Nanoleaf's Canvas light-up panels are fun for the whole family

Jason Cipriani, CNN Underscored
Updated Wed November 6, 2019

If you've spent any time strolling through Best Buy or looking at smart lighting options, you've undoubtedly come across Nanoleaf products. The company has two product offerings, the Nanoleaf Canvas and Nanoleaf Light Panels.

There are nearly limitless arrangement possibilities for the small light-up panels, with plenty of interactive color options.

I'll admit, I've looked longingly at Nanoleaf's product lineup for some time now, so when I had a chance to review the Canvas, I jumped on it. (I'll also have a review of the Light Panels soon.)

Nine Canvas tiles come in a "smarter kit" for around $200 on Amazon. An expansion pack that includes four more tiles is less than $80 on Amazon.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the smarter kit, along with an expansion pack, for a total of 13 Canvas tiles. After opening the box, I was faced with two tough decisions: where to install the tiles and how to arrange them. And that's when the fun began.

Installation and setup

Included with the kit are little metal connectors that provide power to each tile, adhesive strips, and a power supply. The instructions in the box advise you to lay all of the Canvas tiles out on a table or the floor, and figure out how you want to arrange them. There are four spots on the back of each panel where the "linkers" can be used, so you'll need to be mindful of that when deciding on your design.

Nanoleaf recommends using three adhesive strips per tile, which is more than strong enough (as you'll read below), and should leave you feeling confident they won't fall.

There's a Nanoleaf Android or iPhone app that's used to set up and control the lights. The same app also has a layout tool to use if you're struggling to come up with ideas, which shows you random designs, where the linkers go, and where to attach the power. I used the augmented reality tool to preview the layout on my wall, which was kind of cool.

After some thought and input from the family, we installed the tiles and used the app to finish setting them up. If you use Apple products, you can connect Canvas to Apple's HomeKit and use Siri to control the lights. Nanoleaf also works with If This Then That, Alexa or Google Assistant.

The Nanoleaf app has several lighting themes already added to your account. Switching between themes can be done with a tap, or you can use your preferred voice assistant to make the change. For example, I can tell Siri, "The Avalanche are playing" and the Canvas lights switch to the Avalanche team colors.

You don't have to use the app to control the lights. One of the tiles has a series of buttons on it that can be used to cycle through the various themes, or turn on rhythm mode, where the lights react to music or noise in the room.

All told, from the time I first opened the box until I had lights dancing across my wall was roughly 20 minutes, most of that spent trying to decide on a layout.

Creating my own lighting themes is confusing

In the app, you can search for and download lighting themes that other people have created, which is how I found the Avalanche theme. Not only does it use the team colors, but the lights are constantly changing and switching between those colors.

I've tried creating my own themes, but other than adding a few static colors (fun around holidays like Halloween), I've struggled. I've watched various videos and even tried to copy other lighting themes as a test, but for some reason, I just can't get the hang of it.

I'd love for there to be a more intuitive tool that would allow me to choose a few colors and then tell the app to make them move around, without having to adjust various toggles and options.

Fun for the whole family

I can say that Canvas has been a hit in my home. My kids have enjoyed taking advantage of the touch capabilities of each tile, by playing the electronic memory game Simon. I designated that a long press on one of the tiles would start a new game of Simon, and showed the kids how to use it. I find them constantly playing, seeing who can get the high score.

And then there's the option to use a Rhythm theme to have Canvas react to music and sounds that add a bit of movement to a room when you're listening to music and relaxing.

A warning about moving or rearranging

Shortly after setting up Canvas, my wife and I decided to rearrange our living room, and as a result, the tiles would have to move. Not a big deal, right? Wrong.

Learn from my mistake. The adhesive strips that come in the box are strong. Strong enough to rip a giant patch of paint off your wall, just like it did on mine. I was careful, pulling the tabs out and removing the adhesive holding each Canvas to my wall. But one of the strips tore as I pulled on it, leaving no way for me to reach the adhesive. And despite my gentle nudging to remove the panel, I'm now missing a piece of paint on my wall. It not only removed the paint but the drywall paper underneath. I have no clue how to fix it, but I'm sure there are plenty of videos on YouTube to guide me through it.

A pricey, but fun decoration

At $200, Nanoleaf's Canvas tiles aren't cheap. A set of nine tiles is more than enough for a fun design that takes up a healthy section of your wall.

But I feel like Canvas is one of those products that you don't really get until you've used it. I know I looked at and debated getting some for a long time, but never clicked the buy button.

After having used them for a few weeks, I get it. I get the interactive and decorative flair they add to a room, and in turn, I see the value. And I'd bet you will, too. Just be careful if you're the type of person who likes rearranging rooms.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.