Jon Bentley tests: Home automation



Jon Bentley's testers put some of the best smart home gadgets to the test, find out what they thought.

"Do as I say not as I do." The phrase, and its implications, are always at the back of my mind when testing gadgets. You should never recommend people buy things that wouldn't make it onto your own shopping list, however brilliant they seem at first glance. It might be a camera that takes fantastic photos, but that's so expensive and heavy only the most dedicated professional snappers would ever bother to use it, or a perfect designer laptop that's a gorgeous piece of kit but costs twice as much as a more capable competitor.

When the producers suggested I do an item on home automation, and that the starting point should be my disbelief that so few in the UK have embraced it, a warning that I was about to "do as I say not as I do" popped into my mind immediately. It's hard to express surprise that only 2% of the British population has an internet controlled thermostat when you're one of the 98% who hasn't.

I manage to control our home heating and keep the bills relatively low using conventional thermostats and thermostatic valves on the radiators. Whenever I've investigated the idea of installing a more advanced system I've concluded that I would need to fit an intelligent "learning" thermostat in every room to achieve better results; a costly investment that would struggle to pay for itself, all the more so since control over the hot water system is often absent from so-called intelligent products.

I was also worried that I hadn't personally adopted the other bits of technology I was avidly having installed in tech testers Mike and Daniella's home. Internet security cameras have tempted me but I've generally found them hard to set up in practice. A remotely controlled multicoloured lighting system might be fun but I've resisted them myself because I'm convinced I would never use it once the novelty had worn off. And the idea of a permanent sleep monitor under my mattress has always sounded like an invasion of my sleeping space.

But, after some initial and unjustified concern that installation would involve ripped up floorboards, cracked plaster and major surgery to the fabric of their house, Mike and Daniella became really enthusiastic about their new gadgets. Their week's testing was followed by a ringing endorsement. They found that, even using just the one clever Nest thermostat, they were using less energy; the number of hours that the heating was on had fallen and they were saving money. And the Nest internet cameras were very easy to set up and gave clear live footage of Milan, Venice and their other five dogs. The fancy lighting was the cause of much satisfaction to people and dogs alike while the sleep monitor proved more than a gimmick. Only the face recognition security camera was found wanting as it proved difficult to use. 

With this gushing enthusiasm from Mike and Daniella, maybe I should think again about home automation tech. I could be missing out!