Best smart smoke detector: How to choose and buy

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

Smart smoke alarm buying guide

When it comes to peace of mind for your home, a smart smoke detector is one of the best and easiest connected home purchases you can make.

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 they 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 by adding 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. Carbon monoxide (CO) detection is also increasingly a common feature on smart smoke detectors. All of the models we’ve listed here meet 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 or a smart home hub.

Speaking of Alexa and Google Assistant – some smart smoke alarms are popping up with smart assistants built 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.

Google Nest Protect

Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

£109, Amazon | google.com

When you think about smart smoke detectors, you think of the Google Nest Protect. Now in its second generation, Protect boasts a spilt-spectrum smoke sensor to detect both fast and slow burning 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 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 Protect now – if you’ve got over the shock at forking out nearly £110 for a smoke alarm.

Although, to call the Protect just a smoke alarm isn’t really doing it 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 Google 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 hardwired models available.

The 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 Google Nest Thermostat, the 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 Google Nest Cams and your thermostat, your smart home has a much better idea of when you’re there or not.

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 Google Nest Thermostat can shut off the heating system if there’s need to as well.

With the 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 also manually test one or more alarms from the app or direct on a device.

the ambient verdict
Google Nest Protect
The Google Nest Protect is the king of the smart smoke alarm gang. If you've got other Google Nest products they'll make it even more useful. 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


Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm

£89, netatmo.com

Compared to the likes of the Google Nest Protect and First Alert Onelink, the Netatmo keeps thing pretty simple. It doesn't have the CO detection skills of the Nest Protect, instead being focused entirely on smoke alerts. It packs in an 85dB alarm and sends a real-time alert to the user's smartphone if smoke is detected.

The design is pretty standard for a smoke detector, clad in white plastic. So why buy this over one of its dumb detector doppelgängers?

Well, it hooks up with the Netatmo Security app, which offers you an overview of the status of the smoke alarm. If your alarm sounds it will notify you via the app, once you linked the Netatmo to your wireless network.

Also, if you run an Apple HomeKit ecosystem, it will plug into that and alert you via a push notification. The HomeKit integration doesn't really add that much value – but it will show among your devices, and offer an at-a-glance way of checking that everything is working.

The Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm packs 10 years of battery life – which is the legal limit for smoke alarms, after which they should be thrown away. That means there's no replacement battery on board. You'll get an alert via the app in 10 years to say that the life of the Netatmo is running low (and an audible beep from the device) – so let's just all hope we're actually using smartphones and apps by that point.

We did a few unscientific tests in the home, and found the Netatmo to be perfectly in line with a dumb smoke detector in terms of sensing smoke. Unlike Google Nest there's no grace period where it warns you smoke is detected before bringing the noise – and if the alarm sounds for burned toast you press the unit to silence (or from the app, if it's out of reach). You also don't have to wait for the alarm to silence, and a press at any time will put it into an enforced hush mode.

If hushed the unit will flash with a red light – one that's not particularly noticeable, we might add. If you ignore it, the Netatmo will return to normal mode in around 15 minutes without further action. You will get a push notification from the Netatmo Security app to tell you the alarm has been hushed, but none to say it's returned to Activated.

the ambient verdict
Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm
Bringing connected tech in so subtly it’s barely noticeable – the Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm is a no-frills detector that offers just a bit extra. A neat companion app will alert you remotely and a basic HomeKit set up to check on the health of your system are the main highlights. For a decent smoke alarm that just does that bit extra – the Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm is a strong option, but we do like our home to be just that little bit smarter.
PROS
  • Simple to set up
  • No smart frills
  • Loud
CONS
  • Easy to leave hushed
  • HomeKit only
  • Not exactly a looker


Roost Smart Battery

Smart smoke detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

£34.99, getroost.com

The Roost Smart Battery (version 2) is a Wi-Fi packing 9-volt battery that fits inside your dumb smoke detector and makes it smart. If its built-in microphone hears an alarm it fires alerts to your smartphone over Wi-Fi.

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 as well as smoke – depends on what the smoke alarm you install it into detects, as it's just reacting to an alarm siren itself.

Like the Google 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 get an alert on your phone long before that happens. 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 detector buying guide: Everything you need to know

First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound

$249.99, Amazon | firstalert.com

The big thing with the Onelink Safe & Sound is that it doubles as an Alexa smart speaker. That's right, it's got Alexa built right in - and yes, that means it can be used as a music speaker. Welcome to the future.

