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Using the Nest Thermostat in Europe (or not)

When I first learned about the Nest Smart Thermostat I was very excited about it. I of course enterend my email address on the website to receive a notification as soon as it became available.

In the meantime I did check compatibility with my heater with the Nest compatibility check tool, asked support of it could display degrees Celsius (confirmed), and send them a Dutch electric chart of my heater (with my translation) to ask them a more technical question about modulating.

When I finally received the long awaited notification I immediately went to the Nest website to order 2 units, only to find out that I couldn’t select an address outside the US.

Nest Thermostat

Now a product being sold in the US only is something we Europeans experience quite often. Usually these sales limitations are based on marketing decisions, licensing issues or (as one would expect in this case) the fact that a small company simply can’t supply the whole world at once and wants to focus on their home market first. Since I did al my checking before there was no reason to assume the Nest wouldn’t work outside the US (it was compatible with my heater, displays degrees C), so I decided to send it to a friend of mine in the US, who send it to me.

After receiving the product, and I was just playing around with it before installation, I found out the time could only be set by US zipcode. A very unpleasant, and really unexpected surprise. After that I found that more and more functions didn’t work well outside the US. As fas as I can see these are not limitations because it would be difficult to make them work outside the US, but they are deliberate design choices.

Problems with the Nest Thermostat in Europe

  • You can only set time by entering a US zipcode. No time support for timezones outside the US. How difficult can it be to make a basic functionality like a clock work all around the globe? There is no option to set the time or timezone manually.
  • Weather is only available for US cities. This is actually related to the point above. The location for weather can only be set with the zipcode. It is not possible to disable weather at all. How difficult would it be to make weather work globally, or to make it possible to disable it? Most weather databases work globally anyway.
  • No 24h clock support. Why not? That’s a simple switch? Setting the temperature to Celsius is possible though, while Fahrenheit is the only system used in the US.
  • iPhone/iPad app is only available from the US appstore.This is just checking a checkbox in Itunes Producer.
  • Auto away only works when Nest thinks it’s daytime. I managed to kinda work around the timezone issue by setting it to Honolulu, which is exactly a 12 hour difference with the Netherlands. So during the night in my place the Nest thinks it’s day and vice versa. I saw that auto away only works during daytime, so in my case nighttime. This caused my heater to stop working until I activated it by entering the room again. So no preheated room for me in the morning. I had to disable auto away. This also seems a problem for people who work at night in the US.
  • No OpenTherm support. OpenTherm is a widely used system for modulating heaters. Ok, it’s a non-US system, so I can accept that, since it’s indeed only sold in the US, but still I’m missing this feature.
  • Build quality is disappointing. One of the unique selling points used to promote the product is that it is designed by a former Apple designer. While this might be true it’s not a very solid product. The ring that you use to control it with doesn’t run freely. It makes a scraping sound when you turn it sometimes. It is very sensitive too, so if you want to set a temperature in the schedule and press the ring to confirm it, most times by pressing you also change your setting slightly. Build quality is ok for a product like this, but expectations are higher when the name “Apple” is mentioned.

Nest Thermostat iPhone appMost of the above problems I encountered seem to be deliberate design choices. In the light of that thought I have the following issues with Nest as a company:

The Nest thermostat is not for sale outside of the US, but nowhere I have seen a warning that it wouldn’t work properly outside the US. Not even when I emailed support with my .nl mail address with a question about displaying degrees Celsius, as is common outside the US. I also send them a Dutch wiring diagram of my heater. I would expect at least the suspicion that I am outside the US with these questions and then, of course, a polite warning.

The Nest has been featured on so many tech blogs around the world, so a demand from non-US could be expected. If you use google you’ll find many have found their way out of the country. [edit: and if you see the number of visitors for this blog article I can tell you there are a lot of non US citizens who want to buy a Nest] Nevertheless Nest seems unwilling to make a couple of minor changes to the device that would make it work well around the world.

Since support found out I live outside the US they stopped answering my mail. Even though I was polite all the time, and made them a suggestion on how to make minor changes to the software so it would work fine. No answer. When the big overhaul of the firmware V2 came out, none of the minor changes were implemented.

Support doesn’t read your mail. Yes, your mail will be answered, but most times I needed at least one more mail to get the actual answer to my question. This is based on pre-sales experience by the way. I would guess US citizens would experience the same here.

Asking simply what code (Rh, W1 etc) matches what function seems impossible to answer. Instructions for installation require you to have a thermostat connected that uses the same codes. If you would want to install it differently or on a new installation you are pretty much on your own, since most heaters (yes, even US heaters) don’t use these codes. And yes, my old thermostat did have those codes, so I could connect it as my old thermostat, but I wanted to connect it modulating, and thus needed to use different connections.


Don’t buy the Nest thermostat if you don’t live in the US.

Advice to Nest: put this on your website. There is nothing wrong with making a product that only works in the US, but you know the demand worldwide is high due to all international attention your product gets, and therefor you know that some of your products will make it over the border. Yet you choose to ignore that, make money on those sales, and ignore them afterwards.

This is a reblog of an article of my previous website. It seemed quite popular (at least that’s what Google Analytics told me) so I decided to reblog it here.

[cb]Nest Labs[/cb]