The Best Smart Thermostats – October 2018
Purchasing a smart thermostat can be a tough decision, especially if you’re someone who likes to save their cash for a rainy day. “I don’t need a smart thermostat,” you might be thinking. “The one I have does everything I need it to do. It keeps the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Not everything needs to be a gadget these days!” While you may be right, there are some pretty solid reasons for wanting to upgrade to a smart thermostat. While the immediate investment might cost you a couple hundred dollars upfront to purchase the new module, you’ll be able to save quite a pretty penny by using the smart features built into newer thermostats. Devices made to connect to the internet allow for intelligent programming, using motion sensors and pre-scheduled routines to turn the heat in your home up or down depending on the time of day and who’s in the house.
That’s not all. These smart thermostats also learn from your behavior, learning when you and your family come and leave throughout the day. This allows the house to stay cool when no one’s home, but to kick on twenty minutes before your child gets off the bus from school in order to heat up the house in the winter. Plus, smart thermometers often sync with the devices you already own, building a local Internet of Things (IoT) in your house. You can check whether your son or daughter has raised or lowered the air conditioning in the summer while you’re off at work, and ensure the heat isn’t turning on while you’re gone on Christmas vacation. And if you have a smart speaker powered by Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant, you can even command the heat in your home with your voice.
All of these leads to saving money off your electric or gas bill each month, but there’s also the added benefit of simply no longer worrying about what the heat or air conditioning is set at in your home. Allowing your home to regulate itself, rather than you having to run around at night to control it, means you can sleep well at the perfect temperature that has been controlled to make you feel comfortable. Smart thermometers will help you save cash in the long run, but they can also be a great piece of mind when you’re trying to enjoy time with your family in your house without constantly being bogged down with having to control the temperature. It’s an ideal way to make your life more enjoyable, while also saving money in the process.
Unfortunately, smart thermostats have blown up in the past few years thanks to the success of Nest and other companies. It can be difficult to decide which thermostat is the right one for you, and that’s where we come in. These are the best smart thermostats for comfort, saving money, and for home automation, as of October 2018.
The first instinct for picking up a smart thermostat might be to jump for one of Nest’s many devices. The Nest, after all, was the smart thermostat that popularized the gadget lineup; in many ways, the iPod of thermostats. This isn’t an accident, either—the company was founded in 2010 by Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, two former Apple engineers who left the company to form Nest. Fadell was the Senior Vice President of the iPod division until he left the company, and the original product line for Nest was successful enough for Google to purchase the company for $3 billion in 2014. And though Fadell left in 2016, the iPod-esque vibe still surrounds Nest. They have the best marketing, the name brand appeal, and the power of Google behind them.
So color us surprised when we found the ecobee4 to be one of our favorite thermostats to date. Launched in the middle of last year to solid reviews, the ecobee4 features a lot of what makes the Nest so excellent. There’s the sleek and futuristic design, the large display with a modern user interface that feels smart, and the touch display that makes using the device a cinch, whether or not you have your phone on you. And though the $250 ecobee4 is by no means the cheapest thermostat on the market (it’s the most expensive device in ecobee’s lineup of products), it’s worth it for the additional features added to the thermostat that make it one of the most-advanced devices for sale today.
As mentioned, the device has a sleek design, with a large glossy black front and a white plastic back that mounts into your wall. The 3.5″ display has a monochrome white-on-black screen that allows you to view the temperature in any amount of light, and it looks incredible. Thermostats have developed a lot from the older dials or calculator-like displayed modules of the past fifty years, and it’s obvious that the ecobee4 is one of the best looking modules we’ve seen. The display is primarily used to view the temperature of your house, along with the temperature that is set on the device, but you’ll find the screen has some additional uses as well.
