ProsEcobee room sensors represent next-gen technology; broad smart device compatibility
ConsSetting temperature based on home average takes some getting used to; unintuitive menus
The Smart Home market has been evolving at a rapid pace, but it's still a veritable Wild West, with plenty of startups coming and going, tales of intrigue as small players are bought up or bought out, and long-time players in the home improvement arena working hard to keep up with the newcomers. While the first area of connected home products that really took off was lighting, tech enthusiasts have long clamored for a better way to control another critical aspect of the home environment: heating and air conditioning. And while the thermostat has been around for a very long time, getting it "connected" was the first step towards truly revolutionizing the way we condition our home's air.
That's where upstart Ecobee and its sleek Ecobee 3 Smarter Thermostat joins the fray. You see, a handful of bigger names took the first steps of the revolution, but Ecobee is leading the second wave. We find it a bit humorous, for instance, that Google bought Nest, maker of the iconic Nest Thermostat, for $3.2 billion in January 2014, and then watched quietly as Nest proceeded to do absolutely nothing of merit ever since. Sure, the Nest thermostat is cute, but trust us, it's no longer cutting edge, and in fact we're not sure it ever really was, beyond its Apple-inspired styling.
So what makes the Ecobee 3 different from Nest and a whole host of other WiFi thermostats vying for your attention? Simple: the Ecobee remote sensor, one of which comes in the box with the Ecobee 3. This little contraption turns home heating and air conditioning completely on its head. Ecobee has realized that it's so 19th century to set your home's heating and cooling needs based on the temperature right in front of the thermostat, because if you're like most people, you don't live in a one-room farmhouse.
Of course, Ecobee allows you to monitor and control your home's temperature from your phone, and will even interface with Amazon's Echo to allow for voice control. We think these are swell features, but they aren't what set the Ecobee 3 apart, and they aren't enough to make a "smarter" thermostat. That's because simply piling on additional ways to manually control your thermostat is just the tip of the iceberg, and frankly we don't even think it's a feature most people will use regularly.
With that introduction out of the way, let's dive in to what makes the Ecobee so very unique, while also looking at some of the challenges Ecobee faces in making its device a must-have not just for tech enthusiasts, but for every homeowner.
Description and Features
First off, as with many startups nowadays, Ecobee has created some appealing iconography a la Apple to get people excited. While we won't argue that the buzzing bee is indeed cute, perhaps it's just a bit overdone. We wonder how many folks are going to be affixing the bee stickers that come in the box to their front doors, car windows, or refrigerators! Luckily, you get some other more useful items in the box, as shown below:
The most important items above are the handy extended thermostat mount that allows you to attach your Ecobee to the wall without repainting, along with the Ecobee remote sensor with stand, and finally "Power Extender Kit", or PEK, which acts as a C-wire converter. This little box is unique as far as we know in the thermostat market, and it allows the Ecobee 3 to work with furnaces that pre-date the adoption of the common-wire standard. This common wire, which is typically blue, is used to power full-featured thermostats, and older homes likely don't have one. As long as you're a bit handy, you can pry open your furnace's control panel and re-wire it with the converter box. Luckily, we didn't have to do this, and based on our initial inspection of our furnace, we wouldn't suggest that you do so unless you've tinkered with your furnace previously. It's a nice feature to offer, nonetheless, and we applaud Ecobee for realizing that not everyone updates their furnaces quite as often as their smartphones!
By the way, in addition to interoperability with the Amazon Echo, the Ecobee 3 will also pair with the bargain-priced Wink Hub to allow for a bit more home integration. That being said, you don't need a hub to enable smartphone controls, as Ecobee provides its own app, and our opinion is that thermostats are a bit too complicated to easily program using third-party apps like the Wink App. Again, it's a nice feature to throw in, but we don't suggest anyone buy the Ecobee solely for its Wink compatibility. The same goes for Apple's Homekit, which in our opinion is more show than go, and despite Apple's early entry into the market, likely won't become the iTunes of this decade.
All right, let's move on to how the Ecobee performs in real-world use, because in our opinion, it really is different from every other smart thermostat out there. Is it better? Read on to find out!