Ecobee SmartThermostat Review

New features, same wide range of integrations

Ecobee SmartThermostat
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Ever the bridesmaid to the shinier, sleeker Nest, Ecobee has spent the last couple of years gradually, and deservedly, stealing some of the spotlight. The fifth generation of Ecobee’s Wi-Fi-connected climate controller, the SmartThermostat isn’t radically different from the Ecobee4 – or named any more inventively.

But a number of small improvements – an upgraded touchscreen, a better speaker, and completely redesigned sensors – mean this thermostat could finally take the crown.

Read this: The best smart thermostats 2019

Those upgrades combined with Ecobee’s unrivaled smart home integrations and expanding smart home product line (right when Google Nest is contracting its ecosystem with the demise of Works With Nest) make it the one thermostat that checks every box.

Whatever flavor your smart home may be, whether it runs on Google Assistant, Apple’s HomeKit, Amazon’s Alexa or a hub such as Samsung SmartThings, Ecobee can slip right in.

Ecobee SmartThermostat Review

Ecobee SmartThermostat: Design and setup

Ecobee’s core design hasn’t changed much since its first iteration: a black, square screen with rounded corners and a white backplate, it looks like a flattened smartphone on your wall. Modern, stylish and functional, but not a design marvel. The upgraded screen on the SmartThermostat is more responsive than its predecessor, but still takes up only about half of the available real estate, which seems a bit of a waste.

In all other aspects it looks identical to the Ecobee4, but the real design changes are under the hood. With a quad-core processor, Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility (excellent news for HomeKit users), and dual-band WiFi, this thermostat packs some serious power.

Meanwhile Ecobee’s external sensors, which detect temperature and presence, have been redesigned too. The small, white plastic rectangle with a clear plastic stand is replaced by a sleeker, more rounded industrial design with a magnetic mount. Ecobee says the sensors have an enhanced wide-angle detection range, an extended five-year battery life, and can pair up to 60 feet. Translation: Better reliability, connectivity and distance detection.

Ecobee SmartThermostat Review

Ecobee is compatible with most residential heating and cooling systems in North America, including gas, oil, electric and dual fuel systems, but not with high-voltage systems (see a list of systems here, and go here to check compatibility with your system). Note that if you have a newer system that came with a proprietary Wi-Fi thermostat you may lose some features if you switch to an Ecobee.

If you’re familiar with thermostat wiring and have a C-wire installed in your system (a C-wire provides power to the thermostat, which is why these don’t need batteries like your old programmable thermostat had), installing the Ecobee is a simple process and takes about 15 minutes. If you don’t have a C-wire, Ecobee comes with a power extender kit, which is a more complicated install as it needs to be wired into your main unit, and you may want professional help for this.

Ecobee is natively compatible with Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s HomeKit, although you’ll need to do some set-up. Linking to either or both of these ecosystems will let you incorporate your thermostat in home automation scenes and routines, such as a Welcome Home scene that turns on smart lights, adjusts the thermostat and unlocks your connected door lock as you walk up to your front door.

For Google Home users, you can pair Ecobee to your Google Assistant and get similar functionality. Ecobee also works with smart home hubs such as Wink and SmartThings. Finally, if you don’t have or want any of these systems, you can connect Ecobee to the web-based IFTTT service for a wide array of similar functionality.

Ecobee SmartThermostat Review

Ecobee SmartThermostat: Features

The much-touted built-in Alexa is probably still Ecobee's most unique feature, and it's been vastly improved for the latest model. The speaker is miles better – on par with the latest Echo Dot – but if that’s still not good enough for you it now comes with Bluetooth support so can stream to a higher-quality speaker. With Spotify support added to the previous lineup of Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora and TuneIn, this is a fully-featured Echo device now, not a hobbled third-party speaker.

This also means it has Alexa Calling, Messaging and Drop In and – most crucially – echo-spatial participation (ESP), which means if you have more than one Alexa device only the one you are nearest to will respond. (Ecobee4 has this now too, thanks to a firmware upgrade).

Ecobee comes pre-installed with a basic Home/Sleep schedule that you can tweak if you need. This means you don’t even have to program it; the Ecobee should start saving you energy – compared to a thermostat that was never programmed – right out of the box. The pre-set schedule doesn’t include an Away setting though, so unless you stay home all day you’ll want to add one in.

In addition to easy scheduling and a holiday mode, Ecobee offers other smart ways to manage your heating and cooling. These include a 'Follow Me' setting where the sensors locate you in your home and focus on keeping that room comfortable; a 'Smart Recover', where the thermostat determines how your home performs in different weather conditions and adapts to make your system as cost-efficient as possible; and geofencing that piggybacks off your smartphone to identify when you're leaving the house or returning home, adjusting the temperature accordingly. Should the Ecobee detect you're home when you said you'd be away, it can override pre-set schedules, which is extra handy.

