Nest Protect Generation 2 Review

In the next episode of Bad Voltage, I’ll be reviewing the Nest Protect Generation 2, a network capable Smoke + Carbon Monoxide detector. Tune in tomorrow to listen to the ensuing discussion and the rest of the show. In the interim, here’s the review:

Nest Protect Generation 2

As someone who travels quite a bit, a smoke detector that can notify me when I’m away is a compelling device. As a technology guy who has a fair amount of home automation equipment, a smoke detector that can integrate into my increasingly smarter home seems like a natural choice. So, why am I just now reviewing the Nest Protect? Well, the first generation Protect had quite a reputation for false alarms and a “wave” feature that was so buggy it resulted in a recall. And while I’m an early adopter who suffers through quite a few wonky first generation devices, when it comes to something as important as a safety device… I decided to play it safe. But when Nest recently released the Nest Protect generation 2, I decided to take the proverbial plunge.

While the generation 2 device is noticeably sleeker than its predecessor, its what’s inside that prompted my purchase. It uses an advanced smoke sensor, called a Split-Spectrum Sensor, to detect a wide range of smoke events, including both slow smoldering fires and fast flaming fires. That sensor is shielded against outside light and encased in a stainless steel screen, which has a hexagonal pattern designed to let smoke in and keep bugs, dust and fibers out. This should vastly decrease the likelihood of a false alarm. The device also has built-in sensors to detect carbon monoxide, heat, humidity, occupancy and ambient light, as well as (slightly disconcertingly for some I’m sure) a microphone. On the outside is a central button, surrounded by a colorful LED ring, which alerts you to the current status of the device: Blue during setup/testing, green for good, yellow for warning and red for an emergency.

Setting up the device was extremely straight forward. Download the Nest app (available for Android and iOS), select “Add product” and follow a couple simple prompts. Total install time was less than 5 minutes per device, although I installed the battery powered version. If you opt for the hardwired version it will take a little longer. You can enable a couple optional features during install, including Pathlight (which will turn the LED ring into a night-light if you walk by in the dark) and Nightly Promise (which will result in the device glowing green briefly at night, to let you know that it’s fully operational). Installation concludes with a final safety test.

As part of the install, you select where the device is located in your home. One thing that separates the Protect from a more traditional device is the Heads Up feature. If smoke or CO levels are elevated but not at emergency levels, the device will loudly say: “Heads up: there’s smoke in the hallway”. Once the levels pass a certain threshold, the full alarm is sounded and you will start to receive mobile notifications. Unlike the first gen device, you can silence the alarm from the app, although due to regulations there are some parameters around when you can do so. As a networked device, when one Protect senses trouble, all devices will alarm. That means if my Protect on the 3rd floor detects smoke, the device on the 1st floor will also alarm, making it much more likely someone will hear it. The device also regularly tests the battery and will inform you if it’s low, hopefully making the just-not-often-enough intermittent chirp of a dying smoke detector a thing of the past.

There are some additional features that more advanced users may take advantage of as well. The Protect can integrate with other Nest devices, so for example you can have a Dropcam send you a picture if the Protect alarms. There is also full IfThisThenThat support with quite a few existing recipes available. This enables scenarios such as “Text a neighbor when your Nest Protect detects a smoke alarm emergency” or “Add a reminder to my calendar when Nest Protect batteries are low”.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? At $99, the Protect is significantly more expensive than a traditional smoke detector. While I’ve only had the second generation devices for a little over a month, I haven’t gotten a single false alarm yet. If that remains the case, the additional features, notifications and integrations are compelling enough to justify the cost for me. Because I like redundancy, I also installed a more traditional (although Z Wave enabled) device on my second floor.


Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer Review

This review was originally done for Bad Voltage, but I figured it may also be of interest to my general readers.

As I mentioned in the season one, episode four “Open Source Health” segment, I’m someone who makes a concerted effort to stay relatively healthy. Part of that means exercising regularly and being cognizant of my eating habits, but as an Open Source tech guy, I’m someone who prefers to make empirical decisions. I like data. I like being able to spot trends and from there see if I can find causation. Unfortunately, I’m not dedicated enough to regularly weigh myself, write it down manually and then start graphing that data. Enter the Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer, which is an Internet connected Smart Scale. A few seconds after stepping on the scale, you’ll know your body weight, BMI, fat-lean ratio and heart rate. It even tracks air quality, carbon dioxide levels and temperature. That’s just the beginning, though. Moments later, all the data is synced and available online in the Health Mate dashboard. From that dashboard you can view a variety of graphs and trends, see how you’re progressing toward goals that you’ve set and see how you compare to normal ranges for your body type. You can also access the data via both iOS and android apps. Armed with this data it’s easy to spot that your recent trip to Los Angeles for SCaLE may have caused you to put on a pound or two, or that giving up a certain product after a certain date actually has paid dividends. If you need a bit of an extra motivator or are just the attention seeking type, you can even automatically post your data to Facebook and twitter. The scale supports multiple users, identifying different users by weight, with a clever system for choosing between users with similar weights.

If that’s all you use the Smart Body Analyzer for, I’d already consider it an extremely useful device. Especially if it actually motivates you to adhere to the fitness goals you’ve set for yourself. But, once you’re using the Health Mate dashboard, you’ll find that it also integrates with other Withings products. Add the Pulse Activity Tracker, for example, and you’ll get sleep cycle analysis along with steps taken, calories burned, elevation climbed and distance traveled throughout the day. Additional data sources aren’t locked into Withings products, however. With over 100 supported 3rd party apps you can add information from RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, Fitbit and many more. This allows you to form a fairly comprehensive view of your overall life.

So, what’s the Bad Voltage verdict? The Withings WS-50 Smart Body Analyzer is a great way to track and monitor a large number of health-related metrics. While expensive for a scale, in my opinion $150 is a small price to pay for a device that is easy to setup, easy to use on a daily basis and provides such a plethora of health related data.