Ecobee5 vs. Nest Gen 3: What About Ecobee4 & Ecobee3 Lite?
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After two years of testing Nest and Ecobee products, I’ve determined Ecobee SmartThermostat (Ecobee5) is the best smart thermostat because you’ll get the most control, flexibility and smart home compatibility. Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen) is a great system for those who lack the c-wire or want an easy installation with mindless money savings.
There are four Ecobee and two Nest thermostats on Amazon. Read the “Things To Note” section below to understand the names and the differences.
I’ll compare and contrast the two most advanced smart thermostats (Ecobee SmartThermostat vs. Nest Learning Thermostat) by evaluating four categories: smarts, software, design, and setup.
- Smarts: It comes with an additional sensor to better detect when you’re home and regulate the temperature. The built-in Alexa works as well as Echo Dot.
- Software: The phone app and thermostat have similar interfaces. It supports ALL smart home platforms (HomeKit, Alexa, Google, SmartThings, IFTTT, Harmony).
- Design: It’s made with cheaper materials, 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 included Power Extender Kit if you don't have the c-wire.
Best for you if...
You want more control and don’t want to be locked into Google’s ecosystem. Ecobee works with all smart home platforms, making it a must-have for Alexa and Apple users. The major downside is that you need the c-wire, making setup harder than Nest if you don’t.
Nest Learning Thermostat
- Smarts: It learns your patterns and automatically optimizes itself. You can add temperature sensors for $40 each, but they don’t detect occupancy.
- Software: The Nest app is solid. It works with Google Assistant but not with other smart home platforms (HomeKit, Alexa, Google, SmartThings, IFTTT, Harmony).
- Design: It’s a beautiful, expertly crafted piece of art with a high-resolution glass display. But there isn't a touchscreen.
- 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 needing to optimize it yourself. It’s a great option for houses without the c-wire, non-techies, those who prioritize craftsmanship, and Android users. It’s fine for iPhone users but not ideal.
Nest E is great if you appreciate ugly design aesthetics, less compatibility, and fewer learning features. But it’s usually not much cheaper on Amazon.
Things To Note
- Each Ecobee thermostat has temperature sensors built into it.
- Ecobee3, Ecobee4, and Ecobee SmartThermostat come with a standalone SmartSensor (the white device pictured above), letting you track temperature and occupancy in two rooms.
- The SmartSensor helps regulate the temperature and detect occupancy to save you money. They can be purchased separately and will work with any Ecobee model. You can add up to 32 sensors to your system.
- Ecobee has confusing names and there’s not much to differentiate the models. If you want an Ecobee thermostat, I made an in-depth guide comparing them, but here’s a simple breakdown:
- Ecobee3 was released in 2015. It comes with a standalone room sensor. It was a great product but was discontinued last year.
- Ecobee3 Lite was released in 2016 and is sold for $169. It’s almost the same thermostat as Ecobee3. It doesn’t have an occupancy sensor built-in and doesn’t include any room sensors, but you can buy SmartSensors separately.
- Ecobee4 was released in 2017. It was discontinued this year, but it’s still sold on Amazon. Ecobee4 is the same as Ecobee3 but comes with built-in Alexa to perform commands as you would with an Amazon Echo device. BUT Alexa is a gimmick because the speaker sounds awful and the mics aren’t good enough to consistently pick up your voice. Just disable Alexa’s mic when you buy it and use it as you would an Ecobee3.
- Ecobee SmartThermostat was released in 2019 and is the newest model. It should’ve been named Ecobee5 because it’s the fifth generation. It has the same features as Ecobee4 with three important hardware improvements:
- The mics were upgraded from analog to digital, so Alexa actually works because it can hear you.
- The speaker sounds clearer and louder.
- The screen is made of a nicer glass material compared to plastic.
- Nest’s product lineup is easy to understand, but Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen) is the only model that you should consider.
- Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen) is beautifully designed with polycarbonate sides and a glass display. It can usually be found on Amazon for $200.
- Nest E is their budget model, but they cut a lot of corners to get the price down.
- It’s made of cheap plastic.
- It has a hard-to-see frosted display.
- The screen resolution is lower.
- It won’t work with multi-stage HVAC systems and is less compatible overall.
- It’s missing the Farsight display.
