Best Smart Thermostat: Ecobee3 vs. Nest 3 vs. Ecobee4 vs. Nest E
The most significant advantage of a smart thermostat is that it sees when people are home. You don’t need to blast the heat or AC while you’re away at work; that’s a waste of energy and money.
Why not just turn down the temperature on your way out the door? It’s not easy to remember.
Smart thermostats remove this friction.
Not only can you pre-program smart thermostats, but with the sensors and geofencing, they recognize when you’re home and automatically optimize the temperature. This is an effortless way to conserve energy and cut down on your heating and electric bill.
Over the course of a year or so, you should get back the money you spent on the thermostat in the form of energy savings.
Smart thermostats aren’t particularly useful for me on a day-to-day basis because I work from home.
But, before I went on vacation to San Francisco and Milwaukee, I decided to test them out because I didn’t want the AC blasting while my roommates were at work.
I tried six different thermostats, each for at least a week, to find the best smart thermostat. (I wrote about Honeywell and Sensi, but it’s worthwhile to spend more for better smarts and design from Ecobee or Nest.)
We’ll consider six categories: smarts, software, setup, design, compatibility, and compare four thermostats: Ecobee3 Lite vs. Nest 3 vs. Ecobee4 vs. Nest E!
#2 - (Grade: A-)
- Ideally, Nest will figure out your household’s patterns after a couple weeks, and you won’t have to touch it again. Nest uses AI and machine learning to detect patterns and automatically optimizes by using a combination of the tracking sensor on the thermostat and geofencing for when your phone’s no longer on location. Three examples of Nest’s smarts in action:
- It activates “Eco Mode” when it thinks you’re away.
- If you turn the heat up a couple of times at 8 AM, Nest will see that and start to do it on its own automatically.
- If you come home at the same time every day, Nest will get the temperature set to your liking before you arrive back home.
- Nest Home/Away Assist is helpful if you own other Nest products. Nest uses the sensors on Nest Cameras, Nest Alarms, and Nest Smoke Detectors to report back to the thermostat to figure out if you’re home.
- The “learning” future is bright, but it’s not perfect if you have a non-static schedule with lots of family members or your thermostat is in an area without much traffic.
- You’ll need to rely on your phone’s location (geofencing) more heavily if you don’t have other Nest products or your thermostat isn’t in a central location. This means the Nest app needs to be on every household member’s phone for geofencing to work properly.
- Airwave feature keeps your AC’s fan running automatically for 5-10 minutes after the AC compressor stops running. This saves you money because the coils still generate cool air after the compressor is turned off. Why not use the free cool air that’s already been generated (You can manually set these features with Ecobee, but Nest does it automatically.)
- It lets you know when to change your HVAC system filters.
- You can use it without the c-wire because Nest has a built-in battery. You don’t have to worry about changing wires on the furnace side, making installation a simple DIY job for most people.
- The setup is a breeze. Nest provides on-screen step-by-step instructions. It’ll tell you which wires you’ve plugged in and if all of the signals are firing correctly. It gives you a checklist of things to do, like testing the cooling system. If things don’t work correctly, it provides troubleshooting steps.
- This thing is a piece of art. It’s the smallest by volume but weighs double that of the others I tested. It looks amazing on the wall. Even the screwdriver included is incredibly well-made. You won’t throw out the screwdriver when you’re done hanging it.
- It comes in four colors.
- The resolution is also much sharper and better looking than Ecobee’s. It’s by far the best screen on the market.
- You can customize the screen to your liking and the display wakes when it senses your presence with Farsight. With previous iterations of the Nest, the screen only showed the desired temperature and not the current room temperature.
- You spin the dial to navigate through the menus, then push the thermostat in to click. There’s no touchscreen.
- Nest works with 95% of HVAC systems (check here).
- Nest supports the 5GHz wireless band. This is great if your router can handle it.
- Nest doesn’t support Apple’s HomeKit and won’t ever because Google owns Nest, and Google and Apple aren’t friends. What does this mean?
