Review: Nest Protect brings high-tech features to the lowly smoke detector

nest-protect

Gadget lust is a likely common affliction for GeekWire readers. You may be fantasizing about Google Glass or a new iPad Air, but I bet that you haven’t thought about that annoying smoke detector in your home. Nest’s second product, the Nest Protect, is a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm that jolts this lowly piece of technology into the 21st century.

Last year, I took a look at the Nest Learning Thermostat in a GeekWire hands-on review. Given my day job in real estate, I figured that I should jump on the Nest Protect as soon as it came out. My pre-order arrived this week, so I’ve been busy replacing my existing smoke detectors.

The premise of Nest Protect is pretty simple. Smoke detectors are annoying. Cooking or steam from a shower can set off a false alarm. The chirp of the low-battery warning at 3 a.m.can also send you clamoring for a broom handle or ladder so you can get some shut-eye. Statistics show that most people either ignore or disconnect the smoke alarm, sacrificing their family’s safety because of the annoyance.

The install

Installing a smoke alarm isn’t rocket science, and the Nest Protect is pretty easy. There are two models. One is battery-powered and the other is designed to replace hard-wired smoke detectors. You also get the choice of white or black. Personally I think the black one is pretty cool, but it is totally out of character for my traditional-looking house, so I stuck with white.

iphone statusIf you are hard-wiring your smoke detector, it is as simple as connecting the white and black power lines to your circuit with a couple of wire nuts. (If you have a hard-wired smoke detector, you need to turn off the power at the breaker since it uses 120V like an outlet). The bracket is properly-sized for common electrical boxes and it also comes pre-packaged with mounting screws if you need them for a different location.

You will know that this isn’t a typical smoke alarm when you power it up for configuration. The ring lights up and a pleasant female voice asks you which language you would like and tells you that it is ready.

At this point, you switch to the Nest iPhone app to add the device into your home wi-fi network. There is no UI, so they use a nifty little procedure where you scan the QR code on the back of the Nest Protect (I’m guessing this contains the MAC address for the network adapter). Then you switch your iPhone to the wi-fi network being hosted by the Nest Protect. It pairs up the device with your home’s Nest setup and then switches everything back to your home wi-fi network. Once it is done, you can see the status of the device on your iPhone, iPad or on their website. (Nest Protect also works in conjunction with Android phones).

What’s inside

The Nest Protect is chock full of sensors. Obviously it needs a smoke sensor, but it also includes a carbon monoxide sensor so that you can protect against that dangerous combustion gas without having to purchase a separate device. It’s also got a heat sensor, three motion detectors, an ambient light sensor and humidity sensor. The latter will apparently be used to detect the differences between smoke and steam.

The device also has a dual wireless radio. The 802.11 wi-fi connection allows you to connect to your home network and the Internet. If you have multiple smoke alarms in the house, an 802.15 wireless interconnect radio allows them to communicate with one another.

Using Nest Protect

My favorite feature of the Nest Protect is the light ring. When there is an alarm, it glows red. A low battery or other alert and it’s yellow. When you shut off your lights at night, it briefly glows green to tell you that the device is functioning properly.

Nightly Promise - a brief green glow to tell you it is working

Nightly Promise – a brief green glow to tell you it is working

The light ring is also tied to the motion sensors and knows when you get up at night so that it can give a soft white glow to light your way. The motion-activated nightlight is super cool, probably a killer feature for many.

Pathlight - a motion-activated night light

Pathlight – a motion-activated night light

iphone alertI ran the device through a smoke test using a candle. In addition to a high-volume siren, the device announces the problem in a loud female voice, also telling you the location, since you labeled the location during setup. “Emergency, there is smoke in the Bedroom.”

Apparently children are more easily awoken by a human voice, rather than beeping, so a little added safety feature here. If you have multiple Protects in the home, they will all synchronize their warnings. We had a good laugh wondering who the first ingenious hacker will be to replace the voice warning with something like “The Roof is on Fire” or maybe a stream of expletives to get you out of bed.

When it detects a small amount of smoke, like when you are cooking, forget the ladder or broom handle to silence it. Just stand underneath and waive your arm back and forth. The ability to hush the alarm is disabled for larger amounts of smoke or heat.

Of course these are internet-connected devices, and you can monitor the status of them with the app or website. When I set off the smoke alarm last night, I even got an instant notification of the emergency on my iPhone and iPad. When the battery gets low, the incessant chirping is replaced by an alert on your phone.

Integration with the Nest Thermostat

nestfeaturedAs I mentioned, I have the Nest Thermostat installed as well. The two devices do work together in a couple of ways. First, the added motion sensors in each Protect gives your thermostat a more accurate view of when someone is home so that it doesn’t turn down the heat prematurely. This will be great when I’m watching movies upstairs for a couple hours and the thermostat doesn’t see me. The carbon monoxide alarm is also smart and makes the thermostat turn off your furnace, since that could be the source of the gas.

