ecobee vs Nest: 8 Crucial Differences For The Informed Buyer
So you’re looking to welcome a fancy new smart thermostat into your home but you’re not quite sure which to choose? The ecobee4 and Nest 3rd Gen. are widely considered the best two smart thermostats available. Read just about any smart thermostat review and you’ll repeatedly see these two come out on top. So how do you decide which one is the better buy?
Are you a hands-on tinkerer with a love of customization and endless data? Then, the ecobee4 is your match.
Check PriceNest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation
Do you want a thermostat that looks great and just works right from the start without any thought from you? In that case, the Nest is probably a better fit.
The truth is both thermostats are great smart home products. My favorite is the ecobee, but, depending on your personal taste, the Nest may be a better fit for you.
I’ve personally used both products and I can tell you the strengths and weaknesses of both products. I have searched the web and you won’t find another comparison that drills down as deep as this one.
8 Crucial Differences Between Nest And ecobee4
1. Look And Feel
Put one of these babies on your wall and impress your friends. Who would have thought that a thermostat could be a topic of conversation?
The Nest learning thermostat has a modernized look of the classic Honeywell Round. It has a stainless steel outer ring that reflects your wall color and allows it to blend in with any décor. The face lights up with blue light when your system is cooling and orange light when it’s heating.
Instead of rehashing the round design from the distant past, ecobee decided to take the rectangular look from the programmable thermostats of the past 30 years and just round the corners. The result is something that looks a bit like an oversized smartwatch.
It comes in black plastic and sports a significantly larger screen than the Nest. The screen is also a touchscreen which gives you access to many control settings from the base unit if you desire.
The ecobee4 is nearly identical to the ecobee3. The most notable difference is the addition of a blue light on top that lights up when you use the newly built-in Alexa feature.
2. Can I Get An Energy Report?
If I buy an expensive piece of equipment like a smart thermostat, I want to know that it’s working correctly. How do you know if your smart thermostat is working the way it should? Some people will be content to just slap it on the wall, let it do its thing, and hope the energy bill is lower at the end of the month, but that’s not me. I want to see some details.
The ecobee4 records and analyzes HVAC data for a full 18 months. Their analysis tool is called Home IQ. It’s provided free of charge by ecobee for as long as you own the thermostat.
It gives you features such as System Monitor, Weather Impact, and Home Efficiency. These features help monitor your total usage, how much the local weather influences your usage, and how your home efficiency compares to other users in your area.
Ecobee’s data reports blow the competition away. All temperature and motion data from both the thermostat and the remote sensors is recorded. Every time you manually change the setpoint, it gets recorded. Every time the thermostat takes any kind of smart action, it gets recorded.
Ecobee takes all this data and puts it into a chart format that can easily be navigated using the web console.
Bottom line: if you’re looking for energy reports and analysis, ecobee4 with Home IQ is the way to go.
The Nest includes data feedback, too. However, compared to ecobee’s reports, Nest data reports are child’s play.
Nest only records 10 days of data. It doesn’t give you any fancy analysis either. It just shows a visual of the times your system turned on and off during those 10 days. It will also mark the times when the thermostat set point was changed.
Using that, you can compare total usage between certain times of the day and different days.
Nest also sends out a monthly home report via email. It includes a summary of your energy usage and compares it with past months and other Nest users.
3. To Learn Or Not To Learn?
One of the big marketing hooks for Nest is that it “automatically learns your schedule”. In fact, the full product name is the Nest Learning Thermostat. So what does that even mean? Is it a magic, mind-reading thermostat? Well no, it’s not magic. In fact, its not even all that complicated.
How Nest Works:
When you first install the Nest, it makes a few assumptions about you based on typical humans.
It guesses when you’re probably awake and when you’re probably sleeping and what temperature makes you comfortable during those times. It uses those guesses as a baseline for its schedule.
