Hive Active Plug, motion sensor, door and window sensor review
We've already reviewed Hive Active Heating 2, which is the second-generation smart thermostat and heating system from British Gas. At the launch of that product, Hive demonstrated smart accessories that would be controlled by the same app, but they have taken almost a year to go on sale. We finally have them, so read on for our verdict on the Hive smart plugs, motion sensors and window/door sensors. See also: The best smart thermostats and heating systems to buy right now and Hive Active Light review.
Hive smart home accessories and sensors review: prices
Hive aims to be something much bigger than just your heating system. There range of smart accessories can be controlled via the Hive app. The first products available are the Window/Door Sensor (£29 from Hive), Hive Active Plug (£39) and Hive Motion Sensor (£29). There are also sensor packs available on the website. which are better value than buying everything individually.
Importantly, you don’t have to have Hive Active Heating to use them so even if you have electric heating (or don’t want Hive to control your boiler) you can still benefit from these smart accessories. But, if you don’t have a Hive thermostat, you’ll need to purchase a Hub which costs £80.
Alternatively, the hub is included in the sensor packs available on the website. which are better value than buying everything individually.
Hive Active Plug and sensor pack review: The Dumbest Smart System Ever?
Before we get to the good news, we need to say how dumb (right now) this is for a smart system. Nothing yet works together.
Well, we concede they all work together in the sense that they are controlled centrally by the Hive app but it can’t be configured so when you come through the door your motion detector turns on the heating.
You may be thinking you don’t need that as you have geolocation on your phone (which can alert you on your way home) but not all family members necessarily have phones with the Hive app.
Neither can you tell the plug to turn on if a motion sensor triggers. You can’t tell the heating to turn off in a zone if a window/door is open, and so on. It’s fair to say that the Hive has been very busy developing a great system but it needs to take it futher to make all of this possible.
One of the screens in the app is called ‘Recipes’. This will be familiar to any IFTTT user, and clearly implies we're going to get the functionality we're after (indeed Hive confirmed that IFTTT support is coming soon). For now, though, your recipe can only have one ingredient. When we quizzed Hive about this it responded with a very reassuring clear message that the proper smart features are on the way… and on that basis it’s something to be very much looking forward to.
If you already own Hive heating (or are going to get it) then these extra devices are certainly appealing. If you were thinking about buying a hub (without heating) and then using it for maybe just the ‘smart’ plugs then there are other options, such as Devolo Home Control. Once Hive releases the next version of the app we’ll update this review. We’re also expecting to hear news of Hive lights and camera integrations before too long. This really will make it a complete system with which few others can compete - although Nest's system includes the useful smoke and CO detector.
Hive Active Plug and sensor pack review: Configuring the Devices
All the devices are set up in basically the same way. Get the Hive app to start searching for them and then supply power to the device (either by plugging in the Active Plug or putting in the battery for the motion/window sensors). The steps in the instructions aren’t 100 percent correct but it’s so easy to set up few people will stumble. The Hive app will then add them to the list of available devices. You can rename them to make it obvious what they do (e.g. Front Door).
Hive will automatically add an On/Off schedule to the device and if you happen to want your plug to behave in a pattern that’s pretty much a heating default you will be pleased. The good news is changing the schedule is straight forward.
In total Hive says the hub can support up to 24 devices. That’s plenty for most households (even allowing for the number you may already be using for heating zones). There’s currently an accidental restriction on the number of items that can be properly manage on the iPad but Hive says this will fixed in the next release (coming soon).
These small gadgets are both useful and fun. They are very compact (roughly 50x50x20mm). The diminutive size means they can be placed just about anywhere without being an eyesore.
They currently only come in one colour… white (but that will likely suit most homes). Hive is not saying this is a security or alarm system like Canary (reviewed): it’s an alert system. The difference being that an alarm needs to go off instantly and generally scare away burglars etc.
