How smart is Nest’s Learning Thermostat and how well does it go with Nest Protect and Nest Cam? Jim Hill's been living with Nest for six months and gives his verdict.
Nest’s first product was the Nest Thermostat, a wifi connected thermostat aimed at the smart heating market, followed up by the Protect smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarm.
Both products reinvented their categories, partly through design and proving that utility doesn’t have to mean ugly, but mainly by demonstrating how much functionality you can gain with a wi-fi connection and a smartphone app. They quickly became poster products for the Internet Of Things and object lessons in how to design smart home devices.
Another purchase by Google gave Nest a security camera – the Nest Cam – so that with just three products it has the security, safety and energy efficiency of our homes taken care of. None of these products are cheap and we’ve all read the headlines about Nest thermostats going offline and prototypes cooking Californians in their homes. So how can three such mundane devices change your life for the better? To find out, we lived with them for six months.
Can I Install Nest Myself?
I have to admit that a Nest engineer fitted my Thermostat for a fee (see here for a list of Nest Certified installers) but I watched him closely and it was a fairly simple case of attaching the Nest hub to the unused control cable in my boiler – this list helped me assessed whether it was compatible – then fixing the Nest thermostat on its stand and using the app to make them see each other across my wi-fi network. Within minutes, I was turning the Nest control wheel and hearing the boiler kick in. My advice, is to look for the correct control cable first and try fitting it yourself if you see it. A wall mount and screws are bundled with the thermostat, if that’s your preference.
Nest Protect also comes with four screws and a template to help you fix it squarely on the wall, or ceiling. Then you simply open the Nest app again and confirm that you just added a smoke alarm. It’s satisfying to know that the two devices are now in contact and if carbon monoxide is detected, it’ll tell the thermostat to shut down my central heating without any intervention from me.
Nest Cam gets the same thoughtful packaging, with screws and a template in the box, to help you screw it in place. The only awkward aspect is siting the microUSB cable that it needs for power, as there’s no battery. This camera isn’t waterproof, so don’t install it outside. Hopefully Nest will remedy this by adding a waterproof model to its line-up in due course. Surely a manufacturer that employs 1,000 people can manage to launch a fourth product!
How Easy Is It To Use Nest?
The thermostat functions perfectly well as a traditional temperature dial without any need of a smartphone. In fact it’s so tactile, you’ll find yourself tweaking the temperature for the sake of it. Most of the time, the screen is dark, lighting up as its proximity sensor detects your hand approaching. It also learns your heating habits and with the help of the Nest Cam and Nest Protect, it knows when you’re out and switches to Auto Away, so in theory, you need never use your smartphone at all.
This aspect will appeal to technophobes, but I like to keep checking up on my thermostat when I’m out, just to make sure it’s off, or warming up, when I’m on the way home. On the whole it rarely disappoints, although there was one holiday when the thing just refused to go online making me wonder if my heating was actually on full blast while I was 1,000 miles away? It wasn’t and Nest was fairly quick to address the widespread firmware glitch.
Smoke detectors are something you take for granted, until you burn the toast. My old alarm had its batteries confiscated a long time ago for crying wolf once too often. Nest Protect, on the other hand, I almost want to provoke into saying, “There is smoke in the kitchen”, in that unflappable tone. It’s accompanied by an LED light to help you see through the smoke, should it get that bad. Again, the app isn’t essential, but you can use it to trigger a test, or switch off an alarm, or tweak the settings.
Another bonus feature I was surprised to discover, is the way the LED it emits a dim white light when it senses you walking underneath it in the dark, lighting your way to the loo when you get caught short in the night.
There’s no shortage of security cameras on the market, but Nest Cam is one of the easiest to use, mainly because it’s quite light on features. There’s no flash, or face recognition for example and the Auto Away feature only works in conjunction with the thermostat. Via the app, I can check in on my living room at any time, zoom and enhance the picture and even see a live feed on my Apple Watch, thanks to a third-party app called Drip.
But I can’t go back and view footage from the previous 10-days, or 30-days without an annual Nest Aware subscription, which is £80, or £240 respectively. And if you add a second camera the cost jumps by £40, or £120, which would make watching a large building very costly.
What Are The Downsides With Nest?
The biggest barrier between Nest and the average British home is the cost. The components aren’t cheap and neither is the Nest Aware subscription for the camera. And while Nest says it saves you a fortune on energy, it does require that you keep your router on the whole time. Maybe it’s just me being mean, but I used to switch off the heating and router when I went on holiday, whereas now I leave them on and I now have two more electrical devices to plug in, so my energy bill has actually gone up a little bit. In general though, the average household will almost certainly see their bills reduced.
Nest uses Weave rather than HomeKit, so it’s frustrating that I cannot easily use Siri to change the temperature, or view Nest Cam on my Apple TV.
And like all the smart things designed in Silicon Valley, Nest works on the assumption we all have superfast broadband that never goes down. Mine falters with each new device I add to the network and streaming 1080p video from my Nest Cam is just not practical. There’s also the question of security putting your house online raises. Could someone hack my Nest Cam? Will another firmware glitch leave me in the cold?
Is Nest Worth It?
Having lived with Nest for half a year, I have to admit that I’m sold, especially when I consider the junk that it replaced. A hideous beige thermostat by Wooster whose batteries kept falling out, a hateful smoke alarm that made my ears bleed whenever I used the toaster and an old app-less IP camera that refused to acknowledge my wi-fi network.
Nest products are a pleasure to use and it’s reassuring to know that they’re designed by ex-Apple people and connected by Google. That’s pretty much the dream team and as far as smart home systems goes, it feels like the Works With Nest ecosystem is leading the way.
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