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IT & Systems Management

Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat: Call it the anti-Nest

Honeywell's latest Wi-Fi thermostat, model number RTH9580WF, features a bright touchscreen display filled with information about your home's environment and your HVAC system's status. But after having a stainless-steel-and-glass Nest thermostat on my wall, this one was a visual letdown.

It's not as though Honeywell doesn't give you anything to look at. The Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat has a large, bright, colorful LCD with a background that you can program to match the color of the wall that it's mounted to. That's not hyperbole--you get three controls for tweaking the background color: A slider with 360 values for color, a second with a 100-point scale for shades, and a third slider for brightness. These same controls are also available for the font colors. If you get tired of trying to match your wall, simply choose from the 14 preset color schemes. But none of them will fool your eye into believing the thermostat itself is fabricated from anything other than plastic.

The Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat displays the current temperature and humidity (inside and out); the day, date, and time; your HVAC system's current operating mode (heating or cooling); the target temperature; and buttons for adjusting the target temperature. By displaying all this data in one busy screen, this thermostat is effectively the anti-Nest.

As with the second-generation Nest, however, you can rely on algorithms to program the Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat based on your daily comings and goings, or you can do it yourself, either by using the very responsive touchscreen or by logging in to Honeywell's Web portal after registering the thermostat online. Honeywell also offers Android and iOS apps for controlling and programming the thermostat.

The Web portal provides the easiest and most surefire method, with the mobile apps a close second. However you program the thermostat, it will trigger your HVAC system to heat and cool your house only when you're home to enjoy the climate control. The device will also monitor the life of your air filters, based not on the amount of time that has elapsed since you installed them but by how many hours the HVAC system has actively pulled air through them. High-quality air filters are essential to maintaining a healthy environment inside your home, but they're expensive. Replacing them prematurely is a waste of money.

Though Honeywell's system quickly adapted to my schedule, I'll stick with the ugly, monochromatic monstrosity of a thermostat that came with my Vivint home-control system. Rather than relying on someone to periodically walk past the thermostat to inform it that someone's home, the Vivint communicates with the motion and door/window sensors and the alarm panel in my home to know when it needs to heat or cool my house. System is armed, meaning no one's home? No need to heat or cool. System is not armed, meaning the motion sensors detect people in the house? Control the climate, please.

Honeywell's thermostat does have some nice features, though. One of these is a vacation schedule that can turn your HVAC system off when you anticipate being away from home for an extended period of time. If you're deploying the thermostat in an office environment, there's also a feature that lets you program the device with special settings for national holidays. You might not want to turn the system off entirely during such times, lest you end up with frozen water pipes on a cold winter day. But you can save a lot of energy by ignoring the needs of human beings when you know they won't be around to care.

Unfortunately, you can program these settings only at the thermostat itself. The Web portal seems designed for a lowest-common-denominator thermostat, such as Honeywell's model RTH8580WF, and doesn't take into account the features that this more-advanced model has to offer.

The second-generation Nest is prettier and easier to install, but Honeywell's thermostat provides a lot more information at a glance. They're equally smart and comparably priced, but the Nest's elegant aesthetic carries the day.

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