The verdict

Smoke alarms are a hard device to love, but Nest has done it, building a connected device that has a real opportunity to enhance the safety of your home and family. Monitoring the status and getting alerts from your smoke alarms on your devices does give great peace-of-mind. My current house doesn’t suffer from false alarms because of where I positioned them, but in places that I have lived previously, the ability to hush the alarm would have been awesome.

The technology does come at a price. Each Nest Protect will set you back $129, so considerably more expensive than a dual smoke/carbon-monoxide alarm which will run you $45-$50 these days. Obviously the bigger your house, the more places you need to install them. My 2,300 square foot house needed five to cover all of the right areas. The Nest Thermostat was a more obvious spend for me, since it has the potential to immediately save money and it is something that I interact with almost every day.

However, the added safety and convenience factor with the Protect does seem worth a little extra money, at least for this techie.

Kevin Lisota is CEO & Co-Founder of findwell, a Seattle real estate startup.  He can be reached at kevin@findwell.com or @kevinlisota.  

  • http://blog.findwell.com Kevin Lisota

    Well, that is technically true for all smoke alarms. They all deteriorate over time and the recommendations I see from the regular manufacturers all say to toss them in 7-10 years. In fact, to have UL certification, a carbon monoxide detector has to have an expiration date of 7 years on it.

    I suspect that no one regularly follows these recommendations. However, the tech in Nest’s version are sure to start nagging you when the 7-year mark approaches.

    I actually look forward to the 7-year mark, as perhaps the replacement smoke detectors will come via an unmanned drone to my doorstep.

    • http://timandjeni.com/ Timothy Ellis

      Ahh but all smoke alarms do not come packed with so many electronics (wifi, lights, speakers, etc.) and a $129 price tag.

      The expiration makes Nest Protect not only a very expensive option but also an extremely wasteful one. Hopefully Nest will announce some sort of refurbishment / trade-in program before these start expiring in 2020.

      How cool would it be if a few months before your Nest is going to expire, you got a notification on the app asking if you wanted them to send you a replacement for half price. Then you get the box in the mail, swap out your Protect, drop the expired one back in the box, and send it back to Nest postage paid, where they will replace the expired detector parts and keep the rest of the device in service.

      BTW I have a Nest thermostat and love it I just can’t get over how expensive and wasteful Protect is under the current scheme.

      • http://blog.findwell.com Kevin Lisota

        Fair point, but the $45 Kidde models drive a similar amount of waste every 7 years as well. Granted the circuit boards on those are smaller, but still wasteful. Until someone figures out a longer-life technology for the smoke/CO sensors, we’ll be stuck with the waste problem. The 7-year expiration has nothing to do with Nest. I think it comes from UL.

        Agreed that a refurb program like you describe would be quite nice.

  • FireSafetyDavid

    My issue is with the wireless interconnect. I don’t need a Nest Protect at a premium price to replace every interconnected smoke detector – I have empty guest rooms and repurposed bedrooms for offices. The old hockey puck screecher works just fine there. The only way the interconnect works is if each smoke detector is also a Nest Protect. There is no wired interconnect feature to integrate the Nest Protect into an existing wired interconnect system. So replace all of them and hope they all have strong wireless connectivity with each other. Except now instead of any wireless disconnect inconveniencing your Internet use, you lose the interconnect safety feature and potential code requirement. Other than that, the idea is great.

    • JParton

      What would make this idea practical would be AES-Intellinet connectivity, rather than wi fi
      .

  • justin

    Thanks kevin, your blog will be helpfully for people i hope you will keep writing to continue on smoke alarm services.

  • http://www.lonlockwoodelectric.com/elves-santas-workshop-know-installing-smoke-detectors/ Install smoke detector Rochest

    Excellent tips. Really useful stuff .

  • BowFarm

    What’s not mentioned in the review is that all the data Nest Protect collects to operate, “such as smoke and CO levels, current temperature, humidity and ambient light in the room … whether something in the room is moving”, all of this data is sent to Nest and stored on their servers. I was thinking of getting one, but I don’t want a smoke detector sending volumes of data about my home and whether someone is moving about or not sent and stored on their servers. And according to their website, they keep this data as long as you use the device.
    I can see the sensor needing this information to operate, but it doesn’t need to keep this information for long, and it doesn’t need to keep the information forever.

  • tomzuk

    I have yet to see anyone mention that you would need two detectors in each spot. one up high for smoke and one down low for carbon. If I remember correctly carbon monoxide is a gas the fills from the floor up. So a dual detector place on the ceiling would not do you a whole heck of a lot of good for carbon monoxide detections.

  • Thiago

    I love the aesthetic of it, that’s an awesome smoke detector. We’re getting a new furnace soon, so a new smoke detector might partner well with that. Thanks for opening us up to this option! Thiago | http://stucksheatingcooling.com/furnace-repair/