ProsEcobee room sensors represent next-gen technology; Amazon Alexa voice service built in; sleek design
ConsSetting temperature based on home average takes some getting used to
There are a whole lot of products you can buy at this point that are branded as "Smart Home," but very few have actual smarts built into them. A great exception is the Smart Thermostat category, but even then, there are just a couple of manufacturers offering truly "smart" products, among these being Ecobee. It's been around for a number of years, but really rose to prominence with its Ecobee 3 product, originally released in 2014, which we reviewed in 2016. While Ecobee has always been in the shadows of Nest in the Smart Thermostat arena in terms of sales and popularity, that doesn't mean it's behind from a technology standpoint. To the contrary, Ecobee has been at the forefront of introducting new, useful features to the market, and the Ecobee 4 that we're reviewing here is a prime example of that.
The big change we've seen since 2016 is the ascendance voice control in general, and in particularAmazon's Alexa voice service. While Smart Home was originally marketed with an eye to scheduling and automation, consumers have gravitated much more strongly to voice control as a driving factor in Smart Home adoption. Perhaps that's because it's a little less "geeky," while also being more engaging, as compared to "programming" your home. Ecobee saw this change coming far in advance, and so integrated Amazon's Alexa voice service directly into the Ecobee 4. Of course, Ecobee's pioneering smart sensors are also part of the package, and like the Ecobee 3, the Ecobee 4 includes one wireless remote sensor, with the ability to connect to a maximum of 32 sensors. This truly sets it apart from everything else on the market, and redefines how we think of home temperature control.
So let's take a closer look at the Ecobee 4 and determine just how far Ecobee has come in setting the standard by which all other thermostats should be judged.
Thank you to Ecobee for providing a sample of its Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat for this review.
Description and Features
The Ecobee 4 features the same sleek styling that Ecobee thermostats have offered for years, and it's truly stood the test of time. It still looks great on the wall. With that said, we'd really like Ecobee to consider expanding the screen to fill the full front fascia of the Ecobee, a la most current smartphones. The "bezel-less" look is definitely in vogue at this point, and we were a bit surprised when we first plugged in the Ecobee 4 and were greeted by a display that filled only about half the screen. In part we think this stems from Ecobee's desire to mimic the vertical orientation of a smartphone screen, but given how much the Ecobee app and the thermostat have diverged in terms of menus at this point, it would probably be better to give the Ecobee a ground-up UI redesign that better used the space provided.
In addition to the thermostat itself, the package comes with mounting hardware and the all-important wireless room sensor. We'll discuss in depth how it works on the next page, but to be clear, the sensor is a critical piece of what makes the Ecobee 4 so good. As with the Ecobee 3, the Ecobee 4 also includes a "Power Extender Kit", or PEK, which acts as a C-wire converter. This little box allows the Ecobee 4 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, but older furnaces probably weren't wired with 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!
Speaking of smartphones, here we have a screenshot of the app being accessed while we were out of the house. That's a critical fact, as you can see the Ecobee has engaged its "Smart Away" feature, which reduces the temperature if it senses no motion for an extended period of time. We'll discuss this feature more on the next page, but it clearly has the potential to save you a lot of money if you regularly leave home without manually setting or programming an away temperature. Note that there's also a "Smart Home" feature, which senses if you're at home (again through motion sensing) even if your thermostat is set to "away" mode, and will engage your home preset for greater comfort.
Another great feature of the Ecobee is its simple setup process and robust scheduling system. Setup was very easy, and as soon as we flipped our circuit breaker back on (don't forget to turn it off before installation), the Ecobee 4 turned on and began the setup procedure. We will note that it doesn't boot instantly, and this was a bit of an annoyance during testing, during which we removed and reseated the Ecobee several times, thus leading to it resetting. Luckily, once it's on, it's very responsive, unlike a lot of its competitors, which have poor touchscreen sensitivity and a laggy feel to their controls. That means it's easy to set up the Ecobee 4 to work like a conventional programmable thermostat by just setting a home, away, and sleep temperature, or adding your own custom profiles (we added "Evening", as shown in the accompanying screenshot). The real magic of the Ecobee 4, however, isn't that it allows you to set a temperature program, or control it from afar; it's that it can do things better than you can, and we'll talk more about on the next page.
Now, with all of this said, the big new innovation of the Ecobee 4 is the built-in Amazon Alexa voice service. It offered most of the functionality of all our dedicated Amazon Echo devices, up to and including playing music, reporting the news, and controlling our Smart Home network. The only exceptions are that it can't be assigned to a specific room, can't be included in a group music group, and doesn't have built-in Bluetooth, and thus can't transmit its audio to a separate speaker for enhanced sound. Even with these omissions, the addition of Alexa adds about $25 of value to the Ecobee 4, and really vaults it into a different league versus its competitors, allowing consumers to experience the benefits of voice control without having to add any other devices. Once you have voice control in your home, you simply won't want to give it up, trust us on that.
By the way, in addition to interoperability with the Amazon Alexa service and all Amazon Echo devices, the Ecobee 4 will also pair with the last remaining major Smart Home hub on the market, the Samsung SmartThings Hub (3rd Gen), which we reviewed here. While you can get some basic Smart Home interactions set up without a separate Hub (or with Amazon's Echo Plus and Echo Show 2nd Gen, which both have Zigbee radios built in), SmartThings is the way to go for a serious Smart Home system. Alas, in our testing, some of the most obvious Smart Home automations, like having a SmartThings door sensor trigger the Ecobee 4 to resume its "home" setting, simply didn't work. Given that the hub compatibility is really a value-added feature for the Ecobee 4, rather than a core feature, we'll set it aside for the rest of the review. It's simply too hard to pinpoint exactly why a trigger like the one we described didn't work, and we'd rather just talk about how the Ecobee 4 stands on its own, given that it has a whole lot of smarts built in. Ideally, though, things like turning on lights, arming or disarming an alarm, and locking or unlocking a door could all serve to automate Ecobee's functions.
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!