It’s impossible to write a review of any smart thermostat without addressing the elephant in the room—the Nest thermostat. As WIRED’s David Pierce has said, the Nest has been the gateway to smart thermostat ownership for millions. It was my family’s first smart thermostat. When the Nest first came out, we installed it, downloaded the app, and rubbed our hands together gleefully. Energy savings! Controlling the temperature remotely! That beautiful dial!
But, the budding smart home romance soured over time. For years, we lived with the Nest’s vagaries as if it were a beloved, but cranky, elderly relative. I work from home, and every morning I’d sit down at my computer, work for several hours, and gradually realize that my fingers were turning to icicles. The Nest thought the house was unoccupied and dropped the temperature accordingly.
Since it was mounted in the hallway, we had to constantly check on the kids after they went to bed at 7 pm. The bedrooms were always either boiling hot or freezing cold. For a few weeks, the Nest inexplicably jacked up the temperature to a sweltering 74 degrees at 4 am every morning. Its predictive algorithm was, shall we say, less than accurate.
I say this not to complain about the Nest (well, maybe a little) but to illustrate the difference with the Ecobee4. In the two weeks that we’ve had it installed, I haven’t once had to lunge out of bed, sweating, in the dead of night. That alone is an amazing improvement in my quality of life.
Sense and Sensibility
The Ecobee4 is easy to install. Screw on the mounting plate, thread through the wires, and attach the thermostat in place of your old one. Unlike many thermostats, smart or not, the Ecobee4 comes with one remote sensor. You can purchase additional remote sensors in packs of two.
Adding extra sensors made the Ecobee4 the most effective thermostat we’ve ever had. Once we installed the Ecobee4, you can select which sensors will participate in the comfort settings. The Ecobee4 then averages those readings and adjusts your HVAC system accordingly. By selecting only the sensors in the bedrooms, we can ensure that the kids stay unbaked and unfrozen all night long.
Through the website, app or the thermostat, you can also set a “home”, “away” and “sleep” schedule, set vacation dates, and set reminders to change your filter or alert you in case of high temperatures, which is useful if you leave pets at the house during the summer. You can also set baseline comfort settings for “Home”, “Away” and “Sleep” so it doesn’t jack up the temperature at 4 am, which is all I ask for on any given day.
Face the Temperature
A huge part of the Nest’s allure is that round, gleaming dial and the irresistible clicking haptic feedback as you spin it back and forth. The Ecobee4’s interface is much more workmanlike. It features a glowing, flat touchscreen that displays the time, indoor and outdoor temperature as you walk past, with a blue light on the top that flashes when you speak to it.
I’ve found that the information that the Ecobee4 displays is much more useful than what the Nest tells you, which just shows the indoor temperature. And if “less beautiful than stunning” were an actual problem, all actresses would look like Cate Blanchett.
Instead of a beautiful dial, the Ecobee4 has built-in Alexa and is compatible with Google Home, Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, and IFTTT. It’s an extra home assistant in the hallway, one that also tracks the house’s humidity and monitors our energy usage.
While the Ecobee4 might be less convenient if you’ve chosen to mount yours in a less central location, I’ve found ours to be much more useful for summoning Alexa than the Echo in the kitchen. My morning routine now consists of checking the weather and queueing up an emergency rendition of “Let It Go” while dressing the toddler.
If aesthetics are your primary concern, then it’s hard to turn away from the drop-dead gorgeous Nest. But in terms of functionality, the Ecobee4 is just a far better product–especially since, as of publication, it offers far better smart home integration than the Nest does for less. Perhaps the most important service, however, is the one that, by design, we hardly notice at all. I haven’t had to adjust the temperature once. The best smart home thermostat is the one that can be safely and easily ignored.