As with most smart thermostats, the ecobee connects to the internet to provide you with information about the weather, as well as to regulate your house temperature to match the external weather conditions. The ecobee4 uses the included room sensor (you can add additional units if you wish), in addition to those weather conditions retrieved from the web and the schedule you build within your app, to provide users with up to a 23 percent reduction in energy usage. Smart thermostats are basically build to provide users with the ability to save money on their monthly energy bill (in addition to helping the environment with reduced energy production), and the ecobee4 is no exception. Whether it’s a perfect solution for you or not really comes down to how you consume power, but regardless, you should be good to go when it comes to saving some extra cash in your pocket. If you match the average cost of a gas or electric bill in the United States, you could save anywhere from $19 to $25 per month on your bills.
What really makes the ecobee4 a device worth spending $250 on, however, is the addition of several microphones embedded into the body of the thermostat. These microphones are used to pick up voice commands that you can send to your ecobee4 from anywhere in the room. While a proprietary voice assistant may have been a poor idea, ecobee has chosen to build Amazon’s Alexa into the device, allowing the thermostat to sync with numerous devices around your house and more than 10,000 Alexa skills you can download or purchase online through Amazon’s website or their mobile app. The addition of a speaker on the back of the unit means the device can respond and reply to your inquiries, syncing with the local weather, your own personal calendar, and anything else you would rely on Alexa to do.
Despite the inclusion of Amazon’s Alexa, the ecobee4 isn’t limited to only operating with Amazon’s line of devices. The ecobee4 is able to sync with all sorts of Internet of Things options, including Alexa, Apple HomeKit (and by extension, Siri), Google Assistant and Google Home, Samsung’s SmartThings platform, and If This Then That, a web application that allows for chaining devices and actions together to create specific formulas. It’s some pretty cool tech, and the fact that the actual device is so open makes it one of our favorites on the market today. Finally, we should also mention that the device works with gas, electric, and oil setups, with support for dual-fuel heat, conventional and heat pump systems, and more. You can even use the ecobee4 with your humidifiers and dehumidifiers, ventilators, heart recovery ventilators, and energy recovery ventilation.
What does all of this mean for you, the consumer? While it does require dropping a not-insubstantial amount of money on the device, you’ll end up with one of the best thermostats money can buy today. The ecobee4 goes above and beyond with what’s offered by the platform. In addition to the basic app-connected thermostat features (which work on both iOS and Android), you can access to weather-controlled temperatures, and a smart home assistant that can be used to link your connected smart-home devices together to create a powerful network. The visual design and te user interface are both excellent, with a focus on futuristic and simplified elements. If you’re going to purchase a smart thermostat and you have the cash available, you should make sure it’s this one. The featureset is unbeatable, even for the price.
- Brilliant scheduling and weather-based temperature settings
- Alexa support with mics and speaker
- Full support for HomeKit, Google Assistant, and more
- One of the more expensive units on the market today
- Only includes one room sensor
There is no truly “cheap” smart thermostat on the market today. While you can head to your local Walmart to pick up a basic thermostat for just $20 or $30, smart thermostats cost, on average, ten times the amount of the most basic thermostats. Upgrading to a smart thermostat is a serious investment, but if you’re looking for a basic unit that will provide you with all the basic enhancements provided by smart thermostats while also coming in at a cost cheaper than $200, Nest has you covered. The Nest Thermostat E is the entry-level Nest model, a cheaper alternative to the third generation of Nest Smart Thermostat originally released in 2015. The Thermostat E isn’t a perfect device, but at nearly $80 cheaper than both the third-gen Nest and the ecobee4, it’s a great entry way into the smart thermostat market.
The biggest differences between the Thermostat E and the third-gen Nest are visual. Gone is the chrome metal that gave the Nest such a premium feel, replaced here by a white plastic casing and an all-white border and display. It’s still distinctly a Nest design, with a circular casing and a full display, but we’d be lying it we said it feature the same style and modern feel as the more expensive Nest device. One of the benefits of this product, however, come from the color of the plastic and the front of the device. By changing from chrome-and-black to white, the Nest E is far more likely to blend into the wall in your house or apartment than something like the Smart Thermostat, which will stand out among the white backdrops of a standard house. Obviously, some people like the design of the all-black Nest, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with standing out, but if you’re looking for something that looks a bit more like a consumer product rather than another gadget hanging on your wall, the Nest E is the way to go.
