Tado Smart Radiator Thermostat Review

Photograph courtesy of Tado

Photograph courtesy of Tado

Review summary

Highs

  • Great feature set
  • Easy installation
  • Good app and user experience
  • Easy configuration
  • Reports
  • Simple and understated design

Lows

  • Design could be flashier for some
  • More tips and reporting features would be nice

Read more


Introduction

In 2011, Nest Labs under the leadership of Tony Fadell, the father of the iPod, launched the Nest Learning Thermostat. This was maybe the first smart home product to really breakthrough. There is clearly a before and after Nest, not only on the smart home market but also on the consumer climate control market. In fact, smart thermostat were there well before, with Honeywell for instance. However, the Nest just made the whole industry look dull and old school. It was a masterpiece from an industrial design and user experience point of view. The dumb and ugly thermostat no one paid attention to suddenly became an object of fashion and statement. Looking backward, there was clearly an alignment of planets with the trend for connected devices and energy saving growing awareness. What the market needed was simply a hero product, an aspirational solution that will kick it off. Nest played that role and did pretty well.

One unique feature makes it quite interesting, the location based control

The smart thermostat market was shaken and the battle started with big legacy players trying to play catch up and myriad of startups trying to be the next cool thing. So why hasn't Nest become a dominant market leader? Simply because the climate control market is extremely complex and region specific. Indeed where the US is mostly AC based, Europe is extremely diverse. Not to mention the specificities of the distribution and installation channels in each regions. With a very Apple-like culture, Nest only released few products over the years, simply iterating a good design into a better one adding limited extra features. Nest never tried to do it all, expanding into new markets at slow pace, and by doing so left the door open to competition.

The folks from Tado pretty much started working on their concept around the same time as Nest Labs. They did not enjoy the same buzz, nor did they get acquired for $3,2 billions by Google, but they grew their sales in Europe well enough to be in the game and slowly expand their territories. The key to their success so far is a good feature set with a nice user interface which makes it quite competitive against other propositions on the market. One unique feature makes it quite interesting, the location based control (using your phone geolocation). It's a very smart way to detect if someone's home or not.

What truly convinced me though, is the recent introduction of the wireless Radiator Thermostat. Tado is one of the first in Europe to introduce this kind of proposition at this price point. Honeywell already had a similar proposition but the total cost is way higher and the design and user experience far less attractive from my perspective.

Tado new Smart Radiator Thermostat - Photograph courtesy of Tado

So there it was, winter arriving, I decided to take the plunge and install a set of Tado Thermostats. Am I going to save 30% on my heating bill as Tado claims? How is the experience and return on investment going to be? Let's find out!

Heating setup

Context

We live in a rather modern attached city house which offers good insulation (built in 2004). In the summer, when a heat wave hits the Netherlands (yes it happens!), it takes about 4 to 5 days before the house really heats up. Similarly, because we do not have active cooling, when the temperature goes back down, the house remains warm for another 4 to 5 days... Since the Netherlands has a rather mild climate in summer that's not really an issue, but winters can be pretty cold with few weeks flirting with 0°C or below. Although the house is well insulated, heating costs are certainly not negligible. I could certainly live with 30% savings on the bill.

Configuration of the heating installation

a very simple and understated look which once on the wall, almost disappear entirely

The house is supplied with district heating using warm water. The water is circulated in the house through two manifolds which are basically water distribution modules with a pump and a thermostat. One is installed downstairs and the other on the first floor, taking care of the two upper floors. 

From the manifolds the water is distributed to our heating system composed of:

  • 1 x floor heating on the ground floor
  • 6 x radiators in the upper floors

The floor heating has its own wireless thermostat. It's a simple model that offers some basic programming (day/night modes with calendar days) but is horrible to use. Radiators use thermostatic valves which allow manual control of the temperature. These are extremely widespread across Europe and certainly contribute to a large amount of wasted energy as practically no one changes the temperature during the day.

Bedroom radiator with thermostatic valve thermostat - Photograph Philippe Regnier

Update options

Although very much attracted by the Nest Thermostat (gotta love that design!), it just did not work well for our installation. Sure I could replace the ground floor thermostat with a Nest but then the upper floors would remain poorly controlled. I did try to contact a Nest installer to check if a second Nest Thermostat could be installed in one of the room upstairs and control the whole upper floors from a central point but the cost vs benefits was just not attractive enough.

