The GLAS smart thermostat is the most beautiful smart thermostat to hit the market since Nest shook the industry out of its complacency back in 2011. And just like Nest before it, GLAS manufacturer Johnson Controls has taken an approach no other thermostat maker has to date: It has embraced Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant.

Few would argue that the GLAS isn’t beautiful. The device is dominated by a 5-inch translucent OLED touchscreen that’s mounted to a small base housing the brains of the unit and its connections to your HVAC system. Unlike most other thermostats, which have their wiring connections on a backplate that the display half attaches to, the GLAS’s wiring is accessed from the front, hidden by a removable panel. The futuristic design looks as though could have been used in a science-fiction movie.

In building the GLAS, Johnson Controls embraced not just Cortana but also Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT operating system. The acronym stands, of course, for the Internet of Things, and this is one of the first consumer applications we’ve seen for the OS. As such, it’s a gutsy move on Johnson Controls’ part. But if that accounts for the GLAS’s $319 price tag, it’s also a dubious one.

Using Cortana for indoor climate control

glas app Jason D’Aprile

The ability of the GLAS smart thermostat to monitor your home’s air quality and enlist your HVAC system to improve it is a welcome innovation.

I’ll cover this first, because it’s one of the biggest elements that set GLAS apart from the competition. Of all the digital assistants making inroads to the smart home, Cortana is currently the least common. Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri are far more widely embraced than Microsoft’s technology. Perhaps that’s because it’s the only one that doesn’t have a smartphone to go with it. Whatever the case, using Cortana to control my HVAC system was a decidedly odd experience. Here’s just one example:

On a day that I wanted my HVAC system to run just its fan to circulate the air in the house without conditioning it, I was able to use a voice command to turn off my air conditioner. But when I asked Cortana to have the GLAS run just the fan, Cortana responded with an in-depth explanation of how and why she could activate my PC’s cooling fans. And no matter how I phrased my request, I could not convince Cortana to return the system to its active cooling role.

Johnson Controls was wise to make the GLAS compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant as well as Cortana, so you ultimately don’t need to worry if Cortana is up to par. And frankly, voice control is table stakes for smart thermostats today. The GLAS does a few things that its competitors don’t, but the style in which it does is it is where this product shines.

Best-in-class user interface

The GLAS has the best touch interface of any thermostat I’ve encountered, including our current top pick, the Ecobee4. The current temperature and the target temperatures for heating and cooling are displayed on the main screen. You swipe left to view the air-quality monitor, and swipe right to see the status of your HVAC system (on, off, heat, cool, auto, and so on). Tap the tab at the top of the screen and the options menu appears. Where most smart thermostats are easiest to control via their mobile app, you never really need to use anything other than the GLAS’s own display; in fact, I found the device easier to use that way.

It’s worth noting that the GLAS’s motion sensor requires you to be very close (basically right in front of the thermostat) before it will activate its display. The Nest, in comparison, lights up if you come within around eight or so feet of it. All the thermostat’s settings are also available via the app, of course, for those who prefer to use a mobile device (and for when you wish to control the thermostat from afar). I encountered a few instances where the app simply wouldn’t connect to the thermostat and I had to reset the GLAS to fix the problem. That should be an easy enough bug for Johnson Controls to squash.

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