Nest Learning vs. Ecobee SmartThermostat: The Conclusive Guide

ecobee vs nest

After two years of testing Nest and Ecobee products, I’ve determined Ecobee SmartThermostat (Ecobee5) is the best smart thermostat because you’ll get the most control, flexibility and smart home compatibility. Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen) is a great system for those who lack the c-wire or want an easy installation with mindless money savings.

Want to learn how I reached this conclusion? Read on to see the detailed breakdown of user-friendliness, money-saving, and design that informed my overall impression.

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TL;DR? Skip to the conclusion

User-Friendliness

Ecobee B
Nest B+

Ease of Setup: Ecobee SmartThermostat

Summary: It works with 95% of HVAC systems. Unfortunately, if you don’t have the c-wire, you’ll need to open your HVAC system to install the Power Extender Kit (included), which requires more skill and time than just replacing your old thermostat.

How it works:

  • Ecobee doesn’t have an internal battery. You’ll need the c-wire for constant power. Not all houses have the c-wire, especially old ones.
  • If your system doesn’t have the c-wire, you’ll have to install the included “power-extender kit.” It’s a smart workaround, but more advanced because you’ll have to open your HVAC system. I did it on my own, and it’s not as hard as it sounds. Ecobee has a solid tutorial and here’s a great third-party tutorial.
  • Ecobee’s setup process is flawless if you have the c-wire. I’d grade the “Setup” section the same as Nest’s if you have the c-wire.

HVAC compatibility:

  • Ecobee works with 95% of HVAC systems (check here).

Ease of Setup: Nest Learning

Summary: It works with 95% of HVAC systems. Nest doesn’t require the c-wire, making the setup dead simple for all compatible systems.

How it works:

  • The setup is a easy. Nest provides on-screen step-by-step instructions. It’ll tell you which wires you’ve plugged in and if all of the signals are firing correctly. It gives you a checklist of things to do, like testing the cooling system. If things don’t work correctly, it provides troubleshooting steps.
  • You can set up Nest without the c-wire because Nest has a built-in battery. You don’t have to worry about changing wires on the furnace side, making installation a simple DIY job. To get the best performance, you may want a preexisting c-wire connected to your old thermostat to deliver constant power. Nest doesn’t need constant power because it has a battery.
  • Nest supports the 5GHz wireless band.

HVAC compatibility:


App: Ecobee SmartThermostat

Summary: Ecobee has better scheduling and works with more platforms (Siri, Alexa, Google) compared to Nest, which makes it better for those who plan to manually adjust it often. Ecobee SmartThermostat has a built-in Alexa speaker that works like an Echo Dot.

Ecobee app:

  • The Ecobee phone app is identical to the interface on the thermostat. I love the synergy between the two. You can control the temperature with your phone at any time and even when you’re not home.
  • The scheduling is easier to use and more precise than Nest.
  • Users often open the Ecobee app and find that they can’t connect to their thermostat because Ecobee’s servers have lots of downtime. I’ve been unable to connect just twice in two years, but I don’t use the app often because:
    • Once you have your preferences set up, you shouldn’t need to go inside the Ecobee app.
    • When I need to control my Ecobee manually, I use Apple’s Home App, which still works when Ecobee is having issues.
  • If you log into the online portal to see your patterns, savings, and how your usage compares to other users.

Third-party control:

  • It works with Apple HomeKit. Change the temperature with Siri, the Home App, or in the Control Center (swipe down from the top right of your iPhone).
  • It works with Alexa. Change the temperature with Alexa or the Alexa app.
  • It works with Google Assistant. Change the temperature with Google Assistant or the Google Home app.

Unique features:

  • Amazon’s Alexa is built into the Ecobee SmartThermostat. Alexa no longer gets in the way, as it did with Ecobee4, but there are things to consider:
    • Thermostats aren’t always in a central location or within speaking distance.
    • Most people don’t want a thermostat listening to their conversations. You can disable Alexa’s mic if you want.
  • Vacation Mode lets you set the exact date and time of your departure and return, along with the temperature you want the house to be while you’re away.

App: Nest Learning Thermostat

Summary: The temperature can be controlled in the Nest, Alexa, or Google Home apps, but Siri and the Apple Home app aren’t options. Ecobee is easier to use if you plan to frequently schedule manually.

Nest app:

  • Control the temperature with the Nest app at any time (even when you’re not home).
  • It’s difficult to use the Nest app for scheduling, but the web app is easy to use.
  • Additional $40 temperature sensors let you choose which room gets controlled by the thermostat, which helps to balance your temperature if your thermostat is in a remote location (e.g., hallway, irrelevant room).
  • The interface on the thermostat isn’t the same as the app.

