Ecobee4 vs. Nest (3rd Generation): Best Smart Thermostat For 2019?

Cam Secore
Updated 01/10/2019

After a year of testing, I determined Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen) is the best smart thermostat overall for iPhone and Android users because you’ll save money effortlessly and it’s easy to install. That being said, Ecobee4 is a great system and my pick for Apple users who want more control and customization.

I’ll compare and contrast these two smart thermostats (Ecobee4 vs. Nest 3rd Gen) by evaluating five categories: smarts, software, design, compatibility, and setup.

ecobee vs nest

Nest (3rd Gen)

9
  • Smarts: It learns your patterns and automatically optimizes itself. You can add room sensors for $40 each.
  • Software: The Nest app is solid, but Nest doesn’t play well with Apple products.
  • Design: It’s a beautiful, expertly crafted piece of art with a high-resolution glass display.
  • Setup: It works with 95% of HVAC systems (check here). Nest doesn't require the c-wire, making the setup much easier for those who don't have the c-wire already there.

Best for you if...

You want to save money on your energy bill without thinking or optimizing it yourself. Nest 3 is the clear choice for houses without a c-wire, non-techies, those who prioritize craftsmanship, and Android users. It’s a great option for iPhone users who don’t care about Siri or Home App control.

Budget Option

Nest E is great if you appreciate ugly design aesthetics, less compatibility, and fewer learning features.

ecobee4 vs nest

Ecobee4

8
  • Smarts: It comes with a room sensor for extra control and activity sensing. The built-in Alexa is useless and can be disabled.
  • Software: It supports HomeKit (Apple's Home App & Siri).
  • Design: It’s made with plastic, but it has a touchscreen and looks nice from far away.
  • Setup: It works with 95% of HVAC systems (check here). You'll need to open your HVAC system to install the Power Extender Kit (included) if you don't have the c-wire.

Best for you if...

You’re an iPhone user and want more customizability. You can run automations with your other HomeKit devices in Apple’s Home app. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough benefits for Android users, and Ecobee4's built-in Alexa is a gimmick that doesn’t live up to the hype.

Budget Option

Ecobee3 Lite is great if you have a small house and don’t need the additional room sensor that comes included with Ecobee4.

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Why listen to me?

  1. I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old.
  2. I bought each device with MY money.
  3. I’ll update this post frequently because my opinions change.
  4. I don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.
I gave my Google WiFi system to Power Moves subscriber on June 6th. Join my email list for new comparison updates and a chance to win my next product giveaway in July.

My Experience

best smart thermostat

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.

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.

I’m the biggest Apple nerd you’ll find and need HomeKit, so I’m sticking with Ecobee4.

Nest (3rd Gen)

9

Smarts (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 with Early-On.
  • 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.
  • You can add additional temperature sensors for $40 to choose which room gets controlled and monitor 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.
  • You’ll need to rely on your phone’s location (geofencing) more heavily if you don’t have other Nest products and the Nest app needs to be on every household member’s phone for geofencing to work properly.
  • The “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.)
  • The “Cool to Dry” feature uses your AC or heat pump to reduce excessive humidity.
  • The “Sunblock” feature automatically adjusts your Nest to read the correct temperature if it’s in direct sunlight.
  • The “True Radiant” feature helps reduce temperature swings that are typical of radiant systems.
  • It lets you know when to change your HVAC system filters.

Software (D):

  • 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 Apple’s Home App.
    • You can’t set up home automations with your other smart devices in Apple’s 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.

Setup (A+):

  • Nest works with 95% of HVAC systems (check here).
  • Nest supports the 5GHz wireless band. This is great if your router can handle it.
  • You can set up Nest 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.
  • 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.

Design (A):

  • 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 seven colors: Stainless Steel, Black, Copper, White, Mirror Black, Polished Steel, and Brass.
  • 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, and it works similar to the iPod click wheel. It’s not convenient, but you shouldn’t have interact with the menus after the setup.

Ecobee4

8

Smarts (B):

  • Ecobee doesn’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).
  • The “Smart Recovery” feature uses the data from previous uses and the outside weather to determine when it should run to get to the desired temperature at your desired time.
  • Amazon’s Alexa is built-into Ecobee4, but it’s mostly a gimmick and shouldn’t factor into your buying decision for four reasons:
    • Thermostats aren’t always in a central location or within speaking distance.
    • The speaker sounds awful.
    • It doesn’t hear the wake word, “Alexa,” as well as Amazon devices because the mics aren’t as strong.
    • Most people don’t want a thermostat listening to their conversations.
  • Fortunately, you can disable Alexa on Ecobee4.
  • The “Frost Control” feature is crucial if you have a whole house humidifier. It adjusts the humidity based on the outdoor temperature, so you don’t get condensation on your windows when it’s cold outside.

Software (A+):

  • 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 decent, 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.
  • It works with all major smart home platforms.

Setup (D):

  • 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. Not all houses have a c-wire, especially old ones.
  • 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.
  • Ecobee’s setup process is flawless if you have a c-wire.

Design (C+):

  • Ecobee has 3.5″ touchscreen display that functions exactly like the phone app.
  • 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.
I gave my Google WiFi system to Power Moves subscriber on June 6th. Join my email list for new comparison updates and a chance to win my next product giveaway in July.
 

25 Comments

  • Calebe says:

    Just installed 2 Nest Es at my house and so far they’re great! I was able to get each one for only $40 from a promotion the Massachusetts energy saving website was having during Black Friday/Cyber Monday.

    Based on your review, if your an Android user or want a super simple setup then get the Nest. Otherwise, iOS users who have the handy skills to do the install should get the Ecobee.

