Nest Protect: A Smoke Detector With Added Smarts, Less Shrieking

Photos: Nest Labs.

Well, it looks like the rumors were true.

Following a late September scoop, Tony Fadell’s reinvention-minded startup Nest Labs has officially unveiled Nest Protect, a WiFi-enabled smoke/carbon monoxide detector that, as predicated, adds a heaping dose of style and smarts to the home fire safety market.

There’s really no other way to put it: As far as smoke detectors go, this thing is positively smokin’.

Firm in the belief that “safety shouldn’t be annoying,” Nest Protect is a sensor-heavy (photoelectric smoke sensor, CO sensor, heat sensor, light sensor, ultrasonic sensors and three motion sensors all in one compact little package) piece of gadgetry with a $129 price tag that you’ll never be tempted to disconnect — nearly two thirds of residential fire fatalities are the result of disconnected or dead batteries — thanks to several clever key design features and decidedly non-shrill functionality.

Explains Fadell in a press release:

With our first product, the Nest Learning Thermostat, we set out to help people reduce home energy use. Now, we're turning our attention to something that's also important: keeping families safe in their homes. We've all experienced the smoke alarm going off while we're cooking or searched for the source of that incessant low-battery chirp in the middle of the night. Every time a smoke alarm cries wolf, we trust it a little less, and then — in a moment of frustration — we rip the batteries out to stop the beeping. And that leaves us and our families at risk.

The vigilant — and verbal — heart of the Nest Protect is called Heads Up. Essentially, this pre-emergency alarm involves a gentle, non-panicked lady-voice (read: not Gilbert Gottfried) announcing the presence of elevated smoke levels in the home. The device itself also pulses yellow in this stage. The Heads Up alert, which is also sent to your smartphone or tablet, specifies which room or area of the home smoke levels are rising in: “Heads Up: There’s smoke in the den.”

Heads Up is obviously a godsend for those prone to burning popcorn, charring grilled cheese, and otherwise generating ungodly, smoke-based messes in the kitchen. Instead of throwing open windows and frantically waving a tea towel in the air until your arm falls off in an effort to make your average smoke alarm stop wailing like a banshee in non-emergency “nuisance” situations, you can simply wave your hand within a 2 to 8-foot range of the Nest Protect — the Nest Wave — under the device or manually push the Nest button. And just like that, the device will fall silent.

Interesting enough, studies have shown that children tend to sleep through beeping/screeching smoke alarms and are more likely to snap wide-awake when a female voice alerts them to possible danger. “Kids typically don’t wake up to horns. They wake up to a mother’s voice,” explains Fadell to Harry McCracken over at TIME.

For now, you can’t choose between Julie Andrews or Delilah but you can choose between English or Spanish.

If smoke levels continue to rise — i.e. something much more severe than burnt toast is afoot — Nest Protect will switch form Heads Up to Emergency Alarm mode, At this stage, the device begins to pulse red and emits a “loud sound.” The Nest Protect will also verbalize where the rising smoke levels are located: “Emergency: There’s smoke in the bedroom.” And, like Heads Up, alerts are sent to your wireless devices in this mode. During events when smoke levels are rising rapidly, Nest Protect will skip Heads Up and go straight into Emergency Alarm mode.

Nest Protect functions in the same way in the event of carbon monoxide leaks. If smoke and carbon monoxide levels are high at the same time, the device will acknowledge this. And for those who own a Nest Learning Thermostat, connecting the two devices enables the Nest Protect to switch off a home’s gas furnace when high carbon monoxides levels are detected (heating is often the culprit behind CO leaks).

In terms of battery levels, Nest Protect —it also doubles as a handy-dandy LED night light when its motion sensors detect you lumbering around in the dark — pulses a “I’m good to go” green immediately after you turn off the lights for the night. This auto-self-test called Nightly Promise lets you sleep through the night without dreading any of those hellish low-battery chirps at 3 AM. And if the batteries are indeed running on empty, Nest Protect will send a notification to your tablet or smartphone and the ring around the device will glow yellow instead of green. And when the ring does glow yellow, you can also do a quick Nest Wave under the device and it will tell you what's up.

Like the Nest Learning Thermostat, the whole shebang can be controlled — you can receive alerts, turn on/off the Pathlight function, change language preferences, etc. — via an app for Android, iOS, and the Web. And in the event of honest to goodness emergency situations where you need to get out of the house and in a hurry, the app pulls up a What to Do Feature that reminds you of your premeditated emergency plan while providing emergency contact information and more.

Available in both white or black and free of PVC or mercury, Nest Protect is available in two models: battery-operated (6 AA lithium batteries) or wired (120V with three AA lithium backup batteries). It will hit stores —, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Apple — next month or you can pre-order directly through Nest.

Any interest? While a $129 smoke/CO alarm is a touch on the spendy side— still, it's cheaper and easier to install than the much-beloved Nest Learning Thermostat — I'm thinking the latest from Nest may prove not just to be a headache-reducer but a real life-saver.