Sooner or later, you’ll feel too warm or too cold and you’ll use either the app or the thermostat to adjust the temperature up or down.
When you make an adjustment, Nest records it. After a week or two of adjustments, Nest will “learn” your schedule and the temperature settings you prefer.
Over time it will continue to respond to your adjustments. So rather than keeping a fixed schedule, it will continually evolve.
If you don’t like the way Nest learns, you can always shut the feature off. Nest can be programmed to run on a conventional schedule if you shut off the learning feature.
How ecobee Works:
The ecobee uses a more conventional static schedule. You choose your desired times and temperatures for when you are home, away, and sleeping.
Once the times and temperatures are set, they don’t change unless you change them.
Setting up the schedule is not difficult and can be done from the thermostat, the mobile app, or the web console.
Which Is Better?
Is Nest’s schedule learning feature better than a regular schedule like ecobee’s? Or, is it just another one of those marketing gimmicks that seem to be all too common in the smart home universe? I suppose it depends on who you ask.
For people that are really hands off, I can see a definite benefit to Nest’s way of doing things. Once you install the Nest, there’s practically nothing else to do. You don’t have to stumble through menus and settings to get it programmed correctly. You just adjust warmer or cooler and Nest will automatically optimize your schedule without any effort from you.
However, if you’re a more hands on person like myself, you might not find Nest’s learning feature very useful. I find that if I notice the heat/AC come on at a peculiar time I’m always wondering if something goofy is going on with the thermostat. Personally, I prefer knowing the heat/AC is set to come on at a specific time. Then, if something turns on when its supposed to be off (or vice versa), I know something is wrong.
4. Is A C-Wire Really Necessary?
If your current thermostat wiring doesn’t have a c-wire, you could eliminate a potentially complicated installation step by going with the Nest.
The Nest thermostat can be installed without a c-wire. This allows you to avoid the hassle of installing a c-wire yourself.
Ecobee cannot be installed without a c-wire. Instead, ecobee includes an extra set of wires they call the PEK (power extender kit). If your system doesn’t have a c-wire, you’ll be instructed to install the PEK. The installation is a relatively simple task. But, if you are someone who is not used to doing anything with wires, it can seem intimidating. In that case, I recommend finding a friend who is comfortable doing that sort of handy work. Or, as a last resort, call a professional installer.
Nest works without a c-wire and ecobee does not. Advantage Nest, right? Well, not necessarily. In order to avoid needing a c-wire, Nest powers the thermostat using an electrical trick often referred to as power stealing. Nest’s power stealing is capable of causing your systems to behave erratically (equipment turning on at random times or not turning on at all when you need it).
Therefore, even if I had the Nest, I would recommend installing a c-wire anyway. Its really not that difficult and you’ll avoid a potential source of major headaches in the future. The easiest way to add a c-wire is to purchase an add-a-wire kit (these kits are basically the same thing as the ecobee PEK). Once the add-a-wire kit is installed you can proceed with a standard install.
For more information about how c-wires and how power stealing can lead to problems, see my article all about the c-wire.
5. Can I Control It With My Voice?
Nest supports both Google Home and Amazon Alexa. However, Nest doesn’t directly support Apple HomeKit and it’s unlikely that it ever will. It’s unfortunate for consumers because both the look of Nest and the “it just works” mentality of “Works With Nest” seem like a perfect fit for the typical Apple customer.
On the other hand, ecobee has support for all 3 major voice assistants: Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple HomeKit. Ecobee seems like they’re really dedicated to the voice control. They support all the major voice assistants and the ecobee4 actually has an Alexa speaker built into it.
Many smart thermostats use your phone’s GPS as a means of determining whether you are home or not. This is called geofencing. If you cross the geofence leaving your home, the thermostat can switch to money saving away mode. Then, when you cross the geofence on your way back home, the thermostat will resume heating/cooling to your preferred comfort level.
Nest’s geofencing is built right into their app. You can even set up multiple accounts so that geofencing works with multiple phones.
