The smart thermostat market is a highly competitive one. Legacy thermostat makers try to defend their markets, while new vendors use the latest technologies to innovate on features and reduce costs. Add to these a growing range of whitebox models from China, and it becomes confusing for buyers to pick the right model.
While you may look around and find a clear favorite on features, it may not be suitable for your home situation. Options to consider include self or professional installation, ability to divide the home into heating zones, geo-fencing and the look and styling of the device.
Some models provide simple on/off access to the theromstat, while others can set the heat level depending on occupancy and location within the home. Others add varying levels of smartness, depending on their connectivity. Styling remains a highly personal issue, but some look barely more impressive than a traditional thermostat, while designer models will make a small, but impressive, feature of any modern home.
We’ve chosen our top three, let us know in the comments of your experience with these devices, and if you agree with our choice. Ultimately, do they really save you money, and are they as easy to use as the makers claim?
Contents (Jump to)
Our Three Favorite Smart Thermostats
Honeywell Lyric Smart Thermostat
Honeywell is catching up fast with the nimbler competition, and its Lyric thermostat, launched last August is a direct response to like likes of Nest, with similar styling and features. It is easy to set up, and works on the user’s presence rather than learning about their comings and goings through direct sensor readings. That makes it theoretically simpler to operate, with away mode turning the heating off when you’re out of a certain range, and then kicking back in as you near home to make things comfortable for your arrival. For a full stand-alone review, check out my take here.
Naturally, not all homes are the same, and not everyone in the house might have a smartphone, so there are weaknesses here. The display is also a bit more minimalist compared to some rivals, with just the current temperature shown be default on the main screen and the target temperature plus operating mode on the secondary screen. Tap the weather button to see the local forecast and conditions, while the Home button triggers away mode.
Physically, the device is attractive with an easy-on-the-eye display. However, the turning ring is rather stiff, not ideal if you have a poor wall mounting, or if you have stiff fingers or joints. Its Wi-Fi module might not work with older routers, or need a router setting adjustment, so be aware of that.
On launch, the smartphone app was a little confusing but it has been regularly updated. The most recent revision was in April 2015, adding Apple Watch support, which is great to see. Updates also include improved installation and making it easier to set up geofencing, which suggests that Honeywell is at least listening to its customers.
Unfortunately the Lyric isn’t directly available outside the United States yet, and the iOS app is only on the US Apple Store. The company apparently has plans for a wider launch, but for now its slow approach will disappoint some global smart home fans. To check out more about the Lyric and it’s pricing, see here.
The Ecobee 3 tries to one-up the Nest through the addition of room sensors around the house that can help monitor who’s around, and manage the heating accordingly. However, given that Ecobee is already on its third generation smart thermostat, it should still be more user-friendly than it currently is, from installation, and setup to use. For a more in depth look, check out my full assessment here.
Part of the issue, is the company moving from its original market for professional installers to the consumer market. The Ecobee3 can be wired in to most current 24V HVAC systems, via its wiring adapter, but it still sounds more daunting that its rivals. It uses an impressive 3.5-inch, full-color LCD touchscreen, remote sensors and a free app.
It is the remote sensors that give the Ecobee its key feature, as it can work out how hot or cold the various rooms in your house get, and try to balance the heating or cooling. The standard Ecobee package comes with one sensor, but you can add up to 32 to cover different rooms, or distinct areas of large spaces.
On the software side, Ecobee is also trying to keep up with the latest tech trends. Its most recent iOS update adds support for the Apple Watch and you no longer need to launch the app to get information, it can all be found in the Notification Center on your iPhone. Add in the provided energy reports and a three year warranty and there is little to choose, between the Ecobee and our number one pick. You read more about pricing options for the Ecobee here.
Nest (second generation)
Even though the second generation Nest was launched a couple of years back, it remains the leading smart themostat thanks to its well-planned and implemented design. As the company is now owned by Google and future models might well feature voice-integrated search, dancing Android logos and other totally unecessary innovations, this could be the company’s high point. You can read my full review here.
With a small central 320 x 320 pixel display, it packs temperature, humidity, light and activity sensors. It can control three stage heating and two stage cooling systems, plus fans and humidifiers for total climate control. Learning your usage patterns, there is no real need to program the Nest, as it will work around how you use it, and the second generation model also better understands the HVAC system you connect it to.
Nest’s research claims (read the white paper – https://nest.com/downloads/press/documents/energy-savings-white-paper.pdf) that its thermostats can save users around 15% on their cooling bills and between 10% to 12% on their heating bills, which sounds more realistic than some maker’s own claims.
When it comes to software, Nest seem to be a little behind its rivals, with the last update in February. However, it is one of the more rounded apps, showing your energy usage history, which will encourage users to be more efficient, and all the settings control you need, including for the company’s smoke detector.
UPDATE 9/10/15 Nest Gen 3: Nest recently released their 3rd Generation device. The main improvements? 1) A larger display screen (480 X 480) and 2) the introduction of FarSight activity sensor. The Nest Gen 2 has “near sight” which is still included on the Gen 3, but with FarSight it now has the ability to detect movement from further away. This makes it more compatible with human activity, but doesn’t drastically change performance. 3) The 3rd Gen Nest is better at sensing issues for structures with forced-air furnaces (helps prevent overheating and notification of users if there are problems).
The side effect of the Nest Gen 3 release is that theNest Gen 2 is now available for a steep discount. Depending on your needs, the improvements might not be worth the extra $50 with the Gen 3.
Is There a Clear Winner?
As stated, your choice could well depend on the type of house you live in, the make up of your family or housemates, and other issues. You might prefer the stylish black design of the Ecobee to the retro chic of the Nest and Lyric.
Smart Learning, or Not?
Really, the core difference between Honeywell and Ecobee models vs Nest is the idea of “smart learning”.
Both the Lyric and Ecobee are “smart” thermostats in that they integrate into the IoT home and allow for various smart settings and control. The Nest, fundamentally, offers a more automated approach. The Nest learns your patterns and home over time, getting smarter based on your unique circumstances and behavior. In this sense, it’s a great option for busy people who don’t have time to tinker with settings and schedules.
Are you the type of person who want’s to control your home settings and create the perfect schedule, or do you want a system that will do it’s best to learn your behavior on it’s own?
Fundamentally, this is always the question I bring people back to when they ask me “so which smart thermostat is best?”.
However, when it comes to specifications, usefulness and performance, we think that the latest Nest model just about edges the others. With constant software updates provided across all models and the likelihood of further generations and improvements, this is only a snap shot in time, so check back regularly for more news and updates. Check out this listing where its usually listed below retail price.
Comparison: Head to Head – Which is the Best Smart Thermostat?
|Specs||Ecobee 3||Honeywell Lyric Smart Thermostat||Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen)|
|Size||3.9 x 0.9 x 3.9 inches||3 x 1 x 3 inches||3.3 x 1.21 inches|
|Sensors||Remote (up to 32) temperature and occupancy sensor||Motion sensor (to light the display)||temperature, humidity, light , near activity, and FarSight activity|
|Compatible Devices||iOS and Android (unofficial Windows Phone app)||iOS and Android||iOS and Android|
|Wi-Fi||WiFi, 2.11 b/g/n @ 2.4 GHZ 915MHz, future expansion slot||2.4GHz WiFi in DHCP mode only||802.11b/g/n @ 2.4 GHz802.15.4 @ 2.4GHz|
|Amazon List Price||hover here for latest||hover here for latest||hover here for latest|
Having Trouble Deciding? Take Our Interactive Quiz!
The following is a quiz designed to ask you specific questions to figure out which thermostat is the best fit for YOU: