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Nest Learning Thermostat review: A wonderful learning thermostat that needs a few more UK-friendly features

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The Good Being able to control your heating remotely is amazing, and the learning features have the potential to save you money. It looks cool on your wall and it's a lot of fun showing it off.

The Bad It doesn't take advantage of the location data on your phone to turn on the heating as you approach home and it can't control the hot water on boilers with a dedicated hot water cylinder.

The Bottom Line If you have the right sort of boiler and don't already have a thermostat, this is a great buy. Otherwise the appeal is more about the gadget lust and being able to switch on your heating from bed, but what's wrong with that?

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.4 Overall
  • Features 7
  • Usability 9.2
  • Design 9
  • Performance 8.9

Review Sections

It's the thermostat that sets itself. It knows if you're in or out, how cold it is outside, whether the sun is shining, how long your heating system takes to warm up and how hot you like your house at different times of day. It uses all of this information to save you money, and it looks cool on your wall. This is the promise of the Nest Learning Thermostat, the flagship device from a company so hot that Google snapped it up in February for $3.2 billion.

The thermostat has been out in the US since 2011, garnering praise from almost every direction. But US systems are different to the ones we have in the UK, and in the years it has taken Nest to work out how to adapt its product to our shores, many competitors have established themselves: British Gas' Hive, Berlin startup Tado and British Heat Genius to name just a few. The good news for Nest is that its thermostat can definitely hold its own against the competition, even if its British adaption isn't perfect.

Installed by professionals

First off, Nest says that you shouldn't install the thermostat yourself. Our systems run at a higher voltage than our US counterparts, which increases the risks associated with a DIY job. The UK Nest also dispenses with the air conditioning control the American model has: this is all about heating.

It comes in two parts in the UK -- the sleek, shiny round thermostat you see on the adverts and a small, white box called a Heat Link. If you have a combi-boiler (a single unit that heats your radiators and provides hot water on demand), the installer will replace the programmer you have that's connected to it with the Heat Link. This is then used to turn the boiler on and off, receiving its instructions from the Nest Thermostat wirelessly or via your existing thermostat's wires.

The Heat Link connects to your boiler and talks to the Thermostat wirelessly Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you have a boiler and a hot water cylinder, the solution is less elegant -- you need to keep your existing programmer in place and set the hot water controls as normal, with the Heat Link just taking over the central heating portion. This isn't great for a product that exists to make your life easier and save you money.

No such problems for me with my combi-boiler, however, and after an hour-long visit from an engineer, during which the only big issue was that the device refused to connect to the Wi-Fi network for a time, I was up and running. If, like me, you already have a thermostat wired in, it can simply go in the same place using the same wires. Nest provides a rectangular block of white plastic to act as a frame, covering up any gaps that are left if the new thermostat is a bit smaller than the old one.

If you don't have a handy place to wall-mount your thermostat, this £30 stand is advised. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you don't already have a wired-in thermostat, you can buy a £30 stand and plug it into the mains. It will communicate wirelessly, but shouldn't be moved so that the data it gathers about your household can be compared. It needs to be placed in an area of the house that people congregate, such as a hallway or lounge for it to be able to sense when everyone has left.

Learns how you like it

Once that's done, the idea is that the Thermostat takes a few days to learn how hot you like your house, at what times of day, and how that information relates to the weather. You turn the ring around the edge of the screen to raise or lower the target temperature. I found it was switching the heating on too long and too often to start with, so I manually adjusted the schedule it had set for itself in the Web interface and the app.

In the Nest app, slide the circles up and down to change the target temperature and sideways to change the time. Jason Jenkins/CNET

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