Nest Protect review: For $129, the best smoke detector on the market

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CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars Outstanding
  • Overall: 8.6
  • Features: 9.0
  • Usability: 9.0
  • Design: 9.0
  • Performance: 9.0

Average User Rating

3 stars 3 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good With boutique design, remote monitoring via mobile device, and the ability to wave off false alarms with your hand, the Nest Protect is the smoke/CO detector we never knew we wanted.

The Bad $129 is a lot to ask for a smoke/CO detector, even a connected one.

The Bottom Line Nest brings crisp design and smart features -- connected and otherwise -- to the humble smoke detector. You don't absolutely need the Nest Protect, but it's fine to admit you want one.

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Editors' note, June 16, 2014: After an official recall on May, 21, 2014, the Nest Protect returned to retail today. For now, sales are limited to online stores including Nest.com, Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and HomeDepot.com. The updated units do not have the Wave feature which prompted the recall decision, and there are no specific plans to bring it back in the future. To account for this loss, Nest reduced the price of its Wi-Fi smoke and carbon monoxide detector to $99.

How do you make a smoke detector cool? It's hard, and more difficult still to glamorize a carbon monoxide detector. Under ideal circumstances, you'll never hear a peep out of either.

Nest took a crack at reinventing the boring old smoke alarm anyway. The upstart company, famous for its five-star Nest Learning Thermostat, aims to reimagine the dull, annoying, or dysfunctional white-label products around your house. As such, Nest took the passive wall wart of yesterday and transformed it into the Nest Protect, a Wi-Fi-ready smoke alarm and CO monitor. And while the Nest Protect doesn't necessarily revolutionize the smoke detector, it resets the curve for the competition.

The Nest Protect is a Wi-Fi smoke detector and carbon monoxide monitor, costs a brain-bending $129, and -- thanks to its brand-new Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certification -- arrives tomorrow for anyone who preordered a unit. But it's the Wi-Fi integration that sets Nest Protect apart and gives it powers no other alarms can claim, including the ability to send alerts to the Nest smartphone app. I spent a weekend with two Nest Protect alarms set up in my house alongside a Nest thermostat, and I grew fond of these rethought detectors.

What the Nest Protect does
For $129 for each unit, you'd expect a pair of these alarms to make you a cup of coffee while protecting your family. They don't, and you can find other wireless, networked combination smoke-and-carbon-monoxide detectors on the market for as little as $65. To set itself apart, the Nest Protect solves a few problems you might not realize you have with your current detectors.

When an alarm first sounds, Nest projects a human recorded voice to tell you that smoke or carbon monoxide may be gathering. If you have more than one Nest Protect on your network, the alarm repeats anywhere in the house with a connected Nest Protect identifying the nature of the emergency and its location. Both wired (with backup battery) and battery-powered versions run when the power and Wi-Fi go out, so they'll continue to communicate over a proprietary mesh network. The Nest Protect's voice sounds pleasant but firm -- like a (rare) mother who got a full night of sleep or maybe the announcer on a Virgin America preflight safety video.

Because it wouldn't be safe to fill my garage with carbon monoxide, I will rely on the exhaustive UL certification program to have tested the Nest Protect's ability to sense dangerous materials in the air. But with a can of a special mist used explicitly for testing smoke detectors and a brand-new smoke detector from First Alert installed next to the Nest, I confirmed that the Nest alarm is swift and loud.

I tested the Nest Protect beside a new First Alert detector. Both responded to the smoke at the same moment and volume. Lindsey Turrentine/CNET

The siren itself sounds very much like a typical smoke detector -- identical in detection speed and alarm sound to the First Alert unit. When I waved the smoke wand in the hallway upstairs, the Protect in the downstairs playroom also blared, reporting along with the siren that "there's smoke in the hallway." Once the (canned) smoke dissipated upstairs, both Nest units reported throughout the house that the smoke had cleared. When I silenced the Nest alarm upstairs, its companion downstairs alarm piped down, too, albeit after a slight delay.

One of the Nest Protect's charms is the ability to wave to silence the alarm when something small like a burnt toaster pancake sets it off. While Nest says that small children and pets cannot hush the alarm, both my 10-year-old (he's tall) and I were able to silence the alarm with a pleasant but persistent wave. It's a good thing that you have to work to silence the Nest Protect because you want to be certain an area is safe before calling off the hounds, so to speak. I did notice that while the Nest Protect can work at recommended heights on both walls and on the ceiling, the ability to silence by waving works much better when the Nest Protect is mounted on the ceiling.

Relatively easy setup
Here's the thing about the old-style smoke alarms: unless you're hooking up hardwired detectors, installing one is as easy as adding batteries and screwing the mounting plate into a wall. Because the Nest Protect works on a network, you'll need to add each unit to your network, one at a time. The process is a breeze (I'll talk more about that below), but it does take a few more minutes.

Out of the box, the Nest Protect and its brochure look downright cheerful. Lindsey Turrentine/CNET

True to form, Nest sells the Nest Protect with charmingly thoughtful packaging. The clean, sturdy box makes unpacking the device fast and free of hardshell-induced plastic cuts on your hands. The included instruction manual is much more complicated than the one that comes with the Nest Learning Thermostat, but the safety issues involved demand the extra length. And in comparison with the instructions accompanying competing devices, the Nest manual reads like Longfellow.

Hanging the Nest Protect on the wall means screwing in a mounting plate, just as with a traditional smoke detector. The included screws are sturdy and work in many types of walls, and the detector snaps into the mount easily. I was a little sad to see that these don't come with their own handy screwdriver like the Nest thermostat does.

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