Hive is British Gas' take on the Internet of Things, the idea that the Web can revolutionise even simple things in your home -- in this case, your central heating. While "Hive" might not sound like something you'd normally want in your airing cupboard, it's a simple, well designed system that makes turning on your heating much easier, and even kind of fun.
It comes in four parts: a little receiver, which an engineer wires into your boiler; a new wireless thermostat; a hub, which plugs into your Wi-Fi router; and an app for your phone or tablet to control the whole thing. Hive works with gas, LPG and oil-type central heating systems.
It costs £199 including installation, and there's no need to be a British Gas customer. I'm not, I'm with ScottishPower (which has its own similar system called Connect), and you may be relieved to hear British Gas has not pestered me with emails or junk mail. Other systems are available, most notably the Google-owned , which you can get on .
Pay your £199 and British Gas sends a nice man or woman round to wire the thing up and show you how it works. A small white box sits on the wall under your boiler, and effectively replaces whatever timer the system has built in. It took about half an hour for the wiring and explaining, and then another half an hour while he worked out a problem with the hub failing to connect to the boiler. My flat, it turns out, is a black hole for wireless reception and he had to plug a booster unit called a SmartPlug into a wall socket halfway along. That fixed it all up and there was no extra cost.
To use it, you just need a spare Ethernet port on your router. It flashes a few different colours (red when it wouldn't connect) but once running you can tuck it away behind your router and forget about it. The engineer pulled my old thermostat off the wall (it didn't work anyway) and put the new one in its place. It's battery powered and wireless, so you can put it anywhere. A little bracket sticks to the wall with pads and the unit clips in and out when you need to change the batteries.
This may be the only time I ever write this sentence, but it's a genuinely lovely thermostat. Its simple white plastic buttons may not be as fancy as Nest's knob, but its screen is easy to read and has a soothing blue glow. Good job, British Gas. You'll only need to use it if you lose your phone, or the Internet goes down, but nevertheless it's a pleasing thing to have on your wall.
The only problem I had was the app insisting the thermostat was running out of batteries when I'd just changed them. That disappeared after a few days. Oh, and once when my broadband went down, I had to disconnect and reconnect all four devices via the website.
The Hive app
Hive has apps for Android and iPhone, and a website, Hivehome.com, which is usable on a phone screen if you have a Windows Phone, for example. If you don't have a smartphone at all, well first, don't buy this, buy a smartphone, and second, you can text commands such as "HEAT ON" or "HEAT AUTO" to a central number. The apps are available for tablets too, but they're not particularly optimised for them. The iPad version just has the options always open at the side, for example, instead of swiping to reveal them.
The app is a great experience, letting you swipe up and down on a gorgeous colour-coded sphere to change the temperature at which your heating comes on. You can also switch between your heating schedule, manual control and off. Incidentally, if you set Hive to "off" it'll still come on when your house gets below 7C, to protect your pipes.
It's completely self-explanatory and a pleasure to use. There's no social-media gimmickry -- it doesn't ask you to tweet your home temperature or share your heating schedule on Facebook -- and there are no ads. It's free to download, of course.
Having the power to control your heating in your phone takes a weight off your mind, I found. Rushed off on holiday and forgot to turn the heating off? Just use the app (as long as you didn't unplug your router, of course). There's also peace of mind from knowing your house will be warm when you get home, because you can tell it to warm up as you're leaving work.