Smartening up your air conditioner, the easy way




Depending on where you live, most houses could be built with central heating and thermostats in mind or not. Even in houses that have a fully ducted system, getting a small expansion done like a bigger garage, an additional room, or a guest house could require you start looking at other options for heating and cooling. Ductless systems, whether they’re split air conditioner units, window ACs, portable or floor standing units, or heat pumps, are the go-to solution then. But in a world that’s more connected than ever, they present one main disadvantage compared to thermostats: they can’t be easily retrofitted for automation and smartphone control.

Many companies have tried to solve that issue by simply creating a WiFi-connected remote replacement. If your ductless system has a remote, odds are you can mimic the same InfraRed commands through another device and it will respond to them. I have come across several brands that have tried to do this (Sensibo, Tado, Melissa, AirPatrol, AmbiClimate, Cuby, to name a few), but there was always something stopping me from buying one of them. Then I was offered the chance to review the Cielo Breez. Like most of you, I hadn’t heard of the company nor the device before, so I did my research. On paper, it hit a lot of right notes, including Google Assistant/Home compatibility, so I was intrigued. Read on for my findings.

In this review, I will use the word AC to refer to the ductless unit I’m controlling with the Cielo Breez. That’s because I have a split AC unit. But keep in mind Breez works with many other types of ductless systems. You can check if your remote is compatible here.

Hardware

At first look, the Cielo Breez looks like a small old digital photo frame with its granulated LCD and angular buttons. The unit has white plastic all over, but it’s glossy on the front and matte on the sides and back. The rectangular shape is even more accentuated by the very sharp angles, but the unit itself curves up a little toward the bottom.

Something about the design screams early to mid-2000s for me. Perhaps it’s the ridiculously large buttons or the relatively cheap display, perhaps it’s the shiny plastic or the overall aesthetic.

The back is even more simple than the front: there are a few regulatory inscriptions and a single MicroUSB port for power. I prefer the universality of the latter over some proprietary power input.

Cielo ships Breez with two ways to install it: a wall mounting kit (with screws and/or 3M tape) and a table stand. The table stand would make more sense if you can’t easily hide the cable on your wall. However, you need to have a flat surface within proper range of the AC you’re trying to control. Despite the long range and wide-angle reach of the InfraRed blasters, Breez didn’t work reliably when I put it on a low TV table, about 45deg to the side and 4 meters away from my AC. If I manually tilted the stand up a little, it would become more reliable, but at the laid-back position it comes with, it was a little too much. That’s why I opted to stick the wall mount on the balcony door’s casing, facing the AC. In that position, it has been flawless and hasn’t missed a single signal.

In standby, the display shows the room conditions (temperature and humidity), but when you turn the AC on, it switches to display the temperature of the AC. The touch buttons below the display let you raise or lower that without having to reach for the remote or your phone.

By default, the display stays on as long as the Breez has power (i.e. all the time), but you can turn it off from the app. Sadly, there’s no manual brightness setting so you can’t dim it if you prefer to avoid retina-searing LCDs in the middle of the night.

Setup

Cielo Home
Cielo Home

After you plug the device in, you download the Cielo app linked above on your phone (there’s an iOS app too) and start by creating an account. Thankfully, you can sign in with Google (or Facebook) instead of trying to remember another username and password. Then you tap to add a new device which, as with all smart home equipment, requires you introduce Breez to your WiFi network and wait for it to connect.

Now you need to customize your Breez to your ductless unit. That’s done by telling it which remote you have — remember, Breez mimics the remote. Cielo has a long list of compatible remotes that you can consult to make sure your unit will work with it. In my case, I have an LG AC with the remote AKB74955603, but that model isn’t specifically listed. However, there’s a generic AKB-xx (Celsius) that works just fine.

Once that’s done, the AC with its name (I chose Easy Breezy, hah) shows up in the list of devices in the Cielo app and you can start using it.

The entire process of getting the Cielo Breez out of its box, mounting it, and setting it up in the app took less than ten minutes. I appreciate products like this that don’t require a lot of fussing around.

Android application

The Cielo Home app is more or less well designed with many Material Design elements and colorful icons and toggles, but some pages feel a little out of place with tiny fonts or comically large icons.

