At the CNET Smart Home, one of the easiest gadgets to forget about is our Nest Learning Thermostat -- and that's a good thing. When we arrive in the morning, the home has already changed from its energy saving 65 degrees to 71 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature our staff prefers. Throughout the day, if Nest senses no one is in the house, it will allow the temperature to drift within a reasonable range to save energy. This is the power of the smart thermostat: it saves you money and keeps you comfortable, all while fading into the background of your daily routine.
The problem with many smart thermostats is they clock in at a pricey $250. So I was excited to hear iDevices, the company behind the iGrill and the Switch -- both solid products -- would be releasing their HomeKit-compatible Thermostat for a mere $150. When I got my hands on it, though, I was disappointed to find the Thermostat software lacking major features that would classify it as "smart." While the device will certainly develop as Apple HomeKit grows (according to developers, the hardware is already capable of Bluetooth connectivity and geo-fencing, pending software updates), right now the Thermostat is only worth it for those willing to invest in HomeKit's future.
After seeing some of the more creative solutions of recent smart thermostats, I was a little disappointed by the surprisingly standard setup of the iDevices product. The Nest Learning Thermostat, for example, provides nodes for your wires to plug into -- nodes that you can clamp shut with the push of a button. The iDevices Thermostat by contrast requires you to screw in the wires using a tiny screwdriver (not included).
When I installed the Thermostat for the first time, it didn't work. The temperature drifted upward and the controls had no effect on it. After examining the directions again, I discovered I'd missed something: I had to enter information about our particular HVAC system into the Thermostat's menu. This process surprised me, since other smart thermostats bypass it by analyzing your wiring. Not only did I have to know what kind of HVAC we have (a gas-powered, heat pump system), I also had to look up the type of reversing valve it uses (O-type).
Setting up thermostats can be complicated, and the iDevices Thermostat certainly didn't make it easier. I was disappointed nothing on the app or the Thermostat screen told me it had defaulted to a non-heat pump system, and I didn't even know anything was amiss until a few hours later when the house was uncomfortably warm.
The Thermostat's design looks nice -- from a distance. Its glossy white face will fit with more contemporary home decors, and the four buttons around the small rectangular screen are touch sensitive. This means that, despite the smaller screen, your hands will never get in the way of seeing the menus. The button placement even gives a cool visual structure to the device that some purely touchscreen devices lack.
Once I started using the Thermostat, though, I realized the button placement, while aesthetically pleasing, was inefficient. The button used for both "settings" and "select," for example, is located in the upper left corner where "back" buttons are usually placed. As a result, more than once when I wanted to go "back," I accidentally touched the "select" button, opening a new menu I had to exit. This, among other small problems, made navigating the Thermostat interface a little cumbersome.
The menu system on the Thermostat is also oddly inefficient. Rather than learning from the menu systems of competitors, like the Ecobee3 Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat, that pair clever graphics with only-when-necessary text, the iDevices Thermostat features a menu tree of monochromatic visuals and lists. The text is even pixelated and bland, so what should feel like a new device instead strikes me as already dated.
Setup can be a pain for any thermostat, and every consumer will have different design tastes, but the quality of a smart thermostat is largely measured by its smart features. In other words, why pay more for a thermostat unless it's going to be somehow different from what you already own?
Companies like Honeywell, which have long histories in the thermostat industry, have worked to differentiate newer smart thermostats from older simpler models. They do so by offering features like geofencing to tell your thermostat you're coming home. Some boast algorithms to learn your personal heating and cooling patterns, so you don't have to log them yourself. Still others work with triggers (facilitated by apps like IFTTT), so unlocking your front door can tell you're thermostat you're home, and turning off all your lights can tell your thermostat you're ready for bed.
The iDevices Thermostat doesn't do any of these things. Its app interface looks oddly empty beside other iDevices products, like the Outdoor Switch pictured above. It doesn't sense whether anyone's home. In fact, its only feature I'd call smart is remote control.
Of course, the iDevices Thermostat integrates with HomeKit, which means you can control it with Siri while you're home, and you can schedule temperature changes to reflect your daily regimen. But iDevices isn't the only thermostat developer featuring HomeKit compatibility. The HomeKit-compatible Ecobee3 -- a smart thermostat that tells you about the weather, home humidity, senses whether you're home or away, and more -- seems to deserve its $250 price tag. The iDevices Thermostat, even at a hundred bucks cheaper, doesn't.
What partially makes up for this Thermostat's sparse features, in my mind, is its potential. As mentioned, it can't do what other smart thermostats do, but it doesn't charge what other smart thermostats charge. So if missing features were to be added or updated in the future, the Thermostat would be a much better deal. Apparently Bluetooth hardware is built into the device, ready to be woken up for later updates. The development team at iDevices hopes to introduce geo-fencing soon, and algorithmic pattern-learning is software updateable. Apple has also announced the introduction of HomeKit triggers for the near future.
So while the features on the iDevices Thermostat are disappointingly absent, the $150 Thermostat could be very competitive if and when these feature updates happen.
For $150, the iDevices Thermostat had better work -- and it does. Once everything is wired and set up, the Thermostat will heat and cool your home as well as your HVAC system allows. The only problem I experienced working with the Thermostat while on the CNET Smart Home Wi-Fi was periodic lags in mobile connection. These never last for more than ten or fifteen seconds, and were likely due to iOS 9's Wi-Fi Assist function, which lets LTE augment device connectivity when Wi-Fi fails.
So the big question: Are the 150 bucks worth remote access and a sleek face? This Thermostat occupies the space between cheaper dumb thermostats and the high-end Ecobees, Honeywells, and Nests that clock in around $250. Right now, the iDevices Thermostat isn't a great buy, but for those willing to wait for HomeKit and iDevices updates, it might not be a bad investment.
But really, why pay now for what won't be coming for a few months? My recommendation: if a hundred bucks doesn't make a difference to you, buy an Ecobee3 or Nest. Otherwise, wait for a more substantial HomeKit software rollout to find out if the iDevices Thermostat should earn your money.