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When you’ve decided to upgrade to a smart thermostat and you’ve done your research, it is likely that you have decided on either an ecobee4 or a Nest 3rd generation smart thermostat. But with similar form factors, deciding between the ecobee4 vs Nest is a tough choice. That’s what this review is for. We’ll take a look at seven criteria and give you an in-depth look at each. And in the end, we’ll declare an overall winner.
One of the first things you look at when you’re comparing two products is price. It’s just instinct to turn that price tag to see what the impact on your bottom line is going to be. It’s important to remember, however, that most smart thermostats are designed to save you money. One of the biggest selling points is that they pay for themselves in savings in usually one or two years.
The Nest 3rd Generation Smart Thermostat is priced at $249 from the Google Store, but sometimes you can find it on sale for $199.99. Currently, Google is running a special where you can save $25 off each unit when you purchase 2, making the total price $448, or $224 each.
The ecobee4 is also priced at $249 from ecobee’s website, but the kit comes with an additional room sensor in addition to the primary unit. There is no discount for buying multiples, however.
Remember that price isn’t the only factor that we’re going to look at in our nest vs ecobee comparison. It’s just the first. However, because they are both priced identically from their respective stores for a single unit when it comes to pricing, this one is a tie.
Design and Aesthetics
Gone are the old round brass dial thermostats with the red needle indicators. Modern smart thermostats are sleek and look like something you’d find in a futuristic science fiction television program. Modern smart thermostats are designed by world-famous designers who often go unnoticed. But when it comes to the Nest, that design got plenty of attention.
The Nest thermostat was designed by the same person who designed the Roku box and the GoPro Hero3, Fred Bould. Bould has three Red Dot awards, which is like winning an Oscar if you’re a designer. So when we say that he designed the Nest thermostat, that’s kind of like saying that Martin Scorsese is directing your kid’s next birthday video. The Nest has a smaller form factor, about 5-inches in diameter and comes in one of 7 color options for the outside ring. All of them are subtle and look very nice. You can pretty much match any décor. The colors available are Black, White, Silver,
Copper, Mirror Black, Brass, and Polished Steel.
The Ecobee has a similar form factor to the Nest, except more of a rounded square than a truly round circle. It doesn’t have the famous name designer behind it, but it still looks sharp. It’s also available in any color as long as you like black.
The display on the Nest is also multicolor, but you can’t set it manually. It turns orange when your HVAC system is heating, blue when the system is cooling and black when the system is off. The Nest smart thermostat does not have a camera like the Nest door camera, or even a microphone, but it does have a proximity sensor. The Nest will be able to detect when you’re in the room and turn on. The display is easy to read as the display is completely uncluttered at the beginning. A simple large number tells you what the thermostat is set to. The display is strange to interpret at first, but as you learn what the symbols mean, it becomes intuitive to read, and information is available at a glance.
The type of information available on the Nest changes depending on the context. By default, you will see what the current ambient temperature is and what the target temperature is. You’ll also see the Nest Leaf icon when it wants you to do something new. But the neatest part of the Nest thermostat display is the Farsight screen. This screen will start to display whatever you’ve selected and then become more detailed as you get closer. For example, if you set it to show weather and forecast, when you’re 20 feet away, you’ll see an icon showing the weather and the outside temperature. As you get closer, that information will get smaller and a more detailed forecast will show up at the bottom.
The Ecobee4’s display is black with white text, although the numbers for the temperature ranges do have different colors. The upper range is blue, and the lower range is orange, so in this, it is slightly similar to the Nest. The numbers are big and easy to read and show up very well even from across the room. While it does not have a camera either, it does have an extremely sensitive microphone that can pick you up from across the room.
While the ecobee4’s display is much simpler, you can still get a large amount of information at a glance. This includes detailed weather information as well as the status of your Wi-Fi. But for the most part, you won’t have to depend on the screen. You’ll be able to get whatever information you want from the built-in Alexa voice assistant.
Between ecobee vs Nest, the Nest has the edge when it comes to the display and design. That’s not just because of the designer, but also the multiple color options and the responsiveness of the Farsight Screen. The ecobee4 smart thermostat is no slouch, it’s just not as pretty or aesthetically pleasing as the Nest.