Setup is pretty simple. Once you've plugged it in, you can use the HomeKit code and scan it in to get it working. You can just use the companion app to set everything up, but we found HomeKit installation easier due to how buggy the app was. We had some trouble connecting, including a complicated bit that requires you to hold your phone near the device.

First Alert says to only install the Safe & Sound on the ceiling. That's unlike other smart smoke alarms, like the Google Nest Protect. Speaking of the Protect, the Safe & Sound is far chunkier than the Protect. It's 6.8 inches wide and long while the Protect is 5.3 inches wide and long. It's also 2.26 inches thick while the Protect is 1.5 inches thick. It's hefty.

There's a built-in CO alarm and smoke alarm, and you can use Alexa to keep tabs on the battery and health of the alarm. You can also test your alarm using the companion app if you don't want to get up on a chair to press the physical button.

Sound quality on the speaker is good; it can be incredibly loud, and there's no simple or easy way to adjust the volume unless you're using the companion app. For what it's worth, there's a unique novelty to having an Alexa device stream sound from above you. It gives Alexa a voice-of-God quality that's makes it feel weirdly omnipresent.

Alexa itself is pretty useful on the Safe & Sound - it's the same Alexa you know and love, but your mileage is going to vary based on where you put it. Our Safe & Sound was placed on a stairway, so we can use Alexa while we're ascending or descending the stairs.

It's also compatible with Onelink Connect, which allows you to extend your Wi-Fi connection throughout your home. We were not able to test that out, but we did test out the nightlight feature, which you can control via HomeKit if you choose. You can also use the companion app to change the color.

Sadly, that companion app is the worst aspect. It takes a couple seconds to load whenever you want to do anything, and it's not well designed or easy to navigate. There were also some times where the app wouldn't recognize the alarm. Which is a pretty major issue if you are relying on it to tell you what's going on in your home while you are away.

One thing we have not yet been able to try is AirPlay 2 compatibility, as it's still not available - but the company promises it's coming.

the ambient verdict
First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound
The Safe & Sound is a fun device. It's a smoke alarm with a bunch of personality thanks to Alexa and a surprisingly good speaker for music. The nightlight feature is very cute, and we found it pretty handy having it above the stairs. However, for some people, the Safe & Sound is overkill as you're paying a lot for Alexa and a speaker too. Also, its buggy app meant we didn't always get notifications when the alarms went off/
PROS
  • Great sound
  • Nightlight
  • Alexa built-in
CONS
  • Expensive
  • Buggy app
  • Chunky
  • Wired only

Best smart smoke detector: How to choose and buy

First Alert Z-Wave Smoke & CO Alarm

$49.99, Amazon.com | firstalertstore.com

This may not be the sexiest smoke alarm on the block, but it works with a lot of smart home systems, including SmartThings, Nexia, and Ring Alarm. In theory it should work with most Z-Wave set ups, although it doesn't work with Wink. This makes it one of the most versatile smart smoke detectors on the market, although there's no bells and whistles such as a built-in speaker or voice assistant integration.

It also looks just like a standard detector, which it is - just with a Z-Wave chip in it. You can mount it on a wall or ceiling and there's a smoke-only version on offer too. When paired with Ring Alarm it can notify the monitoring service, if you've paid for that $10 a month Ring Protect Plus plan.

We tested the device with a SmartThings hub and were able to silence the alarm through the notification the app sent, as well as receive low-battery alerts on our phone, and add it into automations - such as unlock the doors and turn the lights on if the alarm is triggered. A mute button directly on the device is handy if you're nearby, and the fact it takes AA batteries makes replacement easy.

Pairing it with the hub was straightforward, but we were disappointed that there is no interconnectivity - if you have a few of these in your home and one goes off, they won't trigger the others. Also, this is only smart if you pair it with a hub. It doesn't have its own app, so while it would work as a smoke and CO detector in your home, without a hub there's no way to get notifications on your phone while you're away from home.

the ambient verdict
First Alert Z-Wave Smoke & CO Alarm
An inexpensive, easy to use but basic smart smoke detector that works with a variety of Z-Wave hubs - including Ring and SmartThings. If you have one of those systems this is definitely worth considering. It comes as a smoke-only version too, but there is no wired version.
PROS
  • Inexpensive
  • Works with Ring Alarm & Z-Wave
  • Silence from app
  • Low battery alerts in app
CONS
  • Needs a hub
  • No wired-version
  • No voice alerts
  • Does not interconnect wirelessly



TAGGED   smart home

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