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Nest vs Hive: Which is the best smart thermostat?

Andy Vandervell by

Hive Active Heating 2

Nest vs Hive – What's the difference?

Nest and Hive are two of the most high-profile options for anyone thinking of making their home’s heating smarter.

While we've reviewed the the first generation Hive and 2nd-generation Nest, both companies have recently released new versions that add new features.

They still both cost a few hundred pounds to install and aim to make your home heating smarter and cheaper in the long run.

But which is the best for you? Here’s a closer look at the differences.

Who makes these systems?

Nest is owned by Google, while Hive is from UK energy provider British Gas. Hive is only available in the UK, so we’re mainly going to focus on how the two compare from a UK perspective.

The Nest system is growing its own ecosystem of first-party and third-party accessories – any device marketed as "Works with Nest" can hook into its connected home system. Philips Hue lights work with Nest, and Nest itself has a range of other connected devices, including Nest Protect – a smoke alarm – and a new security camera called Nest Cam.

Hive, meanwhile, has recently launched a range of devices and a new app to take advantage. Motion sensors, door and window sensors, smart plugs and smart lights are part of the first wave of Hive accessories, with more first- and (potentially) third-party ones coming soon.

NestThe new, 3rd-generation Nest Thermostat has a bigger, sharper screen and can now control hot water tanks

What's new in the 3rd-generation Nest Learning Thermostat?

Nest recently started selling the 3rd generation Nest, which is pictured above. Its screen is 40% larger than the previous version, which Nest says lets you see what's on the screen from right across the room. The screen's also sharper than before.

Of greater import is the addition of hot water tank support in the UK and Europe, a feature lacking in previous versions.

Hive Active Heating 2Hive Active Heating 2 looks much smarter than the basic first edition

What's new in Hive Active Heating 2?

The most recent Hive has received a significant facelift. It has a glossy, mirror-like finish and supports a variety of different style shells to fit your home's decor.

The core features remain the same, but the interface both on the thermostat and in the app are completely new. Compared to the old model, which was very basic compared to other modern smart thermostats, it's a huge leap forward.

Which is the most expensive?

Nest Learning Thermostat – £249 with installation (£199 without)

Hive Active Heating 2 – £249 with installation

Hive used to be cheaper, but Hive Active Heating 2 actually costs the same amount to buy and install now. Current Hive owners can get the 2nd-gen version for £99 for a limited period, though.

Nest is also available without installation for £199, though we’d caution against this unless you’re totally confident in what you’re doing. It pays to do a little research first, as there’s a lot of "this wire connects to that wire" to deal with.

Related: 9 crazy smart home gadgets you didn't know existed

Hive Active Heating 2 35Hive can be battery powered or wired in

Which is harder to install?

Both systems come with similar parts, including a network hub, the thermostat itself and a regulator that connects directly to the boiler. The complexity of the setup will really depend on your home and whether you choose a professional installer or not.

The one key difference is that the Nest thermostat requires mains power, whereas the Hive Active Heating 2 thermostat can be powered by four AA batteries.

This is a nice option that gives you a little more flexibility over where you place your thermostat.

Nest wins points here too, though, as you have the option to place it on a stand rather than on a wall, which might be more convenient. It also means you don’t have to run wires through walls unless you really want to – a regular mains plug will do the job.

NestYou can put the Nest (2nd-gen pictured) on this stand if you'd rather not have it on a wall

How do you control these systems?

The new Hive system is a lot more attractive and modern looking than the old one, so Nest have as much of an advantage anymore.

Fundamentally, both offer similar options, as you can either control them using the thermostat or rely entirely on the apps.

Both let you set your own schedules, too, but Nest goes one step further in its focus on learning your patterns and adapting accordingly.

It does this using its presence sensor, something Hive doesn’t have, though Hive 2 will notify you if it thinks you’ve left the heating on when you’ve left the home.

