Nest Learning Thermostat 2.0 – Unboxing and Setup

Nest Learning Thermostat 2.0

I just finished updating my home automation system and was planning on using a Z-Wave compatible thermostat with my VeraLite automation controller.  I decided that the constant learning of the Nest thermostat would benefit me more than simply being able to control the thermostat over Z-Wave and trigger automation scenes.

Onto the new Nest.  What’s new in V2?  A slimmer design, easier installation, more HVAC system compatibility and a newer 3.o software update.  Those of you with the original Nest will be getting the 3.0 update as well.

Unboxing

The Nest and its packaging are what you’d expect from a design team made up of ex Apple employees.  Included in the box is the thermostat, thermostat mount, a multi-tip screwdriver, and installation instructions.

The Nest thermostat itself just feels well built.  It’s heavy in the hand before you attach it to the wall and once it’s mounted, the scrolling and clicking just feels right.  Definitely reminiscent of the iPod Classic click wheel.

Installation

I was afraid that the Nest thermostat wasn’t going to be compatible with my older HVAC system.  I have a 5 wire setup with forced hot air and central A/C and last year when I tried to install a Z-Wave thermostat, I didn’t have a 24v common wire.  So I took a leap of faith and wired up the Nest thermostat.  I snapped some pics of my older White-Rogers thermostat next to the Nest to show the huge asthetic improvement.

I’m lucky enough that I just recently replaced the Sheetrock on the wall where my thermostat is installed, so I didn’t need to use the cover-up plate and was able to do a clean install of Nest directly on the wall.   I noted the thermostat wire colors from my old thermostat, and screwed the Nest backplate to the wall using the included screws and screwdriver.  The Nest thermostat has a built in level which makes installation extremely easy, and the new press connectors hold the thermostat wires securely in place.

Nest Setup

Nest setup is almost too easy.  You control the user interface by rotating the bezel left and right to scroll through settings and clicking the bezel in to select.  You’re walked step-by-step, through your language selection, WiFi connection, heating and cooling set up, your location, and temperature set points.

Nest easily detected my WiFi connection, and automatically checked for Nest software updates.  It automatically detected my wiring set up was for heating and cooling and asked me my about my heat system, specifically, forced air powered by oil.

Setting the Temperature

Setting the temperate with Nest is super simple.  Simply walk up to the thermostat and its motion sensor will activate the display.  Nest will show the current set point in the center of the display and the actual current room temperature in the outer part of the dial.  If Nest is in heating mode and you adjust the set point above the current temperature, the display will turn red indicating that your heating system is in use.  The opposite happens if you’re in cooling mode; if you put the set point below the current temp, the display will turn blue indication that the A/C is in use.  If the current temperature is within the set point, the nest background color is black.

If you’re using nest with energy friendly settings, it will display a green leaf in the lower section of the display, below the set temperature.

Remote Control of Nest over the Internet

You have the ability to control Nest over the Internet in a multitude of ways.  First, after creating an account, you can control you Nest thermostat via the Nest web portal at https://home.nest.com.  You can adjust you current temperature and view you temperature schedule.  Next, the most common way that most people will control nest will through their iPhone and Android Apps.  Changes via the web and mobile apps happen almost instantaneously

Initial Thoughts

So far, I’m loving this thing.  Its clean simple design looks amazing on the wall, and even though it’s only been there for a few hours, I can tell it will keep me entertained trying to get the most efficient settings and keeping that green leaf on the display.

In order for Nest to be at its most efficient settings, you need to train it by adjusting the thermostat when you come and go.  I’ll report back after my first month with Nest to see how it sets my schedule and see if I can realize any noticeable energy savings this heating season.

