Polite voice alert comes first - 'Heads up, there's smoke in the entryway' - then the alarm.
NEW YORK – Turning the unremarkable thermostat into an object of desire was an amazing achievement for Nest Labs. The company's smart Wi-Fi-aware Nest Learning Thermostat supplied heat to a rather chilly product category.
With its new product Nest Protect, the Silicon Valley start-up is doing the same for a household staple that all too many of us treat as a necessary nuisance, ignoring the fact that it can save lives. I'm speaking of the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that people install with the best of intentions, only to remove and never replace the batteries because of the pain points associated with such alarms. Consider:
– You get a false alarm every time you burn toast or overcook the turkey.
– You hear those annoying beeps that remind you when the batteries will soon peter out – is it just in my house or do those ceaseless chirps only seem to sound in the middle of the night?
– When the false alarm does go off and you're half asleep, you have to fumble in the dark and find a ladder to quiet the thing.
Nest points to a study by the National Fire Protection Agency indicating that of the smoke alarms that failed to activate during home fires, 73% had dead, missing or disconnected batteries. Nuisance alarms were the single biggest reason why people disconnected units.
By doing so, folks are left tragically vulnerable in case of a genuine emergency.
Nest Protect is an attractive-square contraption with rounded edges that combines smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It comes in white or black and costs $129, pricier than typical detectors. You connect Nest Protect to a back plate you screw onto the wall or ceiling, which given the hardness of my walls posed the only setup hassle I encountered of any consequence.
Nest co-founder Tony Fadell used to be in charge of iPods at Apple and he brings the Apple aesthetic to otherwise overlooked household objects.
Nest Protect wirelessly shares the same app on your Android or iOS device – or the Web – as the thermostat. You remotely get wind of an alarm going off or receive low battery or other notifications.
During the setup, you pair Nest Protect with your account by capturing the QR code on the back of the alarm from within the Nest app, a cool way of handling it. If you pair a second Next Protect, that second unit already knows the settings used in installing the first alarm. You let the app know in which room you are installing the devices so that you'll know where potential trouble is brewing.
Nest Protect is certainly the politest smoke or carbon monoxide detector I've ever encountered. Prior to blasting a shrill alarm, Nest gives you an early warning. "Heads up, there's smoke in the entryway" or "Heads up, there's smoke in the living room," which gives you chance to act before the situation escalates. Nest says pleasant sounding female voice alarms help wake up the kids better than standard alarms.
I tested Nest Protect using a Smoke Sabre. (Other than pressing a button to manually initiate an alarm, I did not test for carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas.)
An LED ring on the front of the unit glows in different colors to report battery status or potential problems. Of course, if and when smoke reaches danger levels, you will indeed hear the requisite loud alarm.
Since multiple Nests communicate through a proprietary "mesh" network, if an alarm goes off in one room, it will also sound in another. Nest Protect also works in tandem with a Nest thermostat – if carbon monoxide is detected, Nest can shut down your gas furnace. Sensors in Nest help the thermostat know when you're away.
Nest can also deliver low warnings by voice, before you'd hear the chirps. My unit takes 6 AA batteries; Nest also sells a wired 120v version. The company sent me used batteries so I could test low battery warnings, but Nest Protect still reported my battery life as OK. Nest won't say how long batteries will last, but Nest itself can go up to seven years.
One touted feature is the ability to silence an alert by continuously waving your arms from about two to eight feet underneath the detector. I was able hush Nest that way most of the time, but not every time. Backup option: press a button to quiet things down. Extremely dense smoke cannot be silenced, just as well since the idea is to bail fast. The app explains what to do in an emergency. (e.g., "If your clothes catch fire, STOP, DROP and ROLL.")
Among other potentially useful features is a path light that will illuminate a dark room when you pass underneath Nest Protect. It's turned off by default in the bedroom so as not to disturb your sleep.
Early in 2014, Nest is expected to bring out a model that will work with wired security systems. But even now, the company has produced an alarm that from my view smokes the competition.
Email: email@example.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter.
The bottom line
Pro. Clever smoke and CO detector uses voice alarms, LED lights, app notifications to report trouble, prior to shrill sounding alarms. Can be silenced with wave of hands. Path light feature. Easy setup.
Con. Expensive. Waving to hush alarm didn't work every time.