ecobee vs Nest: Don’t Overlook These 8 Crucial Differences

The ecobee and Nest are widely considered the best two smart thermostats available. If you read just about any smart thermostat review, you’ll see these two almost always come out on top.

I’ve used both products and I’ve found 8 key differences. The differences between ecobee and Nest aren't huge. But, they ARE different and the differences DO matter. So read on and I'll fill you in on what I've learned.

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Which Thermostat Is Better For You?

ecobee

Are you a hands-on tinkerer with a love of customization and endless data? Then, ecobee is your match.

Nest

Do you want a  thermostat that looks great and just works with barely any thought from you? In that case, Nest is a better fit.

3rd Generation Nest Thermostat

The following section is the detail section. It explains what the differences are, why they matter, and whether ecobee or Nest performs better.

1. Look and Feel

Put one of these thermostats on your wall and impress your friends. Who would have thought that a thermostat could be a topic of conversation?

Nest

The Nest Learning Thermostat has a modernized look of the classic Honeywell Round.

Nest

Look familiar?

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.

The solid construction is obvious when you handle the thermostat. Its heavy and feels sturdy.

ecobee

Instead of revisiting the round design from the distant past, ecobee decided to take the rectangular look from the programmable thermostats of the past 30 years and 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.

Which is Better?

I’m a proud ecobee user, but I have no problem admitting that the Nest looks great. The ecobee looks good too, but it just doesn’t have the same “cool” factor as the Nest.

If you prefer your thermostat to be something that doesn't say "look at me", you may prefer the look of ecobee. You could also consider the lower-cost Nest e, which I mention below.


2. Schedule Learning

One of the big marketing hooks for Nest is that it “automatically learns your schedule”. So what does that even mean? Is it a magic, mind-reading thermostat?

Nest

When you first install the Nest, it makes a few assumptions about you based on typical humans. 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.

ecobee

The ecobee uses a more conventional 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 gimmick that seems 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. However, if you’re a more hands on person like myself, you might not find Nest’s learning feature very useful.

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.

Either way, Nest’s learning feature is an extra option that ecobee doesn’t have. If you have a Nest and you like the learning feature, you can use it. If not, turn it off.


3. Voice Control

Voice control is the number one way I interact with my smart thermostat. I've found it's almost always easier to adjust the thermostat with a voice command rather than open the app or get off the couch (gasp!) and adjust it manually.

I mostly use Alexa for my smart home, but Google Assistant and HomeKit can work just as well. It's a little weird talking to a machine at first, but once you get used to it, it's pretty nice.

ecobee

ecobee seems like they’re really dedicated to voice control. They support all three major voice assistants.

Also, the ecobee4 has an Alexa speaker built into it. If you don’t already have a smart speaker near your thermostat, it could be useful.

Nest

Nest supports both Google Home and Amazon Alexa. However, it doesn’t directly support Apple HomeKit and it’s unlikely that it ever will.

Which is Better?

The integrated Alexa speaker on the ecobee4 is a minor advantage. But, if you already have a smart speaker nearby, the extra one might end up causing problems. If it does cause problems, you can disable it.

Nest doesn't support HomeKit directly, so if you’re a HomeKit user, the ecobee would be a better choice.


4. Geofencing

This is not the Geo fencing we're talking about.

I know what your thinking. Why is there a picture of a Geo Metro in a championship fencing bout? Well, it's because I have a super lame sense of humor. Moving on...

Many smart home products can 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 away mode. Then, when you cross the geofence on your way back home, the thermostat will resume heating/cooling.

Nest

Nest’s geofencing is built right into their app. You can even set up multiple accounts so that geofencing works with multiple phones.

It automatically combines the use of geofencing with cues from other “Works With Nest” devices to determine whether you’re home or not.

If you take your phone and travel outside your geofence, the thermostat will go into away mode. 

Okay, but what if the kids are still at home?

Let's say for example that you also have some Nest Protects (that's the Nest smoke detector) at home. They have motion sensors on them.

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

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 everyone in the house is freezing.

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.

Which is Better?

Geofencing is the biggest way I save money with my smart thermostat. I consider Nest's geofencing the biggest advantage it has over ecobee.

The fact that I have to “hack” together a geofencing solution (for multiple phones) with ecobee is disappointing. Although the third-party app solution works, its less than ideal. It’s extra work and it just seems like a hack job. Plus, it doesn’t seamlessly integrate with other products like Nest does.


5. Is a C Wire Really Necessary?

In order to power their big screens and maintain their WiFi connections, smart thermostats need a constant source of power. Most of the time, the wires that connect to the thermostat can provide that power.

But, if your wires don't include a c wire, you may have to jump through a few extra hoops to get your smart thermostat working correctly.

Nest

If your current thermostat wiring doesn’t have a c-wire, you could eliminate some wiring 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

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 requires attaching a few wires to your HVAC control board.

Which is Better?

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 certain systems to behave erratically.

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 use an add-a-wire kit, which you will have to buy separately.

On the other hand, ecobee includes their add-a-wire kit (PEK) with your purchase. So if you need it, you'll have it.

For more information about c-wires, how to add one, and how power stealing can lead to problems, see my article all about the c wire.


6. Low-Cost Version

Both companies have released lower cost versions of their flagship models. ecobee has the ecobee3 Lite and Nest has the Nest Thermostat E.

ecobee

The ecobee3 Lite looks almost exactly the same as the ecobee4 and it functions nearly the same, too.

