Alex Kaloostian

Apple Certified Master Trainer | Systems Integrator | Video Editor | Motion Graphics Artist

Nest Protect: My Review

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I was suffering from gadget withdrawal, so after Christmas I used some of my loot to buy a Nest Protect, and I’m digging it.

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The Protect is a smoke and CO detector in one, with some really smart features. The biggest improvements are the way it deals with false alarms, and the way it alerts you of battery issues.

When we moved into our house, I walked around looking at the ceiling, mouth agape. There was a smoke detector and a CO detector in the basement, okay, sure, makes sense. There was one of each in the living room. Okay. There was one of each in the master bedroom, a smoke detector in each guest room, the stairs leading to the attic, one of each in the attic, and FOUR in the upstairs hallway.

Did you lose count? I did. I don’t know who lived in this house before us, or what their concern was, and I’m not knocking it, but this was insane. And to make matters worse, some were wired, and others battery-powered. And one of those batteries would die, and it would start beeping, always in the middle of the night.

Isn’t that always the way? Actually, I did some research, and I found out why this is- at night, the temperature in the house tends to drop a little bit, which causes the life in the batteries to drop, just a little but. but its enough to fall below that threshold, and then the detector thinks the battery is dead, so it beeps. And then you walk around the house, half asleep, eyes bleary, trying to figure out which one it is. Which one of 15. Next week, it starts all over again. Even the wired models were beeping, and I can’t figure that one out!

Issue number two was false alarms. I cook, a lot. Sometimes I get a little distracted, and things start smoking. A little bit of smoke, and the alarm goes off, LOUD. And freaks out the kids. And the cats. And gives me a headache.

So how does the Nest Protect solve these issues, and why does it cost $129?

The first thing is the batteries. The nest has a tiny green LED on at all times to notify you the battery is okay. Second. when you shut the lights out at night, it glows green for 3 seconds to reassure you. If the batteries start to get low, it will glow yellow, notifying you that you have a few weeks to change it, before it gets REALLY low and starts to beep. You can also check the battery at any time on your iPhone or Android phone. (I have the hardwired model, but it still comes with long-life backup batteries in case of a power failure).

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The second issue: false alarms. If the unit detects a small bit of smoke, it will send an alert to your phone, and speak out loud in a pleasant voice “smoke detected in the kitchen”. If it’s a false alarm, you can stand under it and wave, and it will deactivate. Of course, if you don’t do this, or if a LOT of smoke is detected, it will start to beep, like any alarm. But the voice is an important feature as well: some studies have shown that people, especially kids, can sleep through a beeping alarm, but the voice is a more pleasant and more effective way to be awoken.

If you want to run a test or reset an alarm the old-fashioned way, its got a nice big button you can poke with a broom, so you won’t have to climb up on a chair.

If you have multiple Protects, you can name them, and they communicate with one another via wi-fi, and will alert you WHERE the smoke is detected as well. “There is smoke in the upstairs bedroom”.

If you have a Nest thermostat as well, it will communicate with the Protect, and know if you’re home or away to adjust your temperature. It will also shut off your furnace if it detects CO.

The one feature I was a little bummed with was the Pathlight feature. I mentioned that the nest glows green at bedtime, and yellow if the battery is getting low. It also glows white if it is nighttime and you walk towards it, like a motion-detecting nightlight. Cool, right? Well my ceiling is only 8 feet, and it does glow, but it’s so dim, it really doesn’t make any difference. I certainly don’t see it guiding me to safety in a smoke-filled hallway.

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Another feature some people are bummed about is that the wired model doesn’t use the orange wire to communicate with other detectors, meaning that if you want them all to communicate, you have to replace ALL your detectors with Nests. It also won’t communicate with your alarm system, though Nest says there’s one coming in 2014 that will do this.

One more caveat that I was unaware of when I bought: Under fire codes, all CO detectors must be replaced every 7 years. Thats $129 every 7 years. I wish the Protect was modular, or they offered a trade in program, when the time comes. Well as it is brand new, that gives Nest 7 years to come up with something.

Installation:

Installation was super easy. As you’d expect from a product designed by ex-Apple engineers, the package was nicely designed and came with everything needed, even wire nuts. A couple twists, a couple of screws, and I was good to go in 7 minutes. Anyone who can identify a white wire from a black wire can do this. The battery-powered model is even easier, of course. I cant really give it points for this, though, because any unit would be just as easy. I guess I was just pleased that the wire nuts were included. It’s the little details, right?

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Setup was pretty easy too, though a little bit convoluted. First I had to download the Nest app from the App Store and register for an account. Then I had to confirm the account via email and log in via web. You could skip these steps if you already had other Nest devices, of course. Next, turn on the Protect, launch the Nest app, and connect to it via wifi. Lastly, enter a pin code, name the unit (“upstairs bedroom”, “kitchen”, etc) and connect it to my home wifi. It was about 5 minutes to register my account, and 3 minutes to set up the actual unit.

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Techie stuff:

The protect uses a photoelectric smoke sensor, which provides more reliable early warning than ionization, and it is not radioactive. It also has heat and humidity sensors. I’d love to see the ability to tap into those for other features, like monitoring my home’s ambient temperature and communicating it to the thermostat. It can’t do this yet, but Nest has started a developer program, so there’s hope.

PROS:

  • No more beeping in the middle of the night. No more taking the battery out and never replacing it. A smoke detector that doesnt work is no protection at all!
  • Smoke and CO in one unit.
  • Better way of dealing with false alarms.
  • Easy-ish to set up.
  • Check and run tests from iPhone. I plan on running some fire drills when the kids get older.
  • Really nice looking.
  • Geek factor.

CONS:

  • Expensive to replace several units every 7 years.
  • Nightlight not bright enough.
  • Doesn’t talk to alarm system.
  • No Windows app.
  • Makes me want more Nest devices now.

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Author: alexkaloostian

I'm a video editor, motion graphics designer and Mac IT consultant in the Boston area.

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