab the shapes.

Govee positions itself as a cheap alternative to Philips Hue (test report) and Nanoleaf. We present many products from Govee’s broad portfolio in the article Smart, bright & much cheaper than Hue: Light from Govee in the test . The Govee Glide Hexa hexagonal light tiles are an exception here. Because they are not much cheaper than Nanoleaf, but only cost slightly less. Govee also sells triangular modules with the Glide Triangle , which are similarly expensive and not compatible with the hexagonal ones.

The structure is more complicated compared to Nanoleaf. Because first the buyer has to decide in the app for a shape that is mandatory in a row. It is not possible for one LED panel to power two others. This limits the creativity in the choice of form significantly.

This order is entered into the app, which then specifies the exact order in which the LED modules must be plugged together for the installation process. Since this usually happens right on the wall, there are a few steps that can lead to errors. In our case, it happened that we had to remove and reattach a wrongly connected light tile. However, the supplied double-sided sticker on the tiles would not separate from the woodchip wallpaper and parts came loose from the wall.

The LED panels are smaller than Nanoleaf’s Shapes Hexagons. They can represent colors just as well. Sometimes the effect is even more impressive as they are able to display several different colors in one tile. This leads to soft, sometimes wavy transitions. They are also lighter overall than Nanoleaf. This means that some of them are also suitable for neutral white lighting of the room. However, they are set in a frame that can always be seen between the modules. Nanoleaf solves that better.

Govee’s app is almost more complex than Nanoleaf’s app. That’s not surprising, since she wants to bring all of the manufacturer’s smart home products under one roof. Registration via email is mandatory. We then succeed in connecting and setting up right away. The buyer uses the app to activate a music mode, for example, in which the light on the tiles reacts to ambient noise.

As with Nanoleaf, countless scenes are available. You can also create your own and share them with others. Just a few weeks ago, we at Govee complained that some preset light scenes are impressive to look at, but their colors change too quickly. That seems nervous. But Govee has improved. There is now a slider that adjusts the speed of the scenes. It’s great that Govee regularly improves this via app updates. If you want to learn more about the app, you should take a look at our Govee guide .

Overall, Govee sells very attractive LED modules with the Glide Hexa and the Glide Triangle. They are big, bright and colorful. The structure and the app are also fine. Anyone who sees them on sale can strike. However, if they are as expensive as the Nanoleaf Shapes, we recommend the market leader.

The fact that Govee used to be a cheap alternative to established brands seems to be a thing of the past with the Govee Glide Hexa Pro. Because the light panels cost 250 euros and thus only slightly less than the Nanoleaf Shapes Hexagon. In contrast to the Hexagon shapes, they are also significantly smaller. But they offer something that no one else has ever offered: a highly impressive 3D effect. The hexagonal light tiles look like a three-dimensional cube, whose three visible surfaces can each light up in their own colour. A certain color variation is even possible within one area. The Govee Glide Hexa Pro sometimes actually look like they are protruding from the wall.

During installation, which is just as cumbersome as with the Govee Glide Hexa described above, you also have to make sure that the light panels are stuck to the wall with the right side up. Fortunately, this is self-explanatory, since when installed, the top side glows green while the other sides are white.

When sticking it to the wall, Govee uses the Nanoleaf Shapes as a guide for the Glide Hexa Pro. Gone are the days when detaching a module, like the Glide Hexa, left half the wall stuck to the adhesive. As with Nanoleaf, the panels are now clamped in a small shell, which remains on the wall when it is detached and can be removed from there without leaving any residue if desired.

The Govee Glide Hexa Pro offer a few new scenes that particularly emphasize the 3D effect. Thanks to adjustable speed, comprehensive Alexa support and many individual customization options, there should be something for everyone in the app. Brand new is the ability to pair the Glide LED 3D Light Panels with Razer Chroma. More information on this at Govee . Also interesting for gamers: retrofitting Ambilight – smart light for every TV and monitor from 23 euros .

Cololight sells one of the few equally smart and yet significantly cheaper alternatives to Nanoleaf. The starter set Cololight Pro with base and three modules costs less than 40 euros. We got the set with a stone base and six modules. When unpacking, then the disillusionment: The individual elements are downright tiny compared to Nanoleaf and Govee. Thanks to the base, however, assembly is much easier than with the variants for the wall.

The color representation of the Cololight modules is excellent. Similar to Govee, they understand how to display multiple colors in one element. The color transitions are fluid, even if they don’t always work out perfectly between the elements. Maximum brightness is high, although not as high as Govee Glide Hexa. No border is visible between the elements.

Connecting to the app via WLAN only works for us after we have switched the network to 2.4 GHz. Praiseworthy: The app does not necessarily require registration. However, if you want to use all functions, including connecting to language assistants, you cannot avoid entering an email address.

Only monochromatic light can be selected via Alexa and Co. The user activates some predefined light scenes via the small button on the back. Many more are available via app. You can also create and save your own scenes there. However, this is not nearly as varied as with Nanoleaf and Govee.

The starter set with three modules is a cheap way to bring smart light tiles into your home. Anyone who buys them, however, should be aware that they are quite small with a diameter of about eight centimeters. Thanks to their modular structure, they can be expanded if you like. Each additional tile costs about 10 euros.

Building your own Nanoleaf alternatives is appealing, but not exactly trivial. First you need a housing. The best way to do this is with a 3D printer (theme world) . There are tons of templates available on Thingiverse . Then the right lamp needs to be found, soldered and installed. An ESP module can be used for control. There are numerous instructions on the Internet, for example from smarthomeyourself .

Nanoleaf is as awesome as it is expensive. The colorful light tiles immerse the room in a wonderfully atmospheric light. In addition, the current generation is compatible with one another, which can lead to very imaginative structures. The app is complex, but offers more options than any other competitor.

With the Glide Hexa and Glide Triangle , Govee offers alternatives that come closest to Nanoleaf’s range of functions and good hardware. In some respects, the Govee solution is even better than the Nanoleaf original. On the other hand, Govee is also in a comparable price range. This is especially true for the Govee Glide Hexa Pro . You have to see the 3D effect, it just looks fantastic. But the panels are really expensive.

Cololight Pro is significantly cheaper . These LED modules are also colourful, bright and react to language assistants thanks to the WLAN connection. However, they are much smaller than the fancy light modules from Nanoleaf and Govee. If you want to build your own Nanoleaf clone, you need a 3D printer and knowledge of electrical engineering, soldering and programming.

Overall, it shows that smart light modules are still an expensive gimmick five years after their introduction by Nanoleaf. There is virtually no provider that falls significantly below Nanoleaf’s prices and still offers a similarly high range of functions.

We collect even more on the subject in the article Torches, Ambilight & Laser: Smart and inexpensive lighting effects for the home . Anyone who still works from home will find exciting approaches to good light in the article Smart, bright & chic: The right light for the home office . And in our guide to smart lighting for balconies, gardens and terraces , we show that chic lighting is not just limited to indoor spaces .

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Brian Adam
Professional Blogger, V logger, traveler and explorer of new horizons.