Testmodo Challenge #3: Four Readers Sync Their Smartphones To Hive's Appy Heating

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Having been glued to their home thermostats for the first couple of weeks, Giz is setting its readers-turned-reviewers free this week to try Hive Active Heating in its natural habitat. App-controlled heating is Hive's standout feature, after all, making you the Master of Equitable Temperatures wherever you choose to lay your hat. So how would our now-seasoned Testmoders Toby, Allan, Roger and Olly handle that kind of world-warming power? With investigative zeal, it would seem…

The mobile app is the killer feature of the whole Hive system. Available for iOS and Android, it's a simple, well-designed application that has you log in with the username and password provided when the system was installed and then lets you control your heating seamlessly from wherever you are, on multiple devices.

There are three basic modes – Schedule, Manual and Off – and each can be moved from one to the other with a quick tap. Elsewhere, the app pulls in the outside temperature and weather conditions from the web, based on the postcode provided in your account. While there's no functionality to this, sitting outside your data pool, it's handy to see it all on one screen.

The app's most novel feature, though, is geolocation (below), which notifies you if you leave your home and the heating's still on or if you're returning and your home is below a set temperature. While this is kind of useful, it would be better if Hive could actually take action and activate your heating when you're five miles from home. I found that a notification when you are in the outside lane of the M25 is not so great.

And while using the Hive app can sometimes feel like a one-stop shop, there are actually system features available through the web interface that are absent. Temperature history, the useful graph that shows a record of your home’s heat levels over the past day, week, month, year and so on, is missing, for one, though the "Product ideas" section (above) says it's coming.

In fact, the forums is one of the most interesting features on the app. Seeing the engagement of the community with the Hive staff very much makes you see what the team are up to, and what is on the way. And to be honest, the ability to set the temperature of your home remotely is a novelty that has yet to wear off anyway!

Toby is head of computer sciences at a technical college in Kent. Follow him on Twitter here.

The Hive app is the strongest feature of this system by a long way. I've got it installed on my Android phone (which is my primary device) and a number of tablets that I've been testing, too. However, it has to overcome, shall we say, "inconsistent" presentation.

The app's interface doesn't care much for what orientation you want to hold your device in, sticking to portrait for phones, iPod Touch and Android tablets, but shifting to landscape on iPad. The menu is also ever-present on Apple's tablet but slides out from the left on everything else. You won't notice if you're only syncing one device, but if you're using multiple, it can be a tad confusing.

How the menu items behave when you click on them is also entirely arbitrary, too, some showing up as new pages, while others pop up as windows. On the iPad, these pop-ups don't even all appear in the same place or in the same style, either, so it feels a bit messy.

On my Android tablet, elements such as heating and programming controls don't expand to fill the screen, either, so there's a lot of white space. I'll be kind and say it has an "airy" feel. Oh, and get used to seeing the word "refreshing" a lot if you've not loaded the app up for a while.

Still, outside this, the Hive app is actually very neat indeed. The programming feature has a few more steps to it than the website, which is still my preferred programming option, but for minor tweaks it's still much nicer than the wall thermostat. It obviously works outside your home, too, so if you're coming home early you can get the heating on in advance, or switch it off altogether if you're later than planned.

Switching between Schedule, Manual and Off is as simple as pushing a button, while changing the current temperature is only a case of dragging the control to the desired temperature and then waiting for the update to be transmitted to your thermostat.

There's also a small arrow to the right which, when pressed, reveals three customisable presets for quick and easy heating, and the "advance to next event" function, which will let you jump to the next scheduled event early if you're nippy and want to heat your house the hell up.

The spotlight feature of the app is geolocation – in theory, turning your heating on and off as and when you leave your house – but I have to say I'm a little underwhelmed. I've played with this quite a bit and it doesn't actually switch off the system, it just gives you a little nagging notification instead.

Of course, you wouldn't want it to switch the heating off, anyway, because Hive doesn't allow multiple users on the system, so it won't know whether everyone has left the house, or whether there's still someone inside. It also wouldn't allow for babysitters, or guests, or house-sitters either. The lack of multiple user accounts, let alone different access levels so that a guest couldn't accidentally reprogram your schedule by accident, really means that this function is limited for now.

An interesting addition – and so far, I've only found it on the app, which is strange, as it's really good and should be everywhere – is the "product ideas" forum. This is where you get to request new features and, rather intriguingly, see what other people are requesting.

