For more than a decade, Ecobee has slugged it out with Nest in the battle for smart thermostat supremacy. Nest’s design and simple ring control has achieved near-iconic status, but we’d argue that Ecobee is the more innovative of the two.
Four generations of devices have added thoughtful and helpful home control features. Ecobee was the first to introduce remote sensors, with presence detection allowing the thermostat to target temperatures according to actual room usage. Integrated voice control (via Amazon Alexa) boosted utility, while support for a swathe of third-party platforms, including Apple HomeKit/Siri, IFTTT, SmartThings and Google Assistant, opened a world of smart integration.
The simply named Ecobee SmartThermostat ($249) is the Canadian company’s latest model. It arrives two years after the Ecobee4 and, notably, almost four years after Nest’s third-generation thermostat (2017’s Nest E is more of a budget variant, than a new generation) so we’re eager to see what’s new in the world of smart temperature control.
At first glance, the answer appears to be very little. The beautifully designed, premium packaging holds a device that could be easily mistaken for the Ecobee4. It boasts a similar compact, squircular design. Bundled smart sensor? Check. Integrated Amazon Alexa speaker? Present. Simple app, tap, and voice control? Yes. And there’s still no battery back-up.
A lot has changed under the hood, however. The SmartThermostat packs a new, glass-fronted color LCD screen (320 x 480 resolution), with improved touchscreen sensitivity. It’s powered by a quad-core processor, and has dual-band Wi-Fi delivering faster, more stable connectivity. This new engine unlocks enhanced features. Support for Spotify and Bluetooth 5.0 lets you push music to an external speaker via Alexa. You’ll also find the thermostat’s integrated smart speaker improved, delivering rich sound and wider range.
While, at its core, the Ecobee SmartThermostat remains true to its name — it is most definitely a smart thermostat — this new model is positioned to play a broader, more substantial role in your smart home.
Simple, step-by-step installation guidance
Upgrading a wired thermostat may seem a daunting job, but as long as your system is compatible with Ecobee, you’ll find it a straightforward task. A simple, step by step booklet is included to walk you through the job.
Remove your existing thermostat’s faceplate and disconnect the wiring. In-box, you’ll find stickers to label each wire as you go. Swap in the Ecobee backplate and then reconnect the wires – a generously-sized cover plate is included should you need to conceal damaged or undecorated walls. The Ecobee faceplate clips neatly into place. Switch your HVAC power back on, and you’re done.
You can’t deny the Ecobee delivers more features and better value.
If your system lacks a C-wire connection, a power extender is included, which makes for a more complicated process. If that all sounds too much, a network of pro installers is available to do the job on your behalf.
As with previous models, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is bundled with an additional, battery-powered room sensor which remotely reports temperatures in the room it is installed. It’s redesigned to be smaller and cuter than Nest’s room sensors and can be wall mounted or placed on an accompanying stand. The sensor is battery powered and should last up to five years.
Initial setup is a quick task. A few taps on the thermostat’s responsive touchscreen will select your HVAC type and set up Wi-Fi before wrapping up your installation by connecting the system to the Ecobee smartphone app. You can also monitor and control the thermostat using a web app in your browser (while taking advantage of more comprehensive reporting), but most will find the app a convenient option.
The SmartThermostat boasts a new touchscreen display that is clear and reasonably bright. Despite the improvement, we still prefer Nest’s brighter, more colorful display with larger characters for viewing temperatures at a distance. Depending on where Ecobee is installed, the new glass-fronted screen can be too reflective and obscure the display.
Controlling the Ecobee thermostat is easy, no matter which control you choose. A sliding scale allows easy temperature selection, while a one-tap feature makes switching between heat, cool, or auto settings a cinch.
Configuring your home’s heating and cooling schedule is also a breeze. The thermostat ships with a preconfigured schedule covering overnight and daytime temperatures which should suit most homes. Tweaking comfort settings for temperature range, fan control and timings can be completed in just a few taps.
Improved audio and an enhanced Alexa experience, but there’s room for refinement
Ecobee introduced an integrated Alexa speaker with its last model, and we’re pleased to see the feature carried forward and enhanced in the SmartThermostat. While it may seem that every smart home device is packing an Alexa smart speaker nowadays, this thermostat is an unobtrusive home for Amazon’s assistant. We found Ecobee’s integrated microphone performed well, particularly when the room was quiet. You’ll have to shout a bit when streaming music.
Ecobee has crammed a solid speaker into the SmartThermostat.
Streaming music on a thermostat? Indeed. Despite the compact dimensions of the device, Ecobee has managed to cram a much better speaker into the SmartThermostat than in the Ecobee4, or the competition. Depending on your choice of music, it can be coarse at the high-end, but there’s plenty of volume, surprisingly chunky bass, and reasonable separation.
Also new is support for Alexa Calling, Alexa Messaging, and Drop-In, which provide a range of options for communicating with family and friends both inside and outside the home. We found all three worked well, with the new integrated speaker and microphone providing clear audio at both ends. We were, however, a little disappointed to see the Ecobee display wasn’t used for messaging or call status during our conversations. While you receive an audio signal of incoming calls/messages and the top-mounted Alexa indicator flashes, from there you’re left to figure out who’s calling, or be immediately connected to a disembodied voice. The new communication features are a step forward, but there’s room for refinement.
Most of all, we’d like to see Alexa take advantage of Ecobee’s integrated screen for better messaging. At that point the SmartThermostat would basically be a wall-mounted Echo, and with rumors circulating that Ecobee is planning a move into smart home security, a thermostat with a screen could be a great security command center. It’s the perfect home for a doorbell cam display, for sure.
As with Ecobee4, controlling the SmartThermostat with Alexa could be b etter. Changing temperatures or switching modes worked, but the integrated assistant complained when we tried to switch the HVAC off. Ironically, we were able to complete that step with the Google Assistant (on a Lenovo Smart Display), which works well with the SmartThermostat. Apple HomeKit and IFTTT support ensures there’s plenty of enhanced integration options available.
The Ecobee SmartThermostat is supported by a three-year warranty for self-installed devices, rising to five years should you opt for a professional installation. The accompanying room sensor also has a three year warranty.Our Take
The Ecobee SmartThermostat offers valuable enhancements over its predecessor, and a more refined experience, without charging a premium. It remains a top pick for any homeowner considering a smart thermostat. The new features and enhanced fire power under-the-hood incrementally extends Ecobee’s differentiation from the Nest Learning Thermostat. While we prefer some elements of the Nest experience, you can’t deny that Ecobee delivers more features and greater value. Google, it’s time to respond.
Keep in mind, however, that there’s more to come from Ecobee in the next twelve months and this device may be the trojan horse at the heart of an enhanced smart home ecosystem. Once that picture becomes clear, you can time your investment accordingly.
Is there a better alternative?
You might prefer the look of the $249 Nest Learning Thermostat, but it’s now rather old. Ecobee4 has evolved thermostats into more sophisticated smart home hubs, and this new model continues that, delivering more features, better quality, and greater value than its peers.
How long will it last?
With more than a decade of operations under its belt, a generous warranty, and continued updates, we have no concerns that the Ecobee SmartThermostat will stand the test of time.
Should you buy it?
Absolutely. Ecobee4 owners don’t need to rush to upgrade, but if you’re upgrading an older smart home thermostat or looking for your first, this is the one to buy.