In our post-2007, post-iPhone world, it can be misleading to define oneself as a “gadget geek.” When you consider that the majority of people in the United States now own a smartphone, this particular term becomes distinctly trite. To truly be a gadget geek, you need to do better than being a smartphone or tablet nerd. You need to embrace bleeding-edge gadgetry in unusual product categories. You need to be a true dork.
For these reasons, I never considered myself a gadget geek. Then the Nest Protect came down the pike. This gizmo is the world’s first “connected smoke detector,” and it carries the absurd price of $130 a pop. I was fortunate enough to obtain one a couple of months ago, and now, as any true gadget douche would do, I feel compelled to assess its value and performance in a post on my blog.
The first thing you should know about the Nest Protect is that it’s a smoke and carbon monoxide detector, and that’s about it. Sure, it’s a handsome piece of technology that you hang on the wall and ogle and admire, but ultimately, your relationship with the device doesn’t dig too deep. It may be smart, but it’s just a dull utility box at heart.
In many ways, the Nest Protect is a let down. I’m kind of bummed that I’m not head-over-heels in love with my fancy smoke detector. However, I’m much more satisfied with it than any other I’ve ever owned. That is to say, I’ve vehemently hated every last one of them.
Like my Nexus 5 smartphone, the greatest compliment I can give the Nest Protect is that I will be keeping it. In fact, I will likely bring it along with my family when we travel and stay in hotel rooms. This sounds a little nutty, but it only takes one hotel room with a faulty carbon monoxide detector to kill you. I trust the Nest Protect far more than any other device of its kind.
The portion of the blog post where I praise the Nest Protect ends here. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad stuff to say about it.
To be fair, the shortcomings of the Nest Protect are largely the fault of the strict government requirements imposed upon it by the UL, or Underwriters Laboratory. There are certain things you wish the Nest Protect could do, that it simply isn’t allowed to do. For example, when you burn dinner and the alarm goes off, you cannot disable it remotely from your smartphone. This functionality was intentionally prohibited by the government.
Being a Nest Protect owner has really opened my eyes to the absurdity of the UL restrictions. Everything that everyone hates about smoke detectors is enforced by the government. The strict rules that are put into place to protect people are the exact same rules that drive them to rip down their smoke detectors, disarm them, and never return them to operation.
A lot of people are dying because they get annoyed with their smoke alarm and disable it. This is a very serious problem, and unfortunately, Nest alone can’t solve it.
For the first few weeks, my Nest Protect hung in the hallway between our bedrooms and kitchen without much hoopla. It just stayed still, and didn’t do much. It’s loaded with motion detectors, and it illuminates a “Pathlight” when you walk by in the dark. The intention is to light the way, so you can see in the night, but the opposite usually plays out. The moment the Nest Protect lights up, your eyes always dart straight at the device, and you are momentarily blinded.
Everything was relatively uneventful in our home with my Nest Protect in place, until one fateful evening when my wife decided to cook a new kind of dreadful-looking health food called “sorghum.” I don’t know what this stuff is, and I never got to find out. Sorghum looks like dried-up industrial pellets in a plastic sack, and apparently it’s supposed to behave like “mini-popcorn” when cooked. Even though my wife followed the cooking instructions on the packaging, the sorghum instantly turned into a billowing plume of smoke the moment it hit the pan.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t home when the sorghum went up in smoke. This incident taught us that the Nest Protect suffers from the same problem that every smoke detector in the country suffers from: if it detects dangerous levels of smoke, its loudest alarm goes off, and it cannot be shut off. Pushing its button does not shut it off. Standing under it and waving your arms like a wild person does not shut it off. The only thing you can do is rip it out of the wall, and remove its batteries, which thankfully, my wife decided not to do. But you bet your ass she wanted to.
This is how the marketing of the Nest Protect is misleading. They make you think that it will gently warn you when it first detects smoke, and you can simply go disarm it by waving your hands. In the two months that I’ve owned the Nest Protect, this scenario only happened once. In fact, just this very evening, two months into owning it, it finally gently warned me that the tofu we were frying on the iron skillet was creating too much smoke. I disarmed it with the “Nest Wave,” and thankfully had enough time to open several windows and allow the frigid 24 degree air to blow through our house, preventing the Nest Protect from blaring its unstoppable alarm.
Seriously, if you read the manual for this thing, it tells you that when the alarm goes off for a serious emergency, that you should “leave the house” until the it stops. Leave the house? For real? At 8 p.m. in the evening, with the baby in a diaper, dinner nearly finished, and arctic weather conditions outdoors, we are supposed to simply leave the house? No. This is not how the world works. Until these government restrictions are changed, people will continue to willingly destroy their smoke alarms. It’s really tragic.
One of the other major bummers about the Nest Protect is that it goes off all the time from steam from the bathroom. When the bathroom door opens up after someone has showered, the wall of steam that hits the device instantly sends it into emergency mode, and the alarm cannot be silenced. It’s a really crappy way to cap off a luxurious bathing session.
Another thing that I don’t like about the Nest Protect is that it’s just as difficult to attach to a wall as a regular smoke detector. There have been times when I wanted to rip it out of the wall and remove the batteries, but it would be such a struggle to remove it, and such a hassle to replace it afterward, that I have yet to do so. The good thing about paying $130 for a smoke detector is that you feel obligated to keep it in working order.
My Nest Protect loses contact with my Wi-Fi router all the time. Granted, it’s somewhat far away from the router, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t annoying. Because it’s so difficult to remove and place back onto the wall, you can’t simply take it down and bring it closer to the Wi-Fi range so it can reconnect. So, for the majority of the past two months, I haven’t been able to access the Nest Protect through the Nest app on my phone. However, when it does work, it’s nice to be able to check the battery level from my phone.
The Nest Protect also does this thing called the “Nightly Promise.” Basically, at the end of the day, when you’re about to go to bed, it quickly flashes green after you turn out the lights. The green lights mean that everything is fine. There is no smoke. There is no carbon monoxide. And the batteries are not dead. But here’s the thing: many times the “Nightly Promise” flashed yellow right before I went to bed. What does that mean? Are there trace amounts of carbon monoxide in the air? I would check the Nest app on my phone, and the lame thing would be disconnected with the Wi-Fi again. Nice feature. Very settling.
Another thing that happens is the “Pathlight” often gets stuck on. I remember eating dinner one night, and just staring at the Nest Protect up on the wall, with its Pathlight blazing away. The other night, as I was trying to go to sleep, the Pathlight lit itself up, and stayed illuminated for a solid twenty minutes or so. Who knows, maybe a bug was flapping around keeping it illuminated, but I don’t think so. The bug is in the Nest Protect, and it’s an error that will prematurely drain the batteries.
In my two months of ownership, the company called “Nest” has transitioned from being independent, to being Google-owned. This is lame. It was cool that Nest was a new company, disrupting old product categories with new ideas and compelling designs. Now they’re just a tiny wing of a corpulent behemoth that wants a piece of everything. Before, there were three tech companies I was rooting for. Now, only Tesla and SpaceX are left.
In closing, I strongly recommend the Nest Protect. Yes, it will piss you off, but it will also save your life, so it’s worth dealing with the frustration. Why wouldn’t you just buy a $30 smoke and carbon monoxide detector from your local hardware store? Because that one will end up dismantled under the sink, with all the others you already own.