So what would you guess is the techiest hotel in Britain? Actually, that's probably a stupid question as there's all sorts of ways a hotel could be "techy". I'll start again. What hotel chain already lets you operate your room from your Apple or Android smarthone, and now is the only one IN THE WORLD to let you do the same from your Apple Watch? That's right: Premier Inn. Eh?
Yes, you read that correctly. Britain's biggest hotel chain does not only offer low-cost rooms for frequent business travellers, elderly couples and people who like beige and Lenny Henry, in that order. It also has a nascent, urban boutique chain called Hub by Premier Inn, with one branch so far but more to follow.
Here, in the heart of London, right by swinging Trafalgar Square and the mad dope National Portrait Gallery, yo, backpacking Continentals and bearded guardians of all things hip and groovy rub shoulders with thrusting young techsters. Such as myself.
At Hub, these bleeding edge overnighters may quaff artisan coffee, watch their own content on their room's 40-inch TV, and turn the lights and aircon down and hit "Do not disturb", all from their pricey slabs of Apple wrist candy, probably before having very exciting sex beneath oversized, London-themed murals.
And do you know what? It's pretty great. It's very easy to sneer at Premier Inn, as indeed I've just proved, but Hub is a nifty place, and an excellent way for Premier to prise cash from a younger, techier crowd. No wonder it's planning to have 13 of them online in London and Edinburgh in the coming years, with 2,500 beds in total.
Let me walk you through the Hub, then…
This is where you check in, wearing your Apple Watch (or not, if you prefer; it's not obligatory or anything). I was wearing a 38mm Sport which, to be honest, I think might have been for ladies - it was both uncomfortably tight and a bit stupid looking on my fat wrist. Alas, since Apple has mysteriously so far declined to give me a Watch, I had to use one kindly provided for the night by Premier Inn itself.
As you can see, the decor is somewhere between "modern departure lounge" and "old lady's front parlour". This is actually the charm of Hub, I think. It's Premier's stab at a "cool", "boutique" environment, but they're far too canny to put punters off by making the space too edgy. Or maybe they did want to be edgy and have no idea what they're doing. But my money is firmly on the first one.
So everything feels crisp, clean and modern, but nothing is really trying too hard. It's… Nice. Crap word, I know, but that's what it is. The slightly camp young man on the front desk is nice, too, and he's all on his own, because you check in using these Star Trek-style terminals.
Remember the hotel demo from the Apple's original Watch launch, where Watch becomes your room key? Well, you can't do that. However, these check-in terminals are still a masterstroke for tired travellers who'd really rather not have to queue up and speak to a person. Just enter your booking number, place a plastic card from the pile in that little recess on the bottom right on the little shelf to its left, and welcome sir! You now have a room key.
Now you can either linger over a craft beer from the agreeable coffee-shop-cum-cafe, or venture to your room. Let's go to the room, eh?
So as you can see, you've got crisp, white linens, another slightly Star Trek control panel, for the air con, lights and room service/do not disturb options. But we shan't be using that, for we have Watch! There's a 40-inch Samsung LCD! Oh, actually you can't see that cos it's here.
This is a very decent telly for a hotel, and you can use "Watch" to control as you "watch" it. Although as you can imagine, trawling through hundreds of channels is not exactly what the Apple Watch was born to do. It's a fun novelty thing, but the full iOS/ Android app is much better. If you don't like the choice on offer you'll be pleased to note that there are both plenty of plugs, including USB ones, to charge your stuff, and USB and HDMI inputs to the telly for watching your own gear.
The Watch app is a good way to play with the lighting, however. It doesn't give full control like a dimmer switch, just a choice of modes (Full, Mid, Low, which turn on varying numbers and combinations of lamps) and then stepped control over brightness, but hey, that's perfectly adequate, right?
Side note: try as I might, I could find no way to entirely turn off the light in the lavvy. In a way, I could see the point of this as nobody wants to accidentally curl one out in an unfamilar wardrobe. However, given the compact dimensions of the room, I didn't feel like getting lost was a big risk. Check the double wearable action here, by the way.
It also works well with the air con. In fact, if there was one actual USE to this, as opposed to it being a cool thing to control stuff from a Watch, it was being able to turn the air con back up when I was woken at 3am by the fact the room felt like Mumbai at noon, without having to leave my bed. Yep, welcome to the future.
The high heat was at least partly due to it being unusually sunny during the day, but also, I suspect, to the extremely good insulation keeping the summer heat in. On the other hand, the same insulation meant that despite being bang in the middle of London, in a hotel where Premier Inn are clearly absolutely packing punters in, at no point was there any excessive amount of noise.
I was impressed, to be honest. The bed was comfortable, the feel of the room was Japanese capsule hotel (but bigger) meets Starship Enterprise (but smaller), there was no mini bar, but there was free water. As a central London base for couples or singles who just want to sleep, use their Apple Watches, grab a coffee and then go out and do tourist things or go to business meetings all day, it's really hard to criticise.
The only minor problem I had really was with the coffee shop/bar thing downstairs. This was where you could see past the hip, Hub tattoos to the corporate, slightly bland Premier Inn DNA beneath. But it wasn't like it was awful or anything, just that the coffee was Costa rather than Monmouth Street (or Pact, or whatever), and the breakfast bacon sandwich came in a box for no apparent reason, and jarringly mixed upmarket sourdough bread with greasy-spoon bacon. I ate it happily enough anyway, so feel free to ignore my petty bitching.
The Hub is this: a cleverly thought-out, unthreateningly sort-of-cool place for young-ish people to stay, with some neat if inessential (for most people) techy overtones. Its central London location is fantastic and the rates are cheap for bang-in the-centre, central London.
Saver rates start at £76 (only from Premier Inn's own website), although realistically you're looking at more like £100-£170 per night if you don't book well in advance. But sorry, that is cheap for central London.
And Apple Watch owners? You should find it a win/win - as the owner of such a prestige arm companion, you can no doubt afford a few nights at Hub by Premier Inn easily AND it actually gives you something to do with your wrist-mounted attention tool other than alerts and Maps directions. Get in.