 

Apple Unveils iPad Tablet

Apple announced their new tablet the iPad today.  It basically looks like a big iPod Touch and we’ll have to wait 60 days for the WiFi only model and 90 days for the 3G.  The price definitely fells like a deal breaker, with the best model costing almost as much as a MacBook laptop.  $30 a month seems like a good deal for unlimited data.   Big downside here is still no multitasking and there’s no built in camera.  Here’s quick info and specs:

Specs:

  • .5″ thin / 1.5lbs
  • 9.7″ IPS screen, 1024×768 resolution
  • 1 GHz processor
  • 16-64 GB Storage
  • 802.11 n WiFi + BlueTooth
  • Accelerometer and Compass
  • 10 hour battery life

Info:

  • Backwards compatible with iPhone/iPod Toch apps
  • iBooks eReader app
  • Custom iWork apps written for iPad
  • Syncs via USB
  • iPad Keyboard Dock accessory
  • iPad Case, protects and stands unit up for watching videos

Cost:

  • 16 GB, no 3G, $499
  • 32 GB, no 3G, $599
  • 64 GB, no 3G, $696
  • 16GB with 3G,  $629
  • 32 GB with 3G, $729
  • 64 GB with 3G, $829

ABC’s Modern Family talks Tech

ABC’s Modern Family is what I think, the best new comedy this season.  Last night’s show featured Phil getting a new home theater system with an advanced universal remote.  Phil’s wife Claire, couldn’t figure out how to use the system at all.  It was a perfect example of how my family feels about my system.

The best quote was when Claire says, “I have this theory that Phil purposely installs complicated technology so he has a reason to talk to me like I’m a child.”

Definitely worth a watch for any tech enthusiast or HD junkie.  You can check out the full episode below.

Microsoft launches Hohm beta

Microsoft recently launched a beta of their new site Microsoft-Hohm.com, which is designed to help you track your energy usage and show you ways to save money and energy.  Think of it as the Mint.com for energy.

Hohm allows you to find your utility company and automatically import your energy usage.  Right now there is limited support from the utilities, but you can manually input your energy bills to help keep track of your usage.  The site also will help you build an in depth profile of your home and its energy strengths and weaknesses.

After looking at your energy bills and home profile Hohm will provide you with energy saving ideas to lower your usage and bills.  They have some quick, simple ideas such as setting your computers to go sleep, replacing your incandescent bulbs with efficient compact fluorescents, and lowering the temperature of your hot water heater.  They also offer more involved projects such as adding insulation to your attic, replacing inefficient appliances, and having your ducts professionally sealed.

Consumer energy monitoring is definitely becoming a more popular topic with hardware devices such as Energy Inc.’s T.E.D. (The Energy Detective) and Embedded Automation’s upcoming mStation.  Microsoft’s online service has the potential to become an integral part of these systems.

Configure your computer to use sleep or hibernate modes when not in use $0 $81 462lbs. CO2
Lower the temperature setting on your water heater $0 $57 452lbs. CO2
Replace incandescent light bulbs with higher efficiency bulbs (compact fluorescents and LED) $88-$147 $200 1,134lbs. CO2
Have a professional seal your home’s air leaks and reduce leakage by 40 percent $400-$1,200 $294 2,323lbs. CO2
When replacing your central air conditioner, choose a high-efficiency model with a SEER equal to 16 $600-$900 $125 707lbs. CO2
When replacing your oil furnace, choose an Energy Star-labeled model with an AFUE equal to 90 percent $700-$1,200 $147 1,168lbs. CO2
When replacing siding, add external insulating sheathing beneath the siding $519-$973 $92 728lbs. CO2
Insulate your hot and cold water pipes varies varies varies
Have your ducts professionally sealed $200-$600 varies varies
Configure your laser printer to use low power modes when not in use $0 varies varies
Increase attic floor insulation to R-60

Tether for BlackBerry – Review

Intro

If you have a BlackBerry and don’t want to pay for a separate mobile broadband aircard or the additional fees charged by your carrier to use your BlackBerry as a modem this app will do the trick.  The new app Tether (formerly TetherBerry), is now available on the BlackBerry App World.  Even better, the software is on sale for $19.99, 60% off its normal price of $50.  It’s currently the number 1 paid app and they even offer a free trial.

Install

The install of Tether is simple, download the app on your BlackBerry and the software on your computer.  The PC software install is simple, and requires the BlackBerry desktop software, which the Tether installer will prompt you to install.  The install on a Mac is just as easy, simple mount the installer and click next until it’s done.  The Tether software for both Mac and PC creates a virtual network card, so do be alarmed if you see a new one in your network connections.

