But which one should you get?
If you want one that’s stable and reliable, you have two main options right now: Nest Learning Thermostat and Ecobee3 Smarter Wi-Fi Thermostat. Both of them come from reputable brands and neither is flat-out better…
…but one is definitely better FOR YOU. We’ll help you decide by comparing all of the important details of both (ease of installation, available features, pricing, etc.) so you have all the information you need to make a smart decision.
As far as ease of installation is concerned, there’s one clear winner.
The Nest can be installed by anyone who can read a basic schematic and has enough confidence to put two and two together. All you have to do is follow the instructions and plug in three wires, which should take less than 15 minutes.
Still skeptical? Check out our step-by-step installation of the Nest. If you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, you can find a friend or family member to help out, or call Nest’s 24/7 support line. Or as a last resort, you can hire someone.
The setup for the Ecobee3 is a little more involved. Is it difficult? Not particularly, but there is more to do mainly because the Ecobee3 utilizes remote sensors (which we discuss in the “Operating Pattern” section below).
I don’t think installation should be a big concern when trying to decide between the two. The Nest is easier, but they’re both easy enough that it doesn’t really matter.
Winner: Nest, barely.
Appearance & Interface
The Nest is all about sleek minimalism, which lends to its easy-to-learn design and ensures that it will fit into pretty much any home no matter what the interior decor is like. I’m a big fan of its simplicity.
Using the Nest is as simple as turning it to change the temperature (like you would with a normal thermostat). If you want to change any settings, the spin dial is also used to make selections (similar to the dial on the first iPod). You can also interact using the Nest mobile app.
But while the Nest’s goal is simplicity, the Ecobee3 aims for usability. The thermostat itself has a full-color touchscreen that you can operate like any smartphone — with your finger using taps and swipes — or you can use the free mobile app.
My one complaint about the Ecobee3’s appearance is its size. The Nest is a circle with a 3.3-inch diameter while the Ecobee3 is a rounded square with 4-inch edges. It’s a noticeable difference that makes the Ecobee3 stand out more, but at least it’s not ugly.
Winner: Ecobee3, for the flexibility.
This is where the two smart thermostats really distinguish themselves from each other. Both claim to reduce your energy costs and make your life easier, but they go about it in different ways.
The Nest is a learning thermostat, which simply means that it tracks what temperatures you tend to set and when you tend to set those temperatures, then uses this data to automatically adjust the temperature accordingly.
It also uses a sensor to detect when people aren’t home and reactively changes the temperature to save you money. Unfortunately, this sensor requires that you walk by the Nest Every so often. If you don’t, it may think you aren’t home anymore.
The Ecobee3, on the other hand, uses a system of remote sensors that are placed around your home. These sensors have two purposes: one, they track temperature on a per-room basis, and two, they’re used to determine when people are home.
Along with the sensors, the Ecobee3 incorporates weather forecast data, the time of day, and other factors to determine the optimal temperature. If your HVAC supports it, Ecobee3 can heat/cool only occupied rooms. When nobody is home, it goes into energy-saving mode.
The sensors aren’t perfect, though. They have a range of 45 feet and they’ve been known to disconnect from the system at times. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often, and the Ecobee3 can be set up to send alerts when a disconnect does happen.
Winner: Ecobee3, for the sensors.
Other Notable Features
If you’ve gotten this far and you still can’t decide between the two of them, then you may want to consider the extra features. These may or may not come in handy depending on your needs.
Notable features of the Nest:
- Integrates with Amazon Echo and Google Now for voice-activated commands.
- Integrates with IFTTT.
- Integrates with OpenHAB.
- Energy History shows how much energy you use every day.
- Home Report shows how much energy you use every month.
- Mobile alerts for abnormal temperatures, malfunctions, and filter change reminders.
- Family Accounts for everyone in the household, which are used to determine Away status based on each user’s mobile location.
- Nest Cam automatically turns on when the Nest Thermostat is set to Away.
- Nest Protect automatically shuts off the Nest Thermostat if it detects smoke or carbon monoxide.
Notable features of the Ecobee3:
- Integrates with Amazon Echo.
- Integrates with OpenHAB.
- Is Apple HomeKit ready. (More on future-proofing for HomeKit compatibility.)
- Comes with preset schedules that are good enough for most people, so you don’t have to bother “teaching” the thermostat if you don’t want to.
- Sensor Participation can set individual remote sensors to only be active during certain times of the day.
- Thermal Protect can set minimum and maximum thresholds for temperature readings. Any temperatures outside of the range are marked inaccurate and ignored.
- Geofencing can automatically trigger changes to the Ecobee3 based on your mobile location.
- Web portal can show how much energy you save every month, send alerts when issues are detected, and reminders for maintenance.
Winner: Tie. All of these features are nice to have, but I don’t consider any of them to be gamechangers or dealbreakers.
At the end of the day, this is the comparison that most people care about. How much is it going to cost you? As it turns out, the two are surprisingly similar so it probably won’t sway you one way or the other.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is on its 3rd generation as of this writing and is available for $250 new on Amazon. You can get the 2nd generation version for $230, but we don’t recommend it. The upgrade is definitely worth the $20 difference.
The Ecobee3 Smarter Wi-Fi Thermostat is on its 2nd generation as of this writing and is available for $200 (one remote sensor) or $260 (three remote sensors). You’ll probably want the three-sensor package.
Smarten Your Home in Smart Ways
On the surface, it might seem like I’ve declared the Ecobee3 to be superior to the Nest — with 2 wins, 2 ties, and 1 loss — but the truth is that they’re both quite comparable. If one wins, it’s only by a slight margin.
Which is to say that you really can’t go wrong. Pick one or the other. You’ll likely be happy either way. Or if you’re unhappy with both, consider another smart thermostat like the Sensi Wi-Fi Programmable Thermostat or Honeywell Lyric Wi-Fi Thermostat.
Smart home products aren’t gimmicks, at least for the most part. Most devices are more affordable than you think and they can have practical benefits, like saving energy and money. Don’t dismiss them outright!
So which one do you like better, the Nest or the Ecobee3? Are there any missing features you wish they had? Got any other smart home products? Let us know in the comments below!