While Nest may be the bigger name in the smart thermostat arena, competitor ecobee has quietly been producing better devices that work better with iOS devices.
Arriving in 2015, the ecobee3 was one of the first devices on the market to support Apple’s HomeKit allowing users to control the thermostat with a simple Siri command and with the built-in Home app that first arrived in iOS 10. Because Nest is owned by Alphabet (also known as Google), it’s unlikely that those smart thermostats will ever support Apple’s protocol.
And ecobee is back once again with its newest product – the ecobee4. The new thermostat takes everything that made the previous version so great, including support for remote sensors, and adds an important new feature – built-in Amazon Alexa.
With the previous generation, users could control the temperature in their homes with an Alexa command, but they needed a compatible device like the Echo or smaller Echo Dot. The ecobee4 makes that even easier as it is basically a small Echo device combined with a smart thermostat.
You can pay an heating and air conditioning specialist to install the thermostat if need be, but anyone with simple DIY experience can take care of it without any issue. Most of the tools are included in the kit, except a drill and screwdriver, and there’s also detailed instruction manual and a number of great videos online.
The most difficult part of the installation comes first as the biggest issue is a c-wire, also known as a common wire. Not to get extremely technical, but the c-wire is a low-voltage wire that provides constant power to the thermostat.
Full-time power is needed by the ecobee4 for Alexa and HomeKit support while the display will constantly. show the current weather conditions outside and temperature inside your house.
Your heating and cooling system may or may not have a c-wire. The only way you can tell for sure is to remove the front housing of your current thermostat and check the wires. If a wire is connected to a port with “c” you probably don’t have much to worry about.
If you have no c-wire at all, ecobee includes something called a power extender kit. With it installed, the existing wires can power the thermostat. It does take some time to install and is more complex than a simple thermostat installation. But with that done, you’ll be ready to go.
For anyone upgrading from the ecobee3, the installation is even easier and just requires you to remove the old backplate and install the existing wires. You will need to feed R/Rc/Rh wire into the Rc terminal.
If you already installed a power extender kit previously, it does require to move a few more wires around on the new backplate.
In my case, I was able to remove my old ecobee3 and replace it with the new model in less than 10 minutes. Overall, the ecobee4 looks very similar to the previous version with the main different being the LED light strip on speaker on the top of the unit.
A double dose of voice control
After installation is complete, you can download the companion ecobee app to control the thermostat on your iPhone or iPad. For Alexa support, you’ll also need to download the Amazon Alexa app. It even works with Samsung SmartThings and IFTTT.
Once that is done, you’ll be ready to go. The thermostat has a 3.5-inch touchscreen that can be used to interact with the heating or calling system. It’s basically an old-school iPhone mounted to the wall. The UI is simple and easy to use, and should be obvious to pretty much anyone who has ever used a smartphone. The main screen shows your home’s current temperature, the thermostat’s setting, and a slider for adjustment.
The ecobee4 is easy to control with your iOS device, especially if it offers the handsfree “Hey Siri” command. You can also interact with it on the Apple Watch.
But the real flagship feature is built-in Amazon Alexa capability. There are currently more than 12,000 different skills that can be accessed from the thermostat – everything from ordering pizza to playing games and more. Offering the same far-field voice recognition technology as Amazon’s Echo device, you can interact with Alexa or change the thermostat temperature from across a loud room with no issue.
As far as sound quality goes, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it is a small unit and is not going to offer top-notch sound, but it’s easily on par or even better than what is available by using an Amazon Echo Dot, with one caveat.
To borrow a slogan from real estate, it’s all about location, location, location when deciding if you want to purchase the ecobee4. In my case, my thermostat is on a small, out-of-the-way wall near my master bedroom. Having Alexa was useful, but because of the location of the thermostat, I haven’t been able to use it much. If your thermostat is located in a high-traffic area, being able to use the Alexa control would be very handy. But if you’re like me, definitely consider that ecobee3 that can still be found online for around $50 or more less than the ecobee4’s $249.99 retail price. It offers all the same perks, including the remote sensor feature.
The remote sensor is the same one included with the ecobee3 – mine even included a mention of the older model of thermostat. But the technology is still a standout feature not found in any other smart thermostats. I would highly recommend purchasing additional sensors. You can snag a two-pack from Amazon for $78. Each sensor acts as a small temperature reporting station in your house and can also detect any motion. Both of those features come in handy for a number of reasons.
When you’re at home, the Follow Me function polls the thermostat and your wireless sensors to determine where motion is detected. It will then average the temperature of the occupied rooms to help make your house more comfortable. Even in my fairly small house, that has definitely been a huge help. My master bedroom usually runs hotter than normal while the rooms near the central air return are colder than the rest of the house. If my remote sensor determines that I’m in the master bedroom, for example, it will adjust the temperature to compensate.
Using the app, you can also set detailed schedules when you’re home or away to help save on your energy bills. The functionality won’t “learn” your schedule like the Nest, but it’s much less intrusive and easy to adjust. If you want, you can set a specific schedule for the heating and air conditioner to turn on and off.
The motion detection feature also comes in handy with the Smart Home feature. If you happen to arrive home when the schedule is set to away, the system will automatically adjust and flip on if needed. Smart Away will do the opposite and detect when you’re not around even if your schedule is set to home.
Using the sensors, especially in the hot and humid Texas summers, have made my house much more hospitable and has leveled out the warm and cool spots. Even if you’re not interested in the smart home aspects, the sensor technology is well worth the price of admission.
A great choice
Overall, ecobee has taken a great thermostat and made it even better with the ecobee4. With HomeKit and Amazon Alexa support, it’s by far the best smart thermostat on the market and is a great way to start building your smart home.