Ecobee and Nest continue to be two of the leading smart thermostats that interested shoppers wish to add to their homes. But comparing the two models in store can be a hassle because not all of the most important specifications and features are listed in the box.
ecobee4 Smart Thermostat
- Broadly compatible with most common HVAC systems
- Includes power extender kit with C-wire
- Intuitive integration with most major in-home smart devices
- Great purpose-built functionality such as HomeIQ and Maintenance Notifications
- Value-centered pricing
- Energy Star certified
- Challenging to mute Alexa
- Doesn’t “learn” routines without some manual input
- Price can rise if more sensor nodes are needed for a large home
- Technical customer support provides minimal assistance
While the ecobee wasn’t the first smart thermostat on the market, it has done a great deal to push this industry forward when it comes to functionality and realistic in-home implementation. As word gets around, more and more contemporary homeowners are making the leap to smart device era starting with this well-integrated smart thermostat.
When it comes to infrastructure compatibility, few (if any) other devices are in the ecobee’s class. In fact, no other widely popular smart thermostat gives you the capability to modify your standard electrical set up through the device itself. This is because the ecobee4 comes with its own Power Extender Kit, which includes the necessary C-wire with appropriate installation tips.
Beyond this, the ecobee4 is especially compatible with existing HVAC infrastructures. While you can outright check your system’s compatibility on ecobee’s website, you can generally rest assured that this model with harmoniously integrate with most contemporary climate control systems. This includes gas, oil, electric, and dual fuel powered systems, as well as conventional (2H/2C), heat pump (4H/2C), humidifier, dehumidifier, ventilator, HRV and ERV systems.
In several hands-on tests, the ecobee4 has been found to be exceptionally easy to install with properly compatible hardware. This can be accomplished in as little as 30 minutes using the user-friendly, step-by-step walkthrough that appears in the ecobee smartphone app (available for both Apple and Android devices).
As far as functionality and smart integration are concerned, this ecobee thermostat is currently blazing a trail towards broad, reliable interfacing with a whole household of differently-branded smart devices. As it currently stands, the ecobee4 is compatible with Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, Microsoft Cortana, Google Assistant, and IFTTT. That’s a remarkably broad portfolio, ideal for anyone with pre-existing smart devices at home.
Of note, the ecobee4 actually comes with Alexa services built right in, allowing you to make device-specific request to it and have it return information in real time. This built-in system also includes supporting ESP, which allows only the closest Alexa device to you to listen and respond to your requests, even if it was made to the thermostat proper.
Though Alexa on this device is clear and fairly able to catch voices at range, it currently lacks some standard Alexa functionality. For instance, the ecobee4 is not currently able to run popular streaming applications like Spotify and Pandora.
While this may be a letdown for some, those same folks can take heart because ecobee regularly puts out software updates. With an active developer community online, you should expect this functionality to be just over the horizon.
Apart from standard home/away auto-adjusting, the ecobee4 also comes with great pre-programed features like HomeIQ, which provides you with individualized efficiency tips based upon your use patterns. Maintenance Reminders are also exceptionally useful, as this device can send you notifications when your HVAC system needs work such as replacing a filter.
Aesthetically speaking, the ecobee lives up to the industry standard. While it only comes in an industry standard black at this time, its overall visual interface is among the easiest to read in the industry. In fact, this device knows when you approach it and turns its face display on to you can quickly and easily use its temperature sensors from across the room.
Finally, the ecobee comes in very affordably when purchased through most online retailers. Ecobee claims that the device will pay for itself in two years, which seems fairly likely given how reasonably priced this device is compared to the amount of energy you’ll save with its smart balancing in just one year.
One money-saving special offer going on right now allows you to get the ecobee4 and two additional motion detector nodes for around the same price as some competitors’ devices alone. That’s certainly a great value for such a fully-fledged, fully-functional device like the ecobee.