Verdict: Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat
Intuitiveness of Use
The thing you want from any smart thermostat is to save money. And the best way that it’s going to save you money is if you use it and interact with it. But if you don’t like to use it, or if it is difficult to use, then it might as well stay in the box. In this round of Nest vs ecobee, we’re going to take a look at how each thermostat rates on how easy and intuitive they are to use.
The ecobee4 has a touch screen interface that invites you to swipe around and explore what’s going on. It’s very similar to what you already do on your phone. There are four icons on the bottom that are just like app icons on your phone. You press them to get into the menus, and you can scroll and touch, and use the standard controls that you’re used to when navigating an app. Ecobee’s use of standard icons and their use of a scrolling and touch screen interface is very quick to learn and easy to use. However, that’s not the best part.
The best part is that the ecobee4 has an Alexa voice assistant built into it. This built-in Alexa lets you do most of the control just by talking to your thermostat. The microphone is very sensitive, and telling the ecobee4 to turn the temperature down is something so easy that you’ll wonder why you’ve never done it before. There’s a blue light on top of the thermostat that lets you know that the thermostat is listening, so you never wonder about it. If you’re worried about Amazon and Alexa listening in on what you say, you can always disable Alexa completely.
Using the Nest 3rd Generation smart thermostat uses the outside colored case as a spin dial with audible clicky feedback that sounds nice. To enter the main menu, you press the face of the thermostat, treating it like a mouse button. That opens up five options that are set equidistant around the face. You get access to current conditions, energy use, the scheduled program, settings, and the thermostat control. When you turn the dial, the icons spin around, and you can press the screen to go into the menus as needed. The screen is easily readable, and the functions are all adjusted by the smooth dial. Using the dial isn’t as intuitive at first, but as you get used to it, you can find anything you need to adjust very quickly.
Between the two, the ecobee has a slight edge over the Nest for two reasons. The first is the slight learning curve with using the Nest’s dial and click interface. The second is the built-in Alexa that the ecobee has. With that feature, you don’t even have to touch your thermostat unless you want to.
Ease of Programming
If there’s one feature that is designed to save you money, it has to be the ability of the smart thermostat to automatically change temperatures and settings. These changes make sure that your HVAC system doesn’t cool or heat the home when you are not there. Every time the thermostat makes a change, it’s called an event, and together, a series of events is your thermostat’s program. And if you don’t make use of that program, you definitely aren’t going to save money.
This section will take a look at comparing the program options between the Nest and the ecobee4 as well as how easy it is to create your own programs.
The biggest benefit of the Nest 3rd Generation smart thermostat is that it has the capability to learn from you. So you can set your schedule one of two ways. The easiest way is to turn learning on and then use the thermostat as you would normally. Turn the temperature up (in the summer) or down (in the winter) when you leave, or go to bed, and vice versa when you get home. After a few days, the Nest will learn and create a schedule for you that you can review.
The Nest learns a separate schedule for both heating and cooling. It also will learn one for those tricky months when you use both heating and cooling. So during the summer, when you most likely have it set to cool, it’s going to learn what temperature you like to turn on the air conditioner.
The way programming the Nest with learning works is that on the first day, you set it to your ideal temperature, and the Nest will maintain that temperature until someone changes it. This will continue as you change the temperature up or down and also by how often the Nest detects that you’re home. After a week, the Nest will learn your preferences along with whether you’re home and set up a schedule. Here are some examples of how your changes affect the Nest’s pattern.
How You Change Temperature Settings How Nest Learns From That
Two Weekdays in a Row (Thursday and Friday) All weekdays change (Monday through Friday)
Same Day Two Weeks in a Row That day changes every week
Two Weekend Days in a Row All weekend days change (Saturday and Sunday)
Two days in a row that include a weekday and a weekend (Sunday and Monday) All seven days change (Sunday through Monday)
As you can see, the learning that the Nest does makes setting a schedule very easy as long as you remember to change the temperature settings. But if you want to change it manually, you can. You can set any target temperature you like at any 15-minute interval. However, if you set two adjacent temperatures, like 69 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they must be set at least an hour apart.
For the ecobee4, setting up the schedule only takes a couple of steps. The first step is to set up your comfort settings. From there, you manually set what your desired temperatures are for when you are home, away, and asleep. You essentially tell it that when the temperature reaches X, you want it to start heating. When it approaches Y, you want it to start cooling things down. That’s it. You can always make manual changes, but the ecobee will revert back to your set schedule unless you change that schedule.
