Nest Protect – Smart Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm


Following their success with the Nest thermostat, the Nest team have turned their hand to the humble smoke alarm for their next product – Nest Protect. Doesn’t sound very exciting does it? But then neither did the thought of replacing your thermostat and that seems to have worked out well for them. As with their thermostat, Nest have addressed a number of fundamental design issues endemic with all smoke alarms and produced a product that just makes so much sense.

Nest Protect is available in two colours; white, or black. It’s also available in either mains powered, or battery powered versions.

So what is it? Well, it’s a smoke alarm, to start with. It’s actually a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm, which is a good start, as it’s already combined two devices into one. It connects to the internet via your wifi network, which allows it to communicate with your smart phone via the Nest app. This allows it to send you notifications if it detects sufficient smoke or CO to trigger an alarm condition. It also means you can fire up the app at any time and check its status. So that’s the “internet of things” box checked then. Actually, in my opinion, that’s not the best bit about it. My favourite features of the Nest Protect are the way it addresses two key problems with traditional smoke alarms:

  1. Dying batteries keeping you awake with an incessant beeping
  2. Having to wave a tea-towel in front of it like a lunatic when you burn some toast

The first one is actually quite a serious issue. When a smoke alarm’s batteries are dying, most smoke alarms will beep periodically. Inevitably, this will start in the middle of the night and will drive you ’round the bend sufficiently to remove the battery to stop it from beeping. Not only does this mean navigating a ladder (or more likely a makeshift ladder, such as a rickety chair) to get to the alarm to take the battery out, but it means that you have no smoke alarm until you replace the battery. Chances are you haven’t got a spare in the house, so you’ll be without a smoke alarm until you remember to get a new battery. The safety implications of this are pretty evident.

Nest Protect addresses this issue in a couple of ways. Firstly, it will give you a visual indication of its status when you turn the lights off at night. Nest Protect has a light sensor and when the room goes dark, for instance when you turn the lights of at night, it will glow green to let you know all’s well. If the batteries are low, or there is some other issue, it will instead glow yellow, letting you know there’s something that needs checking. You can then fire up the app and check its status. Secondly, you can see the status of the battery at any time from the app, meaning you can arrange to change the battery in plenty of time.

The way Nest Protect addresses the second issue is quite ingenious. In addition to its sensitive smoke detector, it also has a heat sensor. Rather than just sounding an alarm when any smoke is detected, it can judge how serious the alarm is. If you burn some toast or something minor and Nest Protect detects it, it will trigger a minor alarm. Instead of sounding a shrill alarm, it will simply give you what it calls a Heads-Up. The light on the alarm will go yellow and it will speak to you, telling you that an alarm has been triggered, saying something like “smoke detected in the Living Room”. Nest Protect also has motion sensors and you can silence an alarm simply by waving your hand in front of it (as long as the alarm isn’t what it determines to be serious, i.e. high smoke/heat/CO levels).

I was sufficiently impressed by the device to place a pre-order for one, which arrived the other day. I ordered a black, battery operated one and here’s my view on it so far…

Ordering & delivery:
Firstly, I had to choose which one to go for. I intended to replace a traditional smoke alarm in my living room. It’s not mains wired, so I went for the battery powered version. The existing alarm was mounted on a wood beam on my living room ceiling, so I ordered the black version, to blend in with the dark coloured beams better.

Nest didn’t charge my card (£109 by the way) until the device was shipped and an email confirmation was sent informing me of the expected shipping date. The device shipped as promised on that date and another email confirmation was sent to inform me, including a tracking number. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at home when the delivery was attempted, but ParcelForce left the parcel at my local Post Office, rather than taking it back to the depot (which is miles away) so it was reasonably convenient for me to collect it.

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Included in the box were the mounting plate, including screws, the Nest Protect itself and some instructions.

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The first thing to do is get the device connected to your network. To do this, you need to download the Nest app on your smartphone and fire it up. You’ll need to create an account first, following which you’ll be sent an email containing a link that you’ll need to click in order to activate your account. For me, this email took about 20 minutes to arrive, so it would be a good idea to download the app and create an account before the device arrives if you’re planning on ordering one.

Whilst I was waiting for the email to arrive, I set about fitting the mounting plate. The mounting plate has quite a lot of options for screw placement, so you may find that if you’re replacing an existing smoke detector, you can re-use the screws, or at least the screw holes. In my case, I decided to relocate the smoke detector from the side of the beam, to the bottom of it. I did this for a couple of reasons:

  1. I can wave my hand underneath it quite easily with it facing down, however in its original position, facing sideways, I’d have to stand on something in order to raise my hand high enough for the Nest Protect to detect it.
  2. I wanted to try the Pathlight feature, where if it’s dark and Nest Protect detects motion, it will glow white, as a sort of night light, to light your way. This wouldn’t have worked very well if it was mounted sideways.

The physical installation of the baseplate was very simple and gave me a chance to try out a gift that I’d recently received – a magnetic wrist band, for holding screws etc:

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Once my email confirmation had come through, I activated my account and followed the instructions to set up the device itself. It’s a simple process, which consists of the following steps:

– Open the app and follow the on-screen instructions to scan the QR code on the back of the Nest Protect
– The Nest Protect will then create its own wifi hotspot that you then connect your phone to
– Nest Protect will detect available wifi networks

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– Choose your home wifi connection and give it the password

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– Nest Protect will now take a minute to get connected and configure itself

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Once it’s set up, you mount the Nest Protect to its mounting plate by lining up the holes on the back of the device with the pegs on the baseplate and twisting it clockwise slightly to secure it in place.

Once installed, I gave it a bit of a test. I rolled up some paper into a tube and lit the end, then blew it out. I held it under the Nest Protect, with plenty of smoke flowing into the Nest. At first, it didn’t react, but after about 10 seconds, it glowed red and sounded the alarm. At the same time, my phone made an alarm sound and an alert notification came through. I silenced the alarm and about five to ten minutes later, the Nest glowed green and announced that the smoke had cleared. Seems to work just as expected then.

An excellent product that comes up with some really innovative ways of addressing age-old problems with traditional smoke alarms, albeit at a price. £109 is pretty steep for a smoke alarm, especially as most homes have more than one. To me though, the pricing doesn’t seem unreasonable, given the functionality.

It should be noted that Nest aren’t the only ones in the “smart smoke alarm” market. Birdi (formerly Canary) are an Indiegogo project (at $18,000 of a $50,000 target at time of writing) that is destined to do much the same thing as Nest Protect at a slightly cheaper price point. Having been beaten to market by a company with the clout of Nest probably isn’t the best start to their project, but it does look interesting and has a slightly different feature set.


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