One of the nice features of the system is the ability to learn how your house and heating system behave

As an alternative I also got a quote for a Honeywell solution, the evoHome. It had to be installed by a professional installer which combined with the relatively high cost of the solution made it way too expensive to my eyes. I also felt that the guy that visited was not very professional and lacking customer service skills. Pack this with a pretty ugly design and you have it, not interested.

I was decided to wait for something better to come out and it did not take long. Few months ago, both Netatmo and Tado announced their connected Radiator Thermostats compatible with their classic wall mounted thermostats. That was it, I could finally update my installation and do it on my own to limit the cost.

Why did I go for Tado vs Netatmo? Tado offers the cool location based control which makes it transparent for users and is much more efficient than the presence detector found on other solutions. I could have easily gone for the Netatmo as both propositions are quite similar otherwise.

Products

The bridge

Like many other smart home solutions, Tado works with a bridge connected to your network router. If you read this blog you may already have a few of these bridges connected to your network and unfortunately there is no sign of standardisation where all connected devices may connect to a universal bridge doing it all. In all fairness, once connected and setup, you don't really pay attention to it and you can even use a free USB port on your router to power up the Tado bridge which will save you the use of a power socket.

Tado Smart Thermostat package - Photograph courtesy of Tado

The Tado bridge works with 6LoWPAN, a mesh protocole which is designed to work well in homes. You don't need to worry about walls and distances. Under normal circumstances, the Tado system should work well in any home.

You only need one bridge in your installation which you purchase via the different Starter Kits available.

The Smart Thermostat

Tado Thermostat, Flic Smart Button and old school espresso machine - Photograph Philippe Regnier

Compared to Nest, there is no real design competition. I would have loved to put a Copper Nest 3rd generation Thermostat on my wall but since the system is not really matching my requirements I had to let that idea go.

Tado, cleverly, does not try to make their product show off. Instead, they chose a very simple and understated look which once on the wall, almost disappear entirely. LEDs only shine when the manual control buttons are triggered so you will rarely pay attention to the product, focusing instead on the app for control and configuration.

The Radiator Thermostat

The same design language is used here with a discrete appearance that does not catch the attention. Should we really spend time looking at our radiator valves anyway? 

The product comes with three adapters for different valve types and is available for horizontal or vertical installation.

The rest of the range

The portfolio also includes the Smart AC Control, a control unit for airco systems. This product which works with most AC solutions is opening doors for Tado to new Markets like North America or Singapore for instance. I can't give my opinion on this specific product but it looks to be on par feature wise with the one I tested and should fit most needs for people using AC cooling and warming in their home.

the installation was simple and very well assisted through the web portal

Features

Here is the list of features Tado offers:

  • Manual and mobile app control on each thermostat
  • Location based control: detects when someone is home or away (via your phone) and adjust heating accordingly
  • Remote control from anywhere through the app, even outside the home
  • Heating zones (per room for instance)
  • Fully customisable heating schedules per zone with as many time blocks as needed
  • Humidity sensor built-in each thermostats
  • Weather forecasts integration: takes into account actual weather conditions to optimise heating behaviour
  • Building characteristics integration figures out how fast your home heats up to optimise heating schedules
  • Energy report available through the app (Smart Thermostat only for now - Radiator coming in 2017)
  • Energy saving estimations (based on standard heating parameters)
  • Integrates with IFTTT (3rd party system integration) and Amazon Echo (voice control)
  • Future compatibility with Apple HomeKit (bridge will be replaced free of charge in Q1 2017)

Price and availability

Tado offers two options for purchasing their products. You can either buy products or rent them with an option to purchase them down the road should you change your mind.

  • Smart Thermostat starter kit (€249 / £199), add-on unit (€129 / £109)
  • Radiator Thermostat starter kit with 2 units (€199 / £179), add-on unit (€79 / £59)
  • Smart AC Control (€179 / £149 / $179)

All products are now available on their website and through major retailers, utility and telecom companies across Europe. You can also buy the products directly through Tado installers and in specialised webshops.

Installation

The Tado Thermostat disappears on the wall - Photograph Philippe Regnier

I'm not too bad with my hands but heating systems are not really a specialty of mine. The quote from Honeywell however motivated my desire to go DIY. Just felt I could do it on my own if preparing well enough. Checking the compatibility options on Tado's website gave me confidence their product were compatible with my setup and that the installation would be easy enough.

Starting with the Smart Thermostat, the installation was simple and very well assisted through the web portal. In my setup, I just could not go wrong. I even skipped the whole wall drilling by using double sided tape.

