When it launched in the US and Canada in 2011, the Nest Learning Thermostat was one of the first devices to make home automation look stylish and simple. Along with other devices like Belkin WeMo switches and the Philips Hue light bulbs, it helped persuade the public that a smart, internet-o’-things home could be cool. It has now arrived in the UK, but it's no longer breaking ground: we already have Honeywell’s EvoHome system, which lets you control radiators individually, British Gas’s app-controlled Hive system is in over 50,000 homes, and Tado uses similar person-detection to turn the heating off when you go out.
warning: the following passage contains the phrase 'knob feel'
So, what makes the Nest worth waiting for? In a word: algorithms. The thermostat senses temperature and usage data, figures out when you’re home and what temperature you like, and controls your boiler accordingly. Nest says it will roll out fresh algorithms each ‘heating season’ (winter), and that the micro-adjustments these algorithms allow the thermostat to make will save you a chunk of money. Nest says you could save up to 29% on your heating bill, depending on where your house is and what sort of boiler and insulation you have. If you’re spending the £600-£700 it now costs to heat a home per year, that means the thermostat could pay for itself within 18 months.
In two words: knob feel. It’s a nice thing to stick on your wall, with a big, responsive dial that offers just the right amount of resistance when you turn it, like the volume dial on an expensive hi-fi amp. You might not think this is all that important, but if you're going to use something every day, good design (of which knob feel is a part) matters. The menu system is simple and easy to use, and the dial gives a satisfying level of control that's missing from the apps and controllers in other systems.
If you already have a Nest Protect smoke alarm and carbon monoxide (CO) detector, they'll work together; if the Protect sniffs CO, it’ll tell the thermostat to turn off the boiler.
what took you so long?
Because UK homes have different tubes and wires to American ones, Nest has built a new piece of kit to allow its thermostat to perform its micro-adjusting magic on your heating. The Heat Link sits on your boiler, controlling it, and the thermostat itself can now be moved around the home on a special little stand (£29) to give it a better idea of the temperature where you are.
The thermostat (with Heat Link) can be bought as a standalone box for £179, but Nest recommends you get it professionally installed for £249, and you can get free installation if you buy the standalone box before April 8. It's available from John Lewis and B&Q, among others.