It’s not that often that a rank outsider comes and challenges the big boys of tech, but that’s the story of Hive. The smart thermostat, born out of a spin-off from British Gas, has cornered the UK market ahead of the likes of Google-owned Nest and now has its sights set on the US.
But Hive is now much more than just a connected thermostat. The company has created a smart home platform, adding everything from bulbs and plugs to cameras. But how does it compare to its rivals, should you plump for Hive in your home – and how can you get the most out of it?
Read on to find out.
What is Hive?
More than just a thermostat, Hive is a smart home platform all of its own. However, it will always be centred on the connected heating element. Hive ships with its own hub, and it’s this that drives the entire platform – the hub connects to your router and talks to all Hive devices, while allowing remote access via a smart home app.
The thermostat, bulbs, camera, door sensors and plugs all fall under the spell of the Hive hub. You can then control them via the Hive smartphone app, available for Android and iOS devices, which enables you to set temperatures, schedules, rules, relationships and alerts.
Can you use other devices with Hive?
Because Hive uses its own Honeycomb platform, that means that largely it's a closed system. While Hive has just announced that you can add Philips Hue bulbs into the mix, that's an exception not the rule – you can't generally add other company's plugs and bulbs into the Hive app.
Hive does play nicely with Alexa and Google Assistant, and that's actually a big deal. This means that you can lump together Hive products with your other devices, using Alexa/Google Assistant as the over-riding controller. It's actually the best thing to do, and means you get all the benefits of Hive without being locked in.
Users of SmartThings can also get control of their Hive devices through the system, but it requires an unofficial workaround by the community. We're going to get to grips with this elsewhere in the coming weeks, but you can find out more here.
We round up the devices within the Hive platform across heating, lighting, security and smart plugs.
Hive Active Heating
The thermostat and heating device is a wall mounted unit, which talks to a sensor placed on the boiler. It’s pretty eye-catching, and was designed by Yves Béhar, legendary tech designer who’s had a hand in a ton of high-profile products, including Herman Miller chairs. Primarily, it offers thermostatic control of your home’s heat (and cooling in the US), enabling you to set target temperatures and turn on/off the heating wherever you are.
You can also create advanced schedules, having the heat come on and reach a certain temperature at different times of the day. There’s also a boost feature that enables you to top up with an hour's heating.
Generally, Hive keeps things simple, and unlike systems like Tado and Nest there’s not much in the way of radiator sensors, schedule learning or geolocation. However, there’s a holiday mode and frost protect, so you can stop the house falling below a certain level, even if you’re away.
A lot of people ask whether the Hive thermostat is battery powered and where to put it. It runs on four AA batteries, which means it can be placed anywhere. But as this unit also acts as the temperature sensor for you home, you should keep it in the main room and away from drafts or you might find your home getting too warm.
Hive Active Lights
White $19 | Colour $49.99, hivehome.com
Hive smart bulbs come in white and coloured options, and you can pick up both screw-fit and bayonet fittings. Controlled via the Hive app, you can set brightness and hue (for the coloured option) from within the Honeycomb. You can pair the bulbs to other actions (when door sensor opens or closes), you can control them via Alexa and they also work within your Routines and Groups, which means they can be paired up with other types of bulbs.
The newest addition to the Hive family, the Hive View is a detachable 1080p smart video camera which can be remotely accessed. While there’s no facial recognition, you can set up motion alerts within your home and you get 24 hours of video storage/playback for free. It also records a 130-degree field of view, although most home camera have a 160-degree FOC, so it’s slightly narrower.
The really neat aspect is that you can detach Hive View for an hour of wireless video, so you can keep an eye on other areas of your home before returning it to the magnetic charging mount.
The cheaper and lesser version of Hive View, the Camera is less versatile than its newer cousin. What’s more, unlike the Hive View, you need to use a different app to view its feed. It’s slightly more feature rich, though, with two-way audio and night-vision, making it a top pet camera.
Fairly standard plugs, the Hive Active Plug is a simple pass-through set-up, offering one single point. That means remote control via the app, and the ability to add to Actions within the Hive app. It will also be recognised by Alexa and work within Routines and Groups. You can buy them in packs of three for a discount.
The new Hive 360 replaces the standard hub, and seriously ups the features. The Hive Hub 360 comes in black/copper and white/gold, and is a whole lot more stylish than your average hub. It features a built-in microphone, which listens out for events in the home such as glass breaking, dogs barking, or the smoke alarm going off, and will then notify you, or start an Action. It's also wireless, so unlike most hubs, it doesn't have to be hard wired to your router.
Hive Door Sensor
You can clip these onto doors or windows, and get an alert when they’re opened. However, they really start to make sense when you use them within Hive Actions. Opening the front door and having your Hive Active Light turn on is a simple idea, and you can create other set-ups such as having the heating turn off if the windows are opened.
Hive Motion Sensor
A small discreet unit that uses infra-red to detect motion in your home, which like the door sensors, can be used to create Actions within the Hive app.
How much does Hive cost?
The cost of Hive is getting a little convoluted, so let’s take it step-by-step.