The fact that the Nest learns from your habits and makes changes to your existing schedule gives it the edge in this category. While the ecobee4 is extremely easy to program, the fact that you have to manually change the program every time your schedule changes is a little bit of a bummer.
Verdict: Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat
Integration into a Smart Home
One of the best things you can do with a smart thermostat is to integrate it with the rest of your smart devices. Having your house close the blinds, turn your thermostat up, and put all your electronics into sleep mode when you leave your house makes you realize the future is now. So how well do these smart thermostats play with other smart devices, and how well does it connect to a smart home hub?
The Nest is a great device, but there’s been some changes in how it integrates into a smart home that has a lot of users upset. Nest used to be part of a system called Works With Nest (WWN) that let you know all of the third-party accessories that would work with your Nest devices. This included all of the Nest flagship products like the smart thermostat and the cameras to August smart door locks and the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. But in a recent announcement by Google (who owns Nest now), Works With Nest went away officially on August 31st, 2019.
In its stead will be a new protocol called Works With Google Assistant (WWGA). Google has promised that existing WWN devices will continue to work in the future, but that raises a lot of questions. One of which is that even now, Google hasn’t fully worked out how the transition is working other than to say, “if we make changes to the existing WWN connections available to you” they will let you know.
If you’re just entering into the smart home market and integration, then getting started with WWGA is fairly easy. The upside for new users is that you can connect your Nest to about 30,000 products and have it work with them. But it’s still uncertain if you’re going to get the level of sophistication that used to be available. Another drawback is that Nest learning thermostats no longer work with IFTTT.
IFTTT is a smart protocol that allows you to make changes in a chain with all of your smart devices. It stands for IF This Then That. You create an app that corresponds to an activity, and then you simply press one button or say one command and everything happens. For example, you can make an app for when you go to bed. You activate it and your August door lock locks. Your alarm system activates, and the blinds close. The thermostat sets to your bedtime comfort levels and all the lights but the hallway and bedroom turn off. If there’s a specific setting you like for reading, or for watching the news, you can create an IFTTT app for it. So for Google to lose that functionality is a significant loss of convenience.
Still, the Nest does play well with Amazon Alexa, Google Home Assistant (of course), Apple HomeKit, and Hubitat so there are plenty of options when you’re looking for a smart home hub.
The ecobee4 by virtue of having an integrated Amazon Alexa already makes it sort of its own smart hub. After all, if you can control it with Alexa, you can integrate it with your ecobee. Ecobee also works well with SmartThings, which is one of the best smart home hubs on the market today.
SmartThings works with your lights, radio, and even an integrated coffee machine to get your day going. When your ecobee4 detects you moving, the SmartThings hub will nudge up the temperature, start your coffee, and turn on the radio to your favorite station or podcast. When you leave, it locks all your doors, turns on the security system, sets your thermostat to away mode, and makes sure all the lights are off. If you want to write your own routines other than what is preset for you with SmartThings, or you don’t want to integrate using SmartThings, the ecobee4 also still works with IFTTT.
Both of these smart thermostats are easily put into use in any smart home within their existing infrastructure. But because of the recent shakeup at Google changing over to WWGA and their lack of set protocols at this moment, we have to give this category to the ecobee4.
When it comes to controlling your smart thermostat, the manufacturers don’t want you standing at it, tapping the screen or fiddling with things. Sure, you can do that, but they really want you to use their proprietary smart device app to run things. For some smart thermostats, there are functions and settings that you can only access if you do use your smartphone or your computer. So it’s incumbent upon the Nest and ecobee to ensure their app is not just easy to use, but also intuitive; and that all comes down to the app design.
Let’s face it; you expect that any app that is part of the Google ecosystem to be well designed and work flawlessly. And for the most part, the Nest smartphone app does that. The interface is well designed, and you can do everything on the app that you expect to be able to. The bonus comes from what else the app does for you.
Because the Nest family has a lot of other products, their app is able to integrate data and information from those products and give you insights into a lot of corners. You can see when people are coming and going and how that impacts your heating and cooling. And by enabling geofencing and Home/Away Assist, you can give the Nest the power to help control your smart home.
