Ecobee4 vs. Nest (3rd Generation): Best Smart Thermostat For 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.
Nest (3rd Gen)
- 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.
Nest E is great if you appreciate ugly design aesthetics, less compatibility, and fewer learning features.
- 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.
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Why listen to me?
- I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old.
- I bought each device with MY money.
- I’ll update this post frequently because my opinions change.
- I don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.
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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.