The Radiator Thermostat proved to be a little more challenging though.

First, you have to know that replacing a valve thermostat is a dry operation and does not require any specific knowledge. In my case however, the valve needed a different adapter than the ones coming in the package. It did take me a good thirty minutes trying to figure out how I could possibly make it work with what was provided. A wasted teflon tape later, I decided to put my pride aside and call the customer service. As it happened, I was not stupid but simply needed the right adapter. The customer service offered to send them right away at no cost and explained that the supplied adapters are the most common in Europe and that they could not afford to supply every possible adapters in each box. Fair enough.

the app is well laid out and you won’t have any problem navigating from one zone to another

Although a bit frustrating, I found Tado's answer not only acceptable but I liked the promptness of the solution provided. Updating a radiator thermostat is not like replacing a light bulb after all and I can live with that added complexity.

Once the adapters were received I was able to carry on with the installation. I found the process of installing the Radiator Thermostats as painless as the wall mounted version. The web portal step by step guide is easy to follow and apart from figuring out which adapter is needed (if actually needed), there is hardly any complications.

Tado Smart Radiator Thermostat Installed with the correct adapter - Photograph Philippe Regnier

User interface

Controlling Tado's Thermostats manually is straight forward. If you change the setting a Hand icon indicates you are in manual control. To go back to the programmed schedule you simply need to set the temperature back to the programmed one and the icon will swap back to a Home instead.

Tado simple and understated design - Photograph Philippe Regnier

However easy the manual control is, the whole point of such system is to use the app to configure it and pretty much forget it. Fortunately, the app is well laid out and you won't have any problem navigating from one zone to another. The configuration of the schedules is also straight forward and you will only have to figure out what you actually want. It took us a few days to adjust and define the program how we like it.

Tado app zone selection and schedule configuration

The reporting is informative, showing the evolution of your room temperature, the heating periods and the different time zones (home, away, night). It's currently only available for the Wall Smart Thermostat though, but it will be added to the radiator modules as indicated in Tado's 2017 roadmap (see details here). How often will I look at this report, scarcely I guess but it can be helpful building up your schedule to see what is actually going on.

Tado reporting

One of the nice features of the system is the ability to learn how your house and heating system behave. In our case, the Smart Thermostat is connected to a floor heating. The first days the heating would overshoot and the room temperature would go higher than asked which was easily visible on the reporting tool. This however was rapidly resolved as the next days the amount of overshooting reduced to an acceptable amount. Being able to see what was happening was both helpful and reassuring.

Savings?

Comparing heating bills from one year to another is not really objective. There are number of factors that can influence results like weather conditions, the amount of time you spend home, the number of days you host guests, etc. I will however, try to come back to it next year to follow up on my experience and see how are the savings going. Hopefully there is a good surprise, we'll see.

Possible improvements?

Tado put together a very comprehensive list of features in their Smart Heating solution so it's hard to complain. If I had to be picky, I could point out the following:

  • Wall mounted module could be better finished with a more informative display (not critical as the app provides all information and control options)
  • Reporting for the Smart Radiator Thermostat not yet available (coming next year)
  • Adding devices from the app takes you to the webportal, why not enabling this directly from the app?
  • I find the reporting a little under exploited for now. It would be interesting to receive monthly heating reports with analysis and tips to help people setting up their system and incentivise energy savings.

Review Summary

Highs

  • Great feature set
  • Easy installation
  • Good app and user experience
  • Easy configuration
  • Reports
  • Simple and understated design

Lows

  • Design could be flashier for some
  • More tips and reporting features would be nice

Conclusion

My experience with the Tado solution has been great so far. It's not the most exciting smart home experience but it's not meant to be. It's simply a smart heating solution and it does it very well. It's been a real upgrade in terms of user experience compared to my previous system and if the claimed savings are validated (stay tuned) then it's clearly a no brainer. The fact that I did not even have to use an installer, managing the installation by myself is also very positive.

Among the mass of connected solutions available out there, smart thermostats truly make sense economically and should appeal to a wide audience. Tado clearly steps away from the connected gadgets and offer all you need to manage your home heating system and make savings.



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philippe regnier

Founder and main editor of The Dandy Domain.

Audio-video freak for more than 20 years, Philippe worked for more than 10 years with the most advanced professional lighting solution. Ended his corporate career at Philips Hue in the booming Smart Home playground. Crazy of Danish design and beautiful products in general. Believes technology should enhance our life not spoil it.

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