- For this comparison, I’ll dive deep into the best product each company offers (Ecobee SmartThermostat and Nest Learning Thermostat), but most of the features apply to all the other models.
- To get the best performance from these smart thermostats, you want a preexisting c-wire connected to your old thermostat to deliver constant power. Newer houses typically have one, but older houses may not have the same luck. Nest doesn’t need constant power because it has a battery. Ecobee requires the c-wire or the use of their Power Extender Kit, which needs to be installed inside of your HVAC system.
- Ecobee doesn’t learn your patterns like Nest, but they offer different solutions. During the setup, you input your preferred temperature and time periods 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 SmartSensors to detect motion and temperature. One room sensor is included with Ecobee SmartThermostat (none with Ecobee3 Lite), and you can add up to 32 SmartSensors to any Ecobee system. Five examples of Ecobee’s room sensors in action:
- Smart Home/Away activates “Smart 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 Ecobee SmartThermostat. Unlike Ecobee4, Alexa actually works and performs most of the same commands as Echo Dot with the same efficiency. Alexa no longer gets in the way and it’s an advantage if you’re placing Ecobee in a frequently occupied room, but there are things to consider:
- Thermostats aren’t always in a central location or within speaking distance.
- Most people don’t want a thermostat listening to their conversations. You can disable Alexa’s mic if you want.
- 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.
- It works with all major smart home platforms (Alexa, HomeKit, Google, SmartThings, Wink, Harmony, IFTTT, and Vera).
- Ecobee works with Apple’s HomeKit.
- You’ll have control of your thermostat with Siri, the Home App, and by swiping up from the top 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.
- 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.
- Users often open the Ecobee app and find that they can’t connect to their thermostat because Ecobee’s servers have lots of downtime. I’ve been unable to connect just twice in two years, but I don’t use the app often because:
- Once you have your preferences set up, you shouldn’t need to go inside the Ecobee app.
- When I need to control my Ecobee manually, I use Apple’s Home App, which still works when Ecobee is having issues.
- Ecobee is compatible with the same number of HVAC systems as Nest (check here).
- Unfortunately, there isn’t a battery in Ecobee, meaning you’ll need the c-wire for constant power. Not all houses have the c-wire, especially old ones.
- If your system doesn’t have the 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 and here’s a great third-party tutorial.
- Ecobee’s setup process is flawless if you have the c-wire. I’d grade the “Setup” section the same as Nest’s if you have the c-wire.
- Ecobee has a 3.5″ touchscreen display that functions exactly like the phone app.
- Ecobee SmartThermostat looks fantastic on the wall but doesn’t feel as nice as Nest. The base of the unit is made of plastic and is nothing like the sturdy feeling you get from Nest. Ecobee says the screen on SmartThermostat is made with “crisp glass” compared to Ecobee4’s plastic, but it feels only slightly more sturdy.
- Ideally, Nest will figure out your household’s patterns after a couple of weeks, and you won’t have to touch it again. Nest uses AI and machine learning to detect patterns and automatically optimize temperature settings 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, but unlike Ecobee’s sensors, these can’t detect occupancy, only temperature. The occupancy detection is more important if you’re not using your phone for a geofence.
- The “learning” isn’t 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 or your thermostat isn’t in a central location.
- 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.
- Google owns Nest and they no longer play nice with other smart home platforms (IFTTT, Alexa, Apple, Google, SmartThings, Harmony, etc.). Google has canceled the “Works With Nest” program giving customers less smart home integrations than previously available. The biggest loss is that Nest will no longer work with Alexa starting on August 31st. You’re in good shape if you own primarily Google products and plan to stay in their ecosystem, but you’re in trouble if you want to change platforms in the future.
- Nest doesn’t support Apple’s HomeKit and it never will. 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.
- I found it extremely difficult to use the Nest app for scheduling. You’ll need to use the web app if you want to change the schedule manually. However, you shouldn’t need to use it for scheduling too often because the AI configures the schedule for you.
- The interface on the thermostat and app aren’t the same. While Nest looks beautiful, the interface is not intuitive to use on the thermostat. Also, it’s not easy to navigate menus using the dial (which is similar to the classic iPod click wheel). I’d 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.
- It’s a piece of art. It’s the smallest by volume but weighs the most of any thermostat that 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 to interact with the menus after setup.