I would class myself as somewhat of a gadget person; not quite bleeding edge, super-early adopter, but certainly keen to try out new tech once it's bedded in a smidge.
So it is that we came to smart-en up our home with a combo of Nest products: namely the nest thermostat, outdoor cam and nest protect (x2). (We do also have a bevy of Google Home do-dads that link in with the nest stuff, but more on that in a bit).
It's been close to 18 month's since we installed the trio of smart home accessories and so I thought it would be helpful for anyone wondering how well they work, how they integrate with each other and your existing stuff and really, are they worth it?
Strap in for this mammoth article and let's find out. Pssst, here's a table of contents just in case you want to skip around!
- Nest protect
- Nest outdoor cam
- Nest thermostat
- Smart home app
- The good parts
- The bad parts
- Verdict - should you buy?
We live in a very tall house. With three floors to cover, I opted for two protects initially to cover floors one and two where we do most of our living and leave the ground floor to the built-in, tried and tested, shouty beep alarm (hey, these things are expensive you know!).
Managed to get a deal on Shpock for two brand new ones, which saved us quite a lot of money. I'd recommend anyone having a look on similar sites for a bargain because:
- nest stuff is generally awesome (spoiler alert) but pricey
- nest themselves rarely have offers
- when they do, it's for a weird amount of things that normal folk probably wouldn't need - i.e. their current offer on protects of saving money when you buy six...six!! Maybe their target audience in the US is different, but here in the UK, who needs six (!!) smoke alarms???
So down to the nitty gritty...
What can you say really, it's dead easy! Perhaps unsurprisingly for products produced by a company founded by ex-Apple designers, the packaging is millimeter perfect, excellent quality and gives a brilliant first impression - you can tell you've just got your mitts on something special.
The units themselves are quite simple from an operation point of view. Everything's included in the box: shove the batteries in, screw the base plate to the wall, the product to the base plate and pair with the ubiquitous nest app - job done.
It runs a few tests, checks everything's fine and gives you the green light (literally). It was especially nice to have almost zero installation fuss because I had two to do...
Nest protect(s) in action - day to day usage
Much like us developers, the nest protects guard you and your home from the quiet shadows, never becoming obtrusive or seeking attention (unless, of course you have a fire and then yes, they do kick off something fierce).
They run a few checks on themselves daily to make sure everything's covered: batteries, functionality, any minor detections of note, etc. All this is reported via the app and it's nice to know that your smart smoke detectors are being, well, smart.
The best couple of features for me, however, have to be the nightlight and the spoken warnings. The nightlight is small touch that makes a big difference when you venture out in the dark of night for the toilet and your way is lit by soft mood lighting from the device, rather than the harsh, retina destroying luminesce of household lights - very nice!
The spoken warnings are brilliant. Now, when you slightly burn the toast or overcook the bacon, instead of the old-school shouty alarms firing up and screaming incessantly until you frantically waft them with a tea towel as if your life depended upon it, the nest just gracefully warns you, quite calmly (and in a human voice) that you might have something going on as it's detected a mere wisp of smoke.
The cost and installation faff has always put me off owning a full-blown CCTV system. However, with the advent of smart-cams becoming more mainstream and somewhat more affordable, we decided to opt for the nest outdoor cam - partly because it is well tested, reviewed, reliable and would fit with our other nest products.
When it comes to installing, the land lays somewhere in-between alright and fiddly (a more intermediate challenge I'd say). It comes in three parts: the camera unit, the magnetic holder, and the very looooooong power cable.
Personally, this wasn't too onerous of a task, but it wasn't ideal either because of where our power sources sit compared to where I wanted the camera to live. I ended up having to run the power cable through the garage and it only just reached with an inch or two of slack.
Ultimately, the installation ease will depend on your specific situation and level of competence with power tools and manual labour (mine is not brilliant...).
Fortunately, once plugged in, setup is familiarly fuss free and quite quick. Power up the cam, connect it to wi-fi and adjust its direction/aim so you get the best view (this is done via the app).
Nest outdoor cam in action - day to day usage
Brilliant. We get alerts throughout the day when the camera has spotted someone in a zone (set up via nest aware) or if it's offline. If a notification catches your fancy, a quick tap takes you to the camera section of the app where you can investigate the video more closely.
The picture quality is superb, very high resolution and the ability to both move the camera around and talk via the app is very handy to say the least. Fortunately, I've not had to test the 'please don't burgle my house' speech to a would-be criminal, but for using it to scare my other half, it works a treat!
Nest aware - the hidden subscription
I should point out that you absolutely do not have to take out a subscription, in the same way that you technically don't have to take out home insurance, but you really should. Similarly, to really get the most of your camera, you need nest aware.
There is nothing wrong with nest aware. As a service, it's great: it enables a bunch of extra features on your camera, such as zones (the ability to classify multiple areas of the camera's view to control detections) and continuous cloud-based video storage.
The problem for me is that, having just paid several hundred pounds for the camera, you then find that something quite basic, such as recording of the video feed, has to be paid for as an extra. A fact that could be made more explicit during purchase.
I know, I know, it's business, it's how the world works - subscriptions. But there isn't even an alternative way to record video yourself, via a home server linkage or api - even basic home CCTV systems offer some sort of recording mechanism. Without this, unless you're crafty enough to catch someone in the act, one of the biggest draws of having a CCTV-style system on your property (post-crime conviction evidence) is rendered moot.