Nest Learning Thermostat – 3rd Generation
- Integrates optimally with other Nest devices
- Excellent Alexa compatibility
- User-friendly interface and app
- Fantastic “learning” capabilities for seamless routine establishment
- Most visual options out of any leading smart thermostat
- Modest price tag, especially with special offers
- Requires C-wire, which is not included
- Not as compatible with older HVAC systems
- Some noteworthy software malfunctions
- Minimal smart device integration
Nest has started to grow their at-home product portfolio and at the same time, they have begun to really push for new homeowners to convert their existing thermostat system to their unique “learning” thermostat. These efforts have seen some success, with the Nest Learning Thermostats gaining a fair amount of praise among recent converts.
While infrastructural compatibility is one of the first concerns on many shoppers’ minds, the Nest thermostat, unfortunately, falls short in this category. While Nest does offer a user-friendly combability check on their website, this test may return negative results for some owners of older homes and older HVAC systems. Still, Nest ensures its customers that its smart thermostat works with 95% of 24V heating and cooling systems.
That being said, HVAC professionals can work wonders today to bring your system up to snuff in order to use this system. You have a variety of justifiable reasons to want to use the Nest in particular. This includes its acutely effective Alexa integration. While the Nest is only partially effective with other non-Nest smart devices such as Google Home, its Alexa compatibility can easily be called the best around.
Speaking of smart integration, the Nest smart thermostat offers a great deal of integration with Nest’s other industry-leading products. Among others, Nest is currently the fine proprietors of smart cameras, doorbells, smoke, and carbon monoxide alarms. All of these systems play well together and can even be fully integrated to create a whole home smart network.
Overall, the Nest is pretty user-friendly, even among smart devices. The Nest app, in particular, is gentle on the eyes and easy to navigate. This app (available for Apple and Android smart devices) can provide info on energy usage, as well as scheduling and toggling options for both heating and cooling systems.
Visibility is also another field where the Nest succeeds. Out of several leading smart thermostats, the Nest is the easiest to read from across the room with its Farsight technology. This increases contrast and makes all figures easier to interpret across the high-res color display. This model even features analog clock options for those looking for a retro visual appeal.
In the same vein, the Nest provides unmatched options when it comes to visually integrating your new smart thermostat into your modern home. While every model comes with a durable, stainless steel outer ring construction, the Nest comes in stainless steel, white, black, copper, polished steel, brass, and mirror black body options.
When it comes to functionality, the Nest holds its own. As in its name, this smart thermostat “learns” from your regular usage habits and begins to implement automatic adjustments to your heating and cooling appropriately. While this is generally based on a 50-foot range around the device, it can be further extended to accommodate unique home architecture.
In time, this “learning” functionality will blend seamlessly into the background of your life. You’ll really notice it in the winter when the Nest adds cozy warmth in the morning and lowers the temperature ever so slightly in the evening for comfortable rest and relaxation.
Auto-scheduling is another major boon with this device. If you are heading out on vacation, you can schedule your departure and return months in advance with the Nest, allowing it to keep the heating or cooling moderated while you are away. This model also comes with specialized alerts, allowing you to take action to address your HVAC system when the air temperature outside grows cold enough to burst pipes, for example.
Also, this model can be set to four different language modes: English, French, Spanish, and Dutch. This means that all kinds of multi-lingual homes can implement this device and feel secure that all family members are comfortable using it.
Pricing for the Nest is very modest, all things considered. Even the energy savings alone – estimated to be around 10-12% on heating bills and 15% on cooling bills in one internal study – can help pay for this device in a year or two. This device is Energy Star certified also, making it a sure choice for greener energy use habits.
The Nest’s modest price can be lowered even further if you seek out specialized price vouchers and grants provided through your energy company. For example, an Ameren, Illinois customer can currently get $100 – that or around the Nest’s upfront cost – back for simply installing a modern thermostat system. Nest makes finding these offers as easy as can be with their searchable database of active offers from local and national energy companies.