In all actuality, plenty of consumers may actually prefer the frosted display on the Nest E over the glossy display on the typical Nest. The display here has a lower resolution as well, but at 320×320 instead of 480×480, you’re not really talking about high-resolution displays anyway. In fact, because the Nest E’s display is used less than the third-gen Nest, the dip in resolution barely registers at all. While the standard Nest shows you information like a clock or the outside weather, the frosted display on the Nest E is designed to show the temperature of your house and any important scheduling information.
Some may miss the added contextual information you gain from a Nest or an ecobee4, but with your smartphone in your pocket, it’s not really necessary—sure, it’s a nice flourish, but it helps you save $80 of your upfront investment. That display is asleep throughout most of the day anyway, which allows the Nest E to do its job and nothing more. Unless the device detects movement, you’ll likely never notice the smart thermostat sitting on your wall; once it does wake up (after detecting motion), it’ll show you the basic information about your room temperature and not much else, and that’s totally fine. You don’t really need this feature (called FarSight, something we’ll address with our third-gen Nest pick below), and it certainly isn’t the worst thing to cut out of the device.
While visual and software differences make up the bulk of the difference between the standard Nest and the Nest E, there is one fairly major difference that can’t be understated. Nest claims their third-gen unit is able to work with 95 percent of the heating and cooling systems in homes. That unit has ten wire terminals, which allow for multitudes of different wire combinations and the ability to plug into basically any modern system. The Nest E has eight terminals, which is still a decent number, but it reduces the compatibility percentage to 85 percent. That’s not bad, but if your system is HVAC-based, it’s likely the Nest E simply won’t work for you. As with most thermostat companies (and especially smart thermostat companies), Nest offers a compatibility tool on their website to see if you’re able to use the Nest E.
However, that’s it—the only differences between the Nest and Nest E come down to some software flourishes, the physical design of the unit, and the wiring on the back of the device. Other than that, you’re still receiving the same excellent Nest experience that has been praised since Nest began shipping their original unit back in 2011. Everything is controlled from the app on your iPhone or Android device, which looks great and makes scheduling and controlling the temperature in your house a snap. You can view your energy history, change the temperature in your home while on the go, and edit your schedule from anywhere using your phone. The Nest E syncs with Google Assistant by default, but Alexa Skills are also available to use with the device. That’s not quite as flexible as the ecobee4, but it works well enough.
Whether you should buy the Nest Thermostat E over the third-gen Nest (or the ecobee4, for that matter) really depends on what you’re trying to do with the device. Do you want something that builds into the science-fiction ideas of a “smart house,” something that tells you contextual information and answers your commands when called out to? The ecobee4 is a great product for that, and the third-gen Nest thermostat is also an excellent addition to the idea of a “future house.” But if all you want is something that looks like a basic appliance while also giving you the ability to control your house’s temperature from anywhere and to save you some cash along the way, the Thermostat E from Nest is a no-brainer. It is by far the best budget smart thermostat, with an excellent interface on both the device itself and the application, and a clean design built around blending into your home atmosphere. It’s not a flashy piece of technology—it’s just a thermostat. And sometimes, that’s really all you need from your tech.
- Great price point
- Frosted white display and design
- Excellent software experience
- Lacks contextual information
- Doesn't sync with HomeKit
It’s tough to write about the third-generation Nest thermostat. For one, it’s typically seen as the de facto choice in smart home automation for thermostats, which means it’s already well-known by most consumers looking for a smart thermostat. It’s also been around since 2015, which means that most users have had a chance to become acquainted with the device. Plus, it’s similar to the Nest Thermostat E, which we already picked as our current runner-up on this list and covered the basic differences between that device and this one. Still, the third-generation of Nest’s thermostat deserves acclaim for being one of the best options in a very-crowded market, and shouldn’t be ignored.