Nest combines the use of geofencing with cues from other “Works With Nest” devices to determine whether you’re home or not. They call this feature Home/Away Assist.
For example, if you happen to have some Nest Protects in your house, they have motion sensors on them. If you take your phone and travel outside your geofence, the thermostat will go into away mode. But, let’s say the kids are still at home. The Nest Protect motion sensors will detect motion in the house. Therefore it knows, someone is home so it will ignore the geofence trigger to switch to away mode.
Ecobee supports geofencing too, but only for one phone. This is a bit of a problem for my wife and I. If I happen to leave the house for a few hours, my phone always goes with me. Therefore, the thermostat goes into away mode. If it happens to be the middle of January, it won’t be long before the house is down to 60 degrees and my wife will be rightfully annoyed with me and my obsession with gadgets.
Fortunately, there is a way to set up geofencing with multiple phones on the ecobee. Unfortunately, it requires the use of a couple third party apps (IFTTT and Life360). It’s not difficult, but it did take me about an hour to get everything set up. I’ve written detailed instructions on how to do it here so you should be able to do it in about 15 minutes.
Although this solution works, its less than ideal. Its extra work and it just seems like a hack job. Plus, it doesn’t seamlessly integrate with other products like Nest’s Home/Away Assist does.
7. Remote Sensors
Its common to have cold/warm spots in your home, especially in larger homes. The temperature where your thermostat is installed might be different than the temperature where you spend most of your time. Ecobee has a solution to this problem in the form of remote sensors.
Ecobee’s remote sensors can be placed wherever they are needed in your home. They send temperature and occupancy data back to the ecobee4. Using that data, the thermostat can keep the areas you use the most at the temperature you prefer.
The retail ecobee4 comes with one remote sensor. Extra sensors are available for purchase in packs of two.
Ever since the release of the ecobee3 several years ago, the remote sensors have been wooing would-be Nest customers over to the ecobee side. However, that may have come to an end.
Nest has released sensors of their own. They serve mostly the same purpose as the ecobee sensors save for one notable exception: Nest sensors only include temperature sensing. There’s no occupancy sensing. That means Nest’s sensor driven features are at a disadvantage (relative to ecobee) from the start.
8. Is The User Interface User-Friendly
These thermostats are intended to be operated remotely, but in some cases, it may be useful to change some settings from the base unit. The ecobee4 is best in this area. Its larger screen is also a touchscreen which allows for more user-friendly experience when trying to navigate multiple levels of menus. You can also access your ecobee4 from a web portal which will give you access to the full set of features and settings.
Nest’s rotatable outer ring allows you to adjust the temperature in a very intuitive and familiar way. However, if you’re trying to navigate menus and settings, it’s not quite as user-friendly as the ecobee4.
ecobee Vs Nest Comparison Table
Here’s a chart summarizing the most important features.
Nest 3rd Gen
|C-Wire Required||YES, but includes adapter||NO, but recommended|
|Geofencing||Yes, but limited|
|Voice Control||Echo & HomeKit & Google Home||Echo & Google Home|
|Energy Usage Reports||YES, 18 months||YES, 10 Days|
|Heating/Cooling Stages||4 Heat / 2 Cool||3 Heat / 2 Cool|
|AC Over-cool for Dehumidification|
|No Subscription Fees|
|More Information||My Ecobee Review||My Nest Review|
|Where To Buy|
How Are ecobee And Nest The Same?
There are only so many smart things that a smart thermostat can do. Therefore, its inevitable that top quality smart thermostats will share a number of features. I’ve found that the following features of Nest and ecobee thermostats are fairly equal.
Will They Work With My HVAC System?
Both Nest and ecobee support the most common HVAC systems and accessories. This includes your standard central forced air furnace/AC setup as well as heat pumps and boilers. These thermostats will not work with millivolt systems, proprietary communicating systems, or high-voltage systems.