There are already requests in there for most of the things I've found that Hive lacks – a boost function, more scheduled events, low battery alerts, multiple users, etc – and you can let them know that you're interested, too. Strangely, any comments I make are ascribed to "anonymous", despite being logged in, but at least it seems that they're listening and working on new features, which is a positive.

In summary, the app's basic functions are great and work exactly as you'd like them to. Better still, the freedom of its portability is genuinely useful. It could certainly do with a little more polish, though, and would definitely benefit from more consistency between devices.

Allan is head of development at a travel company. Follow him on Twitter here.

The Hive app is truly what makes the system something I would recommend to friends and family. As I sit here, at my office desk (above), I can log into the app, see what the temperature it is at home and change it if needed – although that's currently not a good plan as my wife's there and I don’t think she would appreciate it!

When I do access the app from outside of the home, the response in the house is very swift, with no real time delay. It takes, say, 10 seconds or so to log in away from home, in comparison to the instant reaction when you're on your own Wi-Fi. Like many apps, you use your finger to swipe the temperature, leading to a small flame icon and reassuring vibration to confirm your changes.

The app is simple to use and understated in looks, jumping to what you need it to do without any fuss or hassle. I know that some feel that it's missing a "boost" feature, but with the app being so simple, it only takes seconds to up the temperature anyway – and then you can turn it down just as quick when you're warm enough. It really isn't a concern. It is a heating control system and so far it has allowed me to control my heating. Job done.

The scheduling element of the app is straightforward and has some really useful features, like the ability to copy your chosen schedule from Monday and place it over the rest of the working week. I can then edit the weekend separately, with the option to have four different "on/off" moments.

The geolocation feature is clever and works well, but isn't something that I would use very often. With a full household, our schedule is pretty set, and as I say, changing the temperature is not difficult anyway.

Hive has, more usefully, incorporated a "text instruction" function to activate your heating via your phone when your internet connection is down. As my phone still seems to have the occasional issue with its 3G connection, this definitely deserves its place.

There's also a "pin lock" option, which I am sure is handy if you have a child at an age where they are intrigued by new apps. We're not quite there yet, but I'm sure my one-year-old daughter already has her eyes on logging in and plunging us into an ice age!

Roger is a primary school head teacher from Potter's Bar. Follow him on Twitter here.

This week we're on to the app, which acts as the true hub for Hive – this is where you’re most likely to make your ad-hoc changes and, possibly, set your entire schedule. Scheduling is super easy: pick your day, set some times, and then copy it to other week days should you so wish. The interface is clean, too, with its drawer navigation offering access to all areas of the app.

Control was always responsive and I was glad to see that any changes I made were saved across devices. I was concerned initially that if I made a setting tweak on my phone, my other half might accidentally overwrite it at home, but it seems to update on all devices quickly.

I’ve used the app on both Android and iOS and found the experience to be near identical between the two. My girlfriend, however, is one of these Windows Phone users you’ve heard so much about and the Hive app there is, well, non-existent.

So sadly there’s no option for her to control the heating on the go, just make adjustments from the Android tablet which is always on the arm on our sofa. Hive says there's a WinPho app in the works, but no news on a release date.

While Hive is laden with features, none of the ones outside of direct control particularly excite me. Geolocation sounds great, but it's basically just a simple push alert to inform you that you've left the heating on when you leave, or that your home is an ice box when you return. As someone who works nearby, my alert kicked in shortly before I arrived at the office. Its usefulness is, for me, questionable.

There's also a strange bug I've noticed on the home screen: sometimes the "heating schedule" option will show the wrong time for the current or upcoming period. I’ve had values such as 06.15-06.15 in there, which doesn’t match any of the schedule which I’ve set up. It’s not a big drama, but the first few times it did make me check that the heating was actually doing what I wanted it to do.

Fortunately you can log it as an issue direct from your phone.

Olly is a digital media type from Guildford. Follow him on Twitter here.

Check back for the final Hive Testmodo verdict on Friday 19th December, and follow our Testmodo winners' tweets using the hashtag #TestmodoHive


Previously on the Hive Testmodo Challenge…

Testmodo Challenge #1: Four Readers Get Started With Hive Active Heating
Giz readers give the lowdown on the phone-connected thermostat's installation and setup. Read More >>

Testmodo Challenge #2: Four Readers Take Hive Active Heating's Scheduling For A Spin
Hive's smart thermostat and web app are the hot topics for our Giz readers turned reviewers. Read More >>