Overall, the Nest is a solid smart thermostat options if you’re looking if you’re looking for superior Alexa compatibility and some of the best user friendliness in the industry.
How to Choose a Smart Thermostat
Traditional thermostats have long been an inconvenience for those seeking a properly climate-controlled home. Most notably, old-fashioned thermostats are limited in their ability to adjust based on the room they are in, making them over-sensitive to direct sunlight or lots of shade.
Luckily, a new solution has emerged: smart thermostats. No matter where they are installed, these thermostats can intuitively heat or cool your home using remote sensors or specialized “learning” algorithms. In addition, these smart thermostats feature user-friendly interfaces that can seamlessly provide temperature readings and power efficiency analysis.
Two of the most popular smart thermostats – the ecobee 4 and the Nest Learning Thermostat – continue to battle for superior integration in smart homes across the world. Though they appear similar on the surface, both models include special features that make them uniquely able to meet your in-home temperature controlling needs.
Which is better, though? This guide will highlight many of the key features that allow each smart thermostat to shine on their own before launching into a succinct, consumer-friendly comparison guide. Shopping for a smart thermostat that is compatible with your other smart devices – like the Echo or Google Home – can be a challenge, so we’ve also included a buyer’s guide to streamline your smart thermostat purchasing process.
Do I need a Smart Thermostat?
Like many modern homeowners, you may be asking yourself whether or not a smart thermostat like the Ecobee or Nest is right for your home. While that’s a difficult question to answer on its own, there are several critical categories you might examine in your attempts to justify upgrading to a smart thermostat.
Before you commit to your purchase, complete some self-examination of your priorities and housing infrastructure to see if you really do need a smart thermostat. Any of the following factors may be a worthwhile reason to invest in this kind of smart home devices upgrade.
Aging Thermostat – Simply put, many folks are considering making the change to a smart thermostat because their existing analog thermostat is growing too old and ineffective. While this can be caused by a variety of mechanical failures, these issues and more can certainly be solved by switching the most contemporary model.
In addition, replacing old hardware can come down to a matter of saving a few dollars. While smart thermostats tend to cost a pinch more than their analog counterparts, they occasionally come with municipal energy savings in the form of grant distribution. Check with your energy company to learn if they provide grant-based savings to better facilitate your purchase of a modern, energy efficient thermostat. This way, you can learn how to save energy in your home.
Full Smart Integration – Another main reason to upgrade to a smart thermostat is out of a desire to fully integrate your home with smart technologies. Smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have already found broad appeal, making people want more devices to fully optimize the smart home experience.
Though not every model integrates with every other smart device, many of today’s leading smart thermostats – including the Ecobee and Nest – can currently integrate with many common in-home smart devices. This includes the aforementioned smart assistants as well as some smart doorbells.
Also, because of their inherent internet connectivity, you can expect current smart thermostats to acquire future software updates that allow them to interact with yet-unreleased smart devices.
Energy Savings – Smart thermostats are popular for their energy saving capabilities. These devices are designed to save users way more money than they spent on the device itself. While this cost-benefit analysis will vary from home to home based on other factors, smart thermostats definitely hold the potential to balance your energy usage beyond regular human capabilities.
As noted, you may receive direct savings as soon as you opt to replace your old thermostat hardware through a power company-run program. This can represent great savings on an upcoming energy bill.
Aesthetic Unity – As home interiors trend towards minimalistic and modern, more and more homeowners are in search of appliances that match their sleek room designs. A smart thermometer would make a perfect addition to this type of living room, as they tend to come in simple, neutral colors like black, grey, and white. Moreover, their smooth touch-sensitive surfaces form a perfect aesthetic harmony without distracting from main decorations.
This comparison guide will see you through to purchasing success as it aligns both the Ecobee and the Nest based on several important attributes to determine which is superior.
