Nest Thermostat Is Part HAL, All Awesome


Nest Thermostat, Image from

I love living in the future. I know that while flying cars and jetpacks do exist, they’re not quite ready for prime time in terms of consumer use. However, so much technology that was science fiction earlier in our lifetimes is now coming to market that it’s making me giddy. Especially when it comes to home automation.

Case in point is the Nest thermostat. Without going into the hyperbole surrounding the device, the simple explanation is that it is the home heating and cooling thermostat-equivalent of a smartphone. It has a beautiful graphical user interface, and simple controls. It can sense your presence in a room, and adjust the heating/cooling to accommodate. It learns your daily routines and adjusts its behavior to save energy and money. It’s even internet-enabled, and there are iOS and Android apps you can use to run it when you’re away from home.

And, it looks just a little bit like HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its single round “eye,” not to mention its ability to control your environment.

The installation is not too challenging, especially if you’re a little bit handy. Then, almost like setting up a new Apple TV, you go through a setup process to get it logged onto your wifi, and connected to a user account. You can change the current heating or cooling temperature by spinning the Nest’s dial, but it’s much more fun to use the iPad app.

Nest Scheduling Screen, Image by Ken Denmead

This is an example of the heating schedule I set up for our house on my iPad, from work, at lunchtime. It’s a blindingly easy drag-and-drop process to edit – like you’d expect Geordi would have done with the environmental controls on the Enterprise D. The iPad app will also show you energy usage data for the previous week (and correlate it to your local weather to add perspective), and both the iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch apps allow you to make changes to your home’s current temperature setting on the fly, if you forgot to turn it down when you left on vacation, or want to warm things up on your way home (Note: I haven’t tried the Android apps, but I have no doubt they function similarly).

Nest iPad App Showing Energy Usage, Image by Ken Denmead

While the Nest is pretty slick, it is expensive: $250 per unit. For a single thermostat home (like mine), if we can save 10% a month on our utility bill, it’ll pay for itself in a year. For larger homes that require multiple units, it may be a longer wait for a positive ROI. But that doesn’t take the cool factor into account. And considering that, as a smart appliance, Nest plans to continuously update the software, that cool factor will only renew itself over time.

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