Third-party control:

  • It works with Google Assistant. Change the temperature with Google Assistant or the Google Home app.
  • It works with Alexa. Change the temperature with Alexa or the Alexa app.
  • Nest doesn’t support Apple’s HomeKit. Nest will never work with Siri or Apple’s Home App.

Unique features:

  • The “Cool to Dry” feature uses your AC or heat pump to reduce excessive humidity.
  • The “True Radiant” feature helps reduce temperature swings that are typical of radiant systems.

Money-Saving

Ecobee A
Nest B+

Basic: Ecobee SmartThermostat

Summary: During setup, Ecobee asks for your preferred temperatures and periods when you’re typically home, away, and sleeping. Then, it uses two occupancy sensors (one on the thermostat and another from a different room) and switches into away mode when it detects you’re not home. Ecobee understands if you’re home better than Nest because of its extra occupancy sensor.

How it works:

  • Ecobee is more efficient than Nest at knowing if you’re away from home because it has a motion sensor on the thermostat and it uses additional SmartSensors to detect motion and temperature. One room sensor is included with Ecobee SmartThermostat, and up to 32 SmartSensors can be added to any Ecobee system. Five examples of Ecobee’s room sensors in action:
    • Smart Home/Away activates the “Smart Away” mode when all the sensors haven’t detected motion for two hours.
    • The “Follow Me” feature sees which room is being used, and makes that the room where the temperature is controlled. If multiple rooms are used, it uses the average temperature of each active sensor.
    • My bedroom gets hotter at night with my door shut than my Ecobee’s location. I put a room sensor in my bedroom and made that sensor in charge of the temperature at night.
    • If you have a big house or rooms with varying temperatures, put sensors in multiple rooms to get more control.
    • Keep in mind, Ecobee 3 Lite doesn’t include additional sensors, but they can be added to the system when purchased separately.
  • Ecobee lets you do up to +/- three degrees in temperature swing. In the winter, I set my Ecobee to 66 degrees with a 2.5 point swing, so my furnace doesn’t turn on until the temperature hits 63 degrees, then heats my house to about 67 before turning off. This lets your furnace run in longer increments but not as frequently. If you don’t mind a steeper temperature fluctuation, it should save you more money.

Basic: Nest Learning

Summary: Ideally, Nest will figure out your household’s patterns after a couple of weeks, and you won’t have to touch it again. Nest uses AI and machine learning to detect patterns and automatically optimize temperature settings by using the motion sensor on the thermostat to detect if you’re home.

How it works:

  • Nest Home/Away Assist activates “Eco Mode” when it thinks you’re away. It’ll use the sensor on your thermostat and the motion sensors from your other Nest products.
  • If you turn the heat up a couple of times at 8 AM, Nest will see that and start to do it on its own automatically. The “learning” isn’t perfect if you have a non-static schedule with lots of family members.
  • If you come home at the same time every day, Nest will get the temperature set to your liking before you arrive back home with Early-On.
  • You don’t have control of the temperature swing. It stays at one degree.
  • The “Airwave” feature keeps your AC’s fan running automatically for 5-10 minutes after the AC compressor stops running. This saves you money because the coils still generate cool air after the compressor is turned off. Why not use the free cool air that’s already been generated? (Ecobee can be manually set to do this.)

Home Automation: Ecobee SmartThermostat

Summary: Ecobee is a dream device for smart home owners or those who want to tinker with settings to optimize performance. Ecobee works with all major smart home platforms (Alexa, Google, Siri, SmartThings, Wink, Harmony, IFTTT), which means other smart home devices (e.g, lights, locks, etc.) can trigger Ecobee to change the temperature. There are multiple apps to create a geofence.

Geofence w/ Ecobee app:

  • Customize the radius size of your geofence so that Ecobee turns on or off when you hit a certain distance away from your home. Everyone in your household needs the Ecobee app installed and logged in for geofencing to work properly unless you’re part of an Apple household (see below). Theoretically, your heat can start once you get within five miles of your house (assuming that would make sense).
  • You might not need to worry about geofencing if you buy enough room sensors and spread them around the house because the sensors can override your geofence if they see activity in a room.

Platforms:

  • It works with all major smart home platforms (Alexa, HomeKit, Google, SmartThings, Wink, Harmony, IFTTT, and Vera).
  • Ecobee works with Apple’s HomeKit. Create automations in conjunction with your other smart devices in the Home App. For instance, I have an automation called “When The First Person Arrives Home” that sets my kitchen lights to 30% and Ecobee to my “Home” temperature when my fiancé or I get close to home.
  • If you have a gateway (iPad, HomePod, Apple TV) and everyone in your household has an iPhone, geofencing is easier because the Ecobee app doesn’t need to be on anyone’s phone for the thermostat to know the house is empty.