- You can’t control Nest with Siri.
- You can’t control Nest inside the Home app.
- You can’t set up home automations with your other smart devices in the Home app.
- For geofencing to work, everyone in your household needs the Nest app installed.
- You shouldn’t need the Nest app for scheduling, but I found it extremely difficult. You’ll need to use the web app if you want to change the schedule manually.
- The interface on the thermostat and app are completely different. While Nest looks beautiful, it’s not intuitive to use on the thermostat. Also, it’s not easy to navigate menus using the dial. I’d much rather use a touchscreen.
- You don’t have control of the temperature swing.
Budget Options (C):
- Nest E ($170) is a more affordable version of Nest 3 ($230).
- You get most of the learning features as Nest 3.
- It’s made entirely out of plastic and feels cheap (the Nest 3 display is glass with a polished metal ring).
- The frosted display is dim with a low resolution. The screen’s pixel density is 189 PPI compared to 229 PPI on Nest 3. I can’t read it from across the room like I can with Nest 3.
- There’s no Farsight Display where it senses your presence from far away, then turns on the clock display, outside temperature, or time.
- Nest was considered the Apple of the thermostat world because of their brilliant design. Nest E isn’t something Apple would be proud of. Nest sold their soul.
- It’s less compatible than Nest 3 because it only has six wire inputs (check here).
- Nest E isn’t available on Amazon.com.
- If you want Nest 3 for less than $230, check Amazon’s “used & new from” section on Nest’s product page. I regularly see new ones for under $200 from third-party sellers.
#1 - (Grade: A)
- Ecobee can’t figure out your patterns like Nest, but Ecobee has a different solution. During the initial setup, you set your preferred temperature and time of day when you’re typically home, away, and sleeping. Then, Ecobee supplements that information by using its sensors and geofencing (your phone’s location), just like Nest, to optimize the temperature.
- Ecobee is more efficient than Nest at knowing if you’re home or away because it has a motion sensor on the base and uses additional room sensors to detect motion and temperature. One room sensor is included with Ecobee4 (none with Ecobee3 Lite), and you can add up to 32 sensors to any Ecobee system. Five examples of Ecobee’s room sensors in action:
- Smart Home/Away activates “Away Mode” when all the sensors haven’t detected motion for two hours.
- The “Follow Me” feature sees which room is being used, and makes that the room where the temperature is controlled. If multiple rooms are used, it’ll use the average temperature of each active sensor.
- My bedroom gets hotter at night with my door shut than my Ecobee’s location. I put a room sensor in my bedroom and made that sensor in charge of the temperature at night.
- If you have a big house or rooms with varying temperatures, you can put sensors in multiple rooms to get more control.
- You might not need to worry about geofencing if you buy enough room sensors and spread them around the house because the sensors can override your geofence if they see activity in a room.
- In the Ecobee app, you can customize the radius size of your geofence so that Ecobee turns on or off when you hit a certain distance away from your home. Everyone in your household needs the Ecobee app installed and logged in for geofencing to work properly unless you’re part of an Apple household (see below).
- If you tell it what time you want it to be a certain temperature, it uses the data from previous uses and the outside weather to determine when it should run to get to the desired temperature.
- Alexa is built-into Ecobee. Alexa is a nice bonus, but it doesn’t make sense because your thermostat isn’t always in a central location where you can talk to it. It’s mostly a gimmick in an industry where it’s hard to innovate.
- Ecobee works with HomeKit.
- You’ll have control of your thermostat with Siri, the Home app, and by swiping up from the bottom of your iPhone.
- You can create automations in conjunction with your other smart devices in the Home app. For instance, I have an automation called “When The First Person Arrives Home” that sets my kitchen lights to 30% and Ecobee to my “Home” temperature when my roommates or I am getting close to home.
- If you have a gateway (iPad, HomePod, Apple TV) and everyone in your household has an iPhone, geofencing is easier because the Ecobee app doesn’t need to be on anyone’s phone for the thermostat to know the house is empty.
