One of the first smart devices on the market was a smart thermostat. In many ways, this makes sense. A thermostat is a simple device, but there are a lot of environmental factors. By giving it the smart treatment, consumers gained access to features like scheduled heating and cooling, weather dependent control, and a more pleasant interface.
Today, there are plenty of smart thermostats on the market. At first, the latest version of the Ecobee seems like just another contender in a crowded marketplace. However, the Ecobee goes beyond what your typical thermostat offers. The manufacturer wants you to reconsider what purpose a thermostat should serve in your home. We’re going hands-on with the latest version to see what this handy little device can do for you, and see what’s changed since the previous versions.
There are two main components to the Ecobee 4. You’ve go the thermostat itself, which provides an interface between yourself and your HVAC system. You’ve also go the much smaller sensor, which actually measures the environmental variables. Beyond the setup process, you’ll never have any interaction with the sensor. Bit this is actually the focal point of the whole system, and one of the reasons that the Ecobee is so much more powerful than competing models.
The Ecobee syncs up with a variety of smart home services. Not only does this enhance the way that it controls the environment of your house, but it also provides access to a number of other features that come in handy.
The Ecobee is heavily integrated into your home. This means that the setup procedure is a little more complicated than some smart devices, and can anywhere from 20 minutes for a modern home, to 1.5 hours for an older home.
The first step is to turn off your HVAC system and remove your old thermostat. We took a photo of the wiring before we removed it. There are up to 8 wires in place. A handy wiring guide is included, so you know which is which. Possible wires are for the heating, cooling, fans, a heat pump, power, and humidifiers / dehumidifiers. You might not have all of these HVAC systems in your home, and the Ecobee can compensate for this by controlling only the systems you control.
Some older HVAC systems built in the 80s or earlier do not have power at the thermostat. If this is the case, you’ll need to install a power extender kit. This is the only complicated part of the process, but most will not need to do it. Most smart thermostats don’t work in homes with old HVAC systems, so this can save you a lot of money. Additionally, wiring many smart thermostats incorrectly can damage some HVAC systems. But the Ecobee checks all your wiring for you before it activates the terminals. If there is a problem, you’ll know.
From this point, you simply attach the back plate to the wall with two screws, and wire everything up. There are simple screw in terminals for each wire, so this is easy even for novices. After attaching the Ecobee to the wall for the first time, you can power it on. The simple setup procedure will identify all of the hardware you’ve connected, get your networking information, and set your preferences. Preferences are all simple. You can choose your default temperatures, select whether you want to measure in Celsius of Fahrenheit, and set up an online account.
Finally, you connect the sensor. You simply turn it on while in the same room as the Ecobee, and it will detect it. After giving it a name, you’ll be able to place the sensor anywhere in your home you like.
Although controlling your HVAC system is just one part of what the Ecobee 4 can do, it is the main selling feature. This can be very different from your home thermostat, so it’s important to understand the differences.
The first and biggest difference is the location of the sensor. In every ‘dumb’ thermostat, the temperature is measured from the same place you control it. If it’s in the hall, you’re measuring the temperature in the hall. You’re probably used to that one room that’s always cold, or the one that gets too hot. If somebody opens a window near the thermostat, your whole home will get hot since it think the temperature is dropping everywhere.
By placing the sensor in the room you use the most, you’ll get the most from the Ecobee. You can even add more sensors around the house if you like. It knows whether there is somebody in the room or not. As you move around the house, the temperature will be automatically adjusted to match the room you’re in.
Without any additional setup, the Ecobee made our home much more comfortable. It tracks the weather online, making sure to bump up the heat or turn on the AC right before a quick weather change.
If you do like to tweak settings, you can get even more from it. You can set the times when you’re out of the house. It will turn off the HVAC system while you’re gone, starting it up in time to warm up your home for your return.
The Ecobee 4 does so much more than just control your temperature. The most notable feature is it’s integration with Amazons Echo service. There is a high precision microphone built in. As long as the Ecobee itself or a sensor is in the room with you, you can simply speak commands at it. The obvious choices would be things like “turn up the heat” or “it’s too cold in here.” But you’re not limited to your typical thermostat functions. Saying “Alexa, set an alarm for 7AM” will set an alarm either on the Ecobee itself, or any other device you have set up with Alexa. You can create to-do lists, start music playing, have it solve math problems, check on the sports scores, and much more. The possibilities are nearly endless.
The Ecobee also connects with smart-home services like Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, IFTTT, and Google Home. This means that you can use the voice commands to operate any other smart device you have in your home. Alternately, you can use another method of control (such as an app on your phone) to control the temperature.
The Ecobee has a sleek and simple device with a black and white OLED display. It has a touchscreen interface with four navigational buttons on the bottom, similar to early android phones. There is a blue light bar on top that indicated that the Ecobee is listening for Alexa commands. By all regards, it’s a good looking piece of hardware. After using it for while, we came to realize that it really doesn’t matter. They could have made the Ecobee a boring beige box and we’d still have been just as happy with it. Other than the occasional glance at the current temperature, we never actually use the display. Everything that the Ecobee can do can easily be controlled through voice.
If we wanted to use a digital interface to sift through settings, we’d just use our existing smart home system to control the Ecobee along with all of our other smart devices. If we wanted something stylish to hang on our wall, we’d get a Nest Thermostat. The Nest looks better, and you spend a lot of time working with that interface. But once you’ve got it installed, you don’t really think of it as a thermostat. It’s not just a thing on your wall that controls stuff. It’s a presence. If we want something, we simply say so in a basic speaking voice.
The look and feel of the Ecobee 4 is acceptable, but it’s completely unremarkable. It wasn’t designed to be.
If you already own an Amazon Echo, or other Alexa enabled hardware, you know how fantastic the service is. Unfortunately, if you want an Ecobee 4 you’re going to have to get rid of any other Alexa enabled hardware you have in the same room. It doesn’t extend the Echo, it replaces it.
Newer Alexa enabled hardware has something called ESP – Echo Spatial Processing. If two devices hear the same command, they check to see which one is closer, and only the closest one responds. The Ecobee 4 doesn’t support ESP. Since Amazon designed Alexa to produce varied, natural sounding responses, speaking a command in a room with two Alexa enabled devices means you’ve got two virtual voice saying two different things at the same time – not very useful.
We’re huge fans of Alexa, so it should be obvious that the Ecobee 4 is our favorite smart thermostat. Whether you have low or high expectations, you won’t be disappointed.
Just want a better thermostat? No problem. You can plug the it in, place the sensor in your busiest room, and never speak a single command or change a single setting. It will do a better job than your old thermostat thanks to an improved sensor and the ability to pull weather data from the internet.
Want something that will provide a voice activated connection to every other smart device you own? Or maybe ant something that will integrate silently into your existing smart home system without changing any of your settings or forcing you to use it’s own proprietary app? No matter what you want, the latest version of the Ecobee 4 is designed for you. It’s the most customizable option on the market, and it’s certainly the best performing. Even though it says “thermostat” on the box, the Ecobee 4 can be so much more.