I think it has been established that I love technology. I get excited witnessing advances that make my life easier, save me money, or otherwise enhance some existing process. That being said, I never thought I would get excited about a thermostat. With the introduction of the Nest Learning Thermostat, that all changed.
The Nest is produced by Nest Labs, a company founded by two Apple alumni - Tony Fadell, the former head of iPod and iPhone division, and Matt Rogers, former head of iPod software development. With a team like that, it is no wonder that the Nest is a thing of beauty with function to match.
When you open the box, you quickly see that the Nest team has thought of everything - there are 2 different sized paintable mounting plates, a screwdriver, detailed picture installation diagrams, and even labeled stickers for marking your existing wires to make installation even easier. While the Nest claims to be compatible with over 95% of existing heating and cooling systems, I do recommend checking your compatibilty here - you are required to input the wires on your current thermostat, so be prepared to take off your existing cover (I took a picture with my iPhone to keep a record as well).
After disconnecting my existing thermostat, connecting the Nest was a breeze. With the included labels, I quickly knew which wires went where, so overall installation took about 20 minutes. When you snap the Nest into the round backing, the magic begins. When the dial first lights up, you are prompted for your WiFi network and password (if applicable). After it connected, it asked me basic information about my heating and cool system, and also identified some key characteristics based on the attached wires. It also asks for your zip code, ideal max and minimum temperatures, and then begins to download a software update if available. As a quick aside, the Nest team recognizes that thermostats are not an item that people frequently replace and they continue to make all software updates work on all generations of the thermostat. This "future-proof" methodology helps early adopters avoid the buyer's remorse that frequently plagues the technophiles. It also means that if your system is compatible with the first generation, there is no reason not to save the $50 or so dollars.
Now on top of being beautiful, where the Nest really shines is in the functionality. The Nest is a learning thermostat that detects your patterns and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Through motion and humidity sensors, the Nest can learn when you come and go, and adjust. It also monitors the outside temperature to account for extraordinarily hot or cold days. It also has intelligent features to turn off the compressor and run the fan to circulate cold air based on humidity readings and fancy algorithms that I certainly don't understand. After about a week of making your typical temperature changes (i.e. at 8:30PM, I turn the heat down before going upstairs), it programs your habits. You can also program and tweak the Nest if you want more control than the auto-learning provides, and this can all take place from your smartphone or web browser. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to adjust the temperature when I was already in bed on a cold night but really hated the idea of getting out from under the blanket, or more importantly, I left town and didn't remember if I turned the heat off - the Nest makes those days a distant memory. The Nest remains dark until you approach it, and then you are greeted with a beautiful LED display showing the current temperature, and the status of the system (heating, cooling, or maintaining). When heating, the entire LED glows red, and when cooling, it is blue. To navigate the menus, you spin the dial and gently press to make a selection.
On the website or through the smartphone apps, you can view your energy usage and compare your usage to people in your geographic region or across the globe. The Nest also displays a small green leaf when you are at an energy-saving temperature. This makes saving money a fun game where you find your perfect balance of comfort and cost.
The one big downfall of the Nest is the cost - the second generation retails for $249 (purchase at Amazon to save tax) and the first can be purchased at Lowes for $198, BUT for Georgia residents, Georgia Power is offering a $100 rebate for purchasing and installing a programable thermostat. This helps soften the otherwise painful cost barrier. Since I have only had the Nest for a couple of months, I can't really comment on the amount of energy I save, but seeing as how the vast majority of America who owns programmable thermostats doesn't bother to actually schedule them (myself included), I'd imagine I'll recover my costs in a year. If you love technology and want to move your home in the smart connected direction, the Nest would be a great addition.