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Smart Thermostats in the UK: Nest and its rivals compared


Smart Thermostats in the UK: Nest and its rivals compared

As the temperature drops, here's the smart way to keep things heated

In 2014 smart thermostats have flooded the global market as the drive for ‘ecotech’ rapidly gains momentum. In the UK a number brands have launched their first smart thermostats and all claim to give us greater insight into our energy use, offer remote control of heating and make the promise to save us money. We've already seen Tado and Hive in the UK, as well as US trailblazer Nest, which went on sale in the UK in April for £179.

What are smart thermostats? They are the early poster child of ‘The Internet of Things’ – small, low power, web connected devices that use the Internet to become smarter and more efficient - but will anyone sign up?

The main barrier is price. As with all first generation technology, the cost of smart thermostats is high – between £100 and £200 – and they come during a period of economic uncertainty. That said they also come during a period when energy prices are also sky rocketing and if these devices can deliver savings, the question will soon become: can you afford not to have one?

Smart Thermostats in the UK: The Pacesetter

Nest Labs

Status: Now on sale in the UK

Price: £179

Much of the credit for the sudden rise of smart thermostats goes to Nest Labs, the company founded by iPod creator Tony Fadell. It started in 2010 after Fadell left Apple, and introduced the first mainstream smart thermostat (simply called ‘Nest’) way ahead of the pack in late 2011.

Despite a $250 RRP by January 2013 the company was shipping between 40,000 and 50,000 thermostats a month, equivalent to one million per year. Remarkably these shipments came solely from the US. Now the Nest thermostat is available in the UK for £179, following on from the excellent Nest Protect smart smoke alarm released last year.

Whether Nest’s international rivals can match its magic formula remains to be seen since its appeal is both visual and functional. Fadell transferred his learning from Apple and the Nest has beautifully designed hardware and software. The thermostat itself has an elegant, minimalist, touch-senstive LED display while the accompanying smartphone and browser apps are clean, intuitive and simple.

The key selling point of the Nest thermostat is that it learns your heating preferences over time. This means it tracks when you reduce the temperature and to what level (either that it done via its Android and iOS apps, web browser or on the thermostat itself) so it can anticipate your needs.

Indeed, the Nest thermostat does so even better than before thanks to a recently released software update, which could save you a further 6 per cent on your annual heating bills. A refreshed UI and a new system test mode have also been added to the package.

Nest is also widely praised for its looks, easy installation and automatic software updates delivered via a permanent Wi-Fi connection.

On top of this Nest also has ‘occupancy detection’ which means it can tell when registered users are not in the house. It turns down the heating at these times and even learns to predict when you will return to home to turn it back up in advance. For homes in hotter locations the thermostat also works with air conditioning systems.

The main criticism is the Nest thermostat takes a fair bit of time to learn your preferences and you can’t pre-enter as many as you’d like. As such energy savings were reported to be between 10-25 per cent prior to the recent 4.3 update. Here the competition feels they can do better, quicker, while those with a separate hot water tank may find the Nest doesn't give them the control they need.

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