...and apparently, it's just the best thing since sliced bread. Now, let me temper that a bit. There have been a lot of "best things" since sliced bread. Yet sliced bread is the one that people still use in the analogy. Many of those "best things" have been found to have pitfalls serious enough that the old way really was better.
Forgive me, because I'm going to sound grumpy throughout this review...
With that out of the way...NEST is a startup run by some ex-Apple Computer (yes, I call them by their old name) employees. They have brought to market this new and improved, maybe even magical thermostat that's supposed to spend a week "observing" your household to learn your occupancy and temperature setting habits. The thermostats appear to have been selling well, to say the least. NEST couldn't keep them in stock for a while, and I guess (as of this writing) that there is still a line of people waiting to get theirs.
I didn't buy one. While I suspect I will get majorly grilled for having an unpopular opinion here, I've got to say that I don't appreciate frilly-froo-froo "green" stuff. The galumphing green greenies (apologies to Stan and Jan Berenstain) have managed to ruin almost everything. Cars, home appliances, light bulbs, many other things...you name it, the new replacements just don't seem as "green" to me in any practical sense. I own a 40 year old refrigerator that cools better on R12 than any modern fridge I've seen with "green" refrigerant. You think a modern fridge will last forty years? I don't, and I've got some experience along those lines. These goofy front-loading washing machines seem to have depressingly short lifetimes, compared to an old "inefficient" Maytag that would run for 30, 40 or maybe more years without much in the way of maintenance. Which, when the numbers were crunched, only produced a significant difference in terms of water use!
To (loosely) quote the BOFH..."a real computer would have a hole in the front to shove trees into and a hole in the back for smoke to come out".
Sorry. I got a bit distracted there. I have no shortage of obnoxious options. Back to this thermostat. My dad actually bought one at the suggestion of one of my brothers. He installed it and set it up the other day.
Since NEST was founded by some ex-Apple employees, I'll preface this by saying that there is a reason why Apple is who and where they are. While some of their decisions are controversial and their computers not necessarily at the forefront of performance, Apple does generally produce equipment that just works. In my advancing age (29 as of this writing), I'm starting to care about that bold part more and more. Engineering's a difficult process, but there are some things that ought to be obvious when testing a product.
The NEST thermostat can connect to a wireless computer network for added functionality. It's supposed to even go so far as to upload collected data to the "cloud" that all of the cool kids use today, where you can view it from a special web page or even control your thermostat. Cool idea, huh?
You back there with the privacy hat on, yeah you, hush it. Not that I don't think what you're saying is important, just bear with me on this.
Well, my wireless network is like most others by way of the fact that it's secured with WPA2 encryption and a (fiendishly long, I suppose) WPA2 key. It's already a chore (instead of writing "bitch", as part of an effort not to sound too crabby or rude here) to input this key on mobile devices. The NEST thermostat can only accept input via its rotating dial. There is an onscreen keyboard that can be switched to enter small letters, capitals, numbers and punctuation. Which I dutifully did, though I'm getting ahead of myself here.
At first, the thermostat wouldn't even see my wireless network. I'm not hiding my SSID, nor is there any lack of network signal strength. Every wireless device I own can use the wireless network reliably in every room of this big old house, and most can use it outside to at least my driveway. What gives? Well, finally, my network showed up. And I entered the WPA2 security key, all 60 some characters of it.
And NEST, it said uh-uh. "Failed to connect to network" was all its round display offered for an explanation. To add insult to injury, it didn't even have the decency to wait a bit, or you know, make me at least think that it would connect to the network. Even if it was only deliberately inserted wait states, I'd be placated by the illusion that it was at least trying.
But you know, I'm human and while my uptime (measured as years of lifetime) should be better than most any computer, I do make mistakes. Dutifully, I keyed the WPA2 key in again. This takes a tortuously long time to complete, and it's the first thing that is seriously wrong with this thermostat. There really needs to be a way to "plant" wireless network info into devices like the NEST. So why hasn't it been done?
The usual way to do this might be through a wired network connection, or maybe even through a USB memory device. NEST has a USB port, so why can't I hook up a memory device to that port and have it read in a text file containing my wireless configuration? Or, though it would be asinine unless the software were cross platform, why I can't I run a software program to set this info over USB and then stick the thermostat to the wall? I'd settle for the ability to attach a keyboard to the thing and enter the info that way.
Well, I tried another tack. I set up an ad-hoc network (as opposed to infrastructure) on my Macbook and tried to connect to that. NEST wasn't having any of that, and its only response was the brusque error message "Failed to connect to network". If this were my thermostat, I'd have seriously considered delivering a response via baseball bat, as the vindictive, spiteful, bad tempered person I can be.
I had another idea. Turn off security on my wireless network, risk all those hard core criminals breaking in, and join the thermostat to my network temporarily. Surely, thought I, it's got an onboard web server that I could hit, configure it properly (in case I'm still making a typing--or is that wheeling--error) and then re-enable security on my wireless network.
NEST doesn't have a built in web server. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but why the heck not? It's got an ARM CPU, a gob of RAM, what would seem like plenty of flash memory...and yet it can't devote any of that to having even a minimal configuration interface onboard? What year is this?
Oh, but it did download a software update. Mind you, while you can see it downloading the update, there's no obvious way that I found to tell it "stop now, and apply the update". (It did so a short while after downloading, but I think I only got lucky there.) My hope springs eternal, but v2.0 of the software was no better about connecting to my secured wireless network.
I've given up on it at this point. I did restart it a few times. I don't know, or care why the NEST refuses to connect to my wireless network. All I know is that it's too hard to set up, and doesn't work even after multiple tries.
Along the way, I've noticed that the NEST thermostat appears to lack CPU power or something. Maybe the code isn't well optimized. Again, don't know--shouldn't have to care. I've had it ignore input clicks and rotation of its wheel.
I'm posting this rant mainly to get it out of my system. I do hear that the nice folks at NEST have contacted people in response to articles, so maybe that'll happen here. I'd like to talk about my thoughts with someone there, though I don't have enough desire to sit through what I think will only be a maddening technical support experience. If you're with NEST and want to shoot me an e-mail...it's right here.
And while I'm at it, just to close things up...what is up with that display? It would be nice to have the option--like every other thermostat in the world--to have the display constantly lit, though probably at reduced brightness to avoid wearing it out so fast.
Oh. Yeah. I almost forgot. The NEST support site, well...it sucks. I don't want to watch a video when I'm sitting in the hallway trying to troubleshoot a thermostat with an attitude almost as bad as mine. I want...help, surprisingly enough!
Maybe I'll post more when I see how well it's learning process does in a week? For now, that is all.