Best Smart Thermostat: Ecobee3 vs. Nest 3 vs. Ecobee4 vs. Nest E
I’ve been interested in smart thermostats since Nest was introduced in 2011. Nest founder Tony Fadell was the guy in charge of the iPod at Apple and is sometimes referred to as one of the “fathers of the iPod.”
Although smart thermostats aren’t very useful for me on a day-to-day basis (I work from home), they are convenient when I’m out of town.
When I went to San Francisco and Milwaukee over the summer, I didn’t want my roommates cranking up the AC while I was gone and raking up the electric bill. Since they work regular jobs, we don’t need to run the AC as much during the day when no one’s home.
The most significant advantage of a smart thermostat is that it can see 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 temp on your way out the door? It isn’t always easy to remember.
A smart thermostat removes this friction.
You can pre-program it to set different temperatures depending on the time of day. For example, while you’re at work, the thermostat could automatically drop to 60 degrees. Not only can you program smart thermostats, but with the individual sensors and geofencing, they recognize when you’re home and automatically optimize the temperature. This is a effortless way to conserve energy and cut down on your 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.
I tested six smart thermostats and used each for at least a week. (I wrote about two budget smart thermostats, Honeywell and Sensi, over here. Honeywell and Sensi are alright, but it’s worthwhile to spend a little more for a premium device from Ecobee or Nest.)
Here’s my comparison of Ecobee3 Lite vs. Nest 3 vs. Ecobee4 vs. Nest E!
(Side note: Where’s Ecobee3? It’s been discontinued. Ecobee sells Ecobee3 Lite, which is the same as Ecobee3 without the room sensor.)
#2 – Great but pricey.
Nest Gen 3 (A)
- The Nest is smarter than any other thermostat on the market. It uses AI and machine learning to detect patterns and automatically optimizes based on when you’re home and away. It uses the tracking sensor on the thermostat and geofencing for when your phone’s no longer on location. If you turn the heat up a couple of times every morning at 8 AM, Nest will see that and start to do it on its own automatically.
- Nest claims to work with 95% of HVAC systems (check here) because it has a battery. This lets you use it without the c-wire. If possible, you’ll want to use the c-wire to avoid issues, but it’s nice to know the c-wire isn’t necessary. You don’t have to worry about changing wires on the furnace side, making installation a simple DIY job for most people.
- 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.
- 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.
- Farsight display. With previous iterations of the Nest, the screen only showed the desired temperature and not the current room temperature. Now, you can customize the screen to your liking and it will change when it senses your presence. The static display was a major beef with past customers that turned into a competitive advantage.
- All these thermostats work with Amazon Echo, but Nest is the only one that works natively with Google Home.
- The resolution is also much sharper and better looking than Ecobee’s. It’s by far the best screen on the market.
- Nest supports the 5GHz wireless band. This is great if your router can handle it.
- Whenever you spin the dial, it shows an estimate of how long it’ll take for your home to reach the desired temperature.
- Airwave feature. This 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.)
- Nest Home/Away Assist comes in handy 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.
- Nest 3 is $250.
- There’s no support for Apple’s HomeKit. HomeKit is something I need and expect for $250. According to multiple reports, you shouldn’t expect this in the near future. Why? Google owns Nest. Google and Apple aren’t friends.
- The “learning” is a cool concept, and the future is bright. But it’s mostly a gimmick right now unless you’re a robot who has a static schedule and lives alone. But if your schedule is consistent, why not just set a schedule like you can with all the other smart thermostats?
- It’s not so smart when there are unexpected situations or multiple people in the house. Things to note: 1. Sometimes it thinks a human is home when it’s just your pet. 2. Unlike Ecobee4, there’s only one sensor, so If your thermostat’s in a remote area without traffic, the learning feature won’t be useful. 3. Geofencing only works for people that have the Nest app installed and logged in on their phone.