    Great review, keep the great content coming!

  • M3incorp says:

    I tend to mostly agree with the review. I have the Nest installed downstairs and the Ecobee4 upstairs. I am the sole person in the household but do have family that is often here and they have iPhones. First I want to say the build quality of the Nest and screen display is the best. Nest downstairs works exactly as described in the review. My Amazon Echo is located downstairs My Ecobee thermostat is located in my bedroom and I use Alexa for temp control only. Both thermostats are great.

  • Steve says:

    I have been using Nest 3rd Gen for over 2 and a half years now and I am wondering what the problem with iOS is because I have never had an issue, and can control it from pretty much anywhere with my iPhone. I am considering adding one to my garage and one to my other house 3 and a half hours away which is only a two wire older thermostat, which is currently running on a Honeywell wifi rewired from the furnace so I can monitor the temperature when not there during our cold winters.

    • Cam Secore says:

      I recommend Nest for iPhone users too, so there’s no problem.

      But with no support for HomeKit, you can’t control Nest with Siri or inside Apple’s Home App. The Home App is where all the HomeKit compatible devices are managed without the use of the manufacturer’s app. You can create combined automations between the smart devices in the Home App (i.e. Turn off the lights and set the temperature to 60 degree when I leave home.)

  • Gb says:

    What about the dog. Does he set off the sensors in either brand and waste my power cooling him?

  • Bart Downing says:

    Can remote sensors be used simply for remote temperature indication? I want to put one in my garage and I don’t want it to control the thermostat in any way. Just simply indicate the temperature in the garage on the Ecobee app. Same would apply to an outdoor sensor for those who don’t like Ecobee’s weather info.

    • Cam Secore says:

      I’ve never thought of someone wanting to do that, but yes, you can do that! You can pick and choose which sensors you want to control the temperature at set times.

      • Kevin says:

        If I put a sensor in the garage just to monitor the temp am I still able to use the averaging with all the other sensors?
        Also would it see me in the garage and Set me as home even if I had that sensor disabled?

        • Cam Secore says:

          I can’t speak to Nest’s sensors. But with Ecobee’s, you can exactly when and when you don’t you want each sensor to be activated.

  • Rook says:

    I have the Ecobee. The problem I had with the built in alexa was that it was too good a picking up my voice, it often would act on a command I was expecting from a different, closer device (it’s frustrating to have my music playing from thermostat).

  • Brad says:

    Great review!

  • Aaron frank says:

    So here in Jersey we have a dilemma now cause the ecobee 3 lite and the nest e are about $80 less then the regular nest or the ecobee 4( no real interest as noone wantas Alexa on it).
    Do you recommend the e or the 3 lite? Small house about 1300 square feet 1 zone

    • Cam Secore says:

      They’re both fine and most of the things written in the “best for you if” section still apply to each brand. Nest E just bothers me because it seems like Nest sold out on their design principles to make something cheaper.

  • Dave says:

    Nest 3rd gen. Will it control heat and a/c together. I want automatic heat in am and a/c in afternoon . Will it aotumatically switch back and forth based on set temperature?

  • Tim says:

    I’ve been really disappointed with the Ecobee. It seems their server is down constantly or there are other connection problems be it via the app or via PC. And then it seems you cannot connect to Alexa half the time with the thermostat either. I can talk to my echo dot, but the thermostat says it needs more time.

  • Mike says:

    How much did Nest pay you for this glowing review? You’ve obviously not lived with one for any period of time. I’ve had a Nest for years and I hate the damn thing. It drops the internet. Battery dies. Drops it’s programming. I’ve had it checked and checked and no one can tell me why. It’s piece of junk. Luckily no longer my prime thermostat. Your review is a complete sham.

    • Cam Secore says:

      Last week, a guy on Twitter called me a shill for Ecobee. I appreciate both of you.

  • Rodger Rehfuss says:

    I installed an Ecobee 4 in June of 2018. About a month later the Alexa function stopped working. Ecobee customer support had the problem corrected in 5 minutes with a free firmware upgrade. I have 8 various Alexa devices in our 4000 sq. ft. house and the Ecobee/Alexa feature functions exactly as any of the other Alexa devices. As a mater of fact we almost never even touch the Ecobee. We dictate all thermostat commands thru other Alexa and remotely with iPhone. I don’t see it as a gimmick.

  • Karl Sparklin says:

    Thanks for doing the reviews! I installed the Nest 3, and while I love the technology, it seems to have a design deficiency that really bugs my wife. The hysteresis is terrible. Even if it’s in all-A/C or all-heat mode times of year, the swing can be almost three degrees. This is too much. I’m told that the Ecobee has a much tighter range. And in spring and fall it’s awful because you’re not permitted to set the high and low very close at all. I want a desired temp in the house, +/- 1deg

    • Cam Secore says:

      Nest’s temperature swing should be 1 degree at all times and it’s not customizable. Ecobee lets you pick anywhere from 0.5 to 3 degrees. The bigger the swing, the more money you should save.

      • Karl Sparklin says:

        Did you have a chance to test the dual-mode feature that I use in spring/fall where the heat is on at night and the A/C in the day? THAT spread seems to be at least three degrees. I understand you don’t want the two systems bucking each other, but my wife just wants the house kept at about the same temp. Maybe it’s THIS feature that the Ecobee does better?
        Thanks, Cam!

        • Cam Secore says:

          Ah, I haven’t tried that. It makes sense that we didn’t have the same experience then. Ecobee is definitely more flexible and I think you could set it to what you’re trying accomplish.

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