Shoot-out: Smart air-conditioner controllers

Keeping the climate under control

Flat and squarish, the Tado can sit on a table or be mounted on a wall. It is managed via an app.
Flat and squarish, the Tado can sit on a table or be mounted on a wall. It is managed via an app.PHOTO: TADO
The Ambi Climate unit stands upright, its wide base allowing it to sit neatly on a table top.
The Ambi Climate unit stands upright, its wide base allowing it to sit neatly on a table top.PHOTO: AMBI CLIMATE

Sherwin Loh puts two smart controllers to the test and discovers that keeping your rooms cool can be pretty complicated

Handy features, tricky app interface

These days, there are smart devices to switch on the lights, play music, open digital locks and perform all manner of services.

With so many homes here dependent on air-conditioning, it is surprising that devices that control home air-conditioners remotely, like the Tado Smart AC, did not surface earlier.

You link this small device to your home network, and manage it with an app to control the infrared blaster of the Tado unit. It needs a clear line of sight to your air conditioner. So, separate Tados are needed for each unit.

But why switch on the air-conditioner if no one is there? It could be to cool the room down before you get home. Or, in an office, before the work day starts.

The Tado works only with conventional air-conditioner units that use an infrared remote control, and not with central air-conditioning.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: US$199 (S$279) from www.tado.com

    CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi/bluetooth

    DISPLAY: LED Matrix with capacitive touch

    SENSORS: Temperature and humidity

  • RATING

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    EASE OF USE: 3/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

Flat and squarish, the Tado looks like a drink coaster. Being flat, the Tado can sit on a table or be mounted on a wall.

You must use the app (Android or iOS) to set it up. It is easier with the iPhone app as the Android app can be sluggish at times.

Once you enter the brand name of your air-conditioner unit into the app, it will attempt to turn the unit on 20 times. Each time, you need to acknowledge the successful attempt.

Each attempt is actually a pre-set profile, so you have to check that the other controls (for example, mode or temperature changes) on each profile also work.

This is quite tedious. After two tries, I found out that several profiles could control features on my air-conditioner, but none would actually turn it on.

So, I checked with customer service. They told me that they needed to update several frequencies. As each Tado unit has a unique serial number, they can access my unit remotely and update it.

Once connected, the Tado's built-in sensors can measure the temperature and humidity in the room. One great feature is a proximity sensor.

You set it and the air-conditioner turns itself on once it detects that the user's phone is in the vicinity.

If multiple users are in the room, the Tado can switch off the air-conditioner automatically, when the last person with a registered phone leaves.

The app's interface is annoying, though. Rather than recognise a selection with a tap on the smartphone screen, you also need to tap the Start button to register an action.

So, to switch on the air-conditioner, press the Power button, then hit Start. To change the temperature, hit the arrow key and then Start.

This two-step approach does not make sense. If you want to lower the temperature and increase the fan speed, you have to go through the two steps for each adjustment.


Check first if air-con is compatible

The Ambi Climate unit does almost the same thing as the Tado but, unlike its German competitor, it is from Hong Kong and its creator is actually Singaporean.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $279

    CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi/bluetooth

    DISPLAY: Three front-facing LEDs

  • RATINGS

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    EASE OF USE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

Users need to install the Android or iOS app to aid in the set-up.

The Ambi Climate is slightly easier to set up than the Tado, but it still required me to contact its support staff.

This is because the software requires users to select the model of their air-conditioner's remote control. The information is usually found on the back of each remote.

But the one shown on my unit was incorrect, and there was another remote that I should select, for better compatibility, so I was told.

None of this was listed in an instruction manual. So, I recommend that you start by contacting customer service first, to check if your air-conditioner is compatible with the Ambi Climate.

The device stands upright. Its wide base allows it to sit neatly on a table top.

Three green indicator lights glow steadily when everything is normal. One shows Wi-Fi connectivity; the second, the power icon; and the third, a cloud icon.

The app learns your usage habits and can show a graph based on usage and temperature patterns in the room.

Like the Tado, the Ambi Climate works with an infrared transmitter, so it needs a clear line of sight.

I placed the device off to one side, on a dressing table, and it worked fine.

You do need a separate device for each home air-conditioner unit you want to control.

And those with central air-conditioning units will have to look elsewhere for remote access.

Instead of trying to replicate the controls on a conventional air-conditioner remote control, which offers fan speed, date, time and other icons that many of us tend to ignore, Ambi Climate's app is more of a redesign of your remote.

Swipe right to control the louvre, fan speed and swing of air blades. Slide your fingers across a row of numbers to increase fan speed. The app tracks room temperature, although this is not shown on the unit, unlike with the Tado.

It even records the data to show what temperatures the air-conditioner had been set at.

Instead of making you work out the right temperature for your room, you just select the comfort level option closest to how you feel, and the device will change the temperature accordingly.

After a while, the device learns your preferences and builds a profile. This makes sense if you are the only occupant, but it would be difficult to pull off with more people in the room.

Alas, the Ambi Climate unit does not have a proximity setting, so if you want to cool the home before you get there, you have to remember to do so manually.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'Keeping the climate under control'. Print Edition | Subscribe