Home automation is something science-fiction writers and tech enthusiasts have been dreaming of for years, and the technology that will make it a reality is slowly but steadily becoming available to the average homeowner. The first major milestone in home automation was reached back in 2011 with the advent of the first Nest Learning Thermostat. Users were thrilled with not having to worry about their power and heating bills anymore as the Nest did all the thinking for them. The age of smart thermostats had begun.
Two iterations and a handful of spinoff products later, the Nest isn’t the only smart thermostat worth considering anymore. Ecobee’s fourth model is giving the 3rd generation Nest a run for its money! Which one should you buy, and is it worth it to upgrade today if you own a previous model? We’ve put the two thermostats through their paces and offer answers in this in-depth comparison.
The table below highlights the main differences between the two leading smart thermostats:
|Ecobee4||Nest 3rd gen. Learning Thermostat|
|Dimensions||4.2 x 4.2 x 1 in.||3.3 x 3.3 x 121 in.|
|Screen||320×480 touchscreen||480×480 LCD screen|
|Remote sensor||Yes||Yes with new purchases and sold separately|
|Third-party Partners||Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, IFTT, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings||Google Home, Amazon Alexa, IFTT, Wink|
|Power||Wire only||Wire and battery|
|Warranty||3 years||2 years|
Installation and Power Requirements
Anyone with a little DIY experience will find both thermostats equally easy to install. The instruction manuals are comprehensive and guide you through the process in detail. Each thermostat draws power through the common or C-wire. As some older homes don’t have one, you’ll have to settle for the rechargeable li-ion battery in case of the Nest thermostat. A power extender kit is provided with the Ecobee4 to be wired directly into the HVAC’s control board. This is a job you’d best leave to the pros.
Appearance and Displays
Both thermostats have a charming appearance that fits into a 21st century home well. The Nest is completely minimalistic with its large round screen and tasteful dial just waiting to be turned. The newest iteration is slightly slimmer than the 2nd gen and sports a more easily visible screen with an improved resolution and DPI count.
Earlier models of the Nest would start displaying info as soon as their proximity sensors kicked in. Now it comes with a far field sensor and the Farsight feature. This lets the Nest pick up movement from farther away and start displaying either the current time or ambient temperature depending on your preferences. As you get closer more information is displayed, e.g. the clock will start to display the date.
The Ecobee4 has a rectangular look with rounded edges as well as a blue LED which comes to life whenever you want to use its built-in Alexa functionality. Since it has a responsive touchscreen, everything from the current temperature to settings and alerts can be controlled with a few swipes and pinches. While the Nest’s display is arguably more beautiful, the Ecobee is the winner when you need a quick temperature update as both indoor and outdoor temperature as well as the current time are displayed when you pass it by.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is truly smart when it comes to temperature control as it analyzes the preferences and activities of everyone in the home for a week when first installed and adjusts the temperature accordingly. It has a tendency to skew the temperature down a degree or two to a more power-efficient level though. It’s fascinating to watch it track all occupants’ daily activities and come up with a schedule everyone is comfortable with.
The lack of a temperature sensor was its biggest flaw on release since the thermostat would go into power saving mode frequently if its proximity sensors weren’t stimulated. Now that you can finally buy a separate sensor (or pay a little extra with a new Nest bundle), it can be placed in a room whose temperature you actually care about and used as the new baseline for determining the temperature throughout the home.
A single sensor comes with the Ecobee4 with no additional cost, and you can purchase more pairs to fine-tune the temperature in your home even more. Although they operate in a similar way to the Nest’s, Ecobee4’s sensors can also be set to track your movements. If you have multiple sensors set up, entering a room will make it the new default while adjusting the temperatures in unoccupied ones to save power.
Both devices respond quickly and accurately when controlling heating and air conditioning, but only the Ecobee4 is capable of making changes to your HVAC’s subsystems. This means that it can increase or decrease the air’s humidity, turn filtration on and off etc., giving you a greater degree of climate control.
Remote control is one of the biggest advantages of having a smart thermostat since you get an overview of the current home temperature and access to thermostat controls wherever you are. Both the Nest and the Ecobee4 have comprehensive apps that let you track monthly power expenses & savings, set up a manual heating / cooling schedule, read and adjust each individual sensor, and set up alerts.
The Nest app can make more subtle temperature adjustments if you enable Family Accounts. This new feature lets everyone in your household register a free account and connect it to the app. Their smartphones’ locations are then tracked which helps the thermostat determine whether to switch to Away mode. If your home has a forced-air furnace, the app can be configured to alert you each time the furnace shuts off or has any issues.
Ecobee’s app is functional and more in line with the interface you’ll use on the thermostat directly. Specific controls are easier to get to and grouped more logically. In the beginning the app suffered from design quirks related to accessing more in-depth scheduling options, but this has since been resolved.
The Ecobee4 excels at smart home integration. HomeKit support allows you to access its functions through Siri, while a built-in speaker gives it all the features you’d find in a regular Echo device. If the thermostat is conveniently located, you can turn it into your daily source of news, or a jukebox. Amazon’s ESP feature hasn’t been integrated yet, so Alexa may respond even if the Ecobee4 isn’t currently the closest compatible device.
Although its integration options with third-party partners aren’t as broad, the 3rd gen Nest thermostat can be linked to a number of other Nest products. Installing one of their smoke / carbon monoxide sensors for example makes the thermostat responsive to high concentrations of either. Your ventilation or heating systems will then automatically shut down in the case of an emergency. Google Home integration and voice activation works with the Nest from the get go. If you want to make use of Alexa, you’ll need to purchase another Alexa-enabled device for it to work first.
We’ve summed-up each thermostat’s strengths & weaknesses in the table below:
|Ecobee4||Nest 3rd Generation|
|· Easy to control through touchscreen|
· Comes with a sensor
· Supports broad array of home integration systems
· Acts as an Alexa device
· Can control HVAC subsystems
· Has a well-designed app
|· Needs a C-wire to work|
· Doesn’t add much value over previous model
|· Adjusts to your schedule and habits|
· Bright and large screen
· Farsight feature
· Integrates with other Nest devices
· Looks nice in modern homes
|· Can’t be used with HomeKit|
· Remote sensors increase its price
· Short warranty
The Ecobee4 is the better smart thermostat overall – it supports many more home integration options, makes almost complete use of Amazon’s Alexa, and is more intuitive to control. The question is, how valuable are its advanced smart features to you? Ecobee3 has practically everything it has apart from Alexa, which we believe doesn’t justify a switch.
Meanwhile the Nest Learning Thermostat continues to impress with its machine learning abilities and looks great to boot. We are disappointed that the company is slow to innovate though – it’s been 3 years since the release of this model, and the only major update it has received since then are the badly-needed external sensors which ramp its unchanged cost up again.
If this is your first smart thermostat purchase, then you can’t go wrong with either. Economically speaking, both are a great investment since they make it much easier to keep track of and adjust your HVAC expenses on the fly. With reported annual savings of 10 percent or more on power and heating bills, either will pay for itself in just a season or two.