Before last week, I had very little first-hand experience with smart home products. I guess it really depends on how you define a smart home product, as I’ve had ample time with smart speakers like the Google Home, mesh WiFi systems like the Google Wifi, and plenty of others. But prototypical smart home products, like the Nest Thermostat, Philips Hue bulbs, or the August smart lock, have been mostly foreign to me up to this point. Now, that’s changing.
I figured many readers here are probably in the same boat. You’ve heard of all these products, but maybe you live in an apartment that doesn’t let you make the necessary changes. Or maybe you’ve thought about diving in for a while, but have never been able to justify the costs. Regardless, I thought I’d share my journey with you, starting with the Nest Thermostat E.
Everyone can use an Echo Dot: Just $50!
Last week I got a handful of Nest products in the mail, among them the Nest Thermostat E, the Nest Cam IQ, the Nest Secure security system (which is technically 3 Nest products, the Nest Guard, Nest Detects, and Nest Tags), and a Nest Cam IQ Outdoor. I have a few more to acquire before I can consider my Nest collection complete, but I thought that these three would be a great starting point and an opportunity to see how they work together.
For now, I mostly just want to talk about the Nest Thermostat E. And that’s appropriate, right? The Nest Thermostat is where it all started and it’s probably the product I have no excuse for not owning until now (I mean, it pays for itself, right?). But as you probably know, this thermostat isn’t the same as the OG thermostat. The Thermostat E is the company’s new matte white variant that’s just a bit cheaper and made of plastic — but for the most part accomplishes all of the same things.
First, my impression of its appearance is just as positive as it was when the thing was first announced. I was never a fan of the flashy chrome deign of the original Nest. I want a thermostat to be subtle, not a big fancy knob sticking out of the wall that tries to be an unavoidable talking piece and a fashion statement. The Thermostat E is so perfectly subtle, and in my first week with it, it has gone almost entirely unnoticed by guests, despite being in a central and obvious location.
In fact, I already have an anecdote to testify to this. I had a friend who’s very tech-familiar come over just the other day, walk right by it 3-4 times, and not mention it. Once I pointed it out, he immediately knew what it was and… exclaimed at how he was shocked he missed it. But he missed it, and that only served to increase my love for its design. So simplistic, minimal, and clean.
Also, I have to say that I just love the frosted display. Unlike the original Nest Thermostat and its more traditional black display, the Thermostat E feels as if it doesn’t have a display at all. And that’s basically the case when you’re not looking at it directly. The glass circular display is this gray color that visually blends seamlessly into the white dial edge and then with the white plastic cover, and then with a light colored wall. It’s just simply gorgeous in my opinion.
The set up
Beyond having long lived in apartments that didn’t allow me to make any changes to things like thermostats and locks, the installation process was one thing that kept me putting my acquisition of Nest products on the back burner. But as I’m sure anyone who has had any of the many generations of the Nest Thermostat can attest, I was glad to find out the installation process was a breeze.
In my case, it basically boiled down to popping the cover off my current thermostat (installed in 90’s or earlier, I think), checking out which wires were connected to which terminals, taking note of what those were labeled, adding a few stickers to make sure things were all in order, and then slipping those wires into the easy button-press connectors on the Nest base.
That was pretty much it for the wiring aspect (yes, you can do this even if you have absolutely no experience with wiring or electrical engineering). Nest does kindly remind you in the instructions that it’s smart to take a few precautions like turning off the power to your AC at the circuit breaker (mine wasn’t labeled, so I just flipped the main), and make sure the wires are stripped correctly.
In my case, the hardest part (and it wasn’t really hard) was lining up the thermostat base, marking where the holes needed to be for the screws (which were included in the package), and physically screwing them in while making sure everything stays level (and yes, the base has a built-in level as you can see above). That was the most difficult part of the installation and, obviously, Nest goes above and beyond to make this annoying process as not-annoying as possible.
E learns, just like the original
So after everything is all in place and you’ve run through the setup process on the device itself (which, again, is an absolute breeze), you get to do the fun part: actually using the thermostat. But what I realized with my first week is that the Nest Thermostat doesn’t add anything groundbreaking (it is a thermostat, after all), but rather just removes all the pain points with traditional thermostats.
The interface is brilliant, and again, that’s something that anyone who has been using a Nest Thermostat for the last 7 years already knows. Just like a thermostat should, you simply turn the dial to your desired temperature and… then your house becomes that temperature. What’s brilliant about the Nest is that it learns what temperatures you prefer at different times of the day and then creates a schedule (which you can view and manually change in the app) that automatically sets them.
So what I’ve found with the Nest Thermostat E, perhaps counter-intuitively (or at least counter to what you might expect when paying a premium for a nice thermostat) is that I don’t really use my Thermostat E as much as I used my previous. My house is simply more comfortable more often.
This has changed a lot in just the first week, too. At first, I was waking up at 6 or 7 AM to a freezing house and setting the thermostat up a few degrees in the app (I prefer the house a few degrees warmer in the mornings typically). After a few days, I saw in the app that the thermostat had learned my patterns and set that temperature (75 in my case) for every weekday morning.
It saves money and energy, too
Another key feature is Nest’s Eco mode. When Nest knows you’re not at home (by way of your phone’s location or otherwise), the Thermostat knows that you don’t need the temperature to be as comfortable as it would be if you were home. So you can set limits (in my case, a low end of 50 and a high end of 85) that the thermostat will keep the temperature at while you’re away. This of course saves a lot of energy, but at the same time can keep your home at reasonable temps.
Of course, this means that your thermostat is going to be saving energy (and thereby protecting the planet from pollution, even if on a minuscule scale), and should theoretically save you enough on your electric bill to pay for the thermostat itself in a reasonable amount of time. I haven’t had it long enough to see the impacts, but I’ll report back on that in a later episode of Nest Diary.
Beyond the basics, the Nest Thermostat also packs a hoarde of other features — all controllable via the Nest app. You can of course change the temperature and see the current ambient temperature, see inside humidity (lowering this with cooler temps supposedly has health benefits), and check the outside temp. But you can also manually enable eco mode, see energy use history, manually turn on your HVAC’s fan, and much more. And all of that works from anywhere, not just when you’re home.
To be continued…
Rather than doing a standalone review that simply gave you a rundown of the features of the thermostat, I’m hoping this experiential review (and others to come) will paint a picture of how these products are changing my daily life. One aspect of that, though, is that not all my experiences can easily be wrapped up in one succinct review. As I add more Nest (and other smart home) products to my home, my experience will naturally evolve over time.
So I hope that this Nest diary will serve as a unique window into one person’s experience with transforming their house with Nest products, and will provide unique benefit to those considering jumping in. In the coming days and weeks I’ll be spending more time with the Nest Thermostat E, the Nest Cam IQ, and the Nest Secure, and learning how they all work together. So far, though, my impression of the Thermostat E, even as a standalone product, is almost entirely positive.