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Ecobee3 smart thermostat review: It's all about that sensor

Canada-based Ecobee has been at the smart thermostat game for longer than most, and the Ecobee3 continues the trend of innovative and unique solutions for smart temperature control. The Ecobee3 isn’t quite like any other thermostat we’ve tested and for the right household, it makes a better solution than even the Nest.

Installation and Setup

Like the Wiser Air, the black, rounded plastic square of the Ecobee3 either requires the C-wire or a somewhat complex wire box (which is included) to work. If you have a C-wire, installation is a breeze and the setup is simple, quick, and intuitive thanks to the excellent touchscreen interface. After the initial setup, you can use either the mobile app or the website to control the Ecobee. The touchscreen interface is intuitive, showing heating or cooling, current temperature, goal temperature, and allows deeper menu choices.

The big difference between the Ecobee3 and its competitors is the included mini sensor. You place this in another room of your house, allowing the Ecobee3 to compensate for the different temperatures of the rooms. The unit only comes with one sensor, but you can add more without a problem: They cost about $70 for a two-pack. Interestingly, the sensors link only to the main thermostat, so you can’t set them up via the mobile app. Once set, however, you can just place them and forget them. The company says the button cell battery in each sensor should last about four years.

Ecobee

Ecobee's app is one reason why this is our top pick smart among smart thermostats.

These sensors are central to how the Ecobee3 works. In addition to sending the thermostat information about the temperature at their location, they are also motion sensors. This is important because the Ecobee3 doesn’t have geofencing functionality out of the box. Instead, it monitors movement around the main unit and the sensors to know when someone is at home (and where they are). Ecobee3 allows users to create a workaround for enabling geofencing through the use of IFTTT and/or Apple HomeKit devices, but that’s not an ideal solution.

While the ideal setup for this sensor-based approach would also involve some way to control the actual flow of temperature-controlled air in individual rooms (like smart vents, for instance), it still works surprisingly well. So, if your bedroom is particularly cold in comparison to your thermostat’s location, the Ecobee3 is a better choice than other smart alternatives. The downside of this system is that pumping more heat through the house to get a single room up to a certain point can make the area around the Ecobee3 hotter than you might like.

Features

Initial setup to let the Ecobee3 know your temperature preferences is as simple as picking a top and bottom end temperature, but the Ecobee3’s focus on simplicity hurts it when it comes to manually scheduling anything more detailed than the temperatures you want for being home, asleep, and away. There’s virtually no fine gradation, so if you want the temperature warmer when you first wake up with a nice burst of heat, but then want to keep things cooler in the late afternoon, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Like the Nest, you must set the Ecobee3 to “cool” only (not Auto switching back and forth between heating and cooling) so you can enforce only running the HVAC if the temperature goes above a certain set point. Otherwise, the Ecobee3 “anticipated” that we’d want the house that temperature right away, rather than letting the house slowly heat to the set point temperature.

Ecobee

We dig the Ecobee3's sharp display.

Comprehensive weather reporting is another benefit of the sharp display. You can easily read current and forecasted weather conditions on the clean interfaces of the unit and the app. Although the ecobee3’s compatible device list isn’t as expansive as the Nest’s, it will link with SmartThings, Control4, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Echo (but not Google Home), Vera smart home systems, and IFTTT. The platform is wide open for developers interested in connecting with it in future smart home devices.

Finally, the Ecobee3 keeps a wide range of usage data that should appeal to those who like to know everything that goes on with their HVAC system. Similar to Lux Geo’s data tracking, but even more expansive, it’s a great feature that I wish more of these systems used. Unfortunately, it only starts tracking after a full month of usage and, due to the volume of data it displays, is only available on the website.

Bottom line

For dealing with a house with distinct hot and cold spots, the Ecobee3 is easily the best choice. The addition of the remote sensors enables you to track and compensate for temperature changes throughout the house. While it’s not a perfect solution, it’s the only thermostat with an easy to implement solution for the common problem of some rooms being consistently hotter or colder than the rest of the house. The Ecobee3 compares favorably to the Nest because of the remote sensors. The sharp touchscreen interface and ease of use are also noteworthy.

IDG Insider

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