Cool, sexy, and fun are words seldom associated with a home thermostat. Typically it's turn the dial to the temp you want and forget it. Nest Labs, inventors of the Nest Learning Thermostat have, quite literally, re-engineered the way I think about heating and cooling my home.
It's little surprise that it took some talented engineers - a former iPod brain at Apple nonetheless - to launch a "Think Different" campaign for home thermostats. Aside from the super-intuitive user interface - just twist the outer ring of the thermostat and an iPod-like menu emerges - this is a thermostat that sets itself. For the first week it's hanging on the wall you simply set the thermostat according to your preferences. After that, it automatically configures a daily temperature schedule. Given that it's December, this means warmer in the morning, cooler mid-day, warm again in the evening, then 62 degrees overnight. The bottom line: energy and cost savings.
Nest has Wi-Fi built in, enabling you to control it remotely via iPad and iPhone apps. It's ridiculously easy to change your temperature schedule or warm up/cool down your house whether you're downstairs or a thousand miles away on vacation. If you leave home for a couple days and forget to turn the temp down, there's an Auto-Away feature that handles it automatically (via motion sensor). Wi-Fi also enables the unit to download software updates and local weather data automatically from the mother Nest.
Even my kids are interacting with the thing, turning the dial ring and temperature down until the little green leaf shows up - a visual indicator that you're in the "green" energy savings zone. It knows this because it has data on the current outside temp. Cool.
All of this coolness doesn't come cheap, though. At $249, it's about $75-$100 more than competitor smart thermostats. But when you consider it's elegant interface, ease of remote administration, automatic temp setting features, accuracy, and straightforward, step-by-step installation guide (with video), some people will recoup this cost by just being able to install the thermostat themselves. I installed it myself and it was a snap.
As far as energy savings, there's no question that my family has been paying much closer attention to our home's temperature. I'm much more likely to remotely drop the temp if we'll be away for the day. This should result in additional cost savings, even over our old programmable thermostat - a cheapo model that was highly inaccurate. We'll see in a few months.