Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes review: Nanoleaf’s most chic smart light panels yet

 Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black turned on at the wall.
Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black turned on at the wall.

One-minute review

Nanoleaf has fast become a popular brand, producing some of the best smart lights on the market. In particular, its ranges of wall panels and lines have been allowing smart lighting fans to unleash their creativity and design their own illuminating wall art.

The standard Nanoleaf Shapes range includes three different form factors; Canvas, Hexagons and Triangles, and with the release of the Nanoleaf Ultra Black Triangles last year, and Hexagons this year (UK and US only as of writing), its Ultra Black Shapes lineup is now following suit. For this review, I tested the Hexagons.

Offering simple setup and installation and great app controls, the Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes are a quick, easy, and effective addition to any room; but with the starker black coloring, I’d say they best suit an office, studio, or rooms with darker walls.

Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black turned on
Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black turned on

Despite the dark backdrop, the lights are surprisingly vibrant and bright; although not enough to the degree that they’re able to illuminate a room, rather just provide some ambiance. Much like the standard Shapes, the color doesn’t quite reach the corners and edges – personally, I’d prefer if they did.

The standard nine-pack allowed me to create a small but mighty bat-shaped accent piece, but I think both the design and technological capabilities of the device are best demonstrated through a larger design. The number of devices one controller can handle (500) is truly impressive, but it would be nice if the power cable could supply more than 21 panels.

All in all, the Ultra Black Shapes are a wonderful, slick addition to Nanoleaf’s wall paneling, and although I did experience a couple of bugs and quirks, in general I found them to be supremely easy to use and a beautiful addition to my workspace.

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes review: Price and availability

  • List price: $219.99 / £179.99 / AU$369.99

  • Expansion sets: $69.99 / £49.99 / AU$119.99

The Nanoleaf Ultra Black Hexagons and Triangles are priced the same as the starter kits; $219.99 / £179.99 / AU$369.99 (although at the time of writing, the Hexagons have yet to be released in Australia.) You can buy them from Nanoleaf direct, Amazon, as well as through some other third-party sellers.

Included in this kit are nine panels, nine connectors, a power cord, a controller, and mounting tape, allowing you to start formulating your wall art. You can opt to expand your design, or mix and match shapes with the expansion kits, with each containing a further three panels and connectors for $69.99 / £49.99 / AU$119.99.

This puts the Nanoleaf Ultra Black panels at the higher end of the smart light price point spectrum, especially given that these are slightly pricier than the already-expensive standard white wall panels. I’d say they offer fairly good value for money thanks to the breadth of controls in the app and the build quality of the panels, but I’d be far more impressed if they’d come in at a slightly lower price point.

Value: 4/5

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes review: Specs table

The Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black when turned off
The Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black when turned off

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes review: Design

  • Slick, matte black front

  • Robust and well made

  • Easily installed

Elegant and slightly imposing, these all-black panels offer a much more sophisticated look than the standard white Nanoleaf Shapes, making them a real statement piece whether they’re on or off. This very fact makes them slightly better suited to slightly different room types; namely, rooms with darker walls, or spaces such as a study, bedroom, or studio.

Both the Hexagons and Triangles have the same dimensions; 7.75 x 9 inches / 20 x 23cm, and are 0.24 inches / 60mm thick, meaning they sit impressively close to the wall. They feel robust and well made, capable of handling a few bumps – although I wouldn’t readily drop them from great heights. The included mounting tape is super strong and bonds quickly, which makes for easier and quicker installation.

When creating your design with the panels, you need to consider the placement of the controller and power cable(s). The former can control up to 500 panels and is shape ambiguous, and the power cord can supply up to 21 panels. Otherwise, creating a design with your panels is a breeze with the in-app layout assistant; or there are plenty of suggested designs available to give you some inspiration.

You can choose wherever you fit the controller on the side of one of the Shapes, and it’s fairly subtle, although I’d prefer for it to be slightly more remote or attachable to the power cord instead – but it’s a negligible interruption to your chosen design.

