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Smart Home

Hive 2 makes the thermostat a chic decoration (hands-on)

With its mirrored finish and colourful panels, British Gas' new Hive 2 is a very attractive smart thermostat. Its new control features are welcome, too.

The Hive 2 is the latest smart thermostat from British Gas that, like its predecessor, the original Hive thermostat , lets you control your home's heating and hot water using an app on your phone. It's had a tasteful makeover and now features a slick mirrored finish and interchangeable colourful shells.

The companion app now provides greater flexibility over scheduling heating throughout the day, and also lets you give a quick heat boost to the house, or let it know when you're going on holiday.

The Hive 2 goes on sale today, costing £249, which is only £50 more than the original Hive and the same price as its chief rival, Nest . If you do have the original Hive, British Gas is offering an upgrade for £99, including installation.

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You can fit it yourself if you're brave enough, but installation by a British Gas engineer is included in the price. Installations will begin from August and you needn't be a British Gas customer to get one.

The thermostat

The thermostat has a significant design overhaul from the original model, replacing the plain white plastic and LCD display with a modern-looking design. Designed by industrial designer Yves Béhar, the creator of the One Laptop Per Child scheme, it has a mirrored finish, designed to reflect its surroundings and help it blend in. The coloured bands around the edge are interchangeable to help you find the tone most suited to your decorations.

When you press any of the function buttons or the large central dial, text lights up from beneath the mirrored surface to provide information about the current status. As well as the central dial which can be pushed in to select functions, there are three buttons below, and two buttons on the top edge, which provide instant access to heating and hot water boost modes -- both of which I'll come back to shortly.

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It's a great looking piece of kit and is clearly trying to play catch up with the Nest thermostat, which was a much sleeker gadget than the original Hive thermostat. It runs on four AA batteries (Hive quotes about two years of life) and it can be easily removed from the wall.

New functions

Along with a snazzy new look, Hive 2 brings a bunch of new features too. A heating boost mode allows you to give a quick blast of warmth to your house for up to six hours at a time. A hot water boost mode, which already exists on the first Hive, does the same for your water and will be on the new model too.

The scheduling tool has been updated, giving more flexibility to program different heating settings to kick in at different times throughout the day. Using the app, you'll also be able to control different zones of your home, allowing you to keep the bedrooms nice and toasty, while the downstairs can be a bit cooler, for example. Each zone will require an individual thermostat and receiver though, so that could get costly.

A handy new feature is holiday mode, which lets you set exactly what date and time you're leaving for your holiday and when you'll be back, leaving your house cold while you're away, but making it cosy for your return. All these features can be controlled with the Hive app (on iOS and Android) or using the buttons on the thermostat itself. The holiday mode and the deeper scheduling mode will both be available to users using the existing Hive thermostat.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

CNET's Nick Hide reviewed the first Hive and concluded that it was a "delight to use", and the updated app seems every bit as simple and straightforward as before. We'll of course be seeing whether the new features make it any more complicated when we hook it up for a full review.

Smart plugs and window sensors

The thermostat isn't the only bit of hardware Hive had to show off at its London launch event. It's also launching a set of smart plugs, which plug in between a particular device and your wall socket and can be remotely turned on or off using the same app that controls your heating. As someone who regularly has to double back to check if I've turned my iron off when I leave for work, I'd love to be able to plug it in through the smart plug and be able to check its status as I walk to the bus.

You can schedule the plugs to turn on or off too, which could come in handy if you're cooking using a countertop appliance like a slow cooker, or you want to turn lamps on when you're on holiday to make it look like there's someone in. Hive's new motion sensors, meanwhile, can send alerts to your phone when they detect movement when you're not in, or automatically turn lights on and off when you enter or leave a room.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Finally, Hive also has a range of window and door sensors that allow you to double check whether you left the door open. You will need to go home and close it though if it tells you it's open; it's not that clever.

Hive also discussed some future products, including security cameras which will let you view a live feed of the inside of your house, and a sleep button for your bedroom which in one press will shut off all lights and put the house into sleep mode. Neither product was unveiled though and Hive couldn't give an estimate of when we might see these on sale. Hive's products are all based on the Honeycomb platform, which means you'll have to use compatible products and its own apps, rather than third-party systems like Apple HomeKit or Samsung SmartThings.

Outlook

With a vastly improved design, the Hive is now much more a piece of technology that you'd happily have sat on the wall of your living room. That alone will help it do battle against its main rival, Nest. The new app features seem genuinely useful and the ease of use means the Hive 2 isn't restricted only to the homes of the tech-savvy.

If you're keen to get more control of your home's heating and water, and want the peace of mind of remote control, the Hive 2 may well be worth checking out.

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