I actually have quite a bit of knowledge about thermostats (unfortunately) since my day job is that of a property manager. I would say that during the summer the most common phone call I get is: “The A/C isn’t working right”. By my estimations 60% of the time it is user error — people not knowing how to work a thermostat. Therefore I need to know how to program just about any thermostat I come into contact with — and I can (sadly).
So I feel perfectly confident in claiming that all thermostats suck, including the Nest. Don’t just stop here though, because while the Nest still sucks it has two things going for it:
- It sucks less than everything else.
- With each software update it sucks less.
So it’s conceivable that the next software update could make it move from the suck category to the “hey, alright” category. But I’m not holding my breath.
The Non-Nest Thermostat
For the most part you can break down non-Nest thermostats into two categories:
Static thermostats are often just a dial that you set to your desired temperature and they heat to that temp — pretty simple. As you can guess with programmable thermostats, you can program them to change your desired temperature based on the day and time of the day. Again, pretty simple.
So what’s the problem with the current slate of thermostats, well there are two issues:
- They are all, almost completely, hideous — yet they are an item that must be in a visible and easily accessible place in your home. Making the fact that they are hideous a bit of a head scratcher.
- The second issue is that they all assume that you operate on the same schedule everyday, or at least that you have a set weekly schedule. This works pretty damned well for businesses, but borders on absurd for most American’s home lives.
What the Nest claims to be is a “learning” thermostat, but truthfully I think a more accurate description is that it is a “self-programming” thermostat. More on this in a bit, first let’s dive into the Nest hardware.
Design, Touch, Installation
First things first, the Nest is the most Apple-like product you will ever handle that isn’t made by Apple (no surprise here). The packaging is not quite as simple, but it is very well done.
The most impressive part about the Nest is that everything you need to get up and running is in the Nest box (with exception of wire strippers and cutters, should your thermostat wiring have been installed by an idiot, like mine was). They give you a cute little screwdriver, that is all but worthless for anything other than installing a Nest, the mounting bracket has a built in level, and so on.
Installation is a piece of cake — I really think my Mom could have figured it out.
The cleverest bit about the Nest is that, once installed, you immediately fall in love with it — and I really mean this. The Nest looks simply gorgeous on the walls. Once you stop staring and touch the Nest you are met with a well honed tactile feedback — it’s almost perfect. The dial turns smoothly, but a little too easily for my liking.
Everything about the Nest hardware seems perfect when compared to any other thermostat. The only hardware I have that has a better fit and finish are made by Apple or cost well beyond $1000.
Software, Where the Bugs Wait
My Nest wasn’t on the 1.0 version of the software, but the next version up (and later updated itself), but even with that there are two horrendous bugs that I found right off the bat.
Connecting to WiFi (almost required for the Nest) was a huge pain in the ass. Not only is my WiFi password complicated, but it just would not work. I even tried changing it to get it going, but nothing. I initially had to set it up without WiFi so I could get the heat back on.
When I tried later on, the WiFi just worked — I changed nothing — very odd. I don’t know what changed for the Nest, but it was beyond frustrating to have to spend 30 minutes just trying to get a WiFi connection.
Heating / Turning on the Furnace
I am not sure what kind of quirk exists between my furnace and the Nest, but occasionally (once a week after we manually adjust the temp) the Nest will fail to get the furnace started. This is not the same issue Marco had with the battery needing a charge and pulsing the furnace — no this is the Nest just not talking right, because it was trying to turn on the heat and not charge.
This alone makes me really leery leaving my home for a week with no one there. I simply don’t trust the Nest to always work — which is kind of something rather basic for a thermostat.
Aside from those two bugs, everything has been ok, but those two bugs are pretty annoying.
The Purpose of the Nest
The purpose of the Nest is that you need not ever program it: just change the heat when you are cold or warm and it will adjust. I thought that this meant the Nest would work in a dynamic nature, sadly that’s not the case.
With the most recent Nest update you can view and edit the schedule the Nest makes on your iPhone — and when you go to do that you see a shocking screen: the same programming info you would put into a regular thermostat. That’s why I say that the Nest isn’t really learning, as much as it is just self-programming. This really bums me out.
The Nest could be so much more, but instead it is just a fancy GUI in front of a “normal” thermostat.
One very neat feature the Nest has going for it is the auto-away setting. The Nest has a motion sensor and when it doesn’t detect movement it will drop the heat down to the pre-determined minimum that you set. The thinking here is that you save money by the Nest turning off when you decide to spend a Saturday away instead of at home — like normal (or normal for me). This feature (amazingly) actually works really well. Note: you should disable this feature if your Nest is not in an area you regularly walk by.
Update: In the original post I stated some information about how cool you should let your house get. This seems that it maybe in accurate and I have removed the section until I can research more.
Beyond all those items, the Nest still needs one major improvement — the Nest needs to be made proactive. My home only has heat, so the Nest can’t cool my home, but the Nest also knows this so shouldn’t it be able to take that into account?
As of right now the Nest basically is a ‘heat-to’ gauge for me. Meaning: continue to heat my house until X degrees and when temp drops below that, then go ahead and re-heat my home to X degrees. This is standard stuff for any thermostat, but the Nest should be (and can be) better.
The Nest is connected to the Internet, and therefore can get weather data — proven by the fact that the iOS app shows the outside temp. So why can’t the Nest determine that every time it is 75° outside, my home heats up to 71° so in order to keep my home at the desired 70° the Nest should be careful not to heat my house fully to 70° when the temp outside is starting to close in on 75°?
That is I want the Nest to take into account weather forecasts to properly adjust for the temperature fluctuations in my home — and really why shouldn’t it?
To Buy or Not
Ok enough, I need answers.
Is the Nest revolutionary? No.
Is the Nest the best thermostat you can buy? Yes.
Should I buy the Nest? Only if you think your current thermostat is ugly, or you have a $250 desire to change the temp from your iPhone. I like the Nest, but I mostly like it for its looks and the hope that one day it will be really awesome.
Not a joke. ↩