Testmodo Challenge #2: Four Readers Take Hive Active Heating's Scheduling For a Spin

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It's week two of our winter-warming Testmodo, with our team of four Giz readers turned reviewers having flown through installation with flying colours and now getting hands-on and suitably active with their Hive Acting Heating systems.

This week we asked Allan, Roger, Olly and Toby to try to steer clear of the smartphone app and explore the broad feature set of their new smart thermostat, from wall-controller scheduling to web graph fetishising…

My system has a combi boiler, so there's a lonely little button on the bottom right of the wall controller that never gets used in my house. Poor little hot-water button. So I decided to first let it fulfil it's button-y destiny, put down my smartphone and used the wall controller to program the system.

While it's a definite improvement on the thermostat I had before – simpler, prettier and better – it feels like it hasn't taken the idea of a smart thermostat quite far enough, with Hive's focus clearly on the smartphone app.

It's simple enough to use, though, the thermostat having five-day, two-day or seven-day modes. So if you want one schedule for weekdays and another at the weekend, you only need to program one of each to set up the entire week. Neat.

Beyond that, there's a little bit of button-mangling to set up each day. There are four programmable 'events', or points where your heating program changes, available each day. Your first 'event' might be switching on the heating at 20°C at 6am, and the second turning the temperature back down to 16°C at 9am, and so on. You configure these events using +/-/left/right buttons, using a single line of text at the bottom of the relatively huge screen (above), the bulk of which is dedicated to a big temperature display.

It's far more flexible than my old thermostat, though, and a doddle to program. It would have been nice to have a touchscreen display that could have mimicked the app or web interfaces, which are far easier to use, but battery life and price would likely have been affected.

The web interface has a great temperature graph (above), showing off how well your house retains heat, that would have look interesting on the wall, too. Today, mine ranged between 18.1°C (at 3am) and 19.1°C (at 9am), if you were wondering. Although, unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any particular pattern to the times selected for display.

Aside from the graph, the site lets you set up the schedule using a very intuitive set of sliders, which both my wife and I found the easiest. You can also advance to the next scheduled event, bump up the temperature and switch between off, manual and scheduled modes.

Outside this, there's a fairly limited feature set. You can set email alerts for selected high and low temperatures, and low battery, plus add mobile numbers for SMS-based control of the system (although you'd be better off downloading the app). Most surprisingly, you're unable to change your personal details through the website – that requires a phone call.

The most noticeable feature omission away from the smartphone app, though, is a 'boost' function. My old thermostat had a button that fired up the heating for an hour, and then switched it off. Hive doesn't do that, instead letting you either use the thermostat to enact temporary temperature increases or decreases until the next scheduled event, or switch to manual mode. The forums suggest that this feature is coming, so watch this space.

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

Two weeks in and I have to say I am impressed with the functionality of the Hive system.  It really is simple but provides you with a huge amount of flexibility. We'll be coming on to the app more next week, so I've tried to focus on the online site and digital controller. But the truth is, the app has been the main 'go to' part of the system purely down to how user-friendly it is.

I know that, as a human race, we have managed for years with click switches for heating timers, but the reality is that these new technologies exist, so it would just seem rude to not take advantage of them!

We have Hive on the home computer, my phone and my wife’s phone. There was a little friendly competition initially as to what the temperature should be, which meant that both of us were running to the thermostat or fighting through our respective apps, but it didn't last long and we're now using it fairly sensibly.

I love the fact that we can both have control of the temperature from various devices, meaning that if my wife’s day changes and she will be home earlier than expected, she can adapt the temperature immediately.

We are a fairly standard family, with our days being a mixture of being out for work, in for meals and having friends and family round, with the occasional weekend away. Hive's scheduling features – see our sensible presets above – let us plan for a ‘normal’ day yet also increase or lower the temperature when necessary without upsetting the settings.

But while the digital controller is fine for quick checks and the web app is great for functionality, having Hive on your phone is the most useful element of the whole system.  I am one of those people who has their phone with them in pretty much all places I find myself, which means that I am able to adapt my heating whenever. I'll explain more next week.

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

This week it’s all about testing the thermostat and web interface. While I've mentioned that the wall-hanging device isn't much to write home about in terms of looks, a basic white box with a blue-ish LCD screen, I appreciate the simple options it offers. After all, the idea is that you only need to use it in times where your Internet connection is less than perfect, as otherwise you'd be using your phone or computer, so this makes sense.

There are four buttons: plus, minus, right and left – that last one is for hot water, so as a combi bolier owner is a bit redundant for me. But a click of any one of those buttons – I like to use lefty to give him a sense of purpose – will light the display and show you the current status of the boiler (on or not) and the temperature which it’s aspiring to.

It’s possible to click buttons to adjust the temperature manually as well as turning the boiler off or into auto/manual mode. That’s pretty much it for the thermostat and, to be perfectly honest, I’ve only touched it in order to write this review.

So to the web! The interface here is infinitely more important as it’s the best place to set up your schedule and see some information about how your house is being heated. The interface, as shown above, is clean and tidy with no superfluous options on screen at any given time. I can’t see anyone getting lost in here.

Front and centre are the options to change your schedule – the sliders can be a little fiddly but it’s otherwise simple to manipulate. Clicking a line will let you set the desired temperature for that block. There are also some rather nice graphs, too, that show you just how slowly your house heats up and the actual temperature it gets to before venting all that lovely warmth into the atmosphere…

In the settings menu you can set up options such as text control – when you absolutely must warm your house but have no data or Wi-FI connection – and email alerts for if the house goes above or below user-defined thresholds or the thermostat battery gets low. Nifty.

It's the user profile options, though, where I feel there are some limitations. The account is registered to me, with my email and a password of my choosing. My partner can, of course, use the thermostat but I can’t set her up with her own login to the portal, which seems odd. If she wants to login on any device she needs my details. Hopefully a better solution can be added in a future update.

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

Above is my schedule that I've set for my house shown through Hive's web interface. The scheduling features are intuitive and simple to use, on the physical thermostat and the online hub, allowing you to set your target temperature with just a few clicks. Copying your schedule is as simple as a few taps, too, which is very handy for setting the precise temperature you want throughout the week.

My house has masses of insulation, so my heating doesn't have to work that hard, to be fair. The schedule has been tweaked over the past two weeks so that it is just as I like it, but the killer feature is that it is so easy to alter when at, or away from, home.

There are suggestions from the online Hive community that it will soon be able to learn how long your home takes to heat so the heating will turn on automatically to reaches its target temperature by a certain time. For now, though, the scheduling feature is traditional yet elegant in its execution.

The forums also confirm that the Hive team is working on adding a more flexible, interval-based system, so you could soon have multiple temperatures throughout the day and not just the four slots that exist at the moment.

While Hive's whole sell is being able to control your heating from your phone – something that you can certainly do – this side of things actually goes further than the ad tagline suggests, as you can set your home to be a specific temperature remotely, from laptop or phone, and even keep an eye on the heat as it rises.

Both my wife and I currently have the app on our phones and it works as we expected. Each change to temperature and schedule, be it from the wall controller or the apps, is reflected on the other devices and the heating system has a 30-second buffer between instruction updates so that it does not get confused and change your boiler settings too quickly and bust it. It's a really slick system.

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

Check back for the next Testmodo challenge on Friday 12th December, and follow our Testmodo winners' tweets using the hashtag #TestmodoHive

Top Image Credit: Olly Percival

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 >>