This is the second product from Nest Labs, a company widely known as being "what the creator of the iPod did next”. That creator is Tony Fadell who set up Nest Labs in 2008, having spent the previous seven years at Apple where he conceptualised, designed and oversaw the production of the iPod.
The Nest Protect is a ‘smart’ smoke alarm and it follows in the footsteps of the immensely successful, but currently US-only, Nest smart thermostat. Yes Nest Labs is all about ‘the Internet of Things’ and we’ll deal with what makes the Nest Protect so smart shortly, but first things first.
Nest Protect: Design
The Nest Protect comes in two versions, wired or battery operated and we received the latter. Ours ships with six AA batteries that Nest claims will last five years, while the wired edition ships with three AA batteries that kick in during a power cut.
On the surface the Protect could’ve very easily come from Apple. Like iPhones and iPods it comes in black or white and like iPhones and iPods it is a drastic change from anything that came before.
As such the Protect dumps the usual circular design of a smoke alarm for what is essentially a square with rounded corners and its textured finish hides a powerful alarm that manages 85 decibels (SPL at 3 metres). The Nest logo in the centre is a circular button and around it is an LED which changes colour depending on the situation:
At 134 x 134 x 41mm and 352g the Protect is substantially larger than a typical smoke alarm, but we have yet to find anyone who thinks it doesn’t look great and given what it packs inside this extra bulk shouldn’t be surprising.
So what exactly makes the Nest Protect smart? Being a member of the ‘Internet of things’ the first port of call is its online connectivity. The Protect has Wi-Fi and this allows it to report its status remotely via a web browser or iOS and Android apps.
All are beautifully designed and via the apps you will receive a notification should smoke or carbon monoxide be detected with further notifications should the alarm be manually stopped by someone in the house and when smoke or gas starts to clear. You are also able to check to see the status of your Protect at any time. In one fell swoop this eliminates fears you left the gas on.
But the Protect does much more than this and the most surprising thing is it talks. Press the central button and it speaks its status, press it again and it will run through a manual test (something distinguished in the apps from an actual alarm) vocalising each step. Furthermore you get a spoken warning prior to the alarm going off so you aren’t taken by surprise and can stop it in time along with spoken confirmations that – like the apps report – smoke/gas is clearing.
The Protect will also speak to warn you of low batteries. Again, this will occur several times in the days prior to an incessant warning beep going off, which means you won’t suddenly be woken in the night by beeps.
In addition to this the Protect packs light and motion sensors. The latter handles the aforementioned single green glow of the Protect when you go to bed, but it also allows it to double as a soft light delivering a timed glow of white light should you walk past it at night.
This can be switched off, but many won’t as it ingeniously saves you finding a light switch which will trigger bright light that both pains your eyes and potentially wakes up a partner or child.
Secondly, the motion detector allows you to silence the alarm simply by waving your hands in front of it, no need for tea towels here. The alarm can also be silenced by pushing the button, but this isn’t of great help if the Nest Protect is mounted on a high ceiling.
There is one further party piece. For owners of the Nest thermostat (available in the US for over a year and finally due in the UK in early 2014) the Protect will pair automatically (as it will with other Protects installed around the home or in multiple homes) to work in unison.
This means, for example, should the Protect detect gas it can tell the Nest thermostat to switch it off. This is where the Internet of Things and ecosystems within it become even more interesting.