Ecobee has announced two new smart thermostats — the first since the Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control arrived in 2019 and the first new products to launch since the company was bought by generator giant Generac last fall. The $249.99 Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium and the $189.99 Ecobee Smart Thermostat Enhanced join the Ecobee3 Lite (now priced at $149.99) in Ecobee’s lineup. Both new models are available now at ecobee.com, Amazon, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Best Buy.
The Premium model addresses a widespread criticism of Ecobee that its thermostats are not as attractive as its main competitor, the Nest Learning Thermostat. Previously all plastic, Ecobee’s new flagship model now boasts a sleek zinc body and an expanded glass touchscreen. It’s a subtle overall redesign that adds smoother edges and a slimmer look but doesn’t dramatically break with the company’s overall style. It does look and feel a lot nicer, though.
The thermostat builds on its utility by adding an indoor air quality monitoring feature and a new radar sensor for motion and temperature detection. It retains the built-in smart speaker capabilities (choose from Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri) and still doubles as a hub for Ecobee’s smart security system, which requires additional hardware and a monthly subscription.
The Premium also comes bundled with one Ecobee Smart Sensor (available in separate two-packs for $99.99) for monitoring temperature and motion in another room of your house. These wireless sensors are one of Ecobee’s biggest selling points, despite competitors such as Nest, Honeywell Home, and Wyze imitating them. You place the sensors in different rooms so your system can maintain a consistent temperature everywhere as well as target your preferred temp to the room you are in, rather than just heating and cooling wherever the thermostat is. How effective this is will vary based on your home’s layout, construction, and the age of your HVAC system.
The other new model, the Enhanced thermostat, is $60 less than the Premium and doesn’t include a Smart Sensor (although it will work with them) nor is it an air quality monitor. It has the same new design and upgraded screen but no zinc casing; it’s all plastic. There is no speaker or microphone onboard to enable a smart assistant, but you can still use a third-party speaker to control it with your voice.
The Enhanced is an excellent option if you aren’t interested in having a voice assistant on your wall and you’re fine with the plastic design. However, add smart sensors (only sold in two-packs), and you’re spending more than the Premium model. This makes the Enhanced best as a secondary thermostat if you have a multi-zone system, live in a small apartment and don’t need a second sensor (the thermostat itself has temperature and motion sensors built-in), or don’t want a speaker and microphone in your thermostat. The entry-level Ecobee3 Lite also ditches the smart speaker, but it doesn’t have a built-in motion sensor, so you’d need to buy a two-pack to use many of Ecobee’s smart features, making it more expensive than the Enhanced.
The most notable new feature (and my personal favorite) of the new thermostats is the larger screen. It is a significant improvement on the old design in that it both looks better and is easier to use, especially for those of us with fat fingers. The thermostat is the same size as the previous models, but the color LCD touchscreen is now 50 percent larger, a 4-inch diagonal square compared to a 3.5-inch diagonal rectangle. The display has been bumped up to 540×540 pixels, making it sharper as well as bigger. The overall result is a more seamless and integrated interface than the previous rectangular space the screen occupied, which looked like a smartphone app stuck on your wall.
The larger screen gives the user interface room to breathe, with the controls more spread out and easier to select correctly. It also ditches the infuriating fiddly slider control you used to have to deal with to manually change the temperature, replacing it with a much more intuitive scrollable temperature wheel with the added option of plus and minus buttons. However, there are still no physical knobs or buttons.
Ecobee gained the extra space for its bigger, better screen by replacing the PIR motion sensor with a new radar sensor. The company says this provides more accurate temperature readings and better occupancy and motion detection, as it spans a larger range, has wider angles, and can sense from further away and around corners. In testing, this proved accurate, with the thermostat recognizing I was home even from 15 feet away behind a wall.
The new indoor air quality feature on the Premium model had limited use in my testing. It stayed consistently on “clean” on the scale, so I never received any alerts that the indoor air quality was poor. If I had received one, the app should have provided tips on how to improve it.
Its placement in my front entryway is less than ideal for this use case. The kitchen is where the pollutants emanate from in my house (according to testing with other indoor air quality monitors), which is far away from the thermostat and likely producing particulate matter to pollute the air, something this doesn’t measure. Instead, it only measures VOCs, carbon dioxide levels, and relative humidity to calculate a clean air score, which you can see on the device and in the app. The remote sensors don’t measure air quality, so you can’t rely on them to help.
The new smart thermostats have the same connected features as the previous models. These include smart scheduling, smartphone app control to adjust the temperature remotely, and automatic temperature adjustments — using a built-in sensor, geofencing, and a connection to your local weather. The Premium and Enhanced are Energy Star certified, so you may get a rebate from your energy provider. They also work with Time of Use savings and demand response programs if your provider offers these. They both work with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, SmartThings, and IFTTT.
They both use Ecobee’s existing Eco Plus software, which is on by default. The two key features of this are:
- Smart Home & Away Sensing — where the thermostat uses its sensors and geolocation of you and your household members’ smartphone (which is opt-in)
- Smart Scheduling — preset Sleep, Home, and Away schedules that adapt when the system senses you aren’t there, and a Schedule Assistant that monitors your behavior and suggests schedule changes (but doesn’t automatically implement them)
These work in concert with each other, but you can also pick and choose which features you want, or disable them all. For example, I have two zones in my house: upstairs and downstairs. No one is upstairs during the day, but I work from home, so I needed to disable Smart Home & Away upstairs, as it kept switching to Home even though I wasn’t using that space.
While you can do everything directly on the thermostat, you can also manage the system on Ecobee’s web portal or its app. The app is newly redesigned and mimics the new interface on the thermostat. This also adds more glanceable information about how Ecobee manages your system. When you make any adjustment — on the device or using a voice assistant — a notification appears below the temperature indicating what state it’s in and when it will next change. You can also tap on this for more options.
