Nest’s Second-Generation Thermostat: Simpler and Smarter

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Nest Labs

A little under a year ago, a started named Nest Labs announced its first product, a high-tech thermostat which learns from your usage, nudges you to conserve energy and can be remote-controlled from a smartphone, tablet or web browser.

Unlike the thermostats in your house and mine, it was a piece of uncommonly sophisticated, elegant, web-savvy consumer electronics — which made sense, since the startup’s founders were Apple veterans Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers. (Fadell was the guy who brought Apple his idea for an MP3 player — the one which became the iPod, a product line he ran for years.)

Nest shook up the sleepy thermostat business — it’s probably the first product ever to be sold both at the Apple Store and at Lowe’s home improvement centers. It’s also the subject of a patent suit by Honeywell, even though Honeywell doesn’t actually sell anything very Nestlike.

And now Nest Labs is unveiling its second-generation model. Unlike the first one, it’s not a striking reinvention of anything — the changes are mostly about polishing up an already-polished product even further, and reacting to feedback from consumers who have installed Nests in an array of different scenarios.

At first glance, in fact, the new Nest learning thermostat looks exactly like the old Nest learning thermostat. It’s still got a round color LCD display inside a stainless-steel ring you rotate to navigate the interface, recalling the iPod’s scroll wheel.

But the Nest folks made a bunch of fussy little tweaks to the design, none of which were absolutely necessary but all of which make the thermostat simpler and more refined. With the first Nest, the steel ring sat on top of an exposed plastic body; the new one is all steel, which makes the device thinner and classier, and allows it to blend into the room, since it reflects the color of the wall it sits on. The earlier model had a noticeable grille covering the motion detector that keeps tabs on whether there are people in the house, so Nest can save energy when nobody’s home; with the new one, the detector is behind solid plastic and is just barely noticeable.

Even the inside of the thermostat, with connectors for your HVAC’s wiring, has been redesigned with subtle modifications which make it easier to snake the wires around and hook them up. (Nest Labs says that most buyers install the thermostat themselves, usually managing to do the job in less than half an hour.)

Other changes are in Nest’s software, which will also be available as an upgrade for owners of the original model. The thermostat is now compatible with more types of heating and cooling setups — 95 percent of low-voltage ones, the company says. It has more customized support for forced-air, radiant and heat-pump systems. It’s smarter about figuring out when you’ve taken off so it can quickly put its Auto-Away settings into effect. And it now works with an Android tablet app as well as ones for iPhone, iPad and Android phones.

The new Nest is supposed to show up for sale by the middle of this month. Like the original one, it’s $249 — but Nest Labs is blowing out the remaining old models at $229.

MORE: Nest Is the iPod of Thermostats