Traditional wisdom tells that installing any thermostat is a difficult task, often requiring a trained specialist. Smart thermostats aren’t too far afield from this belief, but they do have the added benefit of mostly functioning on existing infrastructure – assuming, that is, that the device in question is compatible with your home’s HVAC system in the first place.
The ecobee4 goes the extra mile when it comes to perhaps the most important part of infrastructure integration: the C-wire. This component is positively essential for proper smart thermometer functionality, even though many homes don’t have one installed already. The ecobee4 takes the work out of installing one because it comes with its own specialized power extension kit.
The Nest, on the other hand, lacks such a crucial piece of hardware. This may require you to hire someone to install a C-wire for you before you can even begin to install your new smart thermostat. In addition, the Nest has been found to work with significantly fewer HVAC systems, especially when compared to the ecobee4’s excellent HVAC compatibility record.
In this category, there’s simply no contest. The ecobee4 is far more infrastructurally compatible with more modern homes. The ecobee4’s inclusion of a C-wire really allows it to stand tall in this important category.
Digital and Smart Integration
Many homeowners aren’t reaching for a smart thermostat as their first fore into smart technology. In fact, most people have become accustomed to these integrated technologies through smart assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. The ability to integrate these smart systems together into an effective network may be crucial to finally attaining full home balance optimization.
The ecobee4 is more forthcoming in this category, proclaiming compatibility with a broader range of smart technologies including Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, Microsoft Cortana, Google Assistant, and IFTTT. As a result, the ecobee4 is more capable of being added into a non-aligned smart network. No matter what smart devices you already own, chances are that they will play nice with the ecobee4.
The Nest, on the other hand, isn’t lacking in compatibility so much as it is lacking in broad integration. To make up for this, the Nest has been specially designed to communicate with every other in-home Nest device, including cameras, doorbells, smoke detectors, and carbon monoxide alarms. As such, the Nest is better suited to a home that already uses (or is planning on using) other Nest technologies.
This category lacks a clear cut winner. If you’re an average tech user with a mismatched set of smart tools, the ecobee4 will more likely suit your needs. If you already use Nest devices, though, you’ll find that they work best with the Nest smart thermostat.
By now, you’ve almost certainly used a device or app that was entirely un-user friendly. These low-bar technologies can be a major hassle, with the problems only growing the longer you use it. Ideally, you’ll want to find a smart thermostat with a low learning curve and simplified interface in order to take the hassle out of managing your climate control system.
The ecobee4 is fairly strong in the category, offering its app across most major devices running iOS or Android OS. When it comes to the thermostat itself, the ecobee4 is pretty easy to interact with and manipulate to meet your needs. This model is even capable of “waking up” as you approach, allowing it to turn on and display important information before you even interact with the touch screen.
The Nest is similarly user-friendly, such that its interface app is widely available and very easy to interpret. However, the Nest’s full color interface gives it just a touch more power and contrast, further complemented by its proprietary Farsight technology. Also, the Nest can be set to several different languages, allowing a much broader set of users to comfortably interact with both the app and the device without trepidation.
In this category, the Nest just barely wins out thanks to its enhanced visibility and language options. Both make this model easier to interact with each and every day.
Like choosing any in-home appliance or fixture, you surely are looking for something to match your established interior décor. While this may not be as important as functionality, some will simply not pick up a device if they feel its presence will distract from the visual appeal of their living space. Thankfully, several leading smart thermostats meet this need.
The ecobee4, however, is not necessarily one of those visually versatile options. Available only in a shiny black casing at this time, some users were left wanting for color options that would better blend into their current walls. That being said, this black casing is not distracting and doesn’t draw unnecessary attention (besides, of course, the attention that any wall-mounted smart device is bound to attract from guests).
As a counter, the Nest provides an optimal degree of visual customization such that it can seamlessly integrate into nearly any modern home décor. With options including stainless steel, white, black, copper, polished steel, brass, and mirror black, the Nest really can be a smart thermostat for all seasons. In particular, the metallic options here perfectly replicate the aesthetic value of old-fashioned models, making for perfect integration in a post-war or earlier home.