- You can only schedule in hour increments. Most thermostats are set at 15 or 30 minutes. It’s not a big deal, just annoying that a premium device does not offer more precise control.
- The app is set up nicely, but I found scheduling on the phone extremely difficult. You need to do it on the web app.
- 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.
- The screen shows fingerprint markings more than Ecobee.
- You don’t have control of the temperature swing.
#4 – Nest minus the design.
Nest E (B-)
- Nest E is the same as Nest 3, but it’s not as well-made. (For the full breakdown of Nest features, read the Nest 3 section above. In order to avoid repetition, I’ll stick to a few bullet points for Nest E.)
- It’s only $169.
- It has AI smarts unlike either of the Ecobees.
- The setup is perfect.
- It comes with a rechargeable battery.
- It works well with Amazon Echo and can perfectly integrate with Google Home.
- It shows you how long it’ll take to reach the desired temperature.
- The Airwave feature is smart.
- The grayish screen blends into the wall, and you can choose the color of the room temperature font.
- It feels nothing like Nest 3. It’s made entirely out of plastic, and it’s half the weight. The Nest is considered the Apple of the thermostat world because of their design. That’s not something Apple would be proud of. It feels like a me-too product made to compete with Ecobee. However, Nest’s design is better than Ecobee’s.
- The display is dim with a low resolution. I can’t read it from across the room like I could with Nest 3.
- There’s no Apple HomeKit support.
- Nest’s learning features that are supposed to customize the temperature without you asking are more gimmicky than the marketing portrays. I’d rather just set a schedule.
- Scheduling via phone is difficult.
- The app and thermostat have different interfaces; it’s not cohesive.
- There’s no multiple-room sensor support.
- It’s less compatible than Nest 3 with only six wire inputs. You can check your compatibility here.
- There’s no “farsight feature” where the display senses your presence and turns on. This means it doesn’t display the outside temperature or time.
- You don’t have control of the temperature swing.
#1 – Great but pricey.
- Ecobee4 has sensors that track when someone’s in the room, monitor the temperature of the room, and report back to the Ecobee4 base. One sensor is included, but you can buy as many as you need for $40 each. The sensors give you more control over the temperature. Do you care what the temperature is in the hallway, or are you more interested in your bedroom conditions? Put a sensor in your room. This is Ecobee’s way of compensating for its lack of learning features (like Nest’s); I think it’s a better approach.
- The “Follow Me” feature makes use of the sensors. If Ecobee sees only one room is being used (via the sensors), that is the room where the temperature is control. But if multiple rooms are used, it’ll use the average temperature of each sensor being used.
- Ecoobee4 works with HomeKit. This means you’ll have control of your thermostat with Siri, the “Home” app, and by swiping up from the button of your iPhone. If everyone in your household has an iPhone, geofencing is easier because the Ecobee app doesn’t need to be on everyone’s phone for the thermostat to know the house is empty.
- The app is well designed, and the setup on the thermostat is identical to the app. I love the synergy between the two, and it’s not something you’ll see from the other three competitors.
- The scheduling is easier to use and more precise than Nest’s. You create modes. For instance, the default modes are “home,” “away” and “sleep.” From there, you tell Ecobee4 during what times you want each of these modes to run. Cool scheduling thing that I do: I’m only in my bedroom to sleep, so when it’s bedtime, the sensor sees me and turns on my “sleep mode”.
- 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.
- Because Ecobee4 requires a c-wire, they include a “power-extender kit.” Basically, this takes your current four wire setup and makes it into a five. It’s a smart workaround but a little more advanced because you’ll have to do the setup from the furnace side. Ecobee has a solid tutorial, but here’s a great third-party tutorial too.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- It’s $250. Why’s it so expensive? Ecobee4 comes with Amazon’s Alexa built in, meaning you can speak to it like Echo. Adding Alexa is pointless and only made this product more expensive. Alexa on a thermostat doesn’t make sense because your thermostat isn’t always in a central location where you can talk to it. This is a gimmick in an industry where it’s hard to innovate.