The main screen shows a home image and your list of devices (with an on/off toggle) and zones — since I have one device, I didn’t set up zones. The side menu has lots of items, but you only need to look at HomeProfile, and Settings. The latter lets you turn on and off notifications for the app and… that’s it.

 

Device options

Tapping the configuration icon in a device’s card rolls up a menu of Breez-specific options. You can rename the device and move it to another zone, change which appliance it controls or the WiFi network it connects to, customize the display picture and turn it on/off, change the up/down buttons’ touch sensibility or disable them, view your Breez’s information including MAC address and firmware, and delete it from your account.

A/C Controls

Tapping the card itself opens up all the controls related to your unit. Since I’m using my Breez to control an AC, I get an interface tailored for that device type. The bottom bar quickly switches modes from cool to dry, fan, and heat. Beside that, you get an on/off button, a circular slider for the temperature, text displaying the current room conditions, and two buttons for controlling the swing position and fan speed. The former didn’t work with my unit, but the latter does let me change the speed.

Visually, the icons and typography are a little over the top, but the colors are very nice to quickly differentiate the mode my AC is operating in.

Scheduling

Moving to the eSaver tab on top, you get a list of tips for saving energy and money with Breez, for doing maintenance and changing the AC’s filter, and two scheduling options: time and location. Multiple time schedules can be set throughout the week and day and quickly toggled on and off. I only tested them briefly as my current work schedule is erratic; they worked properly.

You can also set up location geofencing so the Cielo Breez turns the AC off when you move out of the zone and on when you’re nearby. Since weather has been rather unpredictable in Lebanon lately (rain and cold one day, scorching heat the other), I didn’t have much chance to test geofencing as I had no need to keep it enabled. But it’s nice knowing the AC would turn off should I go out and forget to do it myself.

Statistics

The third tab is for the History of usage and temperature across different time spans: 1, 7, 30, and 90 days. It’s a nice way to keep track of how long the AC has been on and at which temperature.

Timeline

Finally, the fourth tab is the timeline of actions performed with your Breez. It has all online/offline connection statuses plus the changes you’ve made through the app (yellow profile icon), Google Assistant (Home icon), or the AC’s regular remote (blue icon). It’s a central way to keep track of who changed what when.

Web app

The company also offers a Cielo World web app for enterprise use in case you’re in charge of managing multiple AC units for a big business, but I was able to sign into the site and use it even with my regular single-user single-unit account. It’s a lot reminiscent of the app and clicking Let’s Dive In opens up a very similar interface where you get all your devices and controls.

Smart Home integration

Cielo offers integration with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, but I’ll focus on the latter here. It works as a direct Home control device, so you add it by opening the Google Home app or Assistant settings, going to Home control, tapping the + icon on the bottom right, choosing Cielo Smart Home in the alphabetical list, and logging in with your account. Then you give access to Google and you’re all set. Your Breez device will basically work like a Nest or any other thermostat.

It shows up in the list of Home control devices where you can assign it to a room and change its nickname. It also integrates in your Google Assistant routines. And you can easily control it from any Assistant device, be it your phone, Home, Wear watch, or more.

 

Cielo has a list of commands that work with Google Home, but I wasn’t able to properly trigger some of them. Turning on/off, making it warmer/colder, asking about the temperature of the room it’s in or the temperature that it is set to, all of these are possible.

But I hit a bit of a snag when I tried changing modes. If I say the word “AC,” it knows I want the cool mode. If I use the word “thermostat,” it can be either cool or heat and I can ask to “set the thermostat to heat mode.” But I couldn’t find a way to set the dry or fan modes via voice, I would always get “that mode isn’t available for the Easy Breezy.”

Setting a specific temperature is also a bit hit-and-miss. Sometimes I get the exact temperature I ask for, but other times I get a bit of a different temperature. In the video below, asking for 25 gets me 25, asking for 22 gets me 20. Eventually, I learned to rely on warmer/cooler, which move in 3-degree increments, to get in the ballpark of the temperature I want.

