Monday 21 January 2019

Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems


The Nest Learning Thermostat learns what temperature you like, turns itself down when you're out and connects to your phone. So it can keep you comfortable and help save energy.
The Nest Learning Thermostat learns what temperature you like, turns itself down when you're out and connects to your phone. So it can keep you comfortable and help save energy.
Apple Watch Series 3
Three Prism HD smartphone
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Q. Our energy company keeps getting us to try and upgrade our heating systems, saying it can make our house into a smart home. Are they pulling my leg? Can I just get one of those Nests to do the same thing?

A It depends on what heating system you have at present. You mention the Nest (€249 plus installation fee of around €150) which is probably the most advanced 'smart thermostat' you can buy. The reason it's 'smart' is that once it's wired into your heating system, you can control your entire system (especially if it's oil or gas) from either your phone (via a user-friendly free app) or by letting it 'learn' from your actual real-life everyday behaviour.

For example, it analyses the times that you use your heating and then starts to suggest times when you might not need your heating on. It also has advanced motion sensors that tell when someone's in the room. It even knows when you physically leave the house (by a signal that your phone sends) so it can shut the heat off entirely.

Smart heating gadgets like Nest also work with other smart home devices including plugs (such as Belkin Wemo), outdoor thermostats and security cameras.

You can program them (through your phone) to turn the heating on half an hour before the sun rises or to take a cue from another smart gadget.

And they give you monthly reports, informing you of how you used your heating and ways to save money in future.

Nest isn't the only smart device in town. Others include Netatmo, Climote and Hive. The Netatmo (€179 plus installation fee) smart thermostat figures out how good your insulation is (by how quickly your house cools down when it shuts off) and uses this to estimate when it needs to switch on for you to have a warm house at a designated hour in the morning.

The Climote (€399 including installation) has one special trick for those who live in rural areas. Whereas gadgets such as Nest and Netatmo require decent home Wi-Fi to work properly, the Irish-made Climote system comes with its own SIM card, meaning its smart features work by accessing the local mobile phone network. So it doesn't need broadband availability in your area or your house. It also has a phone app, allowing you to control certain functions. However, it doesn't have quite the sophisticated range of options available with the Nest.

Many of these smart thermostats will give you notifications (from the app or by email) if someone else changes the settings on the heating system.

Most are also geared up to work with the upcoming ranges of smart home voice systems, such as Google Home, Amazon Echo or Apple Homepod.

There are a few provisos to these gadgets. Some won't work with systems such as underfloor heating or storage heating.

But the main idea behind them is to give you greater control over your heating system while, hopefully, letting you save some money.

A word of caution: don't try installing one of these yourself. Although technically possible, it's much wiser to get a professional to do it.

Finally, it's likely that your energy company wants you to upgrade to much more than a smart thermostat system. They may, for example, be suggesting a new boiler, which costs more than a few hundred euro. You may need one, especially if your boiler is over 15 years old. But these are not to be confused with 'smart home' thermostats.

RECOMMENDATION: Nest (pictured, €249 from Harvey Norman, plus installation fee of around €150)

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Two to Try

Apple Watch Series 3 GPS

(from €379)

The 2017 Series 3 model has umpteen significant improvements over the first model. One of the main ones is GPS (and Glonass): the Watch 3 can track your run, swim or cycle without your phone needing to be close by. It's also waterproof. It gives you access to your email, text and social media notifications as well the ability to make and take calls when paired to your phone. It comes in a 38mm and 42mm size.

Three Prism HD

(€99 from Three)

What sort of a smartphone do you get for €99? In this case, it's a plastic five-inch model with a so-so (5-megapixel) camera and 8GB of storage (expandable to 32GB with a memory card). It's slower and bittier than the pricier Samsungs and Sonys but I found it good enough for video, social media, calls and texts. This won't have Apple in a sweat, but for under €100, it's grand.

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