Nest can now track your location to improve its thermostat settings

An app update is supposed to make it easier than ever for your Nest products to know whether you're home or away.

Photo by John Kim/CNET

Nest is one of the best smart thermostats we've reviewed to date. But there are still complaints about its Auto-Away mode, a feature that's supposed to know when you've left the house and automatically change the temperature to something that's more budget-friendly and energy efficient.

Auto-Away can definitely work, and did during our tests, but as documented by Nest users on Reddit, it has also been known to switch to Auto-Away when folks are sleeping, otherwise work sporadically and in some cases, not at all.

Nest is hoping to put an end to those issues with a software update today that brings a couple of new features on board: Family Accounts and Home/Away Assist.

Family Accounts is straightforward -- right now, families share a single account so it's difficult to track individuals. Family Accounts will allow users in the same household to create their own logins, a step Nest says is integral to the Home/Away Assist feature. Each family member will now be able to change thermostat settings from their own mobile device.

Home/Away Assist basically tracks each person's phone location, whether you're actively using the Nest app or not. This way, it should know not to turn off the heat when you're asleep in the middle of the night, because it can see that your phone is at home.

This sort of advanced functionality isn't exactly new. One of Nest's chief competitors, the Ecobee3, gives you a remote sensor with your thermostat purchase. This accessory extends the activity detection range and makes it less likely that the Ecobee3 thinks you've left home when you haven't.

Of course, that isn't foolproof because you can still have extended periods of inactivity at home when you don't pass in front of the thermostat or the remote sensor, but it can help mitigate errors (especially if your thermostat is located in a corner of your house that you rarely visit).

Family Accounts and Home/Away Assist aren't limited to the Nest thermostat. Both features apply across the Nest product family, including both the Nest Cam and the Nest Protect.

It's good that Nest is working to stay competitive by addressing customer complaints, but I wonder if it's too little too late? I mean, we already swapped out the Nest thermostats in the CNET Smart Home with Ecobee3's.

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