Without reiterating what we wrote above too much, the biggest differences between the third-gen Nest thermostat and the Nest Thermostat E come down to hardware, compatibility, and software. The compatibility is the big one here. If you’ve used Nest’s compatibility test and you are unable to hook up the Nest E to your HVAC system (the type of heating system that the Nest E most commonly fails to support), and you want to stick with Nest, the third-gen unit is for you. The hardware is a big difference as well, but it’s not so much a better-or-worse scenario. The Nest E uses white plastic and a frosted display; the third-gen Nest system looks more like a gadget, with a rounded glass display, a black bezel, and chromed sidings along the unit. And when it comes to the software, the standard Nest is able to provide more information on its display, including the time and the outside temperature.
Beyond that, however, the third-gen Nest is more or less the same as the cheaper Nest E. It has a better build, but the software experience, along with the ability to work with Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, mean that the device is basically the same as the cheaper Nest E. Your thermostat will learn about your habits regardless of which device you pick up from the company, and both the full-fledged third-gen Nest and the Nest E are built to lower your energy bill. If you’re truly in love with the design of this model from 2015, or you need to pick up this model because you’re in the ten percent of households that the Nest E doesn’t cover, the Nest Smart Thermostat is a great option. But the Nest E provides most users with the same experience for $80 less, which makes it tough to pass up over this model.
- Great futuristic design
- Compatible with most households
- $80 more than the Nest E
- May stick out a bit more on your wall
Honeywell is perhaps the best-known brand when it comes to developing and selling basic thermostats. If you’ve ever gone to buy a thermostat in the last five decades, you’ve probably considered, if not outright purchased, a Honeywell-brand thermostat. So when Nest began creating smart thermostats, it didn’t take long for Honeywell to get on board with internet-connected devices. The brand has created several internet connected devices, including this model, the Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat (also known as RTH9580WF), which is one of Honeywell’s leading products in their quest to compete with the likes of ecobee and Nest.
The design certainly lacks the polish from both ecobee’s lineup of products and the Nest and Nest E, but the full color display allows you to control the unit from both your wall and your smartphone or tablet. That display also shows contextual information, similar to the ecobee4, with the time and date, external temperature and humidity, the indoor temperature and humidity percentage, and options to change the settings of your heating and cooling system and view the status of your house right on the display of the unit. For those who prefer looking at their thermostat for temperature information, as opposed to looking at their phone, this may be the unit to get. The iOS and Android app is a decent way to control the unit’s schedule and settings, though it’s worth making one thing clear: the actual user interface of the software on your phone is horribly dated, especially compared to Nest’s excellent application. It works well, but if you’re someone who values interface design, the Total Connect app will likely bother you.
Still though, the Honeywell unit is a great way to save some cash and make your home a little bit smarter. It’s not the smartest of the bunch, as it doesn’t contain the “learning” abilities of the ecobee4 or the traditional Nest units, but it is better than most other basic thermostats at helping you to cut your energy bills down each month. The programming options within the Total Connect app work well, with options for two different profiles, and like Nest and ecobee, the device syncs with Amazon Alexa for voice control. At $179, you may be better off purchasing the Nest E, but if you really care about the external weather, as well as the date and time, you can’t go wrong with Honeywell’s programmable thermostat.
- Lots of information displayed
- Support for wide variety of heating and cooling systems
- On the cheap end
- Lackluster design
- Dated software UI
Another Honeywell unit, the Lyric line of devices from the company is one of the cheapest entries into the smart thermostat market. At an MSRP of $149, but regularly priced at around $99, the Lyric T5 is a small, bulky unit that puts usability and features ahead of form factor. The design of the unit is square and rather large, and not necessarily in a good way. It’s thick body means the device protrudes from your wall fall more than nearly any of the other options on this list, and the black and gray design means it sticks out when sitting on your wall. The device features a monochrome touch screen that allows you to control your settings from the wall, though you won’t find any additional information for weather and humidity like you will on Honeywell’s more expensive units.