Connecting

Once everything is installed, simply open the Tether app on the BlackBerry and on your computer.  You’ll choose USB or Bluetooth and off you go.  It’s that simple.  You can move the Tether app to run in the background of the BlackBerry so you can continue to use it.

Speed and Data

You can expect the same speeds using Tether  that an aircard from your cell provider would give.  I’m using a Verizon Tour 9630 and SpeedTest.net gave me about 1 mbps download and 300 kbps upload.

For those that don’t have an unlimited data plan, the Tether software on the computer side will keep track of your data usage.  You can even set a range of dates, so you can see how much you’ve used that month.

Conclusion

Tether is deal at $50 compared to the monthly fees of $60 or more for a mobile broadband aircard, and at the limited time cost of $20 it’s a steal.  With a simple, clean, and intuitive interface it makes Tethering your blackberry a quick and easy and it’s a must have app for any Connected Commuter.

Leviton Vizia RF with mControl – Review

I, like most commuters, spend more time during the week at work and on the train than at home. Having a device that can be controlled remotely via the web would be great to be able to control from work and even save some electricity. The Leviton Vizia RF series of dimmer and switches can fill that need.

Technology

The Leviton Vizia RF dimmers look like the regular dimmer switches you commonly in homes today, but contain wireless radios that allow them to be remotely controlled. The other difference with these dimmers is they are digitally dimmed. Normally when dimmers are installed in a 3-way setup, one switch is a dimmer and the other can only switch the device on off. The digital dimmer in the Vizia RF dimmer allows you to have a main switch, and multiple remote dimmers.

 

The wireless technology embedded in the Vizia dimmers is called Z-Wave. Z-Wave is used mostly for home automation devices such as dimmers, thermostats, garage door openers, etc. Z-Wave works great in a home setup because it operates as a mesh network, meaning each device broadcasts commands. This helps when relaying commands across the house and eliminating dead spots. It also operates on a 900MHz frequency so it won’t interfere with your wireless router. You can have a total of 256 different devices on a single Z-Wave network. For more info about Z-Wave see Wiki.

The Vizia RF dimmers can be controlled wirelessly via a remote control unit sold by Leviton or and other Z-Wave compatible control unit. One of the downsides of Z-Wave is in order to sync a Z-wave device with a controller, they have to be close to each other, about 3 feet (a “security feature”)

Setup

I’ll skip over the physical installation of the dimmers since that’s not my specialty. As I stated earlier, the main reason I wanted to use these devices was to remotely control the lights via the Internet. There are a few options to choose from, but my best experience has been with a program called mControl. It’s a piece of software that can be installed on a Windows Media Center PC or Server. I chose to install it on Windows Home Server. In order to used the Vizia RF dimmers with a PC, a USB controller is required, I tried two and had best results with the controlthink – ThinkStick.

After installing the WHS add-in to the server and connecting the USB controller, it’s now time to sync your dimmer. Using the mControl provided Z-Wave software, it’s as simple as clicking the sync button in the software and the tapping the dimmer switch on.

Once the dimmer is added (I installed 6,) you’re now ready to setup different zones in your home. I installed them in my kitchen and living room so I created two zones with those names. You can also individually name each dimmer to make it easier to remember what lights each controls.

mControl also allows you to easily create basic and advanced macros. You can create a macro that automatically turns your porch lights on at sunset and off at 10pm or turns all of your lights off at 1am. I was able to create a macro that dimmed my living room lights when I hit play on my media center and back on when I press pause or stop.

mControl’s built in web interface is easily accessible from any PC running Internet Explorer, and is even compatible with the iPhone and some Blackberries. From the web interface you can remotely check if you devices are on and either shut them off or on.

Conclusion

The Leviton Vizia RF dimmers look great and work great. The LED display that shows the brightness level looks great . They work well even if you don’t plan on automating them. The biggest downfall of the units are the cost, which ranges between $50 – over $100 per unit. Automation also requires a controller and software. Another negative with the dimmers is the range of brightness. At the lowest level, the dimmers don’t get a low as non digital dimmers. A smaller issue is the speed of the dimming. Non digital dimmers, dim as fast as your hands can adjust them. The Vizia RF dimmers have a dim/bright rocker switch and it can be annoying at times waiting the 2-3 seconds for the device to adjust from its brightest to darkest setting.