Again, nest aware works like a charm and their new basic plan is only £40 ish per year - it just stings a little (in mind and wallet) to have to pay more on top of an already expensive product.
Having suffered at the hands of many, many a bad thermostat experience (it's an entire post in itself), the nest thermostat is a breath of fresh air. This was our first purchase in the line of nest products and easily remains the best.
We've gone from a complicated mess of buttons, levers, pulleys and masters degree in thermostat settings, to a simple push and a dial. Aces.
Basically, if you're not a qualified electrician, don't bother. Aside from it being frowned upon legally to do anything more electrical then changing a plug in the UK, it's a complicated set up and you're best off having a pro do it for you.
Nest themselves recommend a list of approved nest installers, but we used a local, reliable firm and they did a great job. It was all done and dusted in under an hour!
Nest thermostat in action - day to day usage
A dream really. I was skeptical in the first few days when it's in 'learning' mode as I was worried I'd be without heating as I had to manually go to the thermostat and turn it on here and there. However, it comes loaded with a basic schedule and then learns as you tweak it, turning on and off as you wish.
After a week, we had a pretty good schedule going that warmed up the house for when we wanted it to be warm, not just turning the heating on at the time. You're encouraged to save energy via the green leaf system whereby you're rewarded with a little leaf icon whenever you set your thermostat to an energy-efficient setting - which is a nice touch and genuinely helpful.
Obviously the thermostat looks great and operates in a much more slick fashion than a normal unit, but if all it did was turn heating on and off, you'd be one sad puppy. It's very exciting, therefore, that one of the best aspects is the continual learning and adjusting that the nest thermostat makes on your behalf. Your daily schedule adjusts and shifts to suit things such as weather, day/night schedules or direct sunlight shining on the thermostat, which would usually skew the temperature readings.
The net results of this ongoing monitoring and tweaking means that we've rarely had a cold house or felt the need to fiddle with the heating at all, if ever. The heat's on when we need it to be and we're always comfortable.
Finally, a relatively new feature - nearly two years on - is that in summer and winter, we're greeted with a clever, seasonal schedule that aims to help reduce energy usage (i.e. save you money) by altering your schedule to a more lean (in summer) affair. We've definitely noticed a reduction in monthly fuel costs by at least £10-£20.
Whichever combination of nest products you opt for, it's nice to have a single source of truth in the nest app.
From their single app, you can check the status of the smoke alarms (worryingly, see if anything's on fire from a remote location), check the camera feed in real time or investigate one of the events that happened over the course of the day. You can also adjust the thermostat which is very useful if you realise you need more hot water for a bath, say, and you can simply fire up the boiler from your phone.
It's a simple, slick app that lets you do just about everything you'd be able to via your nest account in a browser, changing whatever settings you wish. Everything talks to each other and you do get a general feel that you're adding to a united system for your home, all the connected parts interoperating and working in your home's best interest.
We've not encountered much in the way of negatives thus far. The nest support system is a little lacking (which we'll get to in a minute), but each of the products works superbly, is a pleasure to set up with no fuss no muss and is presented excellently and to a high standard - something you'd expect for the price range of the various products nest offers.
The way each product snaps into its own place within this smart home ecosystem, whilst integrating seamlessly, makes adding more nest products a rewarding and obvious choice.
As with just about anything in life, there will be a few grumbles here and there, but I genuinely don't have any that are even worth mentioning here. In terms of the products, the build quality is superb and installation and use is friction-free.
I did encounter more hassle when installing the outdoor cam, but this is a complaint more leveled at my personal circumstances and level of handy skills, rather than anything to be pointed in the direction of nest.
The pricing model for the outdoor cam is also a pain point, not so much because of the price, but more because of the inherent necessity of the nest aware service that is not highlighted as best it could be; without it, your cameras' lack a fundamental feature of being able to record video.
As generally tip top as things are, unfortunately, things do go wrong. When they do, it's often how the issue is handled that makes the difference between a good experience overall and one that will make you think twice about whom you choose when selecting your next product, service, etc.
So it is with nest support.
Support, a lack of...
After about nine months, the outdoor cam just died. No warning, no obvious errors or problems, it just turned into a brick. Not great, but things happen. I dutifully called support and eventually got through to the American end of things, got well into the issue and was then told I had to use the UK support - another thing that is neither obvious, nor handled for you.
After starting again with the UK support, I was surprised to have to work so hard and jump through so many hoops to simply get a replacement unit for a product that was well within its warranty. Initially (perhaps from the support team member's lack of experience) I was offered a replacement straight away. Later on, this was taken off the table as I hadn't gone through the steps of disconnecting the camera, plugging it in inside the house, and running through the testing script.
All of these things were practically impossible because of the nature of how the camera was installed, let alone because of the fact that it was obviously dead.
Eventually, after several more support requests, reaching out on Twitter and generally pleading with them, we were issued a replacement unit and a box to send the defunct one back. This part was smooth and hassle-free, so it's a shame it had to be such a headache in the first place.
The experience with nest support notwithstanding, overall the whole family love our nest smart home. It's made life a little easier, more convenient, saved us some money and is a pleasure to use.
As someone who prefers to reduce the number of different systems from different providers, the ability to add different products within the same nest ecosystem is great: everything talks to one another, the integrations feel real and substantial rather than forced or an afterthought; and the different products do their respective jobs well, never feeling like you've compromised just for the sake of keeping to a single supplier.
If you're venturing into the smart home life then give nest a go, you won't be disappointed!