In the past few years, smart thermostats have gone from a niche product to one that’s accessible to most homeowners. If you don’t have them installed in your home already, you’ve probably seen the small screens on walls at a friend’s house or on display at a local electronics stores.
While many companies are starting to produce their own smart thermostat technology, the two most popular products were some of the first to hit the market. The Nest, backed by Google, turns 8 years old in 2019. Their main competitor, the ecobee, first hit the market ten years ago.
If you’re considering installing a smart thermostat, you need to understand the major differences between these two leading brands. The third generation Nest and the ecobee4 are priced similarly, between $180 and $250 on Amazon, so an understanding of the devices’ unique features can help you make a choice.
Nest vs. ecobee: starting with the basics
Both the Nest and ecobee4 include the main functions of a smart thermostat. You can use them to change the temperature throughout your home and, because they’re “smart,” you can communicate with them through your smartphone (as well as some compatible smart speakers).
The Nest and the ecobee also offer geofencing. Geofencing technology sets up virtual perimeters around your home. When the technology is enabled, these smart thermostats know whether you (or, more accurately, your phone) are either inside or outside the perimeter. As a result, smart thermostats with geofencing can detect when you’ve left your home and adjust the temperature accordingly, allowing you to save money. Similarly, they will know when you’re about to return, and can program the home back to your preferred temperature.
Room temperature sensors, a feature that was long unique to the ecobee, is now available for the Nest as well. Adding additional sensors throughout your home means the thermostat system no longer relies solely on the temperature reading where the main thermostat is located. It’s often the case that the thermostat itself is located in a hallway or kitchen. That location may have a temperature which is much different than a basement or bedroom. Now with both the Nest and the ecobee you can add sensors to those areas, so your thermostat will have a much better understanding of the true temperature throughout your home.
Finally, the Nest and the ecobee4 have both earned the Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR label. According to the DOE, “smart thermostats that earn the ENERGY STAR label have been independently certified, based on actual field data, to deliver energy savings.”
Unique features of the Nest smart thermostat
Nest calls its flagship thermostat a “learning” thermostat. It can learn from your preferences and adjust your home’s temperature to your liking automatically. After a few days or weeks of observing your habits and preferences, the Nest gathers enough information to understand when it should make automatic adjustments for you.
For example, if you like the temperature a few degrees lower while you sleep and you lower the temperature down to 65 degrees around the same time every night, eventually the Nest will understand this habit and make the adjustment for you.
In some locations, Nest offers an opt-in service that will adjust the temperature for you in an effort to help you save money. If you qualify for and opt into the program, the Nest will use both your preferences and data from your utility to make temperature adjustments, which can reduce your electric bill even further.
The Nest has a clean, simple interface and it comes in four different styles: copper, stainless steel, black, and white.
Google, and its holding company Alphabet, have owned Nest since 2014, but until February 2018 it was considered an Alphabet subsidiary and not fully integrated with Google’s other smart home products. It’s now being developed by Google as part of its division that handles other devices like the Chromecast, Pixel, and the Google Home.
Google’s blog post about the move says it “combine[s] hardware, software, and services.” In the future, developing these devices together could allow Google’s suite of products to become smarter and add more features.
Unique features of the ecobee4 smart thermostat
Though Nest recently added room sensors, their version lacks some of the functionality of ecobee’s. Both allow you to extend the temperature readings of your thermostat, but the ecobee’s room sensors also sense which rooms are occupied. Understanding which rooms are occupied helps the device prioritize, and it contributes to its geofencing readings.
Let’s say you and your family are in the basement, which tends to run colder than the rest of the house. If you’ve put a room sensor in the basement, the ecobee will know that’s the room to prioritize. It can make sure you’re comfortable there and, while you and your family are in the basement, it will care a bit less about other rooms in the house.
Another example is at night. You probably spend most of the night in your bedroom, which might run a little warmer than other areas of the home. With ecobee’s room sensor, the bedroom temperature gets priority instead of the kitchen or a hallway.
The ecobee can account for up to 32 room sensors, which you can control from the main thermostat or on your phone through an app. (The ecobee4 comes with one sensor, but additional sensors must be purchased separately.)
While the ecobee4 won’t learn your temperature preferences on its own, it can store that information and adjust the temperature accordingly. Through its scheduling features you can set your preferred temperatures for when you are home, asleep, or away. You can also input your calendar that it knows when to make adjustments.
Built-in Alexa voice service
The ecobee’s newest model also has Alexa voice service integration. A smart device with Alexa voice service integration means that the ecobee4 can act as a physical Alexa-enabled smart speaker and receiver itself.
Through its Amazon connection, the ecobee4 has more integration possibilities than the Nest, but not all Alexa “skills” are compatible. You can change the temperature with your voice, play music, and create lists, but most third party skills will not be available.
Amazon’s venture capital wing, the Alexa Fund, is an ecobee investor, so it would be fair to expect their integration to continue to deepen. If you feel committed to Amazon and Alexa products, ecobee could be a good choice.
Nest vs. ecobee smart thermostats: the bottom line
Google and Amazon compete head-to-head in many areas these days, and the smart thermostat category is no different. While Google has owned Nest for a few years, it recently fully integrated the thermostat with its other smart home products, meaning the products will learn from each other and continue to be developed together. The ecobee4 is backed by Amazon’s venture capital wing, and is itself an Alexa-enable smart speaker.
Choose the Nest for style & intelligence
If you’re a Google loyalist or if you care more about having a thermostat that develops a deep learning of your preferences over time, the Nest might be the best choice. The Learning Thermostat will take a few days to understand your habits, but will then start adjusting the temperature for you. If aesthetics are important, the Nest also has a slightly cleaner design that comes in four styles: copper, stainless steel, black, and white. In short, the Nest provides style and intelligence.
Choose the ecobee4 for maximum control & integration
If you put your faith in Amazon and its affiliated products, or if you care most about maintaining an efficient and balanced temperature, the ecobee4 may right for you. The ecobee4 isn’t just a thermostat for one room or hallway – it allows you to control the temperature in each room of your home individually. That can mean a more balanced home or a more efficient home, depending on your choice. In short, the ecobee4 provides maximum control and integration.