Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

Nest Protect versus the rest – the connected smoke alarm state of play

Smart smoke alarm buying guide

Smart smoke detectors are a bit like smart thermostats and smart lightbulbs. Sure, there have been dumb versions of these everyday, essential devices for years and, sure, these devices still do a perfectly adequate job.

But it’s not until you take the plunge and pay the extra for a connected alarm model that you realise just how many more features are now available to you when you add Wi-Fi to the mix.

With smart smoke detectors the big advantage is remote alerts on your phone if an alarm is triggered at home. If you’re instantly warned of something happening at home and you’re not there, you’re far more likely to be able to alert the emergency services before a neighbour notices and does it for you.

Smart smoke detectors: Key considerations

When looking at smart smoke alarm models your first and foremost concern is obviously that it’s a reliable, certified model that will detect smoke. CO and gas detection is also increasingly a common feature on smoke detectors. All of the models we’ve listed here meet (or will meet, when launched) the safety standards required in the markets they are on sale in – we’d recommend sticking to known brands.

Take a look at your existing smoke alarm setup. How many have you got, are they all in suitable places and are they wired or battery-powered models? If you’re thinking of replacing multiple models, do the sums first. There are both battery and hardwired models available but costs do vary across different brands.

Next up, think about how smart you want your smoke detector to be. Do you just need it to be able to ping you a message if it detects smoke or do you need it to be able to shut off your heating system if it thinks there’s a gas leak? Does it need to just alert you to smoke and CO, or do you want it to act as a nightlight and help your smart home know whether you are home or away? If you’re going for some of these more advanced features, make sure you check its compatibility with Alexa, HomeKit and Google Assistant.

Speaking of Alexa and Google Assistant – there have also been smart smoke alarm models announced with digital assistants baked in, so have a think if that might be useful in a room you might install one in.


Smart smoke detectors: Tested

Here are the smart smoke detectors we’ve been living with and we can deliver our full verdict on…

Nest Protect

Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

$119, nest.com | Amazon

When you think about smart smoke detectors, you think of the Nest Protect. Now in its second generation, Nest Protect boasts a spilt-spectrum smoke sensor to detect both fast and slow fires, and is also capable of monitoring carbon monoxide. When this current model Protect went live back in 2015 it came with boasts of an advanced algorithm that could better decipher the difference between steam, from the shower for instance, and actual smoke.

In theory that’s great – but in practice we set off the Nest Protect in our hallway, the one right next to the bathroom, at least once a week. However, better safe than sorry, right? And the good news is that we’re pretty much done with the downsides of the Nest Protect now – if you’ve got over the shock at forking out nearly $120 for a smoke alarm.

Although, to call Nest Protect just a smoke alarm isn’t really doing in justice. As you’d expect the Protect syncs up with the Nest ecosystem and is super simple to set up, especially if there’s a nearby Nest device it can grab Wi-Fi details from. If not, it’s just a case of scanning a QR code in the app. The box packs all the screws and wall-plugs you’ll need and there are both battery and mains models available.

The Nest Protect is actually super stylish – well, it’s about as stylish as a smoke detector can get. It’s wrapped in a curvy mesh plate and the centralised button, with its LED ring, screams ‘smart home’. That LED ring does more than flash amber and red for incidents too. Like a Nest Thermostat, the Nest Protect can help guide you round a dark house at night using the pathlight feature – essentially a white ring of light that comes on when it detects motion.

That motion detecting is also used to help with your Nest app’s Home/Away status so, along with your Nest Cams and your Thermostat, your smart home has a much better idea of when you’re there or not – so smart home routines of your choosing can kick in.

The alarm on the Protect is a human voice. At first signs of something awry, she’ll say: "Be aware. There's smoke in the [room]". If it’s major it’ll be: "Emergency! There's smoke in the [room]." If you’ve got more than one Nest Protect installed, don’t worry about not hearing the alerts, they will all speak in unison – and you can silence them with a push of the button, or a button on your smartphone too, which will pop up. If you’ve got a Nest Cam in the same room, you’ll also be able to view a video clip of any incidents and a Nest Thermostat can also shut off the heating system if there’s need to as well.

With the Nest Protect you don’t really need to worry about testing – it packs its own microphone and health-checks the whole system once a month for you. You can manually test one or more alarms manually from the app or direct on a device.

Works with Nest also comes into its own with the Protect with extra smart home functionalities for emergency situations kicking in from other brands’ devices. You can have your Lifx or Hue bulbs go red during a smoke alarm, for example – red light has a longer wavelength than other visible light so it scatters less off smoke particles and makes it easier to see.

the ambient verdict
Nest Protect
The Nest Protect is the king of the smart smoke alarm gang. If you've got other Nest products they'll make it even more useful, but it's fine tapping into other third-party smart home setups as well. No Google Assistant on board just yet though… keep your eyes peeled for a third-generation that could pack that.
PROS
  • Extra smart home features
  • Calming voice rather than alarm
  • Cool looking for your stylish home
CONS
  • Steam sets it off
  • Pricey compared to dumb rivals
  • No AI assistant


Roost Smart Battery

Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

$34.99, getroost.com | Amazon

Okay, we’ll be totally up front – we haven’t actually tested a Roost smart smoke alarm because, technically, Roost doesn’t make smart smoke alarms. Sure, the RSA-400 and the RSA-200, which it does sell, are labelled as smart smoke alarms on its online store. But that’s only because they come along with the Roost Smart Battery – a Wi-Fi packing 9-volter that fires alerts to your smartphone if its microphone picks up an alert.