The most common system that won’t work is electric baseboard heat. It is a high-voltage system and these thermostats require a connection to low-voltage wires. A great smart thermostat that is made specifically for those high-voltage systems is the Mysa smart thermostat (see my detailed review).
Support For One Accessory
Each thermostat has one extra terminal available for accessories. This will allow you to use smart control for any whole home humidifier/dehumidifier or ventilator you may have.
The goal here is to begin heating or cooling your home ahead of time so that it reaches your desired set point at precisely the time you desire. This way you have saved the maximum amount of energy without sacrificing any comfort.
Each thermostat is able to do this. They both use local weather data and past system performance to try to predict how long it will take to heat or cool your home.
Smart Control For Heat Pump Systems
The Nest includes a feature for smart control of heat pump systems called Heat Pump Balance. It gives you an option to optimize how much expensive auxiliary heat you use. The maximum comfort setting will leave the temperature at the low set point until the last possible minute. Then, it will turn on the quick but expensive auxiliary heat to bring your home up to your desired set point. Whereas the maximum efficiency setting can turn on the slow but efficient heat pump up to 5 hours ahead of time to reach the set point in time.
The ecobee4 will control this too but it doesn’t have a fancy name for it like Nest. Instead of just a simple dial like the Nest, it has more configurable options which give a knowledgeable user more precise control. Just remember to make sure you know what you’re doing when you’re adjusting settings for expensive equipment like heat pumps. As they say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Smart Control For Radiant Heat
The Nest has a feature called True Radiant which is for controlling radiant heat systems. The radiant system will continue to radiate heat even after the boiler is shut off. This has a tendency to cause the radiant system to overshoot the set point temperature. The Nest uses information about the outside weather and past performance to shut down the boiler before you reach your target temperature. Then, the remaining heat in the system will allow you to “coast” to the set point. True Radiant will help you to have a much more consistent and comfortable temperature in your radiant heated home.
The ecobee4 is designed to work with radiant heat as well. Again, they just declined to name the feature like Nest did.
What Are The Best Qualities?
- Is designed to be the ultimate in convenience. After an initial week of “training,” the thermostat is ready to operate on its own with only minimal input from the user. If you are a person with a regular schedule, the Nest will be able to adapt to you quite well.
- Comes with home/away assist which utilizes both geofencing and home motion sensing. Keep in mind that Home/Away Assist will work best if you have other Works With Nest products.
- Has sensors. This gives you the ability to have room to room control of your home’s climate.
- Is designed with the enthusiast in mind. It has many available options to fine tune your equipment’s performance.
- Has the PEK. Whether you have a c-wire or not, you are covered with the ecobee4.
- Tracks 18 months of data and uses Home IQ to give you a comprehensive analysis of your energy usage.
What Are The Biggest Problems?
- Lack of control. It has a bunch of cool smart features, but if they aren’t working quite as smartly as you want, there isn’t a lot of configuration available. You can either turn the smart feature on and live with what the Nest thinks is right or turn the feature off and live without it. If you are the micro-managing type, the many options of the ecobee4 are a better choice for you.
- They say you don’t need a c-wire to install the Nest, but you may end up with some very erratic results if you don’t.
- Lack of native geofencing. If you don’t have the technical skills to set up geofencing with IFTTT, your smart home/away will not work as well as Nest’s.
- In fact, if your technical skill level is low, you won’t get much use out of all the options that come with the ecobee4. The “set it and forget it” operation of the Nest is a better choice.
TheSmartCave Official Opinion
Right out of the box, the Nest looks great and feels like a quality product. It has the most comprehensive home/away system and is the original thermostat that can “learn” your schedule. It has sold a ton of units and was the one thermostat that really put smart thermostats in the public eye.
The ecobee4 gives you nearly as much smart as the Nest and backs that up with superior customization and data feedback. Plus, it’s extra sensors give it some unique abilities. It’s a solid product from a solid company that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.