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Testing the Google Nest Protect Smoke Alarm

By Miye Bromberg Published

Want to sear your steak in peace? The Nest Protect has your back.

If you’ve ever set off your smoke alarm while cooking, the appeal of the Google Nest Protect is real. Available in both battery-powered and hardwired versions, this “smart” smoke and carbon monoxide alarm connects to your home Wi-Fi network, so it can alert you via your phone or tablet when it senses smoke or carbon monoxide. Once you get the alert, you can silence the alarm from your device if the risk is not serious—no more climbing up on a ladder or poking around with a broomstick to stop the screeching, as you might with a conventional smoke alarm. 

We wanted to know whether the Nest Protect was as good as it sounded, so we decided to put it to the test, installing the battery-powered version next to a conventional smoke alarm. Both were set at a distance of about 10 feet from the stove, the minimum distance recommended for a kitchen smoke alarm by the National Fire Protection Association. For this test, we evaluated only the Nest Protect’s smoke detection capabilities, since it would be unsafe to test carbon monoxide detection outside a lab.

To test the Nest Protect, we installed it next to a conventional fire alarm and compared reactions.

The Nest Protect Is Easy to Install and Set Up

The Nest Protect was simple to install. The unit was equipped with a backplate and four screws, so for testing purposes we mounted it on the wall next to an existing conventional fire alarm. (It can also be mounted on the ceiling.) The Nest app was easy to set up on both Android and Mac OS X devices. Once everything was in place, we got to work making some smoke—burning a whole loaf’s worth of toast, roasting chicken at high heat, searing steaks that we’d rubbed with sugar, and reseasoning a carbon-steel pan.

The Nest Protect app alerts the user to any dangers and tracks them as they escalate or disperse.

It Detects Smoke Accurately

We found that the Nest Protect performed almost identically to the conventional alarm—both comply with the latest standards set by UL, a global safety certification company. If anything, it was a hair more sensitive, alerting us a few seconds earlier than the conventional alarm. Still, both units “knew” enough not to get triggered when we burned the toast or roasted the chicken; it took quite a bit of smoke, such as when we seared the steaks and reseasoned the carbon-steel pans, to make either go off.

The Alert System Is Useful and Effective

We liked the Nest Protect’s tiered alert system a lot. At the first signs of serious smoke, it sounds a “Heads Up” alert (the ring in the center of the unit flashes yellow and a woman’s voice announces from the unit that there’s smoke and that an alarm may sound). If the smoke worsens, you get an “Emergency Alert” (the ring flashes red and the woman’s voice warns you again that there’s smoke in the room). You’ll also receive notifications for both types of alerts on your phone or tablet. From there, you can silence the alarm itself, preventing it from going off and allowing you to open some windows and continue cooking in peace. Once the smoke has cleared sufficiently, the ring flashes green and you’ll get a final announcement from the unit that the smoke alert is over.

The ring at the center of the Nest Protect flashes different colors according to the alert level.

We often experienced a delay in receiving alerts through the app on our phones. In this case, the app sent the alert at the same time it confirmed to us that we'd silenced the alarm unit itself.

A Few Caveats

The Nest Protect has a few quirks to be aware of. First, to turn the alarm off from your smart device, you need to be close enough to the unit itself to verify that there is no real danger—during testing, this meant we needed to be in the same room as the unit, within about six feet from it. Second, you may hear or see the unit give the alerts before you receive them on your phone or tablet; in our experience, there was often a delay of a minute or so as the unit communicated with the devices via Wi-Fi, though your results may vary. This quirk can mean that if you’re searing foods at high heat and want to avoid a screeching alarm, you‘ll need to silence it manually once the yellow warning light starts flashing by pressing the button in the middle of the unit. Third, if the Nest Protect has been activated (yellow or red lights flashing) and deems the smoke levels in your kitchen to be high, as it did when we reseasoned the carbon-steel pans, you won’t be able to silence the alarm, and it will tell you so. Instead, the alarm will sound loudly and repeatedly until the smoke level diminishes—in our experience, this occurred when we’d opened enough windows and waited about 10 minutes for the majority of the smoke to dissipate. Finally, the alarm will still work if your Wi-Fi is out, but it won't send alerts to your devices, so it loses its "smartness” but not its basic functionality.

While these roadblocks might seem a little annoying, they serve a purpose: They’re there to ensure that there really isn’t any danger and that you are safe. While the Nest Protect may not entirely eliminate the need to run for a ladder, it excels at its primary job: detecting and alerting you to signs of smoke within your home.

The Best Smart Smoke Alarm: The Google Nest Protect

We think the Nest Protect is a useful alternative to a conventional smoke alarm, and one that’s especially handy for cooks, as its silencing function makes it easier than ever to reduce nuisance alarms. We also like its extra features. It automatically tests its own sensors and battery levels more than 400 times a day, so you’ll never wake up in the middle of the night to hear the alarm screaming for fresh batteries. When its ambient light sensor detects that you’ve turned off the lights at night, the ring flashes green to indicate that all its sensors are working and the batteries are still good to go. When the battery is low or when anything is wrong with the sensors, the ring flashes yellow and the alarm issues a verbal warning. In addition, the Nest Protect has a very nice built-in nightlight—when you walk by it in the dark, an occupancy sensor turns on a light so that you can see where you’re going. Finally, one Nest Protect can communicate with other Nest Protects in your home, which is useful since the National Fire Protection Association recommends that most homes have more than one smoke alarm. Having your unit communicate with others elsewhere is practical: If there’s a fire in one part of the house, you’ll still get alerts so that you can get out if you’re in another part of the house. At about $120 per unit, the costs can mount quickly if you buy multiple units, but if you have the money, we think it’s an investment worth making. If you’d prefer to limit your spending, though, you can always buy a single unit to be situated near the kitchen, where nuisance alarms are most common. You won’t get the benefits of the linked system, but you’ll still be able to turn off the alarm when you need to.

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16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.