The actual interface of the app looks clean and sleek and provides you a lot of information at a glance without being overwhelming. You can also always drill down farther into information if you need to in order to get more and more information.
Operating systems requirements for Nest are not very stringent. For the mobile app, you just need to have Android 5.0 or later, or iOS 10.0 or later. For the desktop app, you need Mac OS X v10.9 and up or Windows 7 or later as well as the latest versions of Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, or Firefox. You also need a Wi-Fi connection with internet access.
The ecobee4 app is very similar in look and feel to the interface on the thermostat itself. The design is very simple and is meant to allow you control over one thing: your thermostat. Within the app, you can control your schedule, change the temperature, and change any settings, virtually anything that you could do on the thermostat itself. And that simplicity and focus of design and purpose is something you rarely see in a world where multitasking and doing more is so prevalent.
The operating system requirements for the ecobee app are a little more stringent than the Nest. For Apple, you need iOS 11.0 or later, and on Android, it depends on the device, but it does run well even on older devices. The ecobee app is also available for the Apple Watch, so if controlling your thermostat from your wrist has ever been a dream of yours, the ecobee4 is calling your name.
When it comes to the better of the two, while the ability to control the entire family of Nest products from their app is nice, the simplicity of ecobee’s design wins us over. When you also take into account that the ecobee app mirrors the controls on the thermostat so that there is virtually zero learning curve in learning one after the other, the ecobee is the clear winner here.
Potential Cost Savings
This is probably the most important feature of your Nest vs ecobee decision. After all, the entire purpose of upgrading to a smart thermostat is to save money on your heating and cooling energy costs. In this section, we’ll drill down into not just how much you can save, but how easy it is to save. After all, you can get close to saving 100% on your energy bill if you never use your heat or air conditioning, but that’s not really feasible. So how does the ecobee vs. Nest comparison go when it comes to saving money on your energy bill?
Nest has compiled a lot of data from users and their thermostats and put it all together. They collected data from owners in 41 states to see how they used energy before the Nest and after. And what they found is that on average, people were saving 10% to 12% on their heating bills and about 15% on their cooling bills. That means that the average savings for Nest users was $131 to $145 per year.
For ecobee, they did a similar study with their users. They found that their users saved an average of 23% total on their heating and cooling costs. According to the ecobee website, “ecobee calculates energy savings by correlating how long your heating and cooling equipment run to local weather conditions. Energy savings are calculated relative to a commonly used desired temperature of 72°F (22°C).” What this means in layman’s terms is that the ecobee savings are based on the average electricity rate in your area and fuel oil rate, combined with how much the equipment ran.
So you know that Nest saves you about 25% to 27% and ecobee says they save you about 23%, but how easy is it to do that?
The Nest does make it easy to make little changes that will save you money. The learning function of the thermostat guarantees that you aren’t going to be running your HVAC equipment when you don’t need to. Additionally, the Nest makes suggestions to you about how you can nudge your thermostat up or down a degree to save you even more.
The other smart functions of the Nest also work to save you money. With the Home/Away function, when you aren’t home and the Nest hasn’t detected you in a while, it will go into Away mode, powering down, so you don’t heat or cool your home when it’s empty. The Nest also learns about how your specific room heats and cools because every home is different. It learns how long it takes to warm up and will take that into account when preparing for your next thermostat change.
The Nest makes saving money pretty simple, and rewards you with savings when you take the suggestions from the Nest Leaf. The Leaf con will show up when you choose a temperature that will save you energy. For example, the Leaf will always show up when you set the heating temperature below 62 degrees Fahrenheit (16.5 degrees Celsius). Likewise, when you set the cooling temperature above 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius), you’ll get the Leaf to show up.
If you have more than one Nest learning thermostat in your home, the different schedules and temperatures will make the Leaf show up at different ranges, because each area will be a little different. But by following the Leaf, you can save even more money, although at the cost of a little bit of comfort.
For the ecobee4, most of your money savings will come from setting your schedule. Once you learn to set a schedule, you’ll find that your heating and cooling bills will start to drop dramatically. Ecobee does recommend some additional ways to save even more money, however.
