I have been talking to inanimate objects for longer than I can remember.
Lately, though, they’ve started to listen and respond.
Take, for example, Honeywell’s WiFi Thermostat with Voice Control, which lets me tweak the temperature in my home by uttering a few simple phrases. Now when my teenager daughter has cranked the heat to nuclear furnace levels (instead of, say, putting on a sweater), I can lower it by saying “Hello Thermostat” and issuing a command.
The Honeywell understands five simple phrases, but only those phrases. You can say “I’m feeling hot” (or cold) or “Make it cooler” (or warmer) and it will raise or lower the temperature by one degree. You can say “Make it much warmer” (or cooler) and it will alter it by 4 degrees. Or you tell it how many degrees you want it to change in either direction.
Saying “It’s a friggin’ oven in here, does anyone but me give a damn about our gas bills?” won’t do much, though it may make you may feel better.
The hardest part of installing the Honeywell was connecting my HVAC wires in a way that allowed me to attach the faceplate. There’s zero room for slack. I had to redo them twice to get the unit to stay on, and then just barely. On the positive side, setting up a daily schedule for heating and cooling was a matter of tapping through some menus on a touchscreen – easier than any other thermostat I’ve used. You can also use an iPad add to control the temperature and adjust the schedule, but that’s all it lets you do.
Honeywell’s biggest problem is also its biggest competitor: A company called Nest pioneered the world of cloud-connected thermostats, and the Nest thermostat still rules the roost. It won’t respond to your voice, but it’s much smarter than the Honeywell in many other ways. It detects when you’re away and automatically adjusts its settings; the app lets you access every control available on the wall unit, view your energy consumption over time, and more. If I were going to drop upwards of $300 on a connected thermostat, it would be the Nest.
Still, it’s nice to have something that listens when I talk to it. Lord knows the kids don’t.