Testmodo Challenge #1: Four Readers Get Started With Hive Active Heating

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Testmodo sees Giz readers turn reviewers and give their hands-on-informed opinions of the latest and greatest kit we can muster, and our recent call to arms for four Giz readers to test Hive Active Heating just as we enter the chilly season saw an unsurprisingly large amount of interest.

But after careful deliberation we have our four Testmoders to get up close with British Gas's phone-connected thermostat: Toby, Olly, Allan and Roger. And to get warmed up, in the first of four domestic reports, we ask them to detail the setup process, from installation to operation…

I have looked at automating my heating system before, but never taken the plunge, so I was very excited to have a heating system that I could control and automate with my phone. The installation process was very smooth, with the engineer arriving at the designated time. My parents let him in as I'm a teacher, and with 4-6pm the latest time slot available I wasn't able to be there until the end of that time frame. But it meant that when I arrived home, my old thermostat had already been removed and the Hive system was up and running.

My house is less than a year old, so it's very modern throughout, and the new swanky thermostat on my hall wall is a perfect fit. Being a computer scientist myself, I relish the opportunity to talk about technology and it's a nice piece to start conversations.

The app, too, looks modern and refined, while the website has a consistent look and feel, which makes it very easy to understand. The engineer took me through the very simple steps of using the app on both my iPad and iPhone and also explained what all the lights meant on the receiver unit and hub.

The way all the units, apps and connected services work together is near seamless as it all uses the same login, and jumping from one platform to another works as you would expect. While a quick glance shows current features such as geolocation, which notifies you if your heating is set at a preset temperature when you leave it, the most interesting and exciting part of this system is the future updates.

I love technology and seeing platforms develop over time and improve with age, so it's reassuring to see that there is an active community built right into the app that allows users to vote up product ideas to be added later through software updates. The folks at British Gas seem committed to implementing these on an ongoing basis.

As a first entry into home automation, Hive has certainly whet my appetite for more. There's obviously more testing to be done, but to see a system so simple, yet so functional, it makes you wonder how soon it will be before we won't remember what life was like without them.

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

My girlfriend and I moved into our current place just over a year ago and have been in the process of modernising it ever since. I’d been keen to include as much whizzy tech as possible, but a combination of time, budget and a bit of a Luddite for an other half put paid to pretty much all of my grand plans. I was, therefore, pleased that last Friday I had Mark from British Gas come over to install a Hive system in my house, bumping up my tech quota.

After a week's lead time, installation was quick and painless. Mark poked at my boiler with a stick for about 30 minutes and in total was in and out of my house in just under an hour. Prior to the boiler poking, a transmitter was plugged in to my router to flash pretty colours, perform some updates and initialise. This all happens without any intervention and takes less time than the boiler configuration, too, so was ready when Mark was done.

Hive recommends that the thermostat is fixed to the wall 1.5 metres off the ground in order to be as efficient as possible, but as I didn't want to drill into my downstairs wall, I asked that mine be left freestanding. Once everything is on, it was a simple case to get my heating system hooked up with the internet services. Signing in on my phone, tablet and laptop went without a hitch.

In terms of looks, I'm a little underwhelmed, with the Hive thermostat a slightly slicker take on my previous year-old one – it's a smart device insofar that it’s connected to the web rather than styling up your wall. But while for me it lacks a bit of futuristic swagger, Hive is clearly aimed as a mass-market device and has been designed to look as familiar and easy to use as possible.

As someone who likes to hide their wires and techy connections as much as possible, the transmitter plugged in to my living-room router isn't ideal. The router obviously needs to have as few obstructions as possible, and the transmitter needs to be powered, too, so my cover-up options have been hampered somewhat. It's mostly hidden under a chair.

With our boiler in the roof, I wasn’t too worried about the small receiver fixed to the wall next to it, though – it’s a simple square white box with a couple of status lights, nothing too jazzy, and easily accommodated.

Small gripes aside, Hive has been a breeze to set up and handled professionally by the installation engineer. What it lacks in looks I'm hoping it makes up for in functionality.

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

The installation didn't really take long at all – I only got to make the engineer a single cup of tea. It would have been even quicker if my boiler's existing switch wasn't integrated and was one the engineer was familiar with. But even with this slight delay, he was done within an hour – and that's with me talking at him for most of the installation.

Interestingly, the engineer had Hive himself. He said he really liked it, that it was more useful for him than he thought it would be, and that he and his wife basically sidestepped scheduling for manual mode due to their shift patterns.

The components are, in no particular order, the receiver (which goes next to the boiler and turns it on and off), the thermostat (which can be used to program the settings as well as acting as the trigger), and the hub (above), which is a tiny square box that requires a hard-wired connection to your router – and a power socket all of its own.

The latter is comparable in size to the power adaptor that it uses, so the ethernet requirement seems a bit overkill, although I do generally prefer having the option of a hard connection. It's just a shame that it's not Wi-Fi, too, as then it could be free to go anywhere in the house.

The scheduling information is stored online and the hub pulls it down and transfers it across to the thermostat, so that in the event of losing your internet connection you won't lose your heating. It also means that – in theory, at least – you could forgo the multi-device connections entirely and do the programming entirely from the thermostat.

However, once you've had a go on the website or app you're likely to think twice about that, as it's just the usual old-fashioned thermostat interface that we're all familiar with. The website in particular is far quicker, with a very nice, simple, easy to understand interface. I spent all of five minutes tweaking it to my satisfaction.

The phone app wasn't much more complicated, but required a few more steps to tweak the settings as you can't see everything on screen all at once. Setting up the app on my wife's phone did point out one issue – even though the account is using your email address as the username, there's actually no way to add additional email addresses to the account.

This seemed like a good excuse to try out Hive technical support, which turned out to be provided by the Geek Squad and very efficient. They checked the account settings, agreed that I was right and then immediately bumped it up to their manager. It turns out that no, you can't have more than one email address associated with an account. That's saved you a call.

This wasn't a major problem for us, but for the security conscious that probably means setting up a new shared email address with a new password. The single account would also imply that no app has priority over another, so disagreements about temperatures or managing multiple properties could prove entertaining.

But as far as installations go, this was very quick and the setup process was a doddle.

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

Our Hive installation was very straightforward, with the whole process only taking around 45 minutes, although I'd argue a six-hour installation window is too large for modern life. Ours was set between 12pm and 6pm on a Monday, so while we did receive a phone call 15 minutes before our engineer arrived, I'd recommend you stay in, or at least within a four-mile radius of your home!

But when the engineer arrived he was very helpful, installing a unit on the boiler and connecting a receiver to our broadband router. He had a look around to check that we had a spare Ethernet socket, a power source close by and a device that would run the Hive app, before showing us how the thermostat operates.

He then took us through how the app works – which, to be honest, is simple enough to not need explaining. It has some great features, such as Copy, which lets you preset your temperature timings for each day of the week easily by setting one day and replicating it.

Overall the initial experience of Hive being fitted in our house has certainly been a positive one. The unit works, seems to make sense and, while we haven't attached it to the wall, looks considerably smarter than our previous heating controller.

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

Check back for the next Testmodo challenge on Friday 5th December, and follow our Testmodo winners' tweets using the hashtag #TestmodoHive