The bit they didn’t tell you about self-isolation was just how lonely familiar spaces would become. For the last couple of months, my days have involved staring into the blank, off-white wall behind my monitors. There’s nothing special about it; it’s a standard, ordinary wall in an ordinary Sydney apartment.
And normally that would be OK, except I can’t leave. This is where my office is now. It’s where my partner and I work. I normally like being here. But as isolation continues, the space has begun to feel a little sad, a little lonely.
The Nanoleaf Canvas is the latest in wall-mounted LED panels from the Canadian-founded firm Nanoleaf, which started in 2012. The company’s engineers started with a series of modular, triangle-shaped LED light panels, and has since expanded into different shapes with various add-ons.
The Canvas ditches the triangular shape of the previous Nanoleaf line, instead going for a squarer look with a strong Tetris-feel. The base Nanoleaf Canvas kit gets you 9 squares to attach to your wall for $270. You can add on more squares later with the expansion packlights, which gives you another 4 squares for $92.
Installing the panels is relatively simple, although it’ll take about half an hour to get everything connected to Wi-Fi and positioned just the way you want it. The panels draw power from a single control panel, which is connected to your power outlet through a small, off-white cable. The panels then hook into each other through a series of “linkers”, with a few connection points on each corner.
Before attaching the panels to the wall, however, you need to pair it with your phone. There’s a few ways to connect the Canvas to your Google account or HomeKit. You can scan the barcode on the back of the panels, but if you accidentally installed the panels first, there’s a logo on the manual. There’s an NFC connection option for Android and iOS, and a few manual options if those don’t work.
This was actually the trickiest part, because the Canvas wouldn’t connect to my router’s 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network over iOS. The panels turned out and worked just fine, but you really want to control it all through the app. The app lets you create and download new designs and lighting modes, including the sound-based variants that pulse and flicker to any music or sound in the room.
Fortunately, I had a much easier time connecting the Canvas to my Wi-Fi through Android – and after everything was setup, the Canvas had no issue working through my iPhone after a soft reset.
What’s neat about the setup process is that it comes with an AR camera, so you can get a sense for how your panels will fit on the wall. The panels stick to walls with that 3M double-sided command strips that doesn’t damage your walls – if it’s removed properly. Removing those is still a pain, however, so you want to be certain about your chosen layout before sticking it to the wall.
The app will automatically determine what layout you’ve gone with, and in my case it automatically nailed the proper orientation. Sticking the panels to the wall takes about a minute of effort per panel, since you have to line it up properly, make sure you’ve aligned the panel in such a way that you can connect future panels in the order you want, and then spend 30 seconds pushing the panels into the wall to ensure the adhesive sticks. The app tells you which way to align the squares, though, which is really useful.
Once the panels are installed, you can hit the Discover tab to download other templates and scenes. I’ve been running between a mix of user-created scenes for different times of the day. The mornings feature a white and pale blue breathing effect that’s inspired by Final Fantasy 7 Remake, while the afternoon features brown and sandy hues from a design called “Naruto Nine Tails Chakra Mode”.
The schedule tab in the app lets you assign what scenes turn on, and when. You can even fine tune the brightness, so that the panels will slowly wake up if you want the panels to function like a visual alarm clock of sorts. I’ve set it up so that the panels slowly wake up to a brighter hue when it’s time for me to clock on, and that a different scene will kick in just before our regular morning editorial meeting.
If the tiles are within reach, you can have even more fun. The tiles are touch-enabled, and there’s a separate tab for interactive experiences based around the lights. Default ones include PacMan, where you touch the tiles to move PacMan around before the colourful ghost catches you, a basic memory game, and even Conway’s Game of Life.
The main difference visually between the Nanoleaf Canvas and something like the LIFX tiles is really how the lights appear. The Canvas tiles feature a quadrant-like design that looks a bit like each tile is split into four separate squares. It evenly disperses the light across the tiles, but it does mean you can’t get a nice bleed from one tile to the next.
I’ve mentioned the issues I had with installation earlier, but what I left out is that to install the tiles properly, you need to leave a bit of the command strips hanging out on the side. If you don’t, and you try and completely hide the command strips under the tiles, you won’t have any leverage to actually pull the strips out safely.
It’s also a little annoying that the connections on the rear of each panel are only located on three of the four corners. Again, the app helps with this via the Layout Assistant, but it’s something you should really be aware of beforehand.
The Canvas is cheaper than the LIFX tiles, too. While the LIFX kit gives you five tiles for $399.99, you get 9 panels with the Canvas. The Canvas can power 25 tiles without needing an additional power source, while LIFX’s system can support up to 10 in total. Nanoleaf’s Layout Assistant lets you know the best location for the power squares as well, which is a nice touch.
So the base Canvas pack is a good deal on price, and setting them up is pretty simple. But what I’ve really enjoyed the most about the tiles is the life it’s brought to a space that, in all honesty, was starting to get a little depressing. I’ve spent an entire month now, almost seven days a week, staring at the same blank wall. It’s become the shell where I live, where I work, where I think. I don’t have the luxury of creating a separate work and leisure space; I live in a Sydney apartment. It’s the reality of what my partner and I can afford.
So having that bit of extra life and colour in the corner of the room has been genuinely welcome. It doesn’t fill the whole wall, and it’d cost hundreds of dollars more to get the extra squares to really light up the whole area. But that sliver of vibrancy and reactivity, particularly when a bit of music or sound is playing in the room, has been hugely beneficial for my mental well-being throughout this extreme bout of self-isolation.
Of course, everyone is in different circumstances. I’m fortunate enough that I still have a job, and I can still do that job more than satisfactorily while working from home. Many Australians can’t, and it’s difficult to recommend a near-$300 product when so many people have found themselves struggling for basic supplies.
That’s not the fault of the Nanoleaf Canvas, though. I’m genuinely grateful to have that bit of shining light humming away in the background. It makes me feel better in the mornings, better in the evenings when its time to clock off, and a little bit happier throughout the day. There’s other smart home tech that you could light up a room with, like Philips Hue lights or LED strips.
But I appreciated how easy the Canvas was to install. You get good value for money, there’s plenty of functionality, and it’s vastly more affordable to expand your light wall in the future. I’d recommend investing in the velcro command strips instead, mind you, as it’ll make removing the panels a hell of a lot easier afterwards.