Ecobee SmartThermostat Review

The Ecobee SmartThermostat replaced a third-gen Nest thermostat in our test house, so direct comparisons are hard to avoid here. We love that Ecobee is compatible with HomeKit, which the Nest is not, but we missed Nest’s ability to run our home’s climate automatically. With Nest we rarely, if ever, adjusted the temperature manually, instead relying on its learning algorithms to keep us comfortable.

With the Ecobee we found ourselves adjusting it on a regular basis because it's slow to react to changes in who's home and where. On the plus side, adjusting it is easy to do. Voice control with Alexa is much more intuitive than on the Ecobee4 (there’s no need to say “Alexa Ask Ecobee to…” anymore, you can just say “Alexa set the *thermostat name* to…”). You can use the HomeKit Home app as well as Ecobee’s app too, and the now-glass touchscreen is much more responsive, although the sliding temperature bar is still too small and fiddly. But you've got options.

Alexa is improved in other ways too. It’s still not natively synced to the thermostat, but it’s much more like a regular Echo device rather than a third-party Alexa speaker. We did have one issue in testing with a timer going off that would not shut off by voice, or by using the push-to-talk option on the screen. Eventually we had to remove the faceplate to disconnect it from the power, then pop it back on to reset it. What would be useful here is an onscreen Alexa interface where we could have turned off the timer with a touch, but that screen is also tiny, so it's a trade-off.

The user interface is one area we wish was better. While Ecobee has been innovating on its hardware, the UI (which is essentially the same on the app and the device) has barely changed since the first Ecobee smart thermostat, and its tiny font and control points are fiddly and overly confusing. On the other hand, we love Ecobee’s web interface, especially the ability to dive deep into your energy usage – which Nest doesn’t offer.

However, Ecobee's best feature is easily the remote sensors, which detect presence as well as temperature (Nest's only detect temperature). The new sensor was more responsive than the first-gen version in our testing. It worked well in Follow Me mode when the Ecobee was set to home, cooling the appropriate rooms in a timely fashion. The downside of this is that it can make your system work a little harder, costing you more energy, but you'll be more comfortable.

Ecobee SmartThermostat
Ecobee SmartThermostat

We also love that you can include the sensors as motion sensors in HomeKit, which admittedly you could do with the previous ones, but the second-gen versions are more responsive when added to HomeKit automations and notifications (we expect that's down to the new Bluetooth 5.0).

By far the biggest flaw we encountered with Ecobee is how long it takes to adjust to Home from Away, or vice versa, if you interrupt the regular schedule. Say you come home when the thermostat is set to Away, it can take up to 35 minutes for it to adjust, and by that time you’re going to have adjusted it manually. Ecobee says it responds to motion every five minutes, so it should kick in within 10 minutes, but this was not the case in our testing.

Ecobee SmartThermostat Review
Even though we left the house at 7:45 am, Ecobee is still cooling it at 9:15 am.

On the flip side, if you leave the house during a scheduled Home period, Ecobee says it will take two hours before it switches to Away. That’s a long time, and in our testing it often took longer, or didn’t switch at all. This means you need to rely on other ways to deal with changes in your schedule.

Geofencing is a good option but doesn’t work optimally in our household where we have two children without smartphones. We found either telling Alexa to set the thermostat to Away as we walked out (you can’t use Siri to set Home or Away) or using the device to manually set to Away when we were walking out, were the best options for maximizing energy savings.

We were disappointed to see that Ecobee still hasn’t fixed its indefinite hold problem. This is where if you use a third-party smart home system, such as Siri (basically anything other than Ecobee’s app, Alexa, or the device itself) to change a temperature or set Away/Home, it will stay that way until you undo that change manually. It doesn’t revert to the regular schedule when that time rolls around. Ecobee has added an explanation of this on the UI, which displays "HOLD" under the temperature instead of indicating the next time it will change, so you know you need to change it, but of course this relies on you looking at your device.


Ecobee SmartThermostat
This is an excellent smart thermostat. Its souped-up internal specs mean you don’t need to worry about it becoming defunct in a few years, plus its responsive touchscreen makes it much more usable than its predecessors. It requires more vigilance than a Nest to get maximum energy savings and comfort, but its multiple control methods, excellent smart home integrations and multipurpose sensors are all best in class.
PROS
  • Excellent smart home integrations
  • Fantastic room sensors
  • Built-in Alexa improved
  • Responsive touchscreen
CONS
  • No native geofencing with iOS
  • App and UI are overly complex
  • Home/Away not responsive enough
  • Expensive

TAGGED    thermostats

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