Nest Protect review

Nest, known in the United States for its intelligent thermostat system that can be controlled via your iPhone, has launched an intelligent smoke and CO2 detector called Nest Protect.

We've installed one in the Pocket-lint office to see if a smoke detector that costs three times the price of the leading market brand is worth the money.

Design

Next Protect looks more like a speaker than a smoke detector, it's a stylish looking white (or black) box measuring 13.4cm square and 4.1cm deep. To the front there's a flower grill motif that circles out from a central ring, the latter which emits a coloured glow and also functions as the physical button to control it all.

We say button to control it, but herein lies what makes the Nest Protect special - you're not likely to use the button as there's an accompanying app for that. The ring glows according to its status when requested, but for the most part it says off to avoid being a distraction.

It looks good - well, as good as a smoke detector can - and the build quality is exceptional. The backing plate has padding to protect your wall and create a snug fit, and we like that it also comes in a black finish option to fit in with certain alternative decors. There is a wired or battery option available - we opted for the battery version. 

However, it's not all petal designs and glowing lights. The Nest Protect is packed with tech, specifically sensors that include a photoelectric smoke sensor, carbon monoxide sensor, heat sensor, three activity sensors, ambient light sensor and humidity sensors. Alarm-wise the Nest can output a 1kHz frequency at 80-decibels (measured at 1-metre) and 85-decibel horn (measured at 3-metres) - in other words it'll sound like a freight train chugging by, which is plenty enough to wake the dead.

Install & setup

Fitting the Nest to the wall or ceiling is easy - it's simply a case of attaching a backing plate to the wall or ceiling first and then locking the Nest Protect into the plate.

Four screws are included in the box, but no Rawl Plugs, so it's worth bearing that in mind before you go to install it. You do get batteries pre-installed though, and Nest suggests that the six AA lithium batteries should last for five years based on average uses - i.e. if you aren't trying to burn your house down every day.

Instructions in the box are easy to understand and there is extra guidance of where best to place the device in your room as well as instructional videos on the Nest website.

Once installed it's on to the app part of the process. First you need to download the dedicated iPhone, iPad, or Android app and then go through the setup wizard. This then allows you to connect your Nest Protect to your wireless network. The app setup is easy, and there are lots of feedback verification stages to show you that everything is working as planned. And when other Nest products come to the UK the app will be able to "talk" to those devices, such as Nest Thermostat, so you have a hub to control all things.

The glowing ring of safety

The Nest Protect glows an array of colours - blue, green, yellow, white, and red - to give visual feedback. Each colour has a different meaning.

Red, as you can imagine, means there is a smoke or CO emergency, while yellow is the pre-amble to that giving you a chance to do something before the sirens start.

The blue glow is when the device is ready for testing, such as during setup or after a manual alarm test. The green glow is to show the Nest is working, and sensors will activate this glow wen you turn the house lights out. Nest calls it the Nightly Promise, and the idea is that you don't have to wonder whether or it's working, or check your app. A simple glance and all is clear.

While your room lights are out, the Nest Protect also doubles as a night light. Sensors activate the white light when movement is detected in darkness which allows you to see your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night if, for example, you've got it on the landing. It's as if the company has planned for everything. We installed it in a dark coridoor and it worked only when really dark, darker than "dusk dark".

The internet of things

Where the Nest starts to try and justify its sizeable cost is in its "internet of things" mentality. If you have more than one Nest Protect detector then they will all automatically connect with each other and then spread any alerts to each other regardless of where you are in the house. If the Nest Protect detects a fire in the kitchen the one on the landing upstairs will also start to make a noise to stop it being a localised, direct-contact only device. That's really handy if you really do have a fire - although standard smoke alarms have to be of a given volume by law so, unless you live in a mansion, they are there to be heard.

The accompanying app is easy, if not basic, giving you alerts to let you know what's happening. You don't need to be on the same network, so that means you could quite easily get an alert when you are at work or shopping, call the police and come home to a house that's still there rather than a smouldering wreck.

Excuse me, sorry to trouble, but there is a fire

We like to be proper here at Pocket-lint with our testing. But, sorry, we aren't going to try and burn down Pocket-lint towers just to test a techie smoke detector. Instead we used a toaster with some burning toast and a Sabre Smoke canister.

On the toast test the Nest pretty much ignored the slightly overcooked toast, thanks to the combination of heat and smoke detectors. With the smoke canister, we managed around three puffs before Nest Protect jumped into action.

When the alarm does go off the Nest Protect talks to you, in a rather posh female voice, letting you know that the alarm is about to go off rather than it just ringing in your ear like loud, deafening sirens do. The pre-recorded audio is clear and easy to understand - think station announcer - and certainly gives the device some humanised gravitas.

"This is only a test, the alarm will sound, the alarm is loud."

It's not enough to fall in love with mind you, but it's a lot politer than it just wailing at you and making you want to take out the batteries within the first hour of using it.

Wave to stop

Another way the Nest Protect is different is that it doesn't expect you have to press the button or take the battery out to stop it if it does go off when it shouldn't or you really burn that toast. Thanks to a motion detector within the device all you have to do is stand under the Protect and wave your arm to silence the alerts. If you can reach the button you can press that instead, but the wave feature certainly saved us from having to jump up, grab a spare chair to stand on, or quickly find a broom handle to switch it off. As Nest says: "you don't need to wave a towel at it."

In our tests it took a couple of waves to stop the alarm, but it does work. Nest says this is to stop you accidentally turning it off with just a single wave. The alerts also stay active until the threat has passed and then it reverts back to its normal status once the situation has been resolved. You don't have to do anything or press any buttons - the only time you'll need to get a ladder out is the change the batteries, which can be bypassed with a hard-wired version of the model.

Verdict

There is no doubting the Nest Protect is a very clever device that works as prescribed and achieves what it sets out to do. It looks good, can communicate with other Nest devices, and thanks to the app you can even detect a fire when not in the home. It's more than just a smoke alarm too: the carbon monoxide sensor will alert you of deadly CO.

However, all of that is fairly excessive for a smoke detector. You really have to work out how important it is to have a connected smoke detector to justify the £109 price tag. That's really the only kicker here.

Of course Nest will say that you can't put a price on your life - and we agree to some extent - but the reality is that although it won't connect with an app, or speak to you in a lovely voice, or even double as a night light, a £30 detector will work just as well.

In the not too distant future the Nest Protect will be the norm, but for now it really comes down to how much you want to embrace the internet of things in action. It delivers, that's for sure, but by jove you've got to pay to be a part of the exciting future that comes with it at the moment.