- The Ecobee app is well designed, and the setup on the thermostat is identical to the app. I love the synergy between the two. The scheduling is easier to use and more precise than Nest.
- If you log into the online portal, there is a bunch of data with HomeIQ. You can see your patterns, savings, and how your usage compares to other users.
- Ecobee lets you do up to +/- three degrees in temperature swing. In the winter, I set my Ecobee to 66 degrees with a 3 point swing, so my furnace doesn’t turn on until the temperature hits 63 degrees, then heats my house to about 67 before turning off. This lets your furnace run in longer increments but not as frequently. If you don’t mind a steeper temperature fluctuation, this should save you more money.
- You can set up system alerts for things like extreme temperature warnings, maintenance reminders or filter change notices.
- Vacation Mode lets you set the exact date and time of your departure and return, along with the temperature you want the house to be while you’re away.
- Ecobee has 3.5 inch touchscreen display that functions exactly like the phone app. It’s easier to navigate than it is with Nest’s dial.
- Ecobee looks fantastic on the wall but feels cheap. It’s made of plastic and is nothing like the sturdy feeling you get from the Nest.
- Ecobee is compatible with the same number of HVAC systems as Nest (check here).
- There’s no battery in Ecobee, meaning you’ll need the c-wire for constant power. If you don’t have the c-wire, you’ll have to use the included power-extender kit.
- It works with all major smart home platforms.
Budget Options (B+):
- Ecobee3 Lite ($170) is a more affordable version of Ecobee4 ($240).
- Ecobee3 Lite doesn’t come with an additional room sensor, but you can buy room sensors at a later time. (Room Sensor 2 Packs are $68 on Amazon.)
- It looks nicer than Ecobee4 because it doesn’t stick out from the wall as far.
- Ecobee3 Lite doesn’t have Alexa built-in, but it’s fine because Alexa doesn’t pick up voice well and isn’t integrated well with Ecobee4.
- Ecobee3 (not Lite) is the same as Ecobee3 Lite with a room sensor included.
- Ecobee3 has been discontinued, but snag one when it’s on Amazon for under $200.
- Ecobee’s setup process is flawless if you have a c-wire.
- If your system doesn’t have a c-wire, you’ll have to install the included “power-extender kit.” It’s a smart workaround, but more advanced because you’ll have to open your HVAC system. I did it on my own, and it’s not as hard as it sounds. Ecobee has a solid tutorial, but here’s a great third-party tutorial too.
Which one is for you?
You can’t go wrong with any of the Ecobee or Nest models. They’re going to save you a bunch of money, and each one has its place, but there are key differences.
Get Nest If:
- You don’t have the c-wire and are intimidated by Ecobee’s power-extender kit.
- You want to set up it up and never worry about it again.
- You own other Nest products.
- You’re an Android user.
- You love beautifully designed products.
Get Ecobee If:
- You’re a nerd who wants more customizability.
- You’re immersed in Apple’s ecosystem with iPhone (especially if you own HomePod or Apple TV).
- You have the c-wire.
- You don’t have the c-wire and aren’t intimidated by the power-extender kit.
- You have a large or old house with temperature variations from room-to-room.
- Your thermostat isn’t in a central location.
- You have a widely varying schedule.
I’m the biggest Apple nerd you’ll find and need HomeKit, so I’m sticking with Ecobee4.
However, Nest is the way to go if you want an easy setup and don’t want to tinker with wires or settings. You’ll have a smaller chance of getting your ideal setup with Nest, but you’ll still save money and won’t have to worry about anything.
I recommend both of the top line choices (Ecobee4 and Nest 3), but if you’re on a budget, buy Ecobee3 Lite, then add additional room sensors later.
I don’t recommend Nest E, due to the lack of Farsight display, poor design, and other compatibility issues.
If I got something wrong in regard to setup or anything else, hit me up on Twitter. Let’s talk!