You can buy gear outright or take a subscription, which is the direction that Hive is moving in. $229 gets you a Hive Active Thermostat, fitted and installed. There are also one-off costs for all Hive devices, as listed above.
But in the US and UK, you can pick up a subscription, which breaks down the cost and gets you access to some specialist features. There are a bunch of different plans depending on the kit you get, and you can get everything from a Starter Pack with a couple of bulbs to the Heating and Cooling Pack which has the thermostat, or the Welcome Home starter kit which has the whole range.
General subscription plans are round $9.99 a month for 12 or 24 months, depending on your choice. Some then stop altogether, while others retain a small monthly charge to keep access to features like Mimic mode (which remotely controls Hive Active lights to a schedule while you’re away), or 30-day video camera history.
In the UK, you can also subscribe to Hive Live for £2.99 a month. This gets you Mimic mode, text alerts from your devices, an extended warranty and 10% off future Hive purchases. It's not brilliant value, but Mimic mode is a really neat feature.
How is Hive installed?
Now, this is where Hive really got its grip on the market. In the UK its parent company Centrica (better known as British Gas) is in a position of trust within the market, as installers and servicers of heating systems. When you buy Hive, one of their guys comes and installs it, and shows their customers how to use it.
This puts Hive at a big advantage over competitors. While Tado is just as good a system, we found the install process laborious to sort, and once in the house, the contracted engineer didn’t know how the system worked, didn’t install one aspect, and left behind a confused and slightly baffled homeowner.
In the US things work slightly differently, and you'll get an installer from Home Advisor registered tradesmen. It’s not quite the same level as you get in the UK, but Home Advisor’s reputation is at least something.
How to add Hive devices
When you buy Hive devices, it’s easy to get them set up within your app. Open up the app and hit the menu in the top right. From there choose Install Devices. Choose the relevant device and then follow the instructions to connect it to your network.
Hive Actions explained
Hive has the ability to add IFTTT style Actions within the app, which helps you to automate some aspects of the home. Actions can be set within the Hive app, and after a new update, can involve unlimited devices within your set-up.
Unlike IFTTT that means that multiple devices can all be attached to one Action – and given the amount of sensors in the Hive range that means its easy to automate lights turning on when the front door opens, for example. What's more, Hive has now added the ability to add environmental elements to Actions, such as whether it's light or dark outside.
Hive makes creating Actions pretty easy, and you can choose from 50 pre-set settings such as “when door opens” or “when motion is detected”. You don’t need to delve into any heavy settings and most users should be able to set something up in their home.
To start an Action just go to the Hive app, choose the top-right menu button and hit Actions. Tap an Action to head into an editor. From here you can select pre-made Actions, if you're feeling a little stuck for ideas.
To start building new Actions just choose Build your own. You can choose a trigger which can be from a window/door sensor, motion sensor, sunset/rise, temperature or motion from a Hive camera.
Choose an option and then it's time to set the devices. Choose a sensor for When, and then if you want to add an environmental condition, put that under While. Finally, add a device to be controlled under Then. You can add as many Then devices as you like. Press Next and you're all set.
If you really want to get in control of your Hive Home, voice assistant control is the best way to get started. Hive is compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant.
In terms of Alexa, you’ll need to install a skill in order to gain control of your Hive Active Heating, Light and Plugs. There are actually two skills on the app store, so bag yourself the Optimised skill and the Boost+ skill. which means you don’t have to tell Alexa to ask Hive to perform every command – however, some will still require you to give Alexa a little prompt.
Once you’ve installed the skill and linked your two accounts, then you’re good to go. Here’s a list of skills:
Hive Active Thermostat
"Alexa, set my heating to 20 degrees"
"Alexa, increase the [thermostat]"
"Alexa, decrease the [thermostat]"
"Alexa, what is the temperature in here?"
"Alexa, what is the [thermostat] set to?"
"Alexa, tell Hive to boost my heating (One hour at 22 degrees is default)"
"Alexa, tell Hive to boost my heating for 2 hours (22 degrees is default)"
"Alexa, tell Hive to boost my heating to 23 degrees (one hour is default)"
"Alexa, tell Hive to boost my heating [downstairs] (as above, choose your relevant zone)"
Hive Active Light
"Alexa, turn on my light"
"Alexa, turn off my light"
"Alexa, brighten my light"
"Alexa, turn my light to XX%"
"Alexa, dim my light"
"Alexa, change my light to [name your colour]"
"Alexa, make my light cooler"
Hive Active Plug
"Alexa, turn on my plug"
"Alexa, turn off my plug"
How to add Hive to Alexa Groups
Once your skills are installed, Alexa will be able to find your Hive devices – as long as they’ve been installed via the Hive app. Then you can add them to your Alexa groups.
You’ll have to scan your network via the Alexa app. Head to the Alexa app and go to Smart Home; choose Add Device. Make sure your device is powered on and then let Alexa do the work.
Once added it will appear within the Alexa list. These will be randomly named by Alexa, so make sure you go through and give them new ones and think carefully about how you will naturally refer to them. The names don’t have to be the same as specified in the Hive app, however.
Check out our full guide to Alexa for more details.
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