My one minor design gripe is that the color doesn’t fully reach the edge of the Shape; it comes pretty close, but especially into the corners, it doesn’t quite go the distance. This is true for all Nanoleaf Shapes, as well as many competitor products, but it’s a lot more noticeable on the black backdrop. As such, my former comment about the wall color being important is most relevant to this issue; placed on a darker wall, this is unlikely to be as noticeable as it is on a bright white wall. It’s just as the white panels stand out more on dark walls.

Overall I really appreciate the design of the panels, even if they’re a little starkly contrasting on my white walls – but I’d happily design a darker feature wall or room around these beautiful panels.

Design: 4.5/5 

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Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall
Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall

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Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall
Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall

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Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall
Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall

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Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall
Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes review: Performance

  • Vibrant, but dimmer than standard Nanoleaf Shapes

  • App offers great controls

  • Can be a little buggy

Setting up the Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes is very easy through the Nanoleaf app (more on that later), and you’re pretty much ready to go as soon as they’re designed and installed – unless you want to spend time finessing the output in the settings.

I did attempt to re-calibrate the colors, but couldn’t make it through the entire process without it bugging; this happened on multiple occasions and through different software patches.

The app is pretty intuitive and offers a huge range of customization and design options, as well as downloadable scenes or a scene creator if you want to branch out. It’s super easy to control via the app, with minimal delay unless you’re fiddling with some of the settings I mentioned above.

The rest of the features perform similarly to other Nanoleaf products; in brief, MusicSync is great, so long as the sound source is close by and well directed, or otherwise loud, and Touch Gestures are a little temperamental.

Having tried out a number of different smart lights, including Nanoleaf’s standard range, the first thing I’d note about the Ultra Black range is that, despite Nanoleaf’s best efforts, there’s a slight impact on the color output and brightness.

On the former, certain colors have a slight muddiness to them – one I’d expect with the interference of the all-out black design, but since these are slightly pricier than the standard white panels, I’d have liked better attention to the light technology. It’s most noticeable with lighter colors – pure white is quite gray, yellow looks more saffron, light blue is more powder or eggshell blue, and pink is more peachy. Still, the colors are impressively vibrant given the device's design.

Personally, I don’t ever consider smart light panels to be primed for illuminating a room, but rather for ambiance and design, so I didn’t find the Ultra Black panels’ dimness too problematic. However, they’re definitely dimmer than the standard range, which is worth noting if you’re looking to bring proper light into a room.

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The edge of the nanolead shapes panels, showing slight disruption/fraying to the light
The edge of the nanolead shapes panels, showing slight disruption/fraying to the light

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Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall
Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black on a wall

The black backdrop also draws attention to any lights that aren’t quite perfectly aligned; there’s a small blip on the edge of a few of mine, although you have to be up fairly close to notice.

There’s also some weirdness in the color assignment with certain smart home controllers - in my case, Alexa. For some reason, white always turns out a variant of peach or pink, unless I specifically pick out white in the app or use a white scene.

I tested these lights for a couple of months alongside a few different brands, and I’d say Nanoleaf was among the buggiest; the panels got stuck on certain colors, and were non-responsive or behaved strangely on occasions. Overall, though, they worked well.

Should I buy?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black review: Also consider

Still not sold on the Nanoleaf Shapes Ultra Black? Here are two other options you might want to consider.

How I tested the Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes

  • I spent two months testing the Ultra Black Shapes

  • I used them in tandem with other, non-Nanoleaf lights and paired with both Apple Home and Alexa

  • I tested color vibrancy, brightness, responsiveness and sturdiness, as well as all the in-app features.

I used the Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes for two months in my smart home. I installed and paired them following the in-app instructions, evaluating the process for speed and user-friendliness.

With the app being the primary controller, I tested all of its features, from creating scenes to trying the MusicSync and touch control features. I also adjusted the settings to calibrate the lights to my specific needs.

I paired the light panels with both my Amazon Alexa and Apple Home controllers to see how quickly they responded to various commands, while also considering how well the panels integrated with my non-Nanoleaf lights.