The first port of call for many smart home users is a connected thermostat – and for good reason. Getting better control of your heating isn’t just a huge win for convenience. You can save a lot of money by heating your home efficiently, and there’s no better feeling than popping the heating on during your commute and coming home to a warm house.
And there are plenty of options for those looking at a smart thermostat. Perhaps the most famous is Nest, snapped up by Google and dominating the space since 2013. But more traditional rivals including Hive (from Centrica) and Honeywell have also managed to grab sizeable pieces of the action.
Read on for everything you need to know about smart thermostats, and how to choose your perfect system.
What does a smart thermostat do?
The key feature of any smart thermostat is putting you in remote control of your heating, anywhere in the world, via your smartphone. But there’s a bit more on offer than that.
Many traditional heating systems require an ugly, plastic thermostat in your house, and some don't have any thermostatic control whatsoever, meaning users put on the heating when they’re cold, make the house too hot, and turn it off again, which is a huge waste. You can set up timer control, and inevitably forget to turn it off when you’re away, and heat the house unnecessarily.
This is where smart thermostats really prove their worth.
First, they work thermostatically, letting you set an optimum temperature for your home, which should save you a wedge of cash. You can then create proper schedules, remotely turn the heating on and off and ensure it's shut off properly when you go away on holiday.
So what do you need to consider?
The smart home is a quickly evolving place, and now thermostats are just one piece of the puzzle. You may want to control lighting, heating, security and a host of devices within your home. So a key consideration is how you can ensure your stuff will work together.
Apple users will want to look at HomeKit integrations, while others will want to ensure that you can control your thermostat via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. If you have to control your lights via your iPhone but heating using a different app – well, that’s going to get irritating.
Get up to speed: Smart home ecosystems explained
It’s also worth considering the control afforded by your set up. A simpler system will offer whole home control, while others will let you get as granular as controlling the temperature in every individual room (if you buy the relevant sensors and controllers).
Read on for our pick of the best smart thermostat systems, tested at length in our homes and apartments.
Hive Active Heating
£249 in UK / $16.99 per month in US, hivehome.com
Hive is developed by Centrica, one of the world's biggest energy companies – and started in the UK, capitalising on the position of trust British Gas has within UK households. But Hive has branched out – it’s now available in the US, and offers a bit more than heating (or cooling) control. We’ve been testing the service for a couple of years, and have been impressed with its progress.
The Hive thermostat itself is best suited to less technical users in smaller homes. First off, it’s battery powered, so you don’t need to wire it in. That’s a biggie – and the controller will last around six months on a set of four AAs.
Key features include the ability to remotely turn heating on and off and set up schedules based on room temperature, which is more than most boilers offer. There’s also holiday mode, which stops heating your home until you return, but stops short of automating based on your smartphone’s location like Nest.
The jury is out on design of the thermostat unit. Hive signed up tech design guru Yves Béhar to style it with reflective glass and customisable frames. Many might prefer a small discreet white box, others the more stylish Hive unit.
The app is pretty easy to use, again, well suited to those who have reservations about teching-up their heating. The user starts at a honeycomb of all their Hive connected devices, which will show the current temperature and whether heating is on at-a-glance. Neat additions include the one-hour heat boost mode, which is designed to mimic the button found on older boiler systems.
But Hive is still missing features such as localized radiator controls, which means it’s not as powerful as rival platforms from Honeywell or Tado. It does boast multizone heating, but that means installing more thermostats. Again, that’s okay for an upstairs/downstairs set up, but not so good for four individual bedrooms, plus the east and west wing of your mansion beach house.
Hive is more than just a heating system, though. Unlike Tado, Honeywell and even Nest, the Hive ecosystem now boasts smart plugs, bulbs, door sensors and home security cameras. They’re all easy-to-use and reliable, and make for a vibrant smart home set up.
Of course, the need to keep your smart home within the Hive family is negated by platforms like Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home. Alexa support is a big part of Hive and works well, but support is yet to roll out for anything else. What’s more, it doesn’t have third parties building in support for their products like the Works with Nest platform which may put off those planning a bigger smart home.
But it’s the kind of system that’s perfect for non-techy users, doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the ecosystem, and best of all, you get a trustworthy engineer to come and fit it. In the UK you can buy the thermostat for a one-off price with fitting, or join the US with a monthly two-year subscription that also includes access to extra software features such as the ability for your lights to mimic your normal behaviours while you're away from home.
- Set up by an engineer
- Simple app
- One hour heating boost
- Decent wider ecosystem
- Fine tuning less easy
- No radiator valves
- Fewer AI features
- Alexa only
Tado Smart Thermostat
A lesser known system out of Germany, Tado treads the line between a system aimed at those who want the maximum features from their smart thermostat, and something fairly stylish that won’t look out of place in your home.
The diminutive white box acts as the thermostat, but the mainstay is done on your smartphone. The app enables you to set the temperature remotely and set up schedules for your home. But things quickly take a techier edge.
While geo-location is available on Nest and Hive, it’s put front and center on Tado. As you head home, Tado will start to warm your house, upping that level the closer you get to home. It’s not a foolproof system. It works well in general, though falls down if you intend to spend the entire day local to your home – as you’ll have to manually intervene. You can use a sliding scale to manage the aggressiveness of the geo-location, or just turn it off.