- Alexa is a bad idea in theory, but it plays out even worse in real life for two reasons: 1. The hardware (mics) aren’t good enough. It’s rare that it picks up my voice. 2. Alexa isn’t integrated with Ecobee well. When I ask Alexa to perform Ecobee specific tasks (i.e. check or change the temperature), I usually get “Hmm, Ecobee isn’t responding.” It’s like Alexa is looking for a different thermostat, rather than the one I’m talking to. Your best bet is to disable Alexa and stop wasting your time with it.
- Ecobee4 looks fantastic on the wall, but it feels cheap. It’s made of plastic and is nothing like the sturdy feeling you get from the Nest.
- There’s no battery, meaning you’ll need the c-wire. If you don’t have the c-wire, you’ll have to use the included power-extender kit. Installing the power-extender kit isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it requires you to open your HVAC system.
- The sensors are excellent, but it doesn’t warn you when the batteries run low, so eventually, the sensors are going to stop working, and it could throw off your energy patterns and regular flow. Ecobee should change these sensors to “no occupancy” when the battery is dead.
- The sensors might mislead people into thinking they can regulate the temperature for each room, but as you’ve read, that’s not their purpose.
- Ecobee4 is larger and rounder than Ecobee3 Lite (to accommodate for the speaker and mics). It sticks out from the wall almost two times more.
#2 – Great but no room sensors.
Ecobee3 Lite (B)
- Ecobee3 Lite is the same as Ecobee4, minus three features: 1. Additional room sensor. 2. Alexa with built-in mic and speaker. 3. Doesn’t support humidifiers, dehumidifiers, or ventilators. (For the full breakdown of what Ecobee brings to the table, read the Ecobee4 section above. I’ll provide a few brief bullet points for Ecobee3 Lite to avoid repetition.)
- It’s only $169.
- It works with Apple’s HomeKit.
- The app and thermostat have the same interface.
- The scheduling works better with Ecobee than Nest.
- You can download the data from your usage.
- It comes with a “power-extender kit” making it compatible with almost any house.
- You can tell it what time you want it to reach the desired temperature.
- There are cool system alerts that can be sent to your phone.
- It’s smaller than Ecobee4.
- It doesn’t come with sensors. You can sync sensors with Ecobee3 Lite, but it’s not easy to buy just one separately, so you’ll get stuck buying two for $80. I’m not sure why you can’t buy ONE on Amazon.com or Ecobee.com.
- It’s made out of cheap plastic.
- You’ll need the c-wire, or you’ll have to use the power-extender kit.
Which one is for you?
Ecobee and Nest provide many of the same features, but there are a few key differences. Nest has more smarts with its unique AI. Ecobee has its room sensors and superior scheduling, and it works better for Apple users.
If you’re an iPhone user and money isn’t an issue, go with Ecobee4.
If you’re on a budget and have an iPhone, buy Ecobee3 Lite. From there, you can upgrade and buy sensors later if you decide to splurge.
Nest 3 is the best-designed smart thermostat around, and it’s the only smart thermostat to incorporate machine learning.
Nest’s future is brighter than Ecobee because it’s owned by Google (who has lots of money), and Google’s trying to create a complete smart home with Google Home, Chromecast, and all of Nest’s security cameras. If you’re immersed in the Google/Android ecosystem, go with Nest.
If you appreciate great design and don’t care for Apple integration, or you don’t have the c-wire and are intimidated by the power-extender kit, go with Nest 3.
If you’re on a budget (or don’t care about design) and use a lot of Google products, go with Nest E.
I’m not an HVAC expert. Does that make me the wrong guy to write this post? Maybe. But I think it gives me an advantage because this was a DIY project, and that’s probably what most of you are planning to do too.
Bottom line: you can’t go wrong with any four of these models, they’re all going to save you money, and each one has its place.
If I got something wrong in regard to setup or anything else, hit me up on Twitter. Let’s talk!