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Google Nest Protect Smoke Alarm

Published February 2020

How we tested

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.

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 carbon-steel pans.

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.

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.


Methodology

  • Google Nest Protect, priced about $120
  • Compare to conventional alarm
  • Create smoke and monitor/silence alerts of unit when burning toast
  • Create smoke and monitor/silence alerts of unit when roasting chickens at high heat
  • Create smoke and monitor/silence alerts of unit when searing steaks
  • Create smoke and monitor/silence alerts of unit when reseasoning carbon-steel pans

Rating Criteria

Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy it was to install, set up, silence, and generally interact with the Nest Protect.

Performance: We evaluated how well the Nest Protect detected different levels of smoke.


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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*