Review: Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control remains the best HomeKit option
Over the last year, I’ve been fully embracing the HomeKit ecosystem. I’ve adopted countless Philips Hue lights, as well as accent lighting from companies like Nanoleaf and Lifx. One thing that I hadn’t tackled until now was a SmartThermostat. Ecobee just released its new SmartThermostat with Voice Control, and I’ve been testing it for the last several weeks with HomeKit. Read on for my full review.
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One of my biggest reasons for delaying my adoption of a smart thermostat was installation. Swapping out a thermostat isn’t necessarily a daunting task, but I’m admittedly not very good at household projects, and I often try to avoid anything that involves wiring. With a bit of research, however, I found the Ecobee Smart Thermostat very easy to install, as long as your wiring matches up well with what Ecobee shows in its detailed installation guide.
Things would get a bit more complicated if you had to use the included Per Extender Kit. This comes down to whether you have a C wire, which I did. Ecobee notes that if you need to use the Power Extender Kit, you will be required to “handle electrical wiring,” so finding a professional installer might be the best option.
Image via CNET
Depending on the size of your previous thermostat, and how much of the wall behind it is painted, you might need to use Ecobee’s included “trim plate.” I was lucky in that the wall behind my previous thermostat was completely painted, and the Ecobee unit itself covered the holes from that thermostat. The trim plate doesn’t complicate installation much at all, but it is a bit of an eyesore.
One important step of the Ecobee SmartThermostat installation process is to take a picture of the wires connected to the terminals of your old thermostat. This will make it much easier to follow Ecobee’s guide when it comes time to reconnect those wires.
Once you get the actual unit connected and installed, it will walk you through the setup process for connecting to Wi-Fi and the Ecobee app for iOS, as well as testing your A/C and furnace to ensure everything is connected properly. The HomeKit setup was also easy, as the HomeKit code will appear directly on the SmartThermostat itself.
Ultimately, the Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control was relatively easy to install. Even I was able to knock it out in less than an hour. I’d highly recommend using Ecobee’s online compatibility checker to see whether you’ll need to use the Power Extender Kit.
The headlining change of the new Ecobee SmartThermostat is that it features a new glass design. In its announcement, Ecobee touted that the fifth-generation SmartThermostat was “redesigned and reengineered,” while retaining its “iconic squirrel shape.”
The biggest design change is a new glass finish and LCD screen, which is a major update from the previous plastic cover used in prior models. In practice, the new design looks more high-end, but the plastic finish of the actual thermostat body is a bit disappointing.
The Ecobee SmartThermostat also touts a quad-core processor, and support for 2.4 GHz and 5 Ghz dual-band Wi-Fi.
When you approach the Ecobee SmartThermostat, you’ll see the current temperature, your desired range for heating and cooling, whether the A/C or furnace is running, and humidity levels. Its “screensaver” is simply the indoor temperature, as well as outside weather conditions. It’s a pretty basic interface, but one that makes it easy to quickly see the details of your home.
I am still envious of the Nest design, and find the rounded knob design incredibly sleek and futuristic. The Nest, of course, doesn’t support HomeKit, which makes it a no-go for me. Other HomeKit options, such as one from Honeywell, also leave much to be desired in terms of design. This makes the Ecobee SmartThermostat the best option on the market if you need HomeKit, but it’s still not perfect.
In 2017, the ecobee4 added support for Amazon Alexa, and that same Alexa control is what you’ll get with the new SmartThermostat, but with a few improvements.
By default, Alexa is disabled, but you can enable it by tapping the microphone icon and going through the setup process. Once you’ve done that, it works like most Alexa-enabled devices. When you trigger Alexa, there’s a blue LED along the top that lights up to let you know the microphone is listening.
The Ecobee SmartThermostat adds support for Alexa Calling, Messaging, and Drop In. Alexa Calling allows you to use your voice to make calls to Alexa-to-Alexa contacts, while Messaging lets you send a voice message to anyone on your contact list. Lastly, Alexa Drop In lets you have a two-way conversation with anyone in your home.
Ecobee also says that the new SmartThermostat features “an audio experience you’d never expect from a thermostat.” The device features a more powerful speaker with “twice the intensity” of its predecessor. There’s also support for Bluetooth, so you can control playback from the Ecobee, and send it to a standalone speaker.
These new Alexa features are certainly useful if you live in Amazon-focused household. My personal use, however, didn’t entail me using Alexa much at all.
When it comes to controlling your SmartThermostat, Ecobee offers applications for iOS as well as Apple Watch, and a web interface. In a world where smart home applications are usually lacking, the Ecobee app works surprisingly well.
