​Nest v Hive: Which thermostat should you let into your home?

Two heating giants of the smart home Cold War go head to head

Nest may the the darling of the smart home, but Hive – a British Gas funded upstart straight out of the UK – has big ambitions. Its smart thermostat has taken the country by storm, and it has big plans for a US edition in the near future.

We've already taken a look at how the carpet lies in our Nest v Honeywell comparison but it would be remiss of us not to go head to head with Hive too.

Let's get things warmed up...

Nest vs Hive: Design

Both of these thermostats look ace. Frankly, the original British Gas Hive Active Heating was a bit of an eyesore in comparison to our smart home expectations of today but the seemingly ubiquitous Swiss designer Yves Béhar (also the creative lead over at Jawbone) has done his trademark make-over job and the second incarnation is a cracker.

Ok, so it's a bit of a square in comparison to Nest and it's not as compact either – losing out nearly 2cm across and about the same in profile - but it'll make just as an appealing addition to your wall.

The mirrored front hides the computerised information which pops up in full LED colour when you start to get intimate with it. For us, it loses a little to the minimalism of the Nest. There's a giant dial in the middle and three hard push buttons at the bottom to Nest's none. The immediate information you get in return of time and mode is decent probably not worth the trade-off.

Fortunately, Hive has a little design edge of its own in the shape of that famous 1990s mobile phone trick of the fascia. In this case, it's an interchangeable frame (below) that you can choose, for an extra £19.99, to complement your walls in one of 13 different shades including a Roverdashboard-like 'wood effect'.

Ultimately, though, this one's going to come down to a matter of subjective aesthetic preference. If you'd like to know what ours is, well, it's Nest.

Nest v Hive: Which thermostat should you let into your home?

Nest vs Hive: Which is smarter?

Nest knows you, and all it takes is a week. After seven days, it has a pretty good idea of your comings, your goings; your likes and dislikes; how long it takes to heat up your home and practically how many sugars you have in your tea. Hive does not know these things. That's not how Hive works.

Hive will create schedules for you but they are not based on its capacity to learn. You can set up geo-fencing in terms of pure distance from your home. Once you break through that invisible barrier, the Hive mobile app will ask you whether you want to turn the heating on or off depending upon your direction of travel.

Another good feature is Frost Control. While it doesn't represent any learning, it will automatically activate your central heating system if the temperature drops below 7 degrees centigrade no matter what state you've left it in. The idea is that it'll stop your pipes from bursting in a deep freeze.

Nest has got your back on this front too, though. When you set your thermostat to Away mode, you can also choose a minimum temperature at which it must keep your abode.

Ultimately, there's no smart function that Hive can do that Nest cannot and, more to the point, Nest has probably got the edge here in terms of automatically sensing that you've gone away and switching the heating off itself. While Hive has enough modes and features to make up for its lack of smarts, and for those looking for simplicity, it represents an easy to use system.

However, the company is adding a one hour boost button to the app and thermostat, which is handy when you're getting near the end of that film, but don't want to start fiddling with the schedule.

Nest vs Hive: Extra features

Nest is purely a thermostat for your central heating. It tells your boiler when it's too cold, and so to kick in; and it tells your boiler when the house has reached temperature and so to shut off. That's really it. You can control the temperature set up into different heating zones if you like but it will require buying second/third/fourth etc, Nests, each with separate HeatLink boxes that control the main valves to each zone. If you don't have a zoned heating system already installed, then it will require some plumbing work to get the pipes sorted first.

British Gas is promising a similar zoning system for Hive that will launch in autumn 2015. That said, it doesn't appear to be here yet. There is a limit on three zones but, really, how big is your place anyway? As with Nest, you will need a Hive thermostat for each zone.

One trick - and it's a goody - that Hive has up its sleeve, that Nest can't manage, is that Hive can also separately control your hot water supply. Now, that's of no relevance at all to anyone with a combi-boiler or power showers that heat water on demand (pretty much a UK deal) but it certainly fills a gap for people with a hot water cylinder supply. After all, why have a Nest for your boiler if you have to go all manual to figure out the other half of the equation?

Hive manages both in exactly the same way. You can schedule from the unit itself and remote control it all from the app just as you can your radiators. Do be warned, though, that Hive has something of an Achilles heel, for the time being, in that it cannot work with underfloor heating. It's not a total disaster because you could always control that section of your home with a simple, separate, wall-mounted switch but, then, why should you have to?

Nest vs Hive: Usability

Both thermostats are dead easy to use. Nest is a joy of simplicity. You give it your Wi-Fi password, you turn the temperature up and down a bit and then it takes care of pretty much everything else from then on. The apps on mobile phone, tablet and the web are nice and uniform and allow you all the Home/Away, up/down and scheduling control that you need. Very nice, but Hive has that little bit extra.