This device won’t scare anyone as it simply contacts the owner. By default it sends you an email but it can, at the time of writing, also be configured to send a text message (or both text and email). Emails are useful if you want to know if someone came into the 6m detectable range and aren’t interested in knowing straight away. Text messages are pretty instant unless for any reason your phone network happens to have a delay on it. However, Hive has just announced they are soon replacing text messaging with app notifications. We think app notifications is a great idea but are disappointed they aren’t giving the option to continue using texts (even if the user needed to purchase text credits). Texts work even if your phone doesn’t have a data connection and on the iPhone they can be set to break through your silent hours (not so app notifications).
Our testers found a novel use for one of the motion sensors. Their daughter was sick and too young to use a phone so they popped a motion sensor beside her bed which she could wave at during the night (sending a text to her sleeping parents). They also pointed one into their garden to alert them when badgers came to dig up their lawn (note these devices are for indoor use only). Clearly most people will stick them in the corners of their rooms and use them to alert them to someone coming in to the property. They would also work really well at internally monitoring garages or outbuildings (if in range).
Hive kindly provides some high-strength sticky fixings. Our testers were reluctant to use them as they were concerned about the amount of force required (in the future) to remove the cover and replace the battery. If you are sticking them to wallpaper or paint you may wish to consider using 3M Command Strips (which shouldn’t damage the walls) and would enable you to reposition them should you ever change your mind.
In operation the motion sensors worked really reliably and didn’t give any false alerts. Pet owners will need to consider where to site them to get optimum performance.
Look around your home and think how many things would it be really useful to be able to power on and off from your phone. You’ll probably think of a few. Add in the fact that the Hive plugs are very easy to update the schedule on and you’ve got a winning combination. But it isn’t anything really new. Belkin have been producing their successful range of WeMo home automation switches for some years.
Control of the plug is pretty straight forward. You can have it on schedule or manual. With manual you simply click within the Hive app to toggle it on or off. It’s very quick to respond which makes it faster than getting off the sofa. The schedule works in the same way as the Hive heating schedule. You can set up to 6 slots per 24 hours which can either be on or off periods. For most people that should be plenty. However, the controls that currently exist for the plug are a bit too limited. We’d like to see things like an override timer system (much like the heating boost) where you can easily set it to on for the next 60 mins, etc. It would save having to either fiddle with the schedule or set a timer to remind yourself to change it from manual back to schedule. With a plug you may also want an anti-boost so you could effectively say ‘don’t turn on again until 4pm’ and it would then ignore the schedule until that time.
The build quality of the plug feels good. They are about the size of most timer plugs (but don’t have a display – as you always configure them from the app). There’s a button on the top of the plug that lets you manually turn it on and off. It would be nice if this was a smart button so the user could define what this did in the Hive app.
Hive has told us that IFTTT (If This, Then, That) support is coming soon. When it does the plug will be really worth considering. Until then it’s just a neat stand-alone smart(ish) plug.
If you’ve read all the way through this review you will know these detectors could be very useful but right now they are only slightly useful. To be fair they do everything the box says they do which is “Sends an alert to your smartphone when your windows or doors are opened or closed”. It can do a bit more than that as it can also email you.
The actual door sensors are very discrete measuring under 60x30mm (for both parts). But as with the motion sensor we found accessing the battery compartment quite tricky. However as this device will often be fixed to UPVC windows or solid doors the chance of damage is much less. Hive says that for the accessories the batteries should last a couple of years (under normal use) which will at least minimise the issue.
Hive Active Plug: Specs
- Pass-through socket
- requires Hive Hub
- Pass-through socket
- requires Hive Hub
Our expectations of these smart accessories were very high. This is probably because Hive Active Heating is simply excellent. Right now these plugs and sensors are merely 'nice'. They are well made and work as they should. What we can see is they have the potential to be excellent and most of that potential could be just a few app updates away. If you already have Hive Heating and are considering buying smart sensors or plugs then it’s worth taking the risk that the app updates won't come (since they probably will). But if you don’t plan on getting a Hive thermostat then there are other systems available which include security cameras and more.