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Keen Home Smart Vent review: Keen Home sharpens its formerly dull smart vents

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Editor's Note: Keen Home has released some hardware and firmware updates that have significantly changed the product experience. Our review has been updated to reflect those changes.

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6.6

Keen Home Smart Vent

The Good

Keen Home's Smart Vents boast a great base design, and the app follows suit.

The Bad

Vent-to-hub connection still isn't perfect, and automation needs more development.

The Bottom Line

Keen Home's fixes have vastly improved the Smart Vents. That said, they still won't really impress until the automation also gets a big upgrade.

A few months ago, I tested Keen Home Smart Vents and gave them a poor review. Terrible connectivity made some of the features practically untestable, and a design flaw made ceiling installations dangerous. With ample feedback from users and reviewers, Keen Home continued work on its product. Now, these $80 smart vents are beginning to look compelling.

The idea behind Keen's vents is that you can personalize the temperature of individual rooms around your house. If one room tends to get colder in the winter, the vents can direct more heat to it, or if you like your bedroom cooler, you can divert warm air away from it. On a basic level, Keen performs. If you're interested in smart vents, or you have a compatible smart thermostat, Keen Home Vents are definitely worth checking out, especially as their features continue to develop.

These Smart Vents leave us cold (pictures)

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Setup

The Keen Home system takes some time to set up, but it's hard to imagine how anyone could make it much easier. The real hassle is actually perching on a ladder to install ceiling vents, if you have them, or screwing the fixtures into the wall. Keen has also remedied most of the old connectivity problems, so syncing the vents to the hub is a breeze.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

In my experience, the installation takes 15-to-20 minutes per unit. Depending on how many you install, it could take an hour, or an afternoon.

Once the setup is complete, using the Keen Home app is intuitive. The app is streamlined, and now, when you run into connection problems with a vent, the app realizes it and automatically pulls up troubleshooting recommendations. I like this addition, especially after my original experience with the system that left me confused and exasperated.

Design

Where Keen Vents excel is in design. Now that the falling-from-the-ceiling problem is fixed, users are left with a minimalist aesthetic that works with almost any decor. The white faceplates attach magnetically onto the vent itself, so unlike traditional vents, you can simply pull off the plate to clean the slats or change the batteries.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Even without the faceplate, the vents look slick. A small LED light recessed in the structure of the vent itself is the primary means of communication between user and device. And for the most part, its blinking patterns are easy to understand: green for "connected", yellow for "searching for connection," and so on. But just in case, I found it helpful to keep the included translation card handy while setting up.

The one design shortcoming for Keen's Vents is a sizing issue. Typically, vents are secured by screwing through the edge of the faceplate. Since Keen's faceplates are affixed magnetically, a problem arises. The flanges you screw into the ceiling or wall are positioned more narrowly than the edge of the faceplate, so the holes don't always reach the drywall.

It wasn't a serious problem; for most of the fixtures, I just had to drill at an angle to securely anchor the device. But some adjustability would be helpful for homes with different needs.

Smarts

The physical and app design are both slick, but what makes smart vents worth the price tag is -- you guessed it -- smarts. The problem is, Keen doesn't offer enough of those right now to really impress.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Keen works with the Nest Learning Thermostat, for instance, but the extent of its cooperation is basically offering another command center on your phone for the thermostat. Keen Home says more automation and better pattern-learning is on the near horizon, but at present the only automation -- that all the vents coordinate to direct airflow to particular rooms that don't receive enough -- requires the help of the user.

A partnership with the Ecobee smart thermostat is coming in the summer, which is notable because Ecobee's room-by-room temperature sensors will help make Keen's vents temperature-responsive. When this feature arrives, the vents will begin to really feel smart.

The verdict?

Keen Home's Smart Vents might be great products six months from now -- if integration and automation expand considerably. At this point, I'm not sure whether to be skeptical because of Keen's near-broken first effort, or to be hopeful because of its quick recovery.

Either way, if you're interested in smart vents, Keen's entries will certainly be worth keeping an eye on. And if you have a compatible thermostat, they are worth consideration.

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6.6

Keen Home Smart Vent

Score Breakdown

Features 5Usability 7Design 7Performance 8