In addition to getting my beautiful 15" MacBook Pro for Christmas from my amazing wife I also got a bit of spending money. What’s a grown man with a young family to spend it on? I’ll tell you. Three very cool smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that’s what.

Who are Nest Labs?

Nest Labs is a company founded a couple of years ago by a former Apple employee called Tony Fadell. It would seem that Tony was one of the early crafters of the iPod. The company’s first product was a very sophisticated and attractive thermostat. This product alone seems to have caught the eye of Google as they bought them two days ago for $3.2 billion.

What’s the Nest Protect?

Back in October, Nest launched their second product, the Nest Protect. Essentially, it’s a WiFi-enabled smoke, carbon monoxide and heat detector. It looks modern and has a lot of improvements over your run-of-the-mill smoke detector.

Installation

Before you get your toolbox out, you need to setup the Protect. Obviously it makes sense to do so before the unit is screwed to the ceiling. Configuring the Protect is pretty easy. You install the free app on your smartphone and follow the prompts to connect the Protect to your home network. You then tell the system where in the house the detector is (e.g. the kitchen). Once it has done a test of its surroundings, you’re good to go.

I would consider myself as reasonably competent at most common DIY jobs. I could probably do a lot more but I seem to unduly stress myself with the fear of wrecking my home (cheers Dad, that’s your genes).

The Protect comes in two flavours: battery or wired. The battery version is extremely easy to fit being no different than a standard smoke alarm. All you need to do is drill 2 - 4 holes in the ceiling, insert some rawl plugs and screw the back plate in place. The front panel then twists with a satisfying click. It’s a 5 minute job.

The wired variety is a little more tricky although Nest Labs have tried to make it as straight forwards as possible for non-electricians to do. They provide clear written instructions, custom fittings and even an instructional video. I was replacing an existing wired smoke detector in my kitchen so all the required wiring was readily accessible. If you don’t already have an existing wired detector then I suspect that most people would need an electrician to fit it. The main problem I had was that I needed to widen the hole in my ceiling to fit the extra cabling. I did this with a drill and it took a few minutes.

Life with the new toys

It’s odd to rave about a device that (fingers crossed) will never make a noise and never be needed yet I find myself oddly besotted by these gadgets. I like how they think before they speak. Rather than sounding a deafening alarm if you burn the toast or dry fry some peanuts, it’ll speak a heads up. Essentially the Protect will glow amber and tell you that something is not right. It’ll do this in every room too (e.g. if there’s heat in the kitchen, you’ll hear the study detector tell you just that). Unless of course there is a definite emergency (i.e. the CO levels are high or it detects heat and smoke beyond a threshold) in which case it will start making a lot of noise.

Since the Protect is connected to your home network (and thus the internet) you can check on the status of the devices from your phone whilst out and about. You’ll even get a notification if something changes in your environment at home. That’s cool.

One feature that’s touted is the ability to silence the alarm simply by waving underneath it. Whilst this does work, I’ve not found it to be all that reliable (you have to stand directly under the unit and wave at least 60cm from the colour orb). Since I’m tall, I tend to simply press the button.

My personal favourite feature though is pathlight. Essentially, if it’s dark (and I mean really dark) the Protect will illuminate its colour orb white if somebody walks nearby to light their path. This is quite nifty for lighting the way to the bathroom at night, for instance.

Another nice touch is nightly promise. If this is enabled (it is by default) then the Protect will briefly glow green once to tell you that everything is OK for you to leave. What it’s doing is checking all of its sensors are working and normal and that it has sufficient battery life to last the night. I guess the rationale is to provide peace of mind and to let you know that it won’t start beeping in the middle of the night because its battery is low.

Summary

Overall I really like these devices. I think they have good practical value as well as a significant dollop of coolness. Once if Nest Labs ever release their smart thermostat in the UK then an added bonus is that the Protects pass their presence detection information to the thermostat so it has a better idea of whether or not anybody is in the house.