Hive is not as well-known as Nest, Ecobee or Honeywell in the North American smart home market, but the UK brand (owned by energy-giant, Centrica) is building a strong global presence.
Last year we had the chance to review the compact, cute, cuboid Hive View. It was a stylish smart camera that impressed. While it lacked the third-party integrations available from competitors, we swooned over its sleek lines, crafted with care by design-guru Yves Berhar.
The $170 Hive Active Thermostat is also born of a collaboration between Hive and Berhar’s industrial design studio, fuseproject. It supports easy installation and control from smartphone, tablet and laptop. However, the Hive Active Thermostat fails to back its flashy design with features.
The Hive Active Thermostat debuted in the UK back in 2015, and arrived in North America in 2017. Since launch, the hardware has received a slight design refresh, swapping the circular buttons on the lower face for touch-sensitive equivalents. In that time, however, the features common in smart thermostats have changed. That’s courtesy of Ecobee. Its latest model, the Ecobee SmartThermostat, includes remote room sensors, full Amazon Alexa smart speaker integration, music and podcast streaming, voice calling and more.
A smart thermostat that merely manages home comfort no longer has much to brag about.
The square, mirror-fronted Hive Active Thermostat is around the same size as the Ecobee SmartThermostat, and though it lacks some features of that device, it’s arguably prettier (although we still think that the Nest Learning Thermostat beats everyone on looks). The front face is clean, except for a central control knob. Two large, flush-mounted buttons on the top of the thermostat let you override thermostat settings with a quick blast of cool or heated air.
Hot looks, but where are the cool accessories?
While we love the look of the Hive Active Thermostat, we were disappointed by the removable, flimsy plastic frame that surrounds the device. An accompanying range of twelve interchangeable frames has been developed as accessories, in a riot of colors to match your home decor. It’s a great concept and an important element in the thermostat’s design.
Here’s the catch. While these frames are available to purchase in the UK, you won’t find them in North America. We checked, and Hive doesn’t sell them here. You’ll have to hunt them down through third parties. Also unavailable on this side of the pond is a handy thermostat stand that lets you place the controller on a desktop or shelf instead of a wall.
The decision not to deliver accessories to North America is perplexing.
Given the investment Hive has made in employing one of the world’s premier industrial design firms to craft their thermostat, the decision not to deliver accessories to North America is perplexing. The company says they’ll reconsider if there’s consumer demand.
The remaining elements of the thermostat’s design are like its peers. An anonymous backplate, with integrated level and spring-loaded wiring connectors, screws to your wall. A large, rectangular cover plate hides mounting holes from your old thermostat or undecorated parts of the wall. The thermostat clips neatly into the backplate, once screwed to the wall. We found installation to be easy, with Hive’s accompanying installation guide providing clear steps to remove our old device.
Prepare to hook-up another hub
Unlike most of its peers, the Hive Active Thermostat must be connected to a standalone network hub (wired to your router) to enable remote control. It communicates using the Zigbee smart home protocol instead of Wi-Fi. While we’ve encountered these hubs for home security or smart lighting systems (like Philips Hue), most smart thermostats connect directly to your router over Wi-Fi, offering seamless remote access without additional clutter.
If you’re going all-in on Hive’s Smart Home kit, which now includes an array of lighting, power and security products communicating over a host of protocols, a network bridge is understandable. But it’s an inconvenience if you’re simply looking for a good-value, smart thermostat with remote control.
The Hive Active Thermostat must be connected to a standalone network hub for remote control.
Thankfully, the thermostat discovers and pairs with the Hive Hub automatically once the latter has been hooked up to your router. You’ll be guided through some simple questions about your heating system to support configuration, after which you’re free to explore your heating schedule and settings.
Pretty display lacks practicality
We found the touchscreen display to be responsive, and the addition of the central control knob certainly makes settings selection easy. However, the choice of a mirrored finish elevates form over function.
At close range, the color display is bright and clear, but the control knob reduces screen real estate, so the display characters are small. At distance (even a few feet away), it’s near impossible to read the temperature. We found ourselves regularly walking over to the thermostat and tapping the screen to check the temperature. The device has a proximity sensor, but we had to get close before the display turned on.
Like any mirror in your home that you care to tap repeatedly, we found the Hive display quickly became obscured by smudges and greasy fingerprints. Be sure to have that microfiber cloth handy. It’s a shame – the Hive Active Thermostat design looks great in the box (as well as in press photography) but in the home, it’s far less practical than Nest and Ecobee.
Easy app, browser and voice control
Smartphone app control (or desktop, via a web browser) softens that blow. The Hive app is used to manage the company’s full range of smart home devices and we found it a pleasure to use. Tap to change modes (Heat, Cool, Dual or Off), swipe up or down to change temperature – easy. It’s responsive, too, with commands pushed to the thermostat within a second. Schedules are easy to create and adjust. We particularly liked the ability to copy one day’s configuration throughout the week.
Having started life with its debut thermostat back in 2013, Hive now boasts an array of smart home kit, incorporating power management (via Hive Active Plug) alongside entry sensors, indoor, and outdoor security cameras. These devices are will integrated by the use of Actions, available from within the smartphone and web apps. A range of pre-set integrations be configured in just a few taps. Or, you can choose to spin up your own – if you have the necessary Hive hardware. More adventurous users can check out a long list of recipes at IFTTT for third-party connectivity, while full integration with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home makes voice control the easiest way to manage home temperatures.
The Hive Active Thermostat is supported by a 1-year warranty.
The Hive Active Thermostat is a stylish, smart device that’s simple to install and offers a versatile array of friendly management options, including smartphone, voice and web app, while a responsive touchscreen and physical buttons add convenient local control. But, four years since its debut, the thermostat is overdue for a refresh. No support for remote room sensors means it lags Nest and Ecobee on whole home comfort, while the reliance on a clunky standalone network hub for remote control lacks grace.
It’s certainly less expensive than the new Ecobee SmartThermostat, but we’d recommend you invest a little more and receive more features in return.
Is there a better alternative?
The Nest Learning Thermostat remains a popular choice, but our recommendation would be the Ecobee SmartThermostat. At $249, it’s a little more expensive than the Hive Active Thermostat but doesn’t need a network hub and has a slew of smart features over and above simple HVAC control.
How long will it last?
Owned by one of the world’s largest energy companies, Centrica, you should have no concerns about Hive’s longevity or customer support. The device does have several physical controls that may wear over time, but we don’t foresee any issues.
Should you buy it?
No. The Hive Active Thermostat may be cheaper than its peers, but four years after its design debut, we think it’s due a refresh. Hive’s decision not to support the North American device with accessories available elsewhere may suggest one’s coming down the line.