Monday, October 31, 2011

Competition: Nest Learning Thermostat

Nest Learning Thermostat

Brent brought the news about Nest Learning Thermostat. Mandatory review follows.


  • Supposedly good design and excellent workmanship.
  • Equipment check that is eventually done right. I wonder why nobody thought of that before, usually this information is buried deeply inside technical manuals (and good luck if you lose one).
  • Subtle interface cues to what is going on (I did this first almost two years ago, though).
  • Remote control. Guess this is the new fad.
  • Outside weather awareness.
  • Supposedly helps you saving energy. Gives you energy usage statistics.
  • Multiple thermostats working together.
  • Massive amount of documentation (go to support site and click on the arrow next to the "search" box without entering any search terms).
And to finish the panegyrics, here is a welcome thought:
I wonder if the largest effect might be getting people to voluntarily interact with the thermostat at all, thereby thinking about their HVAC more. The fact is that most of us only think about our heating and cooling systems when they’re not working. If we start thinking about them when they are, we could save more energy. The nest is so appealing to interact with that it might shade that in the energy-saving direction.
If for nothing else, creators of Nest deserve high praise for this effect alone.


First and foremost, this is just a banal thermostat. With it, you inherit all problems inherent to banal thermostats (a comprehensive explanation is at our FAQ). The main issue, again, is:
Thermostat makes itself happy. It doesn't care about you. It is not where you are.
In other words, it didn't cross the fundamental border between where the sensor is and where the control unit is.

Other than that...
  • Apple lovers will be, no doubt, excited by this device and the promise of "Apple quality". Everyone else might have a doubt (for example, when they say "stainless steel", I ask "how thick?". Need to touch it to actually confirm this statement).
  • Needs to be installed where it has a constant (or at least frequent) view of you. And where are thermostats normally located? Correct, in the corridor, next to the air return. Good luck making the thermostat aware of you in a big house, or if it is located in a place you normally don't walk through often.
  • Remote control with no fuss means external server the thermostat is talking to. Keeping it secure requires you having the account at it, and sending *your* data to it. Oh, by the way, prepare to deal with it. This is the only way one can do it without the fuss. We're doing the same. So will everyone else.
  • Outside weather awareness means external sensor. Or always-on internet access and temperature resolution down to city or so. Which is pretty much useless to you.
  • Speaking of which, support site search... Let's just say it could be better.
  • Even though zoning support is advertised, it will be limited for one simple reason: zoning systems need much more granular signal than just on/off.
  • iPhone and iPad only? Again? Where's my Android app?


  • I want to buy this product on Newegg or Amazon. I don't want to engage in a process as complex as house refinancing, and be subjected to individual pricing based on how much I am apparently willing to cash out.
  • Did I forget to mention? I want to know the price up front.
  • A blog without an RSS or Atom feed? Is a clog.
  • Customer reviews for a product that is not being publicly sold? That's not a good smell in my book.
  • "Invitation only" procurement model suggests that not everything is as shiny as the outside ring of Nest thermostat, and it may not be as production ready as they want us to believe.
  • The knee-jerk reaction of my son to seeing the demo was: "One button? Again? I'm sick of one button!". Couldn't agree more. Two quotations come to mind immediately:


Their documentation is very good, and lots of unknowns have already been resolved. However, there are fundamental questions that are left unanswered:
  • The price for the device $249 plus shipping;
  • The price for Nest account;
  • What they do with your data;
  • Do they allow you to take it away (like others do);
  • Does the device and infrastructure support open protocols, or it is as closed as everything Apple ever did?
And if the account turns out to be free, but you can't take your data out? Then you are the product being sold.

UPDATE (2011/11/02): Price was published.
UPDATE (2011/12/06): BGR published a short review. Comments deliver.