Still waiting for your smart home of the future to arrive? Us too. The reality of life in 2016 is that we still turn on any lights via a switch on the wall, open our doors with a metal key and wearily draw our curtains each morning with our hands. 

But there's one way in which the internet of things-powered future has already infiltrated our flats, houses, castles and caravans, and that's in the form of smart heating.

British Gas was one of the first to give it a go with its Remote Heating Control setup in 2011 and its new Hive Active Heating 2 system is its most advanced ever. And while it may not be quite as groundbreaking as some of its rivals, it is effortlessly simple to use.

Feet-up time

The basic concept behind Hive 2 is the same as that behind the original Hive, the even earlier Remote Heating Control and the various rivals made by the likes of Nest, Netatmo and Tado. That means your heating is hooked up to your router so you can control it via your computer, a smartphone app or a wireless smart thermostat. Unlike most of its competitors, the Hive 2 can also control your hot water if you have an old-style hot water-tank.

As well as giving you the heroic ability to turn the radiators on and off whether you're on the train home in Croydon or sitting on a beach in Cuba, Hive also lets you set schedules and monitor your home's temperature over daily, weekly and monthly periods; the latter talent promises to result in cheaper energy bills down the line, and indeed British Gas claims that using Hive will save you up to £150 a year. 

One thing you can't do with it, though, is install it yourself - well, unless you're a British Gas engineer. Still, the installation cost is included in the price and the process is super-simple: you just put your feet up while the engineer hooks up the Hive Hub dongle to your router via Ethernet and connects a Wi-Fi receiver to your boiler. Don't forget to offer them a cup of tea.

If you already have Hive installed you'll instead receive your new thermostat through the post and will merely need to go through a fairly simple update process. In my case, the hub wouldn't initially connect with the new thermostat, but sorting it out required just one five-minute phone call during which a patient advisor pointed out to me that I was pressing some buttons in the wrong order. You almost certainly won't be as stupid as I was.

Our favourite thermostat

Looking good

The big difference between the first Hive and this new version is the thermostat, which has been completely redesigned in terms of both looks and functionality. Where the old one was bland and utilitarian, the new model looks like something you might find inside a Tesla - all gleaming mirrored surfaces and big, tactile buttons.

Rather than being something you'd want to hide away, as with the hub and Wi-Fi receiver, the new thermostat will look right at home next to your Sonos, PlayStation 4 and MacBook, and the update brings it in line with the already attractive options from Nest and Netatmo.

You get more options with it, too. Before you could merely increase or decrease the temperature and toggle between manual or automatic schedule, all via nondescript buttons. Here, you get a big knob for changing the temperature plus buttons on top for boosting the heat or hot water. Down the bottom there's also a back button, accept button and access to your settings; the net effect is to give you full control over anything you might need to do.

The boost is the the most useful - with one press you can override your schedule and give your home a toasty bonus for however long you choose. For those of you who don't have a combi boiler, hot water works the same way - you can set schedules and trigger boosts as necessary. I've not needed this option myself, but I've no reason to think it'd work any less slickly.

The connection is impressively robust, too. My original Remote Heating Control would often lose its link to the router and need to be reset, but I've not needed to do that once here, despite the fact that the router is in one room, the thermostat in another and the boiler itself in a third. As a further bonus, the whole thing is powered by batteries and it can be wall-mounted if you so desire.

Smart security

Appy days

Nice though the new thermostat is, I still prefer to control the heating via my phone - so it's good news that the Hive smartphone and web apps have also been refreshed.

The smartphone app is particularly slick. It's now almost as full-featured as the web app, with options to set your overall daily schedule, trigger holiday mode and set up alerts. You can of course also use boost, and there's still not many things that feel so gloriously wanton as sticking the heating on for an hour while you're lying in bed on a Sunday morning.

The only extra you get on the web version is the ability to see your home's average temperature details, which can help give you an idea of whether you're hitting that boost button a bit too often. On the flip side, geolocation is only available via the phone app, and is a far more useful feature.

Hello, can you hear me?

The idea here is that you Hive plays mum by warning you if you've left the heating on when you're out of the house: you simply set a minimum temperature and distance and it'll fire off a notification if you exceed them. Of course if your family are at home when you head off to work they're probably not going to appreciate it if you leave them shivering, but you can always ignore the warning. Similarly, you can set it to alert you if the house is too chilly when you're on your journey home.

It's easy to set up, and it works - I've lost count of the number of times I've used it to turn the heating off after going out at weekends.

Hive Active Heating 2 verdict

So the Hive 2 is easy to set up and it works. It's still not quite as clever as some rivals - the likes of Nest and Netatmo can learn from your movements and adjust the heating without you even needing to think about it - but it's now far smarter than ever before, with features such as geolocation and holiday mode really helping to save you money.

But just as importantly, Hive is a foolproof system to operate. I've used about half a dozen different smart heating systems now, and the others have at times left members of my family in peeved befuddlement (in the spring/autumn) or furiously frozen (in the winter). Not so Hive 2 - the thermostat is simple enough that even the most luddite grandparent can work out what to do, while you get on with the clever, complicated stuff on the app. For a family-friendly introduction to the connected home it takes some beating.

Stuff says... 

Hive Active Heating 2 review

Simple enough for anyone to use and powerful enough to be useful
Good Stuff 
Very easy to use
Thermostat looks suitably stylish
Geolocation now available
Bad Stuff 
Not as smart as some rivals
A little pricey

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