Consumer NZ's James le Page takes a look at the Pebble WiFi heat pump controller.
WiFi controllers for heat pumps do away with the confusing remote layout and move the controls to your smartphone or tablet. I recently trialled the Pebble at my house to see how it went at injecting some smarts into my “dumb” Fujitsu heat pump.
I was pretty lukewarm to the Pebble when I first laid eyes on it. At roughly the size of an old double CD case, the unit has a cheap and plasticky look. At $250 I expected it would be more pleasing to the eye. It’s available in either black or white, so at least it’s able to be blended into most décors. It’s compatible with just about all heat pump makes and models, so older models released before WiFi controls were even a thing can be dragged into the future.
Setup required downloading a free app to my phone, then connecting it to the Pebble using a process called “Blinkup”. The next step was selecting my heat pump brand and its model-specific remote code. It was an easy process with a clear set of instructions included in the box. The controller has its own thermostat that gives a temperature readout where it’s situated. This is handy since the heat pump will keep working until the Pebble thinks it’s warm enough, rather than relying on your heat pump’s internal thermostat (which is often higher on the wall where it’s warmer).
The Pebble requires a wall plug, which proved a problem in my household where spare sockets are at a premium. Another factor is it also needed to be situated in a line-of-sight location with the heat pump. This meant I had to place it conspicuously in front of my TV as it was the only spot in the lounge with a spare plug. This made us the two most unpopular things in the room in my partner’s eyes as we ruined her minimalist utopia.
The app required to get the Pebble to work shows the heat pump controls in an intuitive and easy-to-follow manner. Setting the temperature was as simple as sliding your finger up and down. The app also allows you to set two timers for each day of the week. An annoying quirk is that timers switch the heat pump on with the settings that are in place when the timer is set up. For example, if you want the heat pump to turn on at 6am using a low fan speed to warm the room to 20 degrees, you need to change the heat pump settings to low fan speed and 20 degrees before setting the timer. I found this frustrating. It would be more user-friendly to have the ability to choose the temperature and fan speed from the app when setting a timer. However, despite these quirks, setting a timer was very simple.
The Pebble comes with a 3-year licence. After this, there is an ongoing cost of roughly $7 each year. The manufacturers say this covers the costs of continual updates and upgrades to the software as well as saving every users’ timers on its cloud-based server. This is unusual as people don’t buy devices like this expecting to pay a subscription. A heat pump should last a decade or more and the Pebble can be unplugged and taken when you move house so it’s not a stretch to think you’ll paying this fee for a number of years.
Did my heat pump have a brain at the end of all this? I don’t think so, but it was much easier to use and my old remote was banished to a drawer. I enjoyed making the changes on my phone from the couch or from bed rather than having to get up to grab the remote. The Pebble simplifies the process but I couldn’t foresee consumers flocking to buy one.
When compared to another WiFi controller, the Sensibo, which I previously trialled, the Pebble comes a distant second. Timers on the Sensibo are easier to set up. There is the added feature of climate react where heat pumps will switch on to desired settings when certain temperature or humidity thresholds are met. You can also set the heat pump to turn on/off based on your location. Both of these features are seriously smart. The Sensibo simply offers more, doesn’t have the ongoing subscription cost, and is $50 cheaper.
Availability: Redpaths, J.A Russell Ltd, Mitre 10.
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