Unlike Nest and Hive, Tado offers individual radiator thermostats, which will enable you to quickly add zones to your home. It’s a cheap and quick way to make your heating system a lot more powerful – but again will add a level of complexity you have to be willing to manage.
You will also have to deal with a set up that’s a lot more labour intensive than Hive. A bunch of pre-registering was required before an engineer could be summoned and we had to deal with Tado support to verify our brand new boiler was compatible, which took a week. The engineer who came to install the system wasn’t able to explain the app or how it worked – and inexplicably couldn't or wouldn't fit our radiator valves. Again, not an issue for confident users, but we wouldn’t advise it for anyone who’s not especially smart home savvy.
But the pay-off is a wealth of smart compatibility. Try Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit control for size – only Nest offers the same level of ubiquity across systems which essentially future proofs control of your set-up. The fact that Hive only works (to date) with Alexa makes it quite limited.
- Use any voice assistant
- Clean, easy app
- Radiator valves for easy zones
- Geo-location a bit fiddly
- Set-up far from simple
- Basic design
Nest Learning Thermostat
The third-generation Nest Learning Thermostat's biggest boast is that it learns and can create a schedule for you based on your heating behaviour, while at the same time encouraging you to stay within certain temperature zones for optimal heating – saving you money and helping to reduce wasted energy. When you manually use the Nest, rather than relying on a schedule, it can start to form a pattern on when you like certain temperatures - for both when you're at home or away. And this headline feature actually works.
It does this by mimicking your manual actions based on its first few days of learning, and this auto created schedule will also be adjusted every time you make tweaks from thereon in. Of course, you can also choose your own schedules and there's a neat True Radiant mode that learns how long your home takes to hit a certain temperature so adjusts its start times based on that.
With Nest, you're always encouraged to stay in the Leaf zone - an eco mode whereby you are using your energy most efficiently. In fact, you'll be emailed a monthly report telling you how well you've performed (how many leaves you've earned) compared to other Nesters in your area. So, shame on you if you whack the heating up to 23 on a nippy September's afternoon.
Unlike Tado, there's no zone options and individual radiator control with Nest - although it is possible to use third-party smart radiator valves alongside Nest, with the thermostat simply acting as a maximum temperature controller (as a dumb thermostat would, with connected valves).
The Home / Away mode is particularly strong with Nest - especially if you use other Nest products that can detect your whereabouts, such as Nest Protect or any Nest Cams. There's also neat features that cross the Nest devices, such as turning off your heating system if a Protect detects carbon monoxide. All of this is set within the Nest smart home app - there's no specific Nest Thermostat app so it's not the easiest to just open up and change temperatures if you have cameras and smoke detectors also installed (although there are third-party options).
However, the Nest Thermostat is very smart home friendly, and not just with the Works with Nest platform. You can control it using Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, there's loads of IFTTT goodies already drawn up and its also part of the Friends of Hue club too. No HomeKit action though, which is a bummer.
The 229ppi display can be customised to show a range of Farsight faces – think weather, time and the like - and it, along with the range of steel and copper finishes, make the Nest one of the best looking thermostats available.
- Learning - so less manual input
- Works with Nest and more
- Hot water & cooling options too
- No zone support
- Quite expensive
- No HomeKit options
Honeywell Lyric T6
From $179, honeywell.com
The Honeywell Lyric T6 isn't the most comprehensive Honeywell connected heating controller - that honour belongs to the 12-zone, all-singing, all-dancing Evohome. And it's not the best looking either - the circular Lyric Round takes that prize. But what the T6 does offer is plenty of bang for its buck and a wealth of evolved features from one of the (if not the) biggest names in the smart thermostat game.
There are actually two versions of Honeywell's latest smart thermostat - the regular T6 and the T6R, which can be moved around the house (i.e. it's not wall mounted). It does mean a bit more flexibility with the slightly-more-expensive T6R but, as with all thermostats, you really should have it placed in a room that best tells the story of your house's average temperature.
Like the Tado, a lot of the best features with the Lyric T6 are centred around geo-location - using your smartphone - to determine your location to see whether your heating should be on or off. The manual geofencing area function within the Lyric app is great - allowing you to determine your own Away and Home locations. After all, a mile from home might mean a long walk or a quick 2 minutes on the bus.
Like Nest and Tado, the Lyric T6 is 'intelligent' and it will start heating in time to get what it thinks will be your desired temperature at the correct time (using the Optimised Start function), meaning you won't suddenly find yourself feeling cold and, more importantly, saving you money by not wasting energy. There's no learning with the Lyric though, everything is based on what you tell it to do - based on your Home, Away or Sleep status. However, scheduling is great within the Lyric app, although annoyingly you can't (easily at least) have both the geofencing and scheduling options running concurrently.
The Lyric app is about the most simple we've come across with a big wheel representing a temperature controller and big clear buttons for jumping in and out of the various settings. However, we did find the app somewhat flaky during our testing - with the system being disassociated from a user account on more than one occasion. Any problems we did have were on Android, on iOS it was seamless.
The Lyric T6 was the first connected thermostat to launch in the UK with HomeKit support and the device also gets along fine with Alexa and Google Assistant too - and there a wealth of IFTTT recipes out there as well, if you want more than voice controls for changing the temperature.
- Great value for money
- Excellent geofencing settings
- Smart assistant intergrations
- Geo and scheduling issues
- Slightly bulky looking
- The T6R isn't completely wireless