Tech for your nest

Published: Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 30, 2014 at 3:29 p.m.

It was my “last” present. You know, the one you open last. The one with the fanciest of bows. With that first tear into the wrapping paper I knew it was something good. Something techy.

You guessed it. I got a thermostat. I got a Nest.

This is no ordinary thermostat, mind you, but the one being dubbed the next-generation “learning” thermostat. It learns your heating and cooling preferences over time and sets them automatically, saving you money. Or you can reset the temperature yourself, at home or from thousands of miles away through your iPhone.

It isn’t the sort of thermostat you want to hide on a wall, but one that actually “makes” a room and draws praise. This is the thermostat company started by Tony Fadell, a former Apple employee known for helping to build the first iPod.

I knew the hype but didn’t yet know the facts. What would posses a company like Google to eventually buy Nest for more than $3 billion dollars, prompting analysts to call it the pinnacle device in the coming smart-home era?

I understood the moment I took it out of the box. This instantly became the most beautiful piece of technology I own (that is saying a lot) with its stainless steel rotating wheel, crisp LED screen and iPod-esque user interface. Installation took a whopping 15 minutes, and half of that was downloading the app. Yes, a thermostat with a mobile app.

When it comes to learning, you might think it needs a bunch of complicated programming to do its job. That would be enough to negate 90 percent of potential users, including me. With Nest, all I had to do was set the temperature. Once.

My first “aha” moment was when we took a winter family vacation shortly after installing the device. As usual, we had a dog-sitter stay at the house. She is a great girl but one who clearly has never paid a GRU bill. I knew she’d set the thermostat to 80 degrees and leave it there the moment we left the house. Not this time. Cue evil laugh. Within a few hours, I was able to check the thermostat’s settings on my iPhone and dial it back by 10 degrees. After a couple times doing this, I think she figured it out.

My second “aha” moment came a few weeks later, when I was at work and remembered we had turned up the heat the night before. I frantically logged into the app, only to discover that it was on auto-away, meaning it knows when we leave the house and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Likewise it knows, via a motion detector, when we get home and sets it back.

There was a point during the winter when I noticed it would turn on the heat in the morning about a half hour before we got out of bed. I was curious something was wrong until I realized it knew when we “normally” awoke and was just trying to ready the house for us. How sweet! The same motion detector that makes all this possible also knows when you have more people in the house than usual and will automatically adjust for that.

There are many reasons to like the Nest, but I have yet to touch on the feature I like the most: Apparently being smart means not only being more comfortable but saving money. Lots of money! I expected to save maybe $10 or $20 dollars a month but was ecstatic when we saved almost $50 the first month by regulating the temperature. By the second month, it must have learned more, because we saved nearly $80. Ever since, it has been at least $60 per month.

What this means is the Nest has already paid for its own $249 price tag and is currently returning real savings each month. Now that certainly deserves a bow.

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