Here again, the Nest wins out because it goes above and beyond the default to provide desirable aesthetic options to customers of all tastes.
There’s a saying about a “straw that broke the camel’s back” and the same goes for special features (though with less pain then that allegorical camel experienced). Special features can be the determining factor that puts you over the edge when it comes time to commit to one smart thermostat or another. Among all of the comparable options, this is where these models differ most.
The ecobee4 brings a productive, useful portfolio of special features to the table that simply cannot be ignored. This model’s HomeIQ program really makes it easy to track and analyze your energy usage, which not even all power companies allow for. In addition, this model’s built-in Alexa programming allows it to fully act as a digital assistant, minimizing the number of Echo or Dot devices scattered around your home.
The Nest also brings forth some great special features, most notably its superior implementation of Alexa software. Alexa’s creators even back this device directly, providing it with as many software updates as the standalone models. Also, this model’s special alerts make it easy to keep an eye on your HVAC system, even when the weather grows harsh.
At the end of the day, both the ecobee4 and the Nest provide some great features. In this category, the winner is really determined by you and your preferences towards certain types of built-in special features.
Price will vary from time to time and location to location, but it can also act as one of the starkest factors to compare while shopping. Smart thermostats are priced to move right now, thanks to growing competition in the field. As such, there has never been a better time to compare prices.
The ecobee4 is fairly well-priced, especially for first-time buyers. Ecobee is really trying to carve out its niche right now, so it is offering an assortment of value-packs that provide you the thermostat and an additional set of motion detectors for around the same price of its competitors’ devices on their own.
The Nest is priced at around the same as the ecobee4 but offers slightly better opportunities to offset initial installation costs. This is because Nest offers its users access to a database filled with offers from major power companies that can knock $100 or more off your power bill simply for upgrading your hardware.
Here, too, a winner is not clear. Both offer great opportunities to save money that are broadly based on your individual circumstances.
If you’re like many homeowners today, you’re clambering to get your hands on a smart thermostat as soon as possible. More power to you! But before you invest in your new automated climate controller, be sure to perform these easy checks to ensure a quick and hassle-free installation process:
- Programmable or Smart Check – Before you choose a model, be sure that its labeling refers to it as a proper “smart thermostat.” Otherwise, you may end up with a simple programmable thermostat that cannot connect to the internet and cannot integrate with your smart home systems to the same degree.
- Infrastructure Check – If you have your eyes on a certain smart thermostat, be sure to check that it will be fully compatible with your existing HVAC. In addition, be sure that your existing thermostat wiring includes a C-wire. Otherwise, you may need to consult an HVAC specialist to make infrastructure modifications.
- Type Check – Smart thermostats come in three primary types: algorithm, geofencing, and remote room sensors. Each of these types monitors in-home temperatures using unique methods, so be sure to research each type and determine which method will work best with your existing home architecture
- Price Check – Be sure that you are getting your desired model at the best possible price. Though online retailers often offer the best prices on smart thermometers, some HVAC specialists now offer discounts on hardware if you choose their service and labor packages.
A Buyer’s Guide to Smart Thermostats
Smart thermostats and other smart devices continue to evolve, even year to year. As such, finding the best, most contemporarily-capable smart thermostat can be challenging. This can especially be the case if you’ve never interacted with smart technology terminology before.
This buyer’s guide will empower you to select the best smart thermostat model that is right for your home and right for your budget. Be sure to read each of these specifications carefully, as you should expect to see them used prominently in the product listing, both online and at physical retailers.
Programmable vs. Smart Thermostat
First and foremost, make sure you have the right type of thermostat in hand before you buy. Programmable thermostats may look similar to smart thermostats with their digital screens, but they differ significantly when it comes to functionality.