During setup, the Ecobee app will ask you things like your optimal temperature while home, while away, and while sleeping. It will then use this information to create a schedule for automating thermostat control.
For instance, when you’re home during the day, Ecobee would keep the house cooled to 73 degrees, or heated to 66 degrees, depending on the season. When you’re away from home, it would loosen those restrictions to help ensure you aren’t heating an empty house.
The “Sleep” portion of the schedule allows you to further refine your climate, and often take advantage of the off-peak energy rates provided by your electric company. Personally, I like keeping it very cold overnight, so I found the “Sleep” option in the Ecobee app particularly useful.
Otherwise, the Ecobee app works a lot like you’d expect it. You can configure schedules, enable a “Vacation” mode, monitor your system, and more. You can also control temperature and other settings from the Ecobee SmartThermostat unit itself, which is useful if you have guests who don’t have access to the app.
The web version of Ecobee’s app offers all of the same controls as the iPhone app, as well as a “Home IQ” feature that provides insight into things like your home’s efficiency, the weather’s effect on your home temperature, and more. These are all things that aren’t necessarily easy (or possible) to find with a “dumb” thermostat.
Ecobee SmartThermostat integration with HomeKit
My primary way of interacting with the Ecobee SmartThermostat has been through the Home app on iOS 13 and watchOS 6. While the Ecobee app can handle almost anything, if you’re already a HomeKit household, it’s great being able to integrate the SmartThermostat into existing automations.
The Ecobee app provides advanced scheduling options, but I prefer to use the Home app. This way, I have automations for certain times of day, as well as ones for when I leave home and arrive home.
For instance, at 9 p.m. each night, the temperature drops to 66 degrees, which allows me to take advantage of the “free” overnight power offered by my electrical company, and also ensure a cool night’s sleep. At 9 a.m., things go back to normal. When I leave, thresholds are adjusted accordingly so I don’t cool or heat an empty home.
You can also integrate the Ecobee SmartThermostat into scenes. This means when you enable a scene like “Relaxation,” the temperature can drop a few degrees to ensure comfort.
In iOS 13, the Home app has undergone several interface changes. For instance, the design for adjusting your home’s temperature has been refreshed, and while it looks very sleek, it’s a bit tricky to move the temperature by a single degree.
Siri can be used to change the temperature, read back the current temperature , enable scenes, and more. On the Apple Watch, Siri control is particularly useful, as the Ecobee watchOS app does not support changing the temperature.
In conjunction with the SmartThermostat, Ecobee also unveiled a redesigned version of its SmartSensor, featuring an all-new shape and size with an aluminum base. The new SmartSensor also packs longer pairing range, enhanced wide-angle detection, and five-year battery life.
These SmartSensors are meant to be placed around your home to provide hyperlocal temperatures in different rooms. For instance, I have one in my bedroom, so I can make sure it’s properly being cooled down before I head to bed.
One particularly useful feature enabled by SmartSensors is something called “Follow Me.” This uses the sensors to detect which rooms in your house are occupied, and adjust the temperature accordingly, depending on your current comfort setting.
Ecobee includes one SmartSensor with the purchase of the SmartThermostat, but you can buy more from Amazon. A 2-pack will run you $75.
One of the most important things to note about smart thermostats, including the new Ecobee model, is that they get better over time. For instance, Ecobee is reportedly readying a new Eco+ feature that would allow you to maximize energy savings. This sort of improvement in intelligence is what sets certain thermostats apart from the others.
Being able to control your thermostat from your phone or wrist is incredibly useful, but the true power of the Ecobee SmartThermostat lies in things like scheduling, automation, Home IQ, and more. All of these features are designed to help you gain more insight into your home’s efficiency, and gradually automate everything to ensure you’re being as conscious as possible.
In terms of design, the Ecobee SmartThermostat with HomeKit is a notable improvement, but still not perfect. I was lucky in that I did not have use the included trim plate, which I feel would have only called more attention to the device. I hope one day for a Nest-like HomeKit thermostat, but that doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon.
The biggest thing that makes the Ecobee SmartThermostat stand out from the crowd, however, is support for HomeKit. The SmartThermostat is one of the few options that integrate with Alexa, Assistant, and HomeKit, and that alone makes it a very compelling option for many households. While I’d certainly like to see more competition in the HomeKit thermostat pace, the Ecobee is the best choice available at the moment.
The Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control retails for $249 on Amazon. If you want to forgo new features like the glass design, the Ecobee3 lite is still a viable option and is more affordable at $169. A two-pack of SmartSensors is available for $74.95.
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