The Lyric T5 does excel at its feature set, however. The big addition to the Lyric compared to some of the other units on this list is geofencing, which foregoes the standard scheduling tool to track your location based on the GPS in your phone. When Lyric detects you’re within a certain radius of your house, it kicks on your heating or cooling unit to begin to allow your house to reach peak temperature for your comfort. Geofencing isn’t required by the Lyric T5 to make good on its promise to save you energy, it’s one of the more innovative features we’ve seen in this arena, allowing you to bypass your schedule or to come home early or late from work while still having a heated or cooled house. The option can be disabled of course, and traditional temperature control is available as well, along with 7-day scheduling options.
Like most other smart thermostats on the market, the Lyric tracks your energy usage, accumulating data regarding your energy use over time and showing how you can reduce your energy usage over time by controlling when your heating and cooling units kick on. One of the best parts of the Lyric is its app; while it doesn’t quite hit the highs of Nest and ecobee, Honeywell’s dedicated Lyric app is leaps and bounds ahead of the app used to its Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat. Plus, the device works with Alexa and HomeKit, covering most users’ voice assistant needs (unfortunately, there’s no support for Google Assistant as far as we can tell). Overall, the Lyric is a great way to get the same benefits of devices like the Nest Thermostat E and the ecobee4 for half the price. For just $200, you can pick up two of these units for your house, powering your entire heating and cooling system for a fraction of the typical smart thermostat cost. The Lyric T5 isn’t the cheapest device on this list, but it is one of the best for around $100.
- Improved Honeywell application
- Great price
- Big and bulky design
- No support for Google Assistant
Vine’s name recognition is nowhere near what you’ve come to expect from Honeywell, Nest, or even ecobee, but that doesn’t mean the company—or its products, for that matter—should be ignored. At around $90, Vine’s Wi-Fi-enabled programmable thermostat is a great entry into the field of cheap smart thermostats, just like the Lyric T5 from Honeywell, but with a more conventional design that blends into the walls of your house. In addition to a touch-friendly display, Vine uses a knob to the right of the vertical display, showing the information on the screen and allowing you to customize the temperature in your house with a physical dial. It’s not the most attractive model we’ve seen, but it does have a unique style, and some cool hardware features built into the unit—including a night light for illuminating the hallway in the middle of the night.
When it comes to the smart features of the device, you’re looking at a pretty straightforward experience here. The device is capable of being programmed for week-long schedules, and can use up to eight different periods a day. Vine can show you the weather if you have the appropriate C-wire and are connect to the web, and can be used as a hub for your Internet of Things, showing alarms and other content that keeps you up to date on the state of the house. There’s no special sensors or anything here; just basic programming and scheduling, but the app on both iOS and Android allow you to control the climate in your house from wherever you are. Honestly, there isn’t much more to say about Vine: it’s a basic smart thermometer with a solid build designed to do what most of the products on this list do, and it does it well. At $89 (as of writing), it’s a great choice for anyone looking to get into the market while retaining colorful touch displays.
- Unique design with traditional knob
- Cheap price for the features
- No special sensors
- App is pretty basic
If you love the look, feel, and design of the ecobee4, but don’t need or won’t use the smart home features and microphones to pick up on voice commands, the ecobee3 lite is the perfect device for you. Similar to the Nest Thermostat E, the ecobee3 lite takes some of the best features from the ecobee3 and ecobee4 and reduces the cost of the actual device, creating a great deal for anyone looking for a smart thermostat that manages to look and feel premium for less than $200. The lite model of the ecobee3 won’t hold a candle to the full-fledged features of the larger ecobee4, but it’s really not designed to do that.
At first glance, the ecobee3 lite looks like any other ecobee model, designed with an all-black display and built with a clean and simple user interface. Adjusting the temperature in your apartment or home requires you to slide your finger up and down on the display, and icons will appear for whether you’re heating or cooling your home. Everything can be adjusted directly from the unit, or from the ecobee app on your phone. Unlike the similarly-priced Nest Thermostat E, the ecobee3 lite receives weather information, which means you can view the current conditions and future weather information directly from your device. It’s a nice touch, and it once again adds to making the ecobee lineup of devices feel positively futuristic. As usual, ecobee will send you monthly information reports on your energy usage, and you can use that information to reduce and make changes as needed.