The Hold Duration setting is in the app now, too. This lets you tell the thermostat how long to stick with whatever change you made: 2 hours, 4 hours, Until the next scheduled event, Until I change It, or Ask every time. Previously, this was buried in the web settings, making it easy to accidentally leave your thermostat on an incorrect setting.
Despite the interface improvements, the app still suffers from occasional connectivity issues, repeatedly alerting me that it had “lost its connection with the server” when I opened it. It always reconnected quickly, but it slowed down the process of using the app for a temperature change.
There have been big improvements to Home & Away Sensing since I first started testing Ecobee thermostats, but it’s still not the most efficient way to make sure your system dials it down when you’re not home. It can take upwards of two hours to change over; in my testing, occasionally, it didn’t switch at all despite my being out of the house for three hours in the middle of a hot day with geofencing (called Autopilot in the app) switched on.
I view this feature more as a safety net. There are more reliable ways to make sure your system is saving as much energy as possible if that’s your main goal with a smart thermostat. You can manually switch to Away on the thermostat, add a 4-degree setback to a voice triggered Routine (“Alexa, I’m leaving”), or create a HomeKit or SmartThings smart home automation that does the same when you lock your door or close your garage door (then do the opposite when you come home).
The Apple Siri integration has been available on the Smart Thermostat with Voice Control since October of last year, but there’s an upgrade here. The Siri animation bubble now appears on the screen — a more visible indication that it heard you than the previous blue light strip. It also shows you what music is playing at the bottom of the home screen. If you opt to use Alexa as the built-in assistant, you will also see timers, alarms, and notifications. You need to have a HomePod Mini in your home to use Siri, but the Alexa integration doesn’t require a separate smart speaker.
Both Ecobee thermostats also work as hubs for Ecobee’s smart security system, Smart Security Complete. A self or professionally monitored security system starting at $5 a month, it works with Ecobee’s excellent $100 SmartCamera (which works with HomeKit Secure Video and has Alexa built-in). It ties in with the thermostat as you can use the security system’s door and window sensors ($79.99 for a two-pack) to automatically turn off the HVAC system if a window or door is left open for five minutes. It then resumes once the door or window has been closed again for at least 30 seconds.
This worked as advertised, sending a notification when any action was taken and is a neat feature. It’s something you can set up yourself using contact sensors and a home automation system such as SmartThings or Apple HomeKit, but Ecobee’s integration requires no setup. It’s automatic. This feature only works with a $5 monthly subscription, which also adds smoke alarm detection and freeze detection to your thermostat (smoke alarm detection is only on the Premium model as it has a microphone). For $10 a month, you can add professional monitoring.
With all these upgrades, especially the much simpler user interface and clarity on how Ecobee is handling your climate, Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium is my new favorite high-end smart thermostat. For years, I have preferred the third-gen Nest Learning Thermostat (not the newer Nest), and while it’s still a great thermostat, Ecobee is innovating faster and harder. The last hardware upgrade to the Nest Learning Thermostat was seven years ago, and while I am not a proponent of swapping out your smart thermostat every two years along with your smartphone, I do want to see some more innovation from Nest when it comes to smart home climate control.
Also, if you need the utility of remote sensors in your home, Ecobee’s are better than Nest’s, which only measure temperature and you have to program individually. One advantage Nest still has is that it doesn’t require a C-Wire; Ecobee supplies a power extender kit to get around this if your system doesn’t have a C-Wire, but it’s not a simple DIY solution. (I didn’t cover installation in this review, but I’ll refer you to our previous Ecobee review if you need tips, as it is the same for the new models).
Nest still is one of the only smart thermostats that doesn’t require any scheduling on your part; you can just let it learn your routine and automatically create a schedule for you. Ecobee comes pre-populated with a schedule, which you have to change to fit your habits. This is easy to do in the app, but it’s not as frictionless as Nest’s experience.
If you are looking to upgrade from an existing fifth-gen Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control, the only reason I can see would be if your thermostat is in a less-than-ideal location in your home – as the newer models have improved and expanded motion detection. Even then, that’s going to be a minor improvement.
If you have a 4th gen Ecobee and like the smart speaker aspect, the Premium model has a much-improved speaker and microphone, and you will find this a worthwhile upgrade. Additionally, all of your existing sensors will work with these new models.
As I’ve said, the main reason to buy an Ecobee is the remote sensor integration, and there’s lots of competition here, with Nest, Wyze, and Honeywell Home all offering remote sensors. We haven’t tested Wyze’s new sensors, but Honeywell Home’s T9 model now works with HomeKit, which is a big reason many people choose Ecobee thermostats. The T9 is less expensive than Ecobee’s Premium model, and its sensors detect humidity (only the Ecobee’s thermostat can measure humidity). So, if that’s important, you might prefer the T9. However, it has a more old-school thermostat design vibe and no built-in voice assistant, plus no motion sensor in the thermostat itself. As my colleague Dan Seifert said in his review, “living with the T9 isn’t quite as nice of an experience as it is with Nest or Ecobee.”
I’ve already discussed the Nest comparison, and the Ecobee and Nest thermostat world is as divided as the Android and iPhone worlds — people seem to love one and hate the other. But Ecobee does have much better integration across smart home platforms. Plus, Ecobee spokesperson Fatima Reyes tells me that its thermostats could support Matter with a future firmware update and that they also have the capability to support Thread. Nest has only committed to upgrading its new Nest Thermostat, which is a more basic device. Matter is the new smart home standard coming this fall, promising to improve interoperability across the smart home. Reyes said they fully support the standard but don’t have “anything concrete to share at this time.”
Photos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge
Source: The Verge