Posts Tagged ‘Aros window air conditioner’

Want to control the air conditioning units in your home even when you are on the road? Now you can, thanks to your smartphone. Read The Wall Street Journal’s review of Honeywell Lyric thermostat and Aros window air conditioner, two revolutionary technologies in climate-control systems.

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When it’s hotter than Hades outside, wouldn’t it be nice if your air conditioner knew you were coming home and cooled things down inside?

That’s the idea behind two new “smart” climate-control systems, the $279 Honeywell Lyric thermostat and the $279 Aros window air conditioner made by Quirky and General Electric. They blast the AC when you’re at home, and not when you’re out.

Welcome to the era where your AC keeps tabs on you. These Internet-connected appliances take commands from apps and work by tracking the location of every smartphone in your household—yours, your spouse’s, and Grandma’s too. (In a pinch, you can still control them manually.)

I installed Lyric and Aros in my San Francisco home, and in two friends’ homes in warmer Bay Area climes. We found both devices can go a long way toward liberating you from fiddling with thermostat dials, and possibly saving energy. But neither are quite smart or simple enough to just set and forget.

These appliances are attempts at reinvention by Honeywell and GE, two of the biggest brands in climate control, now under attack from Silicon Valley. Nest Labs raised the bar in two ways when it launched its first consumer-installed “smart” thermostat in 2011: First, we now expect our home heating and AC to be smartphone-controllable and have some intelligence to supposedly help save us money. Second, many of us no longer balk at paying $250 for a dial that used to cost less than $50.

To make their systems more competitive, Honeywell and GE (working with partners at product development firm Quirky) added Wi-Fi and remote-control apps and simplified their interfaces with big, clear displays. But their biggest innovation is tracking location.

The app knows when your family is or isn’t home by drawing a virtual circle around your house, visible only to your smartphone, called a “geofence.” In my tests, this worked as promised: Every time I moved past the perimeter, my phone would quietly alert the app, which then sent commands to the appliances via the Internet. Both were also smart enough to understand my family—it conserved energy only when everyone had left the house and kicked back on for the first person to return.

Climate control may be the first compelling use case for geofencing, which has been around a while. It has the ability to complement busy and unpredictable lives, which normally confound automated things. Thermostat schedules we set on our own or through a program, like on Nest, are always just one sick day or late night out away from being wrong.

The geofencing downside: For the energy-efficiency promise to come true, everyone in the house needs to have a smartphone—a deal-breaker for some households with preteens or elderly residents. And for those of us already glued to smartphones, turning on geofencing can drain your battery faster, as it did in my tests. (Both companies say any drain should be minimal, and is lessened if you make sure your Wi-Fi is turned on, as opposed to just GPS, which is a lot more battery-intensive.)

I also wanted more control over the perimeters that the apps monitor. Lyric lets you choose only 1,500 feet or 7 miles; Aros uses a radius of about 300 feet.

Geofencing can be a little creepy: A resident of one of my test houses declined to use the Aros Wink app because he didn’t want a company tracking his whereabouts. Both companies say they don’t actually track your location; rather, iPhones and Android handsets just alert the apps when you cross the geofence, and then the app makes adjustments on the thermostat. There is a risk that a hacker could somehow get access to data about whether or not your family is home, but the companies say they’ve taken steps to beef up cyberdefenses.

The alternative approaches to climate control seem less accurate than geofencing. Nest makes educated guesses based on your past behavior plus info from motion detectors, which report if there are people in the house. That works fine in my house, where the thermostat’s motion sensor is in a spot you almost always have to pass. But what if you have an erratic schedule or an out-of-the-way thermostat? This issue alone may make Lyric more appealing to people with large houses.

The verdict is still out on energy savings. In the year after I replaced my old clunker thermostat with a Nest, my heating bills actually increased slightly, perhaps because Nest made my house more comfortable. But during my recent test, I couldn’t see a significant difference in energy usage between Lyric, Nest and my old thermostat.

Don’t count on earning back your $279 right away, but certainly any of these devices would improve upon a poorly scheduled thermostat or an AC unit left running all day.

The ultimate test of a smart home appliance is how well it can do its job while receding into the background. After a year, the Nest in my home has become so good at predicting my needs that I can’t remember the last time I had to adjust it. Both Lyric and Aros require more futzing.

Installing Lyric should be easy with the help of the free app, but turned out tricky enough that it required both of my test households to call the company for help. (The app didn’t help enough in switching over the wiring from one of our old thermostats, and we had both failed to push wiring into the thermostat firmly enough.)

The bigger problem: While Lyric could tell when I left the house, it didn’t know when I went to bed. Instead, I had to manually adjust it via the app by turning its round dial, or set up good-night and good-morning schedules. That’s easier than scheduling an old-fashioned thermostat, but hardly “smart.”

Aros tries to split the difference, both running a geofence and offering to build out automated schedules based on when and how you’ve commanded it before. But at least one time, the app’s geofence didn’t seem to respond right away for my 23-year-old friend Whitney, who tested the AC in a hotter area.

At other times, Aros activated in ways we didn’t expect, perhaps because it was using an “eco” power-savings mode. “I couldn’t figure out how to manually override its smartness,” Whitney told me.

With Lyric and Aros, the old guards of Honeywell and GE have advanced smarthome technology. But neither device is quite smart enough to keep you cool without intervention.

Fortunately, we’re in an era where a better appliance is only a software upgrade away. The Aros AC is already a decent buy—especially at a similar price to many “dumb” window units. GE’s partner Quirky launched its smart home control software last month, and it will undoubtedly improve.

Lyric could be a serious competitor in the smarthome race if it incorporated all of the available sensors and data to schedule its operation, building on some of the best of Nest.

Honeywell execs say they built motion sensors into their thermostat. Today, they’re just used to light up the display when you get near, but they could be used to tell when you’ve stopped puttering around, like Nest. Similarly, Nest’s makers tell me they’re not opposed to using geofencing to improve their thermostat’s scheduling and operation. Hopefully both companies wise up, and we can choose a system that truly understands our need to keep cool.

Comfort Experts is the premium provider of air conditioning repair and installation services in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Follow this Facebook page to keep updated on the latest news in home automation.