WiFi Thermostat: Nest vs. Honeywell Lyric vs. lower-end Honeywell

I just installed a wifi thermostat for my home. Easy to do and now I can monitor and reset the heating/cooling from my computer or iPhone. And I did it rather inexpensively.

This summer, while traveling, I thought about how nice it would be to reset my thermostat to cool down my house before I got home. I normally set the temperature to 85º when I am away in the summer to keep my air-conditioning bills down. It normally takes a few hours for my house to cool down after I get home and restart the thermostat’s regular schedule, and that can be a problem if I arrive home late in the evening, since I’d like to get to sleep.

Nest thermostat Asking around, friends recommended the Nest thermostat. I had seen it in the Apple Store and online and was ready to buy one. It had all the bling of Apple coolness as a product. But then I looked into it more. Did I really need a thermostat that learned what temperature I wanted it set at by monitoring my adjusting the temperature throughout the day? Reading more, I found that it could also learn when I left the house and reset the thermostat as well.

Lyric thermostatI was happy with my current Honeywell thermostat. It came with my new furnace that I had installed last year – a basic seven day model, much like my old one, but with a touch screen. So I checked online to see what Honeywell had to offer and found that they had just introduced a new model called Lyric to keep with the Nest. It was available only through furnace installers, but would be available in August in Lowes. Both the Nest and Lyric models are priced around $250. Many of the reviews I read online focused on ease of installation.

Honeywell WiFi thermostatChecking further, I found that Honeywell had a model similar to the one I was currently using, but with Wi-Fi capabilities, enabling users to monitor and set the thermostat remotely. Its controls were the same as the model I was currently using, so ease of use wasn’t a concern for me. It was priced at about $100. Again, complaints centered on the need to have a C wire to the thermostat – something that older installations don’t have. I popped open my current thermostat and found that it had the needed C wire, so installation would not be an issue.

Honeywell offered a range of models that included additional features such as voice activation, color screen, learning how long it took for the house to come to new temperatures, automatically switching between heating and cooling, etc. These features added cost and filled in the price spectrum between the basic wifi model I was considering and the Nest/Lyric.

I finally decided to go with Honeywell’s basic wifi model instead of Nest or Lyric, because I’m competent enough to set my own temperatures and schedules and don’t need it to “learn” from my re-setting the temperature or monitoring my location (through my iPhone) – spooky! Shopping around, I found a new one (in an open package) offered at about $70 on eBay. Of course, given the newness of the Nest and Lyric, I couldn’t find any with much of a discount from their $250 list prices. So that amounted to a savings of about $180!

I received the unit today, read over the instructions, and watched the videos on Honeywell’s installation assistance website. I got my tools together – a cordless screwdriver, drill and drill bits, a small electronics screwdriver, and small needle-nose pliers – and got to work. I turned off the circuit breakers for my furnace and air conditioner, removed the old thermostat front, and detached and labeled the wires from the old thermostat mounting plate. I found that my furnace installer had screwed the old mounting plate directly into the wallboard without anchors, so I drilled holes and installed the anchors provided with the new thermostat. I mounted the new plate, attached the wires, clicked on the new thermostat cover, and turned my circuit breakers back on. I continued, as instructed, setting the time and day of the new unit, establishing a wifi connection with my router via my laptop, and setting up an online account that lets me monitor and control the unit via the Internet or iPhone app. I had tried to get the air conditioning running again by manually setting the temperature setting lower, but it was only after I had set up the online connection that my HVAC system started running again.

Online thermostat windowI started setting up the thermostat schedule on the unit as I had with my old unit, but found I had to do it one day at a time. So I checked out the online interface and I was pleased to see that I could set my temperature schedule much more easily, able to set blocks of days and not have to set all four modes (wake, leave, return, sleep) when not needed. The thermostat appears to get the outside temperature and humidity readings through the Internet.

The whole process, from opening the box to system running, took about 1 hour. The unit appears to be working properly; my house is pleasantly cool and the fan cycles on and off as before.

I am happy with the experience, and look forward to monitoring and resetting my thermostat temperature while away from home as well as from within my house, wherever I have a computer or iPhone. One hour and $70 was very little to be able to come home finding it at the right temperature after being away. I don’t have the bling factor of the neat new Nest or Lyric thermostats sitting on my wall, but frankly I don’t need anyone admiring such devices when they come visit me, and I get all the functionality I really need.


Photo Editing Software: Photoshop & Lightroom

My friend K.S. Liu blogged on his experience with Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom software. His blog is in Chinese (which I read using Google Translate), and I offered him my comments on the 2 programs. I’m repeating my comments here in my own blog (with some additions) for anyone interested.

Adobe offers several programs under the Photoshop name. Their most comprehensive product, which started as Photoshop, is now known as CS (for “Creative Suite”), now in version 4 (CS4). It’s aimed at professional photographers. At the other end, the most elementary product is called Elements (now in version 7) and provides some basic photo editing tools for casual picture takers with tools much easier to use than those in CS.

I learned to use the old Photoshop (and now CS – I have the previous version, CS3) and it had become my photo editing program of choice. I tried Elements years ago (it was quite inexpensive – sometimes bundled for free with other stuff), but it just didn’t have all the tools I needed to touch up my photos to my satisfaction. My niece’s husband, Gian, introduced me to Lightroom several months ago (now in version 2: LR2), and I’ve become a huge fan.

Once you learn them, CS and LR are very powerful. Alas, both CS and LR require some study before you can use them effectively, though LR, being simpler, takes less study. (I like Scott Kelby’s books, but some may not like his CS approach which focuses on memorizing keyboard shortcuts and doesn’t tell you how to access the commands via the menus).

LR provides a “left-to-right, top-to-bottom” workflow that helps me quickly edit the hundreds of photos I take at an event. The tools work very well with a touchpad or mouse. It lets me correct a photo and then apply the same correction to all the other photos I’ve taken under the same conditions, thus saving lots of time. I find I can now get the photos done quickly enough that I’ll get them done the same evening and onto my smugmug and facebook webpages for everyone to enjoy.

I still use CS for about 5% of my photos requiring specific touch-ups that I can’t do with LR tools. However, CS really requires a pen tablet to work efficiently; using a mouse with CS is quite tedious. I like my IBM ThinkPad PC for this work, where I can select areas directly with a pen on the screen. LR and CS are well integrated – they send the photo to and from each other, keeping a smooth workflow.

Photoshop Creative Suite (CS4) is quite expensive – about $700 at retail. Lightroom (LR2) is about $300. They’re available with big academic discounts, if you know someone connected with a school or university. Because they’re so expensive, they’re also pirated (but reportedly riddled with viruses). Also, Photoshop has gotten more diligent about checking valid registrations before allowing downloads of patches to their programs (though such patches aren’t frequent or required). I’m happy, though, to pay for software that works well – as these products do, and I’ve bought LR licences for family and friends.

The only thing the Photoshop programs don’t do well is making panoramic photos. I still use my old Panorama Maker program on my PC to stitch together my panoramic photos (the older version, no longer offered, is better than the one they currently have, since it lets me align adjoining photos manually when the program hasn’t matched them properly). For those really interested in panoramic photos, look into Gigapan. K.S. did and bought it, creating some beautiful and amazingly detailed photos (alas, zooming into the detail is provided only on online).

Since I usually take 100s photos at an event, editing my photos is a lot of work. But it’s worth all the work to be able to share the photos with family and friends. A picture, as Confucius said, is worth 10,000 words (not the mere 1,000 words many misquote him for), so I get say a lot with all my photos!