In everyday use

Although I spent several hundreds of words describing the Android app, I have to confess that after setting everything up, I barely touched it. The Google Home and Assistant integrations of Cielo are so convenient that I rarely resorted to the app and I never felt the need to use the big on-device buttons.

In the past few weeks, I’ve pulled up Assistant on my phone and asked it to turn on the AC several times before arriving home. It’s just heaven to step into a cool living room after being out in the scorching heat. I also use the Google Home around my house to control the AC so I can turn it on while preparing a meal and find the living room already chill by the time we’re ready to eat, or change the temperature if it gets too cold or hot, or turn it off when we’re done. It’s beyond convenient, but it’s also very economical if you’re the kind of person who forgets their AC on when they walk out of the house, or who leaves it on at an extreme temperature because they don’t want to walk up to the remote and change it.

It helped that I had notifications turned on for the app, so every state was logged and I could easily keep abreast of changes made to the AC without opening the app.

Perhaps the best feature of the Cielo Breez is that I don’t have to make an effort to use it to benefit from many of its features. Unlike many smart AC solutions from other companies, Cielo doesn’t say you should stop using the remote to avoid conflict with the status of the AC. Instead, Breez has InfraRed receivers as well, so if you or anyone around the house uses the regular remote to control the AC, it catches that signal and keeps the state synchronized in the app and on its display.

It felt a little magical the first time I noticed it: in the video below, you can hear the AC (which is behind the camera) beep as it responds to the commands, but also see Breez’s display mirror whatever is set on the remote. Please note though that you don’t need to point the remote at Breez, you can point it at the AC as always and Breez will still capture the signal even if it’s in the opposite direction.

This synchronization means that your usage stats should always be accurate. All changes also show up in notifications and in the timeline. And finally, the app is always showing the correct state and not confusing you by saying the AC is on when it’s really off, or the other way around.

After three weeks with the Cielo Breez, I have started wanting a similar unit for my bedroom’s AC. In the living room, our presence and AC usage are pretty unpredictable (we have a nice sea-facing balcony that negates the need for an AC some evenings), so the schedule feature is near pointless. But in the bedroom, being able to set the AC to turn on before we go to bed, and then raise the temperature a little later so it’s not very cold throughout the night would be ideal.

I do however miss a smarter brain in Breez. The device already has sensors for temperature and humidity, it can access my location if I give the app permission, and it knows when I turn the AC on and when I don’t, plus which temperature I set it to. It should learn from these patterns, and if not predict my usage fully, then it should at least not turn the AC on if the room temperature is within a certain acceptable range, regardless of any time schedule or geofencing. Sadly, it doesn’t understand those intricate situations.

I would also appreciate notifications of over-usage. If my AC has been on for 24 hours straight (or any threshold I see fit), a little nudge to ask if I forgot it or if I really want it on would be welcome. And finally, I’d like multiple user support in the app: with voice commands, my husband can easily control Breez, but he would need access to my account if he wanted to install the app.

Value and conclusion

Living in Lebanon means that it rarely gets very cold, especially on the coast where I live, but it can be quite hot in summer. Most of us install split ACs in our houses, and since smart ACs are a rarity still, automating the “dumb” ones either requires we use a Zigbee/Z-Wave switch or one of these smart AC add-ons. The former requires a special hub and only has on/off capability, the latter is a better solution, and Cielo’s Breez takes it a step further by providing proper synchronization with the remote, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa integration, and an LCD display to view the current conditions.

Compared to similar devices from other brands, Breez has an upper hand — save for the lack of IFTTT support — and is similarly priced in the $99 range. But this is where the question of value comes into play. If you’re only looking for the convenience of turning on your AC or heat pump remotely before you get home, plus using voice commands to control everything, then it’s a novelty item but one that won’t break the bank if you decide to buy it.

However, if you need voice controls for an elderly person or someone disabled in your house, then the price is certainly justifiable. Or if you often forget the AC on and go out of the house, or turn it to an extreme temperature before you go to bed and leave it at that the whole night, then the Cielo Breez would save you more than $99 in energy bills over time by turning off the AC with geofencing and setting schedules to switch to a moderate temperature during the night.

Buy: Cielo Wigle ($119), Amazon ($99)




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