November 1, 2018

Smart Home Ecosystems - Which one is right for you?

It’s considerably easier nowadays to find some pretty useful kit to make your smart home dream come true. And the great thing is, a lot of it actually works. With these smart home articles, I will try and identify what, in my opinion, are the best smart options for your home as of this year (2018).

web cam and phone

The most recognised brands in the smart home market include; Amazon, Google, Philips, Nest, and Tado but there are many many more. The first thing to think about when creating your smart home is what will make your life easier. What will improve things rather than make things more complicated and thus defeat the point of the exercise! You should also consider, and this IS important, what ecosystem you’re entering into. By that, I mean are your devices going to all talk to each other. Will they be compatible and work WITH each other rather than having to use five third-party Apps… Which can be frustrating.

So what’s the best smart home ecosystem? We’ll start with ‘Works with Nest’.

Works with Nest

Nest has been in the smart home business since 2010, with the company’s first product – the original Nest Learning Thermostat – which hit the shops in late 2011. Since then, Nest Labs has expanded into multiple smart home categories and there is now a range of slick, well-designed connected devices on sale carrying the Nest name.

smart home

Nest Labs is owned by Alphabet (who owns Google) with the Mountain View giant splashing out over $3 billion for Tony Fadell's company back in 2014. The nest is now actually being rolled back into Google, so expect higher integration with Google Assistant. The nest is a huge player in the smart home market and a good place to start your smart home.


Nest smart home products

Nest Thermostat

Nests' first product which hit the shelves in late 2011, was the Nest Learning Thermostat. Marketed as the first actually ‘smart’ thermostat, its selling point was that it could learn your behaviour and then base your heating needs around you.

A very nice-looking device that connects to your boiler via the Heat-link, which arrives in the box. It controls your central heating and now (with the 3rd generation) control your hot water too. For the most part, it works very well. I still find the Auto Scheduling a little bit random, but I’m sure that will improve over time.

It’s incredibly convenient and works very well when connected to voice assistants such as Alexa and Google. There are also separate temperature sensors available in the US but unfortunately for us Brits, they have yet to make their way across the pond.


Nest Protect

The second-generation Nest Protect, the smart smoke, and CO detector boasts a spilled-spectrum smoke sensor to detect both fast and slow fires, and a feature called app silence, which allows you to silence the smoke alarm from your smartphone when you burn the toast. Amazing. New algorithms also help the alarm to tell the difference between steam, from the shower for instance, and actual smoke.

The new Nest Protect has a mic that turns on once a month to test the horn and the speaker in a soundcheck. It's also possible to do a manual check within the app. It lasts ten years, has a faster, brighter path light, is easier to mount on walls or ceiling, and is 11% smaller than the first-generation alarm. There are battery and wired versions – both cost £109.


Nest Security Cameras

Nest took-over Dropcam in 2014 and a year later the first Nest Cam went on sale – essentially a tweaked and rebranded version of the Drop. Since then, the Nest Cam has hit it's second-generation and we’ve seen two Nest Cam Outdoor versions hit the market as well.

That second-generation camera is still on sale and is now called the Nest Cam Indoor (£159). It, alongside the Nest Cam Outdoor (£179), offers a set of features you’ll find as standard on all Nest security cameras: 24/7 live streaming, 1080p videos, three-hour snapshot history, night vision, motion, and sound alerts, and a talk and listen to function.

The Nest Cam IQ Indoor (£299) and the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor (£329), Nest’s top of the range camera duo, add HD Talk and Listen to the mix for clearer two-way conversations, person alerts (with Familiar face tech learning people over time) and a supersight 4K sensor with HDR, for close-up tracking.

The Indoor version also has Google Assistant built-in – effectively turning it into a Google Home speaker. This feature, which is only in the US right now, takes advantage of the microphone and speaker that handles two-way audio to add Google Assistant functionality. If you subscribe to Nest Aware, the cloud-based service that adds a heft of smart monitoring skills to the mix, you can include stuff like 24/7 recording, sharing of clips and time-lapses, activity zones, and more intelligent alerts.


Nest Hello

Nest Hello is Nests answer to the video doorbell. Connected to your WiFi network, utilising existing doorbell wiring it acts as a normal doorbell but can show you who’s actually at the door via your smart device and now via the Google Smart Home Hub.

If you have a Nest IQ indoor cam, Google's smart assistant will announce any arrival through the camera speaker. Cool! Sadly Alexa wasn’t invited to this particular bit of the party… Not yet anyway. You can however ask Alexa to show you who's at the front door etc.. and, if you have an Echo Show, you will see the (by now slightly irritated) person in question standing waiting patiently for you.

The Nest Hello does require a professional installation and may not be suitable for all houses/flats. Living in Edinburgh, I’m on the 3rd floor of an old victorian block of flats. So unless I dangle a router or extender out the window, it’ll be unlikely that the wifi will stretch downstairs to the street. Although I have been assured that it’s possible to connect the Nest Hello into existing tenement intercom systems, this would be £150 on top of the £229 for the Doorbell itself.


Nest Secure

Nest Secure is a comprehensive alarm system, made up of four different components – Nest Guard, Nest Detect, Nest Tag, and the Nest app. Nest Guard is an alarm hub where you put in your security code, emitting a pleasant chime before your alarm goes off, turning to an ear-crunching siren when you need to be on alert. It works on your home Wi-Fi but also has backup cellular.

Nest Detect is a motion and door sensor you can place around your home, and Nest Tag is an NFC chip that you can use instead of your passcode to deactivate the system when you're leaving or coming home and can be given to trusted relatives. There's a button you can press to activate and deactivate individual Detects, so it won't turn off all the other Detects if the alarm is armed – handy if you just want to take the rubbish out the back door, for example.

You'll get a Nest Guard, two Nest Detects, and two Nest Tags in the Starter pack – $499 Stateside, not out in the UK yet – and you can buy additional Tags and Detects for $25 and $59 a pop.

The Nest app reminds you if you've forgotten to set the alarm when you left, or if you forgot to close a window or door. You can set the alarm to one of the three modes within the app, of course, and it integrates with the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor and Indoor.


So that’s Nest. Or Google.. no.. wait.. uh.. Anyway. Google do have their own ecosystem which, as you’d expect, integrates very nicely with all of the above. I’ve never had any problems with the Nest Protect and I have three of them but some people, particularly with the first generation models, found there were some false alarms. Not so with the current model.

The good thing about Nest as a whole, is that it plays nice with most of the major players, except Apple - Apple’s HomeKit app is terrible. Looks just as bad as it works, which it doesn’t - Rant over. I love Apple products, so don’t think I’m one of those Apple bashers, I’m not.

Nest on desk with a phone and plates beside it

The Nest ecosystem is a fantastic way to start your smart home revolution. It works brilliantly with Philips Hue products, Belkin, Alexa, Logitech, and almost all other main brands. The home/away function is better than most, as it doesn’t just rely on geofencing. For example, if you have your Logitech Harmony Remote connected, it will use the gyro in the remote as another way of confirming that you’re home or not. Clever stuff.

I’m sure we will see much more from Nest in the future, but for now, it’s a big thumbs up from me.

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