Most notably, programmable thermostats require manual temperature output because they lack internet or Wi-Fi connectivity. As such, they cannot interface with a smartphone for remote temperature control. Also, most programmable thermostats are not able to analyze and output information on your energy efficiency, making it difficult to garner energy savings from these analog models.
For a point of comparison, many modern homes and HVAC systems are already controlled by a programmable thermostat. Be sure to compare your desired thermostat to your existing model in order to fully identify their differences.
Many smart thermostats will include information on what types of HVAC systems they are able to interface with. This specification is important because, without proper compatibility, you will not be able to use your chosen smart thermostat without considerable HVAC modifications.
This compatibility extends to separated heating and cooling systems. If your home uses a non-hybrid climate control system, you will likely need to install two separate smart thermostats. If either of those two systems is incompatible with your chosen model, you may not be able to fully implement a smart temperature control system in your home.
Before ripping out your old thermostat in favor of your new smart model, be sure to check your existing electoral infrastructure. While older models are able to be powered by a bare minimum amount of electrical input, your new smart thermostat will likely require a so-called “common wire” or C-wire.
Some modern homes have been pre-designed to anticipate the installation of smart thermostats and already include a C-wire. However, if your existing wiring infrastructure lacks a C-wire, you will need to consult an HVAC specialist about options for installing one in your home.
Of note, some smart thermostats do not require a C-wire for standard functionality. Both the Ecobee and Nest do, however.
In recent years, US EPA certifying organization Energy Star has begun to certify smart thermostats based on their capability to optimally maintain an energy efficient HVAC system. In particular, Energy Star has applauded models with over-air updating systems and intuitive preference learning, allowing each individual device to better fit their users’ needs without wasting energy.
Algorithms, Geofencing, and Remote Sensors – While smart thermostats generally use similar touch-sensitive, user-friendly interfaces, each type may operate and interact with your home in wholly unique ways. Each of these methods provides different benefits and drawbacks that may be better suited to your individual climate controlling needs and home architecture.
Algorithm-based smart thermostats, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat, use computerized protocols to “learn” about your heating and cooling preferences and use patterns. This allows these systems to automatically optimize your in-home temperature based upon the time of day or number of inhabitants and balance your energy usage for enhanced efficiency.
Geofencing smart thermometers use a unique method of interacting with your smartphone in order to select options like away mode. In either case, these models can detect the presence of a paired device and will adjust temperature settings appropriately. Most models offer different detection ranges and adjustment options, allowing you to fully control how the thermostat acts on your behalf.
Remote sensor smart thermostats like the ecobee4 use an array of motion-detecting sensors in order to sense where people are in the home, allowing it to seamlessly adjust room temperatures accordingly. Like motion-detecting light switches, these panels can readjust temperatures if they sense little motion over a period of time. In either case, these models fit seamlessly in modern homes with pre-existing motion sensing technology.
Smart Phone Requirement
Though it may go without saying, you will need a modern smartphone with proper mobile app compatibility in order to properly and fully interface with your new smart thermostat. While most models include some key information and access on their touch-sensitive body, you’ll find that the majority of actionable data and settings are found in the brand-specific app.
At this time, most major smart thermostat brands – including Ecobee and Nest – offer apps for leading Apple and Android devices (including tablets and smartwatches).
Though you won’t see this on your new smart thermostat’s box, you should be fully aware of the fact that these devices – like all smart devices – have the capacity to collect and share data about you and your family members.
While this data collection is likely not malicious in nature, this method is standard practice among smart devices that are designed to “learn” about your regular habits in order to properly function. While smart thermostats don’t collect data in the same method a voice-control device like an Amazon Echo would, these devices are still capable of integrating with those larger data-based networks.
This is all to say, don’t panic about adding a smart thermostat to your home. These devices can very useful, but they come with the tradeoff that you may be passing on information about yourself and your home through your passive interactions with the device.