Hive Active Heating 2 43This box plugs into your router

Which boilers work with these systems?

Hive and Nest cannot really be 100% specific about every boiler they support – there are a whole lot of boilers out there – but there are decent guidelines to follow.

Hive says any working gas or LPG heating system is supported, as well as some electric boilers. It suggests calling them if you have an oil boiler to find out if your system is suitable. It can work with some underfloor systems, but not ones that rely on electricity.

Nest says its system works with the following:

  • Combi and condensing boilers
  • System and heat-only boilers
  • Hydronic underfloor systems
  • Air-source and ground-source heat pumps
  • Switched live systems
  • Low-voltage dry-contact systems

Generally, though, compatibility should be very similar between the two systems, as it all hinges on the one component that "talks to" the boiler. Hive calls it a Receiver, while Nest refers to it as a Heat Link. This is the one part that really needs a qualified engineer to install.

Related: What is HomeKit?

Hive Active Heating 2 15Hive's app will let you control the heating and its range of accessories

What can they do?

Nest’s biggest trick is the learning ability and sheer simplicity of its system and thermostat. Sensors in the thermostat detect when you’re home, and Nest turns the heating down when you’re out even if it’s during a scheduled "on" time. That’s why it’s called the Nest Learning Thermostat, as opposed to the Nest Does What It’s Told Thermostat.

Of course, this is somewhat reliant on where you place your thermostat and its sensor, but you can add more thermostats to your system. Multiple thermostats will combine their data to work out better when you’re really at home, and they can even create separate smart schedules if your heating is already organised in zones – it can’t create zones in homes that don’t have them, though.

Hive can’t match this learning element, as it lacks the sensor of Nest to detect when you’re home. But you can use geolocation in the app to achieve a similar effect, and Hive is expanding its ecosystem to include presence sensors that could do this job in future.

The recent updated Nest also removes one advantage Hive previously enjoyed – hot water support. Previous Nest systems couldn't control a separate hot water tank, but the 3rd generation Nest Learning Thermostat can. We won't know how well this works until we test the new version, but it's an important addition for many UK homes.

Both systems have a holiday mode as well, and Hive 2 now supports multi-zone homes in a similar way to Nest – the first version didn’t.

Nest ProtectThe Nest Protect smoke alarm is part of the growing Nest ecosystem

Do they work with other smart home tech?

Nest has its Works With Nest program that allows products to hook into the Nest system. Many of the supported products are US-only, so the appeal is limited right now, but there are a few notable ones, such as Philips Hue lights, Jawbone and Google Now, and the list is growing all the time.

Of course, Nest being part of Google means this ecosystem is bound to grow quite quickly, and there’s a range of other Nest products such as Nest Protect and Nest Cam to consider. If you're a keen Android user then Nest would seem like the way to go, particularly given its ecosystem is already well-supported.

Hive Active Heating 2 47The Hive Active Motion Sensor

Nest isn’t alone in creating its own ecosystem of products, though. Hive has recently launched smart plugs, window and door sensors, and motion sensors. It also plans to launch its own smart lights and cameras in future, and has hinted at plans to work with third parties.

Neither system is Apple HomeKit compliant yet, though Hive says it’s considering it. Unlike Hive, Nest works with popular "recipe" service IFTTT, though Hive plans to support similar functionality among its own Hive accessories.

Hive Active Heating 2 17The new Hive thermostat has a smart, mirrored finish

Which is best?

We're still testing the two new versions of these products, so we're not in a position to make a definitive verdict just yet. But the 3rd-generation Nest does remove some of the reasons to consider the Hive ahead of it.

Hot water tank support is the biggest of these. If you'd previously ruled out Nest because it lacked this feature then it's time to reconsider it. The learning element of Nest is another major attraction, though Hive's approach has merits too.

The wider Works With Nest ecosystem probably swings things in Nest's favour at the moment, but that assumes they both do the core job as well as each other.

We'll soon see whether that's the case.

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