The idea is that, rather than shelling out north of $100 to get a smart smoke alarm you just spend the $34.99 on a smart battery that upgrades your current dumb model.

We’ve actually been testing the Roost Smart Battery in an old smoke alarm that we bought in about 2003 but the quality of the alerts you get – i.e. whether it alerts for CO and gas as well as smoke – depends on what the smoke alarm you install it into, as it's just reacting to an alarm siren itself.

Like the Nest Protect, the app gives you the option to silence the alarm with one tap – if you’ve just burnt the toast again, for example – and installing this clever battery also means no more annoying chirps in the middle of the night when the battery needs changing; you’ll just get an alert on your phone. On that note, Roost states you’ll get 3–5 years of use from it before you’ll need to replace it and when you do, it’s just $14.99 for a lithium pack that slots in.

Setup is simple using the easy-to-use, if somewhat basic, app – you just need to add your Wi-Fi password and do a little sound test using your phone and you’re away. From within the app you can also set up the Roost Smart Battery to alert friends or family – people selected will get an invite to download the app, but you can also set one phone number as a default emergency contact.

If an alarm does sound your phone will alert you and from the app you can silence it, snooze it (we’re not sure why there’s a snooze option), ring your emergency contact and you can also contact your friends and family you’ve set up too. The Roost Smart Battery can’t distinguish a test from an actual alarm – it’s just reacting to a sound – and don’t forget you’ll still need to test the system yourself.

the ambient verdict
Roost Smart Battery
The Roost Smart battery doesn't pack any extras and is a bit of a one trick pony – but that trick is basically the key ingredient of all smart smoke alarms, alerting you when you're out and about and can't hear the actual alarm. For less than the price of a Nest Protect you could essentially make three dumb smoke alarms smart – and that's the big appeal here.
PROS
  • A budget option
  • No need to replace existing alarms
  • Easy to use app
CONS
  • No testing
  • No integrations
  • Not actually a smoke alarm


Smart smoke alarms: Incoming

Here’s some of the other big name smart smoke alarms you may want to consider; we’ll deliver verdicts on all of these once we’ve had time to fully test them…

First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound

Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

$249.99, firstalert.com | Amazon

The Onelink Safe & Sound ups the smart home ante by doubling up as a smart speaker, with Alexa built right in and 360-degree audio. At CES 2018 we were also told that there would be a HomeKit version too, that will also works as an AirPlay speaker.

There are hardwired and battery versions available for this smoke and CO alarm, and it’s also compatible with OneLink Connect, allowing you to place nodes around your home to extend a stable Wi-Fi connection.

While we can see the appeal of having Alexa in more rooms in our house, the full-blown speaker features and the $249 price seems a touch excessive. We’ll let you know more once we’ve had a proper look though.

Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm

Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

The Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm doesn't have the CO skills of the Nest Protect, instead being focused entirely on smoke detection. It packs in an 85dB alarm and sends a real-time alert to the user's smartphone if smoke is detected.

The battery lasts for 10 years and you'll get a warning when it's running out. Netatmo says this alert will be on your smartphone but we know that smartphones will be obsolete in 2027. Instead, expect this warning to be beamed directly to your retina by your smart contact lens.

Back to facts, rather than stuff we're simply making up, and the Smart Smoke Alarm is also IFTTT and HomeKit compatible. The price, and the launch date, are still TBC.

Elgato Eve Smoke

Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

Announced way back in September 2017 at IFA we’re yet to see the HomeKit specialist’s smart smoke alarm hit the market. Our man at Elgato tells us it’s still going through testing.

When it does arrive, you can expect a device that, like the rest of the Eve range, sits entirely in the HomeKit ecosystem, meaning not only alerts to your smartphone if an alarm is triggered but scenes that are played out too, in case of an emergency.

We’re told that Eve Smoke will come with a ten year battery life and that it will rely on “proven smoke detection technology by Hager.” Price and launch date still to be confirmed.



TAGGED   smart home

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2 comments

  • patrick

    Skimmed your article looking to see if you evaluate not only the smart features but the detectors performance.  Like others you don't.  Yours like many others evaluations are less than what is needed for a consumer to make an educated decision. Borders on misleading as not all detectors operate (detect smoke, CO2, natural gas) equally.  By the way, the article date is 2018 and you reference using a detector from 2003.  Detectors need to be replace every 8 to 10 years.

    • j.stables

      Smoke detection is one of the most stringently regulated areas of consumer tech, and if you're concerned about detection quality, it's best to read reports from specialists in that field. We can't profess to have the tools to test that area reliably – and if it's passed tests from regulators, most people would consider that good enough. Our testing is focused on the experience of owning, and the reliability of smart features/app control.

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