Home Automation: Nest Learning

Summary: Using your phone’s location (via a geofence) to tell Nest you’re away is essential to maximize money savings. A geofence is important if you have an inconsistent schedule, lots of household members, or a big house. Each household member needs the Nest app on their phone to work properly. Nest works with Google Assistant and Alexa, but it won’t work with other smart home platforms or automation services.

Geofence w/ Nest app:

  • You’ll need to rely on your phone’s location (geofencing) more heavily if you don’t have other Nest products or your thermostat isn’t in a central location.
  • The Nest app needs to be on every household member’s phone for geofencing to work properly.

Platforms:

  • Google has canceled the “Works With Nest” program giving customers less smart home integrations than previously available. New Nest customers can’t use smart home platforms like IFTTT, SmartThings, or Harmony.
  • Unfortunately, because Nest doesn’t work with HomeKit, iPhone users will miss out on home automations (including geofencing) in the Apple Home App.

Design

Ecobee C+
Nest A

Appearance: Ecobee SmartThermostat

Summary: Ecobee is made with cheaper materials, but it looks nice from far away. The touch screen works well and its interface matches the phone app.

Notes:

  • Ecobee has a 3.5″ touchscreen display that functions exactly like the phone app.
  • Ecobee SmartThermostat looks fantastic on the wall but doesn’t feel as nice as Nest. The base of the unit is made of plastic and is nothing like the sturdy feeling you get from Nest. Ecobee says the screen on SmartThermostat is made with “crisp glass” compared to Ecobee4’s plastic, but it feels only slightly more sturdy.

Appearance: Nest Learning

Summary: Nest is the best looking thermostat on the market. It’s made from premium materials, comes in seven colors, and the display resolution is sharper than Ecobee. Unfortunately, it uses a spin dial rather than a touch screen.

Notes:

  • It’s a piece of art and looks amazing on the wall. Even the screwdriver included is incredibly well made.
  • It comes in seven colors: Stainless Steel, Black, Copper, White, Mirror Black, Polished Steel, and Brass.
  • The resolution is also much sharper and better looking than Ecobee’s. It’s by far the best screen on the market.
  • You can customize the screen to your liking, and the display wakes when it senses your presence with Farsight. With previous iterations of the Nest, the screen only showed the desired temperature and not the current room temperature.
  • You spin the dial to navigate through the menus, then push the thermostat in to click. There’s no touchscreen, and it works similarly to the iPod click wheel. It’s not convenient, but you shouldn’t have to interact with the menus after setup.
  • The “Sunblock” feature automatically adjusts your Nest to read the correct temperature if it’s in direct sunlight.

Which is best for you?

ecobee5
  • User-Friendliness (B)
  • Money-Saving (A)
  • Design (C+)

Ecobee SmartThermostat

Get Ecobee SmartThermostat if you want more control and don’t want to be locked into Google’s ecosystem. It works with all smart home platforms, but it's a must-have for HomeKit users. Keep in mind, the c-wire is required, which makes setup harder than Nest if you don’t have have one.

Check Amazon’s Price

nest 3rd generation
  • User-Friendliness (B+)
  • Money-Saving (B+)
  • Design (A)

Nest Learning Thermostat

Get Nest Learning Thermostat if you want to save money on your energy bill without optimizing it yourself. It’s a great option for homes without the c-wire, non-techies, Android users, and those who prioritize craftsmanship. It’s fine for iPhone users but not ideal.

Check Amazon’s Price

Budget Options

Ecobee3 Lite was released in 2016 and sells for $169. Unfortunately, Ecobee has just one temperature sensor and doesn’t have an occupancy sensor built into the base. While room sensors aren’t included, a SmartSensor can be added to the system to help regulate the temperature and detect occupancy. Ecobee3 Lite is a great value if you don’t want Alexa or a SmartSensor.

Ecobee4 was released in 2017 and has been discontinued. It has two occupancy sensors and two temperature sensors. It comes with one SmartSensor to track temperature and occupancy in a second room. And it has built-in Alexa with an awful speaker. The mics don’t consistently pick up your voice either. It’s best to disable Alexa’s mic if you buy Ecobee4.

Google Nest Thermostat is the budget model and sells for $129. Nest cut a lot of corners to get the price down. It’s made of cheap plastic, the screen resolution is lower, it doesn’t work with multi-stage HVAC systems and is less compatible overall, it doesn’t have learning features, it doesn’t have the Farsight display, and it doesn’t work with the temperature sensors.

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I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old. I buy each device reviewed with MY money and don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.