Pros
– Dim from multi locations
– Digital LED display
– On to off transition
– Automation compatible

Con
– Very expensive (2-3x regular dimmers)
– Lowest dim level too bright

Check back soon for a review of the Intermatic CA8900 – Z-Wave Enabled Thermostat

PSA: Apple Please Fix your Headphones

In a time when the Apple iPod and iPhone are the most prevalent and advanced portable media players, why must their headphones be left in the technological stone age?

I have three main complaints about Apple’s headphones:

  1. Comfort
  2. Sound Quality
  3. What I like to call PAF (Public Annoyance Factor)

The main focus of my rant today is the third, and what I think is the most important problem with Apple’s headphones.

Apple gives a free pair of earbud headphones with all of their iPod devices, and 95% of people use them. While these headphones may suffice for most people, those who don’t like the sound quality or comfort have the choice to upgrade.

Who doesn’t have a choice is the person sitting next to the iPod user.  As I’m writing this right now, the train is almost completely silent, except for the tinny sound of drums and symbols.  Where is it coming from?  I look around for someone with a radio playing.  No, it’s someone with an iPod and Apple headphones.  I can only imagine how loud it most be for them if I can hear hear it from five seats away.  It’s as if the headphones we’re designed to send more music out of the headphones, than to the person using them.  Next time you’re on the bus, or in the library or some other place where silence is appreciated and hear the faint sound of music, look around, chances are it will be someone listening to an iPod.

My suggestion to Apple is to please change their earbud headphones from the hard form factor, which let half of the sound produced escape from the back of the set. Instead use the earbuds with the soft silicon or rubber tips.  They’re more comfortable, have been sound quality, and most importantly, they keep the sound where it belongs, in the ears of the listener and not those around them.

Bolt Browser Officially Released

Bitstream, makers of the Bolt mobile browser is officially dropping their Beta tag with today’s version 1.5 update.  If you already have the current beta installed, it should automatically prompt you to update.  Check back for a full review, here’s a quick overview of updates to the browser:

  • 15% Faster than the previous beta.
  • Full length video steaming
  • Dedicated search bar
  • Download manager
  • Improved navigation and text rendering

While waiting for the new review, check out our past review of the beta here.

Opera Mini 5 beta for BlackBerry – Review

Intro

After checking out the Bolt browser for BlackBerry I wanted to see if there were any other worthy BlackBerry browser replacements so I decided to check Opera’s browser.  I had previously tried the Opera Mini 4 browser and liked it , but when I saw the download for Mini 5 beta, I decided to give it a shot.  I’ll give a quick review of some of the new features that make this the best mobile browser that I have used to date.  It’s available for download from here and can be installed over the air on your phone.

User Interface

From the loading screen to the options menus, this browser looks great. The color scheme of charcoal and red really pops on the Bold’s vivid screen and the fonts are extremely legible.  Another great feature of the Opera Mini 5 are the animated menus.  Switching between tabs moves fluidly and the drop down options menu looks great.  The title bar has easy text entry and a built in Google and Wikipedia search.  Web page rendering looks great as well.  When you load a site, the initial view lets you see the whole site, then you can zoom in closer to read full text.

Speed Dial

Speed dial is the default start screen when you open Opera Mini 5 beta.  It is a wall of 9 squares, each for you to put your favorite any most accessed sites.  It’s very similar to Apple Safari’s top sites page, less the 3D look.   To add a site to the Speed Dial screen, simply click on one of the unused tiles and add the address and it will put a thumbnail view of the site in the tile.

Tabbed Browsing

Tabbed browsing is by far the most impressive feature of this new browser.  It’s such a huge improvement of the built in BlackBerry browser, you won’t want to go back.  Press the BlackBerry button and up pops the navigation buttons.  To add a new tab, you simply click the plus button next to the farthest right tab.

Switching between tabs works great too.  When you bring up the navigation menu and scroll over the tab title it shows a preview of the tab before you select it.  Once you choose the tab, select it and your good to go.

Conclusion

Opera Mini 5 sets the standard for mobile browsing on the BlackBerry.  Since it’s still in beta, it can only get better from here.