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In the past few years, smart thermostats have gone from a niche product to one that’s accessible to most homeowners. If you don’t have them installed in your home already, you’ve probably seen the small screens on walls at a friend’s house or on display at a local electronics stores..
While many companies are starting to produce their own smart thermostat technology, the two most popular products were some of the first to hit the market. The Nest, backed by Google, turns 7 years old in 2018. Their main competitor, the ecobee, first hit the market ten years ago.
If you’re considering installing a smart thermostat, you need to understand the major differences between these two leading brands. The third generation Nest and the ecobee4 are priced similarly, between $225 and $250 on Amazon, so an understanding of the devices’ unique features can help you make a choice.
Nest vs. ecobee: starting with the basics
Both the Nest and ecobee4 include the main functions of a smart thermostat. You can use them to change the temperature throughout your home and, because they’re “smart,” you can communicate with them through your smartphone (as well as some compatible smart speakers).
The Nest and the ecobee also offer geofencing. Geofencing technology sets up virtual perimeters around your home. When the technology is enabled, these smart thermostats know whether you (or, more accurately, your phone) are either inside or outside the perimeter. As a result, smart thermostats with geofencing can detect when you’ve left your home and adjust the temperature accordingly, allowing you to save money. Similarly, they will know when you’re about to return, and can program the home back to your preferred temperature.
Finally, the Nest and the ecobee4 have both earned the Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR label. According to the DOE, “smart thermostats that earn the ENERGY STAR label have been independently certified, based on actual field data, to deliver energy savings.”
Unique features of the Nest smart thermostat
Nest calls its flagship thermostat a “learning” thermostat. It can learn from your preferences and adjust your home’s temperature to your liking automatically. After a few days or weeks of observing your habits and preferences, the Nest gathers enough information to understand when it should make automatic adjustments for you.
For example, if you like the temperature a few degrees lower while you sleep and you lower the temperature down to 65 degrees around the same time every night, eventually the Nest will understand this habit and make the adjustment for you.
In some locations, Nest offers an opt-in service that will adjust the temperature for you in an effort to help you save money. If you qualify for and opt into the program, the Nest will use both your preferences and data from your utility to make temperature adjustments, which can reduce your electric bill even further.
The Nest has a clean, simple interface and it comes in four different styles: copper, stainless steel, black, and white.
Google, and its holding company Alphabet, have owned Nest since 2014, but until February 2018 it was considered an Alphabet subsidiary and not fully integrated with Google’s other smart home products. It’s now being developed by Google as part of its division that handles other devices like the Chromecast, Pixel, and the Google Home.
Google’s blog post about the move says it “combine[s] hardware, software, and services.” In the future, developing these devices together could allow Google’s suite of products to become smarter and add more features.
Unique features of the ecobee4 smart thermostat
The biggest factor that distinguishes the ecobee4 from the Nest is its use of room sensors. A common issue with smart thermostats is that they only measure the temperature in the room where they are installed. As a result, the climate of the entire house is determined by a single room, or even a hallway.
Ecobee solves this problem with its room sensors, which can be placed in different rooms to monitor individual climate settings as necessary. The room sensors pair with the main thermostat, determine whether a room is occupied or not, and make adjustments when a room is vacated or in use. If you prefer a balanced temperature through your home, this added control allows you to eliminate cold or hot spots. Or, if you want to save energy and increase your efficiency, you may decide to save some money on rooms that are not in use.
The device can account for up to 32 room sensors, which you can control from the main thermostat or on your phone through an app. (The ecobee4 comes with one sensor, but additional sensors must be purchased separately.)
While the ecobee4 won’t learn your temperature preferences on its own, it can store that information and adjust the temperature accordingly. Through its scheduling features you can set your preferred temperatures for when you are home, asleep, or away. You can also input your calendar that it knows when to make adjustments.
Built-in Alexa voice service
The ecobee’s newest model also has Alexa voice service integration. A smart device with Alexa voice service integration means that the ecobee4 can act as a physical Alexa-enabled smart speaker and receiver itself.
Through its Amazon connection, the ecobee4 has more integration possibilities than the Nest, but not all Alexa “skills” are compatible. You can change the temperature with your voice, play music, and create lists, but most third party skills will not be available.
Amazon’s venture capital wing, the Alexa Fund, is an ecobee investor, so it would be fair to expect their integration to continue to deepen. If you feel committed to Amazon and Alexa products, ecobee could be a good choice.
Nest vs. ecobee smart thermostats: the bottom line
Google and Amazon compete head-to-head in many areas these days, and the smart thermostat category is no different. While Google has owned Nest for a few years, it recently fully integrated the thermostat with its other smart home products, meaning the products will learn from each and continue to be developed together. The ecobee4 is backed by Amazon’s venture capital wing, and is itself an Alexa-enable smart speaker.
Choose the Nest for style & intelligence
If you’re a Google loyalist or if you care more about having a thermostat that develops a deep learning of your preferences over time, the Nest might be the best choice. The Learning Thermostat will take a few days to understand your habits, but will then start adjusting the temperature for you. If aesthetics are important, the Nest also has a slightly cleaner design that comes in four styles: copper, stainless steel, black, and white. In short, the Nest provides style and intelligence.
Choose the ecobee4 for maximum control & integration
If you put your faith in Amazon and its affiliated products, or if you care most about maintaining an efficient and balanced temperature, the ecobee4 may right for you. The ecobee4 isn’t just a thermostat for one room or hallway – it allows you to control the temperature in each room of your home individually. That can mean a more balanced home or a more efficient home, depending on your choice. In short, the ecobee4 provides maximum control and integration.