It doesn’t come with a built in Alexa speaker (so no blue light on top either) and it doesn’t have the accessory terminal. The ecobee3 Lite is also typically sold as a standalone unit (no remote sensor included).

Nest

The main functional difference between Nest Thermostat E and Nest is it’s missing an accessory terminal.

The other obvious difference is the look. Nest E has a much more subtle appearance than Nest.

The shiny outer ring is replaced with plastic and the screen has a matte finish that's designed to blend in rather than stand out.

Which is Better?

Both economy versions are missing the extra accessory terminal. That means you won't be able to connect the thermostat to an accessory (e.g. whole-home humidifer, HRV, ERV). 

Other than that, they function basically the same as the more expensive models. ecobee3 Lite loses its Alexa ability (not a big loss if you ask me), and Nest E doesn’t have Nest’s flashy looks.

Unless you need the extra accessory terminal, most people prefer saving some money with the ecobee3 Lite over the ecobee4. However, when choosing between Nest and Nest Thermostat E, I think more than a few people pay the extra money to get the looks of Nest even if they don’t need the accessory terminal.


7. Energy Reports

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 and let it do its thing. But, that’s not me. I want to see some details.

ecobee

The ecobee data reports blow the competition (Nest) away. It records and analyzes HVAC data for a full 18 months. All temperature and motion data from both the thermostat and the remote sensors is recorded.

Their analysis tool is called Home IQ. It's accessible via the web console and it’s provided free of charge by ecobee for as long as you own the thermostat.

Home IQ 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. (See my ecobee review for more details on Home IQ).

Nest

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.

Which is Better?

With ecobee, everything is recorded and visible in chart form. Every time you manually change the setpoint, it gets recorded. Every time the thermostat takes any kind of smart action, it gets recorded.

You can go back 18 months and see minute-by-minute data from the sensors (motion and temperature), home temperature and outdoor temperature, set points, hold events, and smart events. 

Bottom line: if you’re looking for energy reports and analysis, ecobee with Home IQ is the way to go. Nest has closed the gap some, but ecobee remains the superior option here.


8. Remote Sensors

The temperature where your thermostat is installed might be different than the temperature where you spend most of your time. Remote sensors allow the thermostat to take readings from any room throughout your home and adjust accordingly.

ecobee

ecobee’s remote sensors can be placed wherever they are needed in your home.

They send temperature and motion data back to the ecobee (more info). 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.

Nest

Ever since the release of the ecobee3 several years ago, their 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.

Which is Better?

ecobee’s sensors have motion sensing and Nest’s do not. That means Nest’s sensor driven features are at a disadvantage (relative to ecobee) from the start.


Quick Summary

ecobee

VS

Nest

1. Look and Feel
  • ecobee looks good, but doesn't have the same "wow" factor as Nest.
  • Nest has a beautiful, modern design and sturdy metal construction.
2. Schedule Learning
  • ecobee doesn't have schedule learning capability.
  • Nest records your changes and learns your preferences over time. It automatically makes small adjustments to try to save energy.
3. Voice Control
  • ecobee supports all 3 major voice assistants and has an Alexa speaker built into it.
  • Nest supports Google assistant and Alexa but not Apple HomeKit.
4. Geofencing
  • ecobee natively supports geofencing for 1 phone. To make it work with multiple phones requires extra work and third-party apps.
  • Nest has native geofencing with multiple phones and works seamlessly with other Nest devices (Home/Away Assist).
5. C-Wire
  • ecobee requires a c-wire, but comes with a c-wire adapter called the Power Extender Kit (PEK).
  • Nest doesn't require a c-wire. Uses "power stealing" instead.
6. Low-Cost Version
  • ecobee3 Lite has the same features as the ecobee4 but doesn't come with a sensor, Alexa speaker, or support for an accessory. 
  • Nest Thermostat E has all the same features of Nest but it lacks support for an accessory. It also looks way less shiny.
7. Energy Reports
  • ecobee keeps 18 months of detailed charts for temperature, motion, and weather.
  • Nest has improved its data feedback but lacks the charts and detail of ecobee.
8. Remote Sensors
  • ecobee sensors record temperature and motion. Included with purchase of ecobee4.
  • Nest sensors sense temperature only (lacks motion). Must be purchased separately.

Final Thoughts

Right out of the box, 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 ecobee gives you nearly as much smarts as the Nest and backs that up with superior customization and data feedback. Plus, it’s remote sensors give it some unique abilities. It’s a solid product from a solid company that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


Eric Blank

Eric Blank blogs about smart homes and other connected technology here at thesmartcave.com. He enjoys technology, sports, outdoors, and dabbles in the dark realm of politics. He dreams of someday living in a castle on an island but for now will settle for smalltown, USA.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
scott - a couple of years ago Reply

Great thorough review!

Spencer D Lloyd - a couple of weeks ago Reply

Good article. I’m moving, and based on this will go with a Nest compared to my current Ecobee. I think my wife will find the Nest easier to use.

Mary Luchan - last week Reply

We are retired so we aren’t on a daily schedule. How does the Nest react or know when we aren’t there?

    Eric Blank - 7 days ago Reply

    The best way is the geofencing feature. It can keep track of your location using your smartphone’s GPS and switch to away mode if you leave your home.

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