Hive Active Heating 2 review: Smart, but not smart enough

Price when reviewed

Since the arrival of Nest, the technology industry has been abuzz with talk of smart thermostats. What a brilliant idea! All of a sudden, you could control your heating from anywhere, set up complex schedules without having to squint at a miniscule greyscale display and prod small rubber buttons repeatedly. Your thermostat could even learn from your movements, saving you money in the process.

Hive Active Heating 2 review: Smart, but not smart enough

Since Nest, other manufacturers have attempted to come up with a more mainstream rival, but none has captured the imagination in quite the same way. British Gas is hoping its redesigned Hive 2 thermostat will change all that.

Hive 2 review: Design

Design, undoubtedly, was largely responsible for Nest’s success. The circular smart thermostat is a beautiful thing, hewn from metal and glass – something you wouldn’t mind having on show in your minimalist, modern living room. The Hive 2 is very different, but attractive nonetheless.

Its mirrored front faceplate looks the part much more than the old plain-white plastic affair of the first generation, and you can even buy coloured plastic frames to replace the standard white one, to match the colour scheme of your room.

It looks great even before you press anything, but when you press either the central knob, or the buttons below it, everything lights up in attractive candy colours, shining through the chrome finish in a satisfyingly high-tech manner. It costs just under £170 on Amazon UK at the moment, (on Amazon US it’s currently only sold through a reseller for $600).

The beauty of the Hive 2 is not just skin deep, however. It presents an interface that’s well-designed enough that you should be able to use it without having to refer to the manual. The only thing that isn’t obvious from the word go, is what the two buttons on the top of the thermostat do. It turns out they’re used to deliver a quick boost for your hot water or central heating systems.

Hive 2 review: What does it do?

However, the Hive 2, like most other smart thermostats, isn’t primarily designed to be operated by walking up to it and twiddling its knobs and prodding its buttons. It’s meant to be operated mainly from the smartphone companion app, which works with both iOS and Android devices. 

This has been redesigned for the Hive 2 and it works very well. Using the app you can apply a quick boost to your heating, set up the schedule – up to six heating “events” can be defined per day – and you can set up and activate “Holiday” mode from here as well. Holiday mode essentially puts your heating and hot water in frost protection mode – off, unless the temperature in your system falls below a preset level – for the period that you’re away.

Where smart heating systems come into their own, however, and where Nest generally wins over the competition, is proactivity. The Nest thermostat uses a motion sensor to learn when you’re in the house and when you’re not and tweaks your heating schedule accordingly, so you aren’t heating your house when you’re not there.

The Hive 2 can also tell when you’re in and out. It uses the GPS data from your phone rather than a motion sensor. However, it doesn’t learn from that information. Instead, the Hive 2 will alert you when it senses you’ve ventured a certain distance from home and you’ve left the heating on, or when you’re on your way home and the heating has yet to be switched on.

British Gas is also bringing a whole range of other connected devices to market in early 2016 that users will be able to manage directly from within the Hive smartphone app. Owners will be able to purchase smart plugs for controlling appliances, motion sensors and window/door sensors, with a camera and wireless lights promised further down the line.

Using the app, it will be possible to set up a range of different IFTTT-style triggers and actions so that, for example, when motion is detected in a particular room, you can turn a light on or any other appliance for that matter, or automatically set the heating to switch off when you leave the house.

All this is good stuff, but it’s somewhat dampened by the revelation that the system isn’t currently compatible with other smart home standards. There’s no way to add third-party Z-Wave or ZigBee hardware to the system, or use it in conjunction with Apple HomeKit devices.

Hive 2 review: Verdict

There’s nothing wrong with this second generation connected thermostat from British Gas. The Hive 2 now rivals the Nest thermostat for looks and it’s very easy to use. It’s smarter than before, works well and, as part of a wider Hive smart home system, it’s set to steadily improve over the coming months.

But I want more. I’m not satisfied with simple alerts advising me to switch the heating on and off when I leave the house and return, I want automatic scheduling just like Nest’s. More than this, I’d like it hook into my calendar so it knows when I’m away and when I’m coming back. I shouldn’t have to tell it. I want to be able to control it from my smartwatch, not just an isolated app, and I want to be able to fold it into other smart home systems, or at the very least add third-party devices.

The fact that you can do none of these things with the Hive 2 isn’t particularly surprising – after all, there are lots of “smart” devices afflicted with similar limitations – but it’s disappointing. And it’s what, ultimately, gets in the way of what might have been a wholehearted recommendation.

See also: Smart home technology – how to build the perfect smart home.

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