There's a few clever things about how British Gas has gone about its business and, if you consider that the non-tech savvy market is a big part of its target, then you'll understand why. Given that Hive doesn't learn your behaviour, it's come up with some decent opening questions to help set up the scheduling for you. Answer a few of these about your preferences of cost over comfort and what kind of time you go to bed and such, and it sets up a basic program. That saves a lot of fiddling and you're welcome to edit it as you go.

Probably the stand-out usability feature, though, is the mobile and tablet app itself. First is the Holiday Mode which is something for which Nest has no equivalent. It's a screen where you put in your flight details so that your central heating system knows when not to bother keeping the house hot and just when to spring to life to ensure that you don't return to an ice box. The other area which sets it apart is the in the way that the Hive app wants to be more than just a heating control tool. The Hive system has new smart home products on the way and there's a screen to reflect that which will allow you to remotely control just about every connected device that you've got.

So, when you go on holiday, the app will be able to instantly coordinate both your heating and your security lighting, for example. And, if you think you've left your slow cooker on by accident, then it will take care of that too, should you have the soon-to-be-available smart plugs. While Nest has space for its own products in the app at the moment, so far, it's a little less well developed.

Nest vs Hive: Installation

Nest is made up of two units. The HeatLink is a receiver box which connects to your boiler. You'll need an engineer to do that for you. The other part is the thermostat itself and that you can install on your own if you wish. It's a matter of simply plugging it in and then following the menus. You can wall mount it if you like but you will still need to put it near a power source or wire it in direct and that part, again, may require the use of a professional.

Hive is something of a curiosity. There's the same thermostat and receiver box set-up required, with the same amount of paid-for help needed, but there's also a third unit to consider called the Hub. The Hub needs to be attached to your home router for the system to work as well. For us, that's something of a downside. Frankly, our router is already a spider's web of cables and boxes with it sitting next to the TV and all those systems wired into it too. Shoving another hub on the end of it doesn't really appeal. Unfortunately, without the Hub, your thermostat cannot get online, so it's rather necessary.

Hive does manage to claw one back on installation, however, in that it takes AA batteries instead of mains power. Given that those batteries have a two-year life span, then it's actually an advantage because it means that you can mount your Hive just about anywhere you like.

Nest vs Hive: Ecosystems

A few months back and we'd have told you to go with Nest hands down. There are three very credible Nest products at the time of writing - the thermostat, the home security camera and the smoke/CO alarm - and there's a lot of logic in their link up potential. They know how much of the time that someone's home, the motion detectors can tell which room you're in and the cameras can easily make identifications too; friend, foe or family member. There's an awful lot of smart home sensibilities to be learned from that. There's also a lot of suspicion too given that Google now owns Nest and would have all this information to do with as it pleases.

And then there's British Gas. British Gas in not in the business of advertising. It's an energy company. That's how it makes its cash; not by flogging your details whether anonymous or not. It's also announced an impressive sounding array of other Hive smart home products, all of which will work very nicely with its thermostat. There's smart plugs for remote controlling your ons and offs, smart light bulbs, window and door sensors which alert you if they're ajar and a motion sensor too. At the time of writing, none of that's quite available but, by the time you've bought and installed your Hive, you won't have long to wait.

If you can get over the paranoia and ever-increasing shadow of Google, the Nest probably still has it here. On top of what's already available, there's also the rest of the smart products community which generally bend over backwards to make sure that they're Nest-compatible. These include August, Misfit, Kevo, Philips Hue and a world of smaller developers with their recipes ready on IFTTT.

Nest vs Hive: Price

You can buy a Nest off the shelf for £249 ($249) but it'll cost up to a further £99 ($250) to get it professionally stalled. That said, that's the most it's going to be and you'll find companies such as Npower offering free or cheaper Nest installation if you buy it through them. So, worth having a look around. Nest reckons that installing its smart thermostat will save customers on average £150 ($150) per year.

British Gas sells the Hive Active Heating System for a price-matching £249 and it's worth noting that installation comes free with that. What's more, of course, you don't need to be a British Gas customer to have one fitted. If you already happen to have the first version of Hive, then the upgrade to the more attractive Hive 2 thermostat is not only just £99 but it's also something that you can do yourself.

As for savings, BG's bet is exactly in line with Nest at an average of £150 ($150) per year. With the installation from a friendly engineer and the low cost, Hive takes the edge here.

Nest vs Hive: Which is better?

This is rather a tough call which is actually a good thing because what it means is that both products and systems are really good. If you're deciding between Nest and Hive, well, you've already won.

For those who want the most features and the smart learning, Nest is top dog. It doesn't have the more unforgivable feature gaps like underfloor heating and its multi-zoning and ecosystem are fully-fledged at the time of writing. Once, Hive fills in the blanks, though, it's going to be a tougher call.

However, Hive is simple, it works and you can have someone come round and fit it just like any other home service. Plus the new thermostat looks amazing. It's the most hassle-free entry to the smart home you can ask for.


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