Review - Putting Thermodo through the paces

The need for a thermometer on your smartphone

Nine months has Robocat taken from kickstarting its first venture in hardware manufacturing to shipping. Breaking my rule of not throwing money to hardware projects on Kickstarter that inevitably get delayed, I wanted to support the Danish developer, who had been pushing some remarkable interfaces to the App Store for a long time. The Thermodo is a small thermometer that clips in your iPhone's headphone jack (or any other supported Android device) to take air temperature measurements. The idea of an ecosystem of weather apps combined with actual temperature taken from hardware exactly where you are was too clever to let past.

My Thermodo unit arrived before just before my Christmas holiday, giving me plenty of time and different situations to use it. The thermometer itself is encased on a minuscule metal cylinder with a key ring hole, which should give you an idea of the size. Depending on the backer tier you choose there are several finishes and colours available, but the internals are otherwise the same. Detaching the bottom revels a standard 3.5 headphone jack that is used to connect to your device and transfer information and power. Note how this thing doesn't need any external battery to work, which will come in very handy when I explain the real world use scenarios later.

There is no installation or pairing as such. Plugging the Thermodo with a companion app installed will be recognised immediately — you need to give permission to the app to access the microphone jack when prompted. Using it with a case will probably be a pain because the Thermodo wants to be plugged all the way in, flush with the device, and its probably going to be too wide for a case if you happen to use any. The developer has put together a video with some typical scenarios, going through a couple of options you can use, including some extension cables and adapters. Although this sounds like a half-baked solution, these have some interesting applications and might allow the Thermodo to take temperature readings without taking into consideration the heat from your device.

Daily usage

Designed to be taken with you everywhere, compatible with your smartphone and probably smaller than any other thermometer you own, what are you going to do with it? Friends who have seen me using it or noticed it with my keys understood the idea but couldn't think of many applications. There is a high novelty element here, as I anticipated on my original post, but I've discovered some interesting uses so far.

I have a couple of indoor thermometers with a digital display (the old version of these) in different places in the house. Our bathroom feels too cold in the mornings so I wanted to check how cold this is compared to the rest of the house. The reason to have several thermometers of the same model is to be able to calibrate them: leaving two together on the same table should give the same temperature! When I got my Thermodo the first thing I tried was comparing the readings against the Amazon thermometers: noticing there was only half a point difference in Celsius. In the Thermodo app settings there's an option to compensate heat, so this was a good opportunity to see which reading was more realistic. Since the Thermodo doesn't rely on an external battery to work, I can always keep it as a checker that others are working fine.

The main issue with the Thermodo is the amount of time it takes to settle on a figure. It does take a couple of minutes to increase or reduce and give you an accurate number, which seems too much compared to my cooking thermometer probe (despite the obvious different usage situations and form factor). The product FAQ explain this is to be expected:

It can easily take a good few minutes for the device to settle on a temperature. Also notice how it might settle on a temperature range within a few minutes, but the last decimals might take longer to home in on.

What this means in practice is that if you want to know how cold are the shelves in your fridge, you are going to have to leave the iPhone inside the fridge, make yourself a coffee and check what happened. Michael Rockwell, who works with frozen foods as a day job, has some interesting view and his review is a recommended reading.

Coming soon app ecosystem

One of the most enticing aspects of the project was the opportunity use Thermodo readings with other sets of data — a bit like the way weather apps such as Weather Line use the Forecast.io API. I might remember Robocat mentioning support for Haze (reviewed here) but the last update was in March 2009.

-So far the only compatible app is the Thermodo companion-. Apparently Shade just added support on its last update! This is minimalism design exercise giving you a number with the temperature measurement either in Celsius or in Fahrenheit on a white slate. You could say it's on the typical Robocat UI standards. The monochromatic aspect is broken by an animation indicating if the reading is increasing or decreasing (red for warmer and blue when it gets colder), that resembles smoke art photography somehow. I'm waiting for more people to get hands on the SDK and come up with new uses, like the project for Mac support.

As far a Kickstarter projects go, Thermodo has been very enjoyable for the backer thanks for the effort updating the status. What I specially liked was the use of video not only for the project pitch, but also throughout the whole year to give you a sense of transparency and what it is like to work as an app developer in Copenhagen and having to manufacture in China. The Robocat team has done a great job at communicating, making the story worth the price of entry alone. The fact they managed to scale ten times the original scope of the project is also worth commending, and I'm sure it has given the studio members something to be proud of.

If you didn't back the Kickstarter project, Thermodo is now taking pre-orders for black, white and red as well as the anodized and engraved version.