Ambi Climate isn't your usual everyday gadget. Its one job is to cool homes while also cutting down on power consumption. While it's designed for homes in Asia, there's no reason why you can't use this in anywhere that you'd require air conditioning to keep your environment pleasantly cool.
The device comes with Nest-like smarts , which like the smart thermostat, offers self-learning and sensor driven control features, a friendly-looking design and a relatively affordable price tag of $179 (on special currently for $144, which converts to about £94, AU$202). It also works with most air conditioners, and can be accessed remotely through either your iOS or Android smartphone.
After spending about three weeks testing this, I'm pretty much sold on the idea. Given that most air conditioners in Asia are traditional, non-connected appliances, this device is an excellent add-on. And if you're hankering for a smart home, you don't have to fork out more for a brand new air-conditioning system (which can usually run into the thousands), but you will need an Ambi Climate for each room -- a three-room setup would cost $537 (though there's a preorder special going on now at $344; converted, the setup is about £224, AU$483). Currently, it's only available for preorder through the official website and will be launching very soon.
Instead of going for an industrial look and feel, the design of the Ambi Climate opts for a friendly touch with its round curves and plastic body. It's a simple-looking design, but it will fit in most rooms without clashing.
Since it's designed to be controlled through your smartphone (either Android or iOS), there's a complete lack of buttons on the device. On the front are three LED lights that let you know it's on and connected to the Wi-Fi network. At the top is a shiny black plastic cap, which is where infrared signals are emitted to control your air conditioner. This is also how it communicates with your air conditioner's infrared port. The device is compatible with over 350 air-conditioner remotes, and you can check out that list here.
Also found at the top are ventilation vents, and if you peek inside, you'll notice that there's plenty of room -- technically speaking, the device could have been smaller.
But there's actually a good reason for this spaciousness. While Ambi Climate doesn't generate much heat on its own -- I measured the device to be about 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), the surrounding temperature was around 29 to 30 C (86 F). Through the app, Ambi Climate reported the room temperature to be about 31 C, which goes to show there's probably a bit of leakage there, so having the space for ventilation is important.
At the rear you'll find a USB port -- though it's not for you to plug in a flash drive. You'll need this port free to power the Ambi Climate. There's also a non-removable Wi-Fi dongle, and on the front is a motion sensor, to let the device track activity patterns.
Setting up is pretty easy. Once you power it on for the first time, the unit will broadcast its own WiFi SSID, which you then tell your phone to access. Once you're on the unit's network, you then turn on the app, log into your account and then proceed to set up to allow the Ambi Climate access to your home wireless network. Do note that it only works with 2.4GHz frequencies, so no 5GHz networks as it won't be able to detect those.
Once done, you need to specify your air conditioner's model and choose a room name and you'd be all set to go.
Through the app, Ambi Climate offers four different ways you can control the air conditioner. Comfort mode, basically lets Ambi Climate control the temperature and speed, and you can tell it if you're feeling too warm or too cool by tapping on the floating circle in the middle. The AI behind this mode will then learn what you prefer and adjust accordingly.
The next mode, Temperature, lets you set a target temperature and has the AI maintain it for you. So if it gets too cool, Ambi Climate would then adjust accordingly to help conserve power.
As for Away Mode, it's mainly for use when you're on vacation and want to keep your play cool and dry. In this mode, the AI will automatically turn on the air conditioner when the local environment reaches a threshold that you set -- and this can also be based on the humidity of the room.
Lastly, Manual Mode works as how you would normally use a remote control, there's no AI or smart features.
The one thing I noticed Ambi Climate lacks is the ability to set an automatic turn off time -- something my normal remote control is capable of doing. I did check in with Ambi Climate's makers, Ambi Labs, who told me this is a feature that may be implemented in the future.
If you're the type to leave the air conditioner on the whole day, you'll constantly hear your air conditioner beeping once in a while as Ambi Climate changes the temperature and fan speed of the air conditioner. It can get quite annoying, to be honest.
Ambi Climate's claim to fame is that it uses smart algorithms to help cut down on power consumption, so testing this out was relatively simple. I put the device through three different usage scenarios.
The first test is basically how I mostly use my air conditioner every night -- turning it off two and a half hours after I first turn it on. This averaged out to around 3 kilowatts total. The second test leaves it on for a flat 7 hours -- about 4 kilowatts, while the third uses Ambi Climate to regulate the 7 hours -- around 3 kilowatts. Tests were done twice to check for variations in results, and obviously, other home appliances such as the refrigerator and an air circulator were kept on.
To my surprise, the Ambi Climate does as it claims -- the amount of power used when Ambi Climate was active easily matched that of my regular use, which is turning it off after three hours. However, full usage was about a kilowatt more. It isn't much, since it costs about S$0.22 a kilowatt in Singapore (equal to about $0.16, £, AU$), but this cuts on your costs in the long run.
Unlike smart air conditioners such as the Quirky+GE Aros, or the somewhat hard to use Belkin's WeMo Insight Switch , Ambi Climate's meant for homes with hot and humid climates that already have a full air conditioner system set up and aren't as easy to replace with a smart model.
In this regard, the device gets the job done by being easy to set up and use -- and also having a wide compatibility range. However, if you turn on the air conditioner in more than one room, you'll need to fork out for additional devices for better efficiency.
While the normal user who only turns the air conditioner on at night while sleeping won't see too much gains from the Ambi Climate (apart from cost savings), those who have a home office setup and turn the air conditioner on all day are the ones who will really benefit.