Home Automation for Christmas

So, I got some home automation for Christmas, a Nest Thermostat and a Roomba. How about you?

Nest Thermostat

I’ve been eagerly following the Nest since its inception, and I finally pulled the trigger, right before Google bought them.

I’m not entirely sure why I liked the hockey puck so much.

It’s a beautiful little piece of technology, absolutely. Some users report that it pays for itself in energy savings rather quickly, sweet. It learns your home/away behaviors and sets itself accordingly, cool. You can control it from anywhere via the mobile apps and web app, great.

I finally settled on the fact that it’s a disruptive innovation in an area where you don’t expect innovation. Companies have been incrementally improving thermostats, but the overall experience has not been rethought. They just keep making them bigger, with more features and harder to use.

Anyway, I did my diligence first to make sure my system was compatible with Nest; they do a really nice job supporting the pre-purchase and installation phases. Installation was easy enough, and the initial setup went quickly. The entire process from unboxing to working thermostat probably took three hours, and I went very slowly.

The Nest itself has a very clever interface with minimal interactions, really only two, pressing the hockey puck into its housing, which makes a satisfying thud, and rotating the dial, which makes a click. Despite having limited interface capabilities, I found entering a wifi password much less annoying on the Nest than it is on a smart TV with a standard remote.

In addition to controlling the heat and air conditioning, the Nest has a motion sensor, so it will light up when you pass it, and presumably, it will set itself to Away at some interval without motion.

The Nest includes a subtle game mechanic, the leaf, which appears when, according to the Nest, you’re saving energy. My brain got a nice shot of dopamine the first time I saw that leaf, and now, I’m compelled to earn it daily and disappointed if I don’t. Nice touch.

The mobile and web apps are where most users will spend the majority of their time interacting with Nest. Similar to the hockey puck’s OS, these apps are simple and not overloaded with features. Here’s the Android app:


The Home screen controls all your Nest devices, both Thermostats and the newish Protect CO/smoke detector.



Details about your Thermostat, your energy consumption history.

Aside from one issue, I’ve been very happy with the Nest so far. Less than a day after installing it, I wasn’t able to control the Nest from any of its accompanying apps because the wifi receiver was off to conserve battery. This struck me as odd, given the device is directly connected to my home’s electricity.

I did some digging and went down a wrong path, but ultimately, all I had to do was upgrade my router’s firmware. Nest’s customer support was quite helpful and responsive.

Other nice features, Nest sends a monthly energy report, which gets more useful over time, and they recently bought a company called MyEnergy that tracks utility usage and offers energy saving tips.

Overall, the Nest provides an excellent experience, well thought out from pre-purchase all the way through continued usage. It’ll really rock if it can pay for itself in 12-18 months.


The other home automation gadget I got for Christmas was a Roomba 770. I’ve always been skeptical about the ability of these robots, but interested in the technology and the potential.

Image from iRobot

Image from iRobot


As with the Nest, I did my diligence, and it seems like most of the negative reviews center around people who expected the robot to replace a traditional vacuum cleaner. Luckily, I didn’t have that expectation; I just want it clean enough so I can walk around in bare feet without collecting miscellaneous debris on my feet.

The Roomba does this quite well, and it’s amusing to watch it navigate a room. I keep trying to see patterns, but I can’t discern any. It’s really a marvel of hardware and software technology.

It does take a while to finish a room, and it’s a bit loud. Neither really matters to me though. I’ve found the best time to run it is when we’re away. Otherwise, we bump into each other a lot.

I know less about the Roomba than the Nest, given it requires virtually no setup and configuration. The Roomba does have a long list of features, but I haven’t been curious enough to look at them all yet. So far, it does exactly what I want, and that’s perfect.

So, did you get home automation gadgets for Christmas, or semi-related, see anything at CES that interested you?

Find the comments.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, we’ve grown again. Luis joined our little team in Mexico last week. Welcome.




  1. @joel: Ha, I’m way past that point, although thanks for the reminder. I need to do that, and it’s well-worth the effort.

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