Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes review – limited edition RGB greatness


Nanoleaf Shapes are gorgeous decorations you can personalise, but it’s hard not to notice how much they look like an unused light when the RGB isn’t brightening up the room. I never thought I’d criticise this particular aspect of them since that’s exactly what they are, but the Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes set a new standard of what wall hangings should look like when the lights go dark.

Aside from the obvious differences in colour, which I’ll get into shortly, what makes the Ultra Black Shapes different to their standard white counterparts is that they’re a limited edition set made to celebrate Nanoleaf’s ten-year anniversary. In fact, they’re so limited that they already seem to be sold out in the US and stock is dwindling in other regions at the time of writing, so you’ll want to be swift getting your hands on a set if these pique your interest. We’re offering a lifeline for US folks, though, with a giveaway for a Smarter kit, so stay tuned.

As a result, it might not surprise you to know that choice is also pretty… well… limited compared to other members in the Shapes family. You can only get the Ultra Black model in triangles, so you won’t find any hexagons or mini triangles here. You’ll also only be able to buy them as a starter pack of nine for $219.99 / £199.99 or an optional expansion pack of three panels for $69.99 USD / £69.99, which is a little more expensive than their white counterparts. It’s entirely up to you whether you think the premium is worth it but I have to say that I’m camp Ultra Black Shapes all the way.

ProsCons
  • Looks like a work of art
  • Surprisingly bright
  • Supports lots of panels
  • App setup is clunky
  • Fingerprint magnet
  • Difficult to buy

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes design

Aside from their new look, Ultra Black Shapes are almost identical to the original triangles, from their 100mm height and 115mm width to the way each panel connects to one another. It’s not just the Shapes that get a new lick of paint, however, as the mounting plates, controller, and wire are all jet black. I admire Nanoleaf’s commitment to making this feel like a complete set, but it means that the wire stands out a lot more against lighter walls and ceilings. It’s impossible to please everyone’s choice in decor, though, and you can buy a white power supply separately if it bothers you too much.

In fact, I can confirm that all the previous Shapes and their accessories work with the Ultra Black model. I struggle to see a way in which white panels would gel well with just how sleek these darker counterparts are – trust me, I tried a few combinations – but you can mix and match to your heart’s content if you’re a little more imaginative than myself.

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The panels are impressively simple to mount with the included sticky strips, but you’ll want to plan what pattern you’re going with first. The best method is with a tape measure and laying the triangles flat in front of you, but Nanoleaf has a layout assistant if you’re stuck for space. It’s not the most cooperative helper since it’s in beta, missing the nine-panel option and ability to rotate, but it did make it much easier to find a layout I’m happy with.

Once they’re mounted, you’ll need to whip out a cloth and some spray. The matte black finish is a fingerprint magnet that, unlike the white version, puts all the grime on display. This isn’t too much of a problem for me since I let them sit pretty on the wall and mainly use the app to control the RGB lighting, but it might be an issue if your finger slips when using the physical controller or you like to use the touch reactive feature.

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes with the traingles shining purple and blue

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes RGB

The original Nanoleaf Shapes are some of the brightest RGB LEDs I’ve used, but white is naturally better at reflecting light. I was initially concerned the Ultra Black model wouldn’t be able to match its predecessor, but they’re surprisingly just as much a treat for the eyes when the lights are on as they are when switched off. While it’s a little dimmer, it makes up for it with a richer contrast and deeper saturation. Full brightness is still a little too much if you’ve got them in view of the best webcam, too, so it’s plenty for me.

There are a couple of ways to use the RGB lighting. First, there’s the built-in controller you can snap onto the side of your panels. This works a treat, but you can’t customise your scenes using it and it requires you to get out of your gaming chair. Then there are the desktop apps for Windows and Mac, and the mobile apps for Android and iOS.

Nanoleaf desktop app, showing the settings for the Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes and how you can customise the RGB lighting

Using the Android app is perhaps the easiest to set things up, but I’m saying that very loosely. Grabbing the QR code using your smartphone camera is more convenient and it then piggybacks off your mobile internet connection, but the app is clunky and either crashes or hangs on a loading screen several times before it accepts its fate of hooking you up. This has happened to me multiple times when setting up Shapes across different houses and routers, so it’s unfortunately something you might just have to power through.

Once the Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes are connected to your WiFi, you’re good to go and can even use the desktop app without any extra faff. There’s a small learning curve when setting up scenes, choosing whether you want to animate colours, make the panels react to music, or mirror what’s on your gaming monitor or TV, but you can save presets so you don’t have to go through the hassle every time you switch them on. Both the Android and Windows apps are particularly slow when initially recognising the device, but once it’s had its morning coffee, you can change profiles instantly without issue.

The last feature to note is that each panel is touch reactive, flickering when you press against them. If you tinker with the settings enough, you can probably create a game of whack-a-mole. Once the wow factor of using it for the first time wears off, I find it a little gimmicky but I guess it’s better to have it and not want it than want it and not have it.

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes with the traingles shining orange and red

Verdict

Set up gripes aside, Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes are some of the best RGB wall lights money can buy right now, even if it’s a big investment. Generally, I’m a big fan of the way Nanoleaf is more conscious than ever how the lights look while they’re off and hope to see more in the same vein as these (and the wood-like Nanoleaf Elements) moving forward. Quite simply, they’re a work of art that’ll get plenty of people chattering, whether that’s a visitor or someone in your video call.

Some may like the exclusivity and find a sense of pride in owning a kit when they’re unavailable, but I hope Nanoleaf reintroduces these into the roster at some point in the future. It’d be a shame for people to miss out simply because they couldn’t afford it during a very short window of celebration.

For now, though, we’re giving US folks one last chance to grab a Smarter kit in our Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes giveaway. This is also open to those in the UK and only lasts until August 19, so enter while you still can!

Nanoleaf Ultra Black Shapes

One of the best RGB wall decorations money can buy that looks great whether the lights are on or off, provided you grab them before the exclusivity period ends.

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