They say that when your ecobee is connected to the internet, it can use something called the Weather Impact algorithm. This code takes into account the weather around your home and how that affects your home and how it heats and cools. This means your ecobee4 will be able to make more intelligent decisions about when to run so your HVAC system doesn’t run when it shouldn’t.
Another tip for saving money with the ecobee4 is to make sure you put in all of the information about your home in the web interface. This includes the size, the age, and even what type of home it is. You also put in the number of people living there. That helps the algorithm make sure that it is running even more efficiently. After all, it takes more energy to heat a 2000 square foot home than it does to heat an 800 square foot house.
One neat trick that the ecobee4 has is something called Follow Me. When combined with the additional sensors that the ecobee4 can support, the smart thermostat tracks what rooms are currently occupied. It then runs the HVAC system until the ideal temperature is set in the occupied rooms only. This means that the rooms you and your family are in are the ones that determine when the heating and cooling runs, so you aren’t running things unnecessarily.
This means that you need to place the sensors in the right places. You want them in rooms and areas that have a lot of traffic. The living room, the hallway, your bedrooms, and the kitchen are all ideal places. Not so much with the laundry room or the guest bathroom. When you place the sensor, it needs to be five feet off of the ground and out of direct sunlight and away from vents, doors, or windows. Your sensor should have a good view of the room as well. Placement is important so that your ecobee4 can get accurate readings and regulate the temperatures to save you money and keep you comfortable.
Using the sensors also allows you to use another neat feature. Use Smart Home/Away features – if motion is detected in the home during a programmed away period, it will override it and turn on Smart Home. Likewise, if you aren’t home during a Home period, it will activate Smart Away to let your thermostat save you money.
One additional feature that can save you a lot of money is the Peak Relief feature. This is useful when your electricity provider uses Time-of-use rates instead of standard rates. Time-of-use rates are when electric companies charge more for power when it is in higher demand and lower rates when it’s not in demand. This is as opposed to standard rates or tiered where a flat rate goes up as more electricity is used. Think of it like Uber and their surge pricing. When more Ubers are in demand, the price goes up a little.
Using the ecobee Peak Relief feature can add up to an additional 10 percent savings. That comes on top of the 23 percent that ecobee smart thermostats already save. How does it work? It uses energy during off-peak times to overheat or over cool your home, and then when energy is more expensive, it lets the temperature automatically self-regulate. Essentially, it uses your home as a thermal battery, and by using cheaper energy it means it doesn’t have to use it when it is more expensive later.
There are two preferences that you can set when using the Peak Relief system. One focuses on comfort and adheres more closely to your set programs, the other setting focuses on savings and allows the temperature to vary more.
When it comes to saving you money, between the ecobee vs nest, it is a tough decision. Both will save you around 25%, just by using them out of the box and setting up a basic program. But the ecobee4 has so many more ways that you can tweak the system, and that is mainly because of the ability to add additional sensors around your home. These additional sensors mean that your smart thermostat isn’t heating and cooling from the readings from just one place in your home. As long as you’re willing to place additional sensors in high traffic areas, then by far, the ecobee4 has the most potential to save you money.
Both of these smart thermostats are great devices with the potential to change how you look at heating and cooling your home. The Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat is an amazing device, and if you’d like to read an in-depth review of it, we have one here. There’s no denying that it is the perfect device for a lot of homeowners. The aesthetics of the Nest and its learning features means that this device will look sharp and match your own personal décor and let you save money just by using it. It integrates nicely into a smart home, and even with the slight hiccup from the end of Works With Nest, it is still a great choice for anyone’s smart home. The app looks good, and if you have multiple Nest products, you’re going to love how you can control everything from one place.
The ecobee4 has a lot to love as well. It looks sharp, even if it doesn’t come in multiple colors, and the interface is so easy to use because it is an extension of the smartphone app. Additionally, the ecobee4 smart thermostat integrates beautifully with a number of smart home hubs. We’ve also written up an extensive review of the ecobee here if you would like to read it.
When it comes to the better of the two, however, we have to choose the ecobee4. While the Nest smart thermostat’s ability to learn and adjust to your schedule is amazing, and the aesthetics of the Nest are incredible, the bottom line for a smart thermostat is saving you money. And with the multiple room sensors that the ecobee4 offers right out of the box, you have the potential, quite simply, to save more money with the ecobee.
Overall Winner: ecobee4 smart thermostat