Unlike other ecobee devices, the lite model doesn’t use room sensors to detect movement and temperature, instead acting more akin to standard thermostats. The room sensors are one of the most common reasons to pick up an ecobee device, so it’s a big change overall compared to other models. And of course, the ecobee3 lite loses the speaker and microphone sensors from the device, instead relying on your Alexa or Google Assistant-based speakers and devices to carry the heavy lifting when it comes to voice commands. For $185, the ecobee3 lite isn’t a cheap device, but it is a decent amount cheaper than the $250 ecobee4, and if you can do without some of the more advanced features on that product, you might be more interested in picking up this lite version to save some cash.
- Great design for the price
- Support for voice assistants
- More expensive than the similar Nest E
- Doesn't support ecobee's room sensors
The demand for smart thermostats may be rising, but the need for another “gadget”-like device in your house may keep you from buying one. Including a new touchscreen-based device in your home may seem appealing, but when it comes down to it, are you really looking for something with yet another display to manage? If you want something with all the enhancements of a smart, internet-connected thermostat but you don’t want to deal with the gadgetry that comes with purchasing one, the Emerson Sensi thermostat might just be the one for you. Unlike almost every device on this list, it features a basic display with information on the temperature, time, battery level, and not much else. The display lights up when clicked but otherwise stays dim and monochrome, and all the controls and features use physical buttons as opposed to a touchscreen.
For just $99, the Emerson Sensi offers users the same look and feel of thermostats from the last twenty years or so, but with all the advanced features you would want in a modern device. Unlike some of the devices on this list, the Sensi remains fairly easy to set up, with most reviewers claiming they were able to finish it in just ten to twenty minutes following the directions. The device works well with HVAC setups, unlike the Nest Thermostat E, and doesn’t require a C-wire for power consumption. The app is actually surprisingly well-designed, especially compared to some of the models on this list. You can control multiple units from within the app on the same panel, and the guide helps you install your device and schedule your routine.
Emerson promises the Sensi is able to guarantee the temperature your device is set at from within one degree of error, which is higher than the guarantees provided by most products on the market these days. As usual, the thermostat also supports virtual assistants, including Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Wink’s smart home hubs. This thermostat comes in two versions, DIY and Pro, with a $40 difference between the two that allows for support for both your heating and cooling units within the device. Overall, it’s a great way to jump on the smart thermostat bandwagon without giving up the simplicity and ease of use of older non-internet-connected thermostats.
- Basic, non-flashy design
- Great application
- Solid price
- No Google Assistant support
- Basic design not for everyone
Like the Emerson Sensi, the Honeywell 7-Day Programmable Thermostat is a simplified model that promises to provide basic functionality on the hardware side, while giving you the same experience of using a smart thermostat to control your house. There’s nothing necessarily special about the Programmable Thermostat, which features a long alphanumeric number as its name and looks like something directly out of 2005. Like the other Honeywell items on this list, it’s made by a long-time creator of thermostats, and will generally work well for anyone looking for a basic utility. It lacks a color display, and uses a green light to illuminate the monochrome text as opposed to the blue light seen on the Emerson model.
The smart features included with this model are exactly what you’d expect from a device like this. Once connected to the internet, you can sync the device with your phone (using the same dated application we didn’t like from the more-expensive Honeywell model above), program your week’s schedule into the device to control the temperature in your house when you are and aren’t home, view the local weather in your area (though you’ll need the app to do this), and control the thermostat remotely using the web portal or the iOS and Android app on your devices. It’s a solidly-built device that is made to be cheap and affordable, without any of the flash of most of the devices on this list. It isn’t quite as feature-rich as the Emerson Sensi, the product this device seems to be competing with directly, but at $69 for a unit that looks plain enough to go unnoticed while still offering Alexa support, it’s a decent device to pick up for your house or apartment—though if you’re looking for something like this, we recommend the Emerson Sensi a bit more than this model.
- One of the cheapest models you can grab today
- Keeps things basic while still offering smart features
- No Google Assistant support
- Same outdated Honeywell application