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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.

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