Smart thermostats can keep your comfy and help you save big on energy costs, but maybe you've held off because you don't think it's worth the hassle. The 3rd Generation Nest Learning Thermostat isn't a huge leap forward from previous models — it has a larger and easier to read display, and can detect movement from farther away. However, it's not just the hardware, but the technology behind it that makes the $249 Nest so compelling. It can learn your behavior and adjust the temperature accordingly, and Nest's new connected home platform promises even more integration with other smart home devices. Read on to see why it's well worth the investment, and on our list of the best smart thermostats.
Editor's Note: This review was updated on 3/3/16 to reflect the fact that the Nest is compatible with the Amazon Echo.
Size-wise, the third-generation Nest is about the same as the last version: A ring of brushed stainless-steel 3.3 inches in diameter and 1.26 inches thick. It has a wonderful, weighty feel, especially when rotating the dial. It just feels right. The Ecobee3 thermostat has a chic all-black look, but the Nest's metal ring gives it an edge in the looks department.
The new Nest, though, has a 40 percent larger and sharper display, measuring 3 inches in diameter and with a resolution of 480 x 480 pixels. (The second-generation Nest had a 320 x 320-pixel display.) As a result, the bezel around the display is much thinner, and the screen is much easier to see from across a room.
The third-generation Nest includes a host of new features that are being filtered down to earlier generations of the product. These include Auto-schedule, in which the Nest learns the temperatures you like and automatically programs itself, and Auto-away mode, which turns the temperature down when it senses you're not home. The Furnace Heads-Up feature will alert you if it detects irregular shutoff patterns with your furnace.
Unique to the third-generation Nest is a feature called Farsight, which can sense your presence from across the room, and light up to show you the temperature and time. You can choose between a digital or an analog face.
As with its previous thermostats, the third-generation Nest requires you to use it for about a week or so to learn your preferences when it comes to heating and cooling your home. As the temperature during the weeks I tested the Nest were fairly moderate, the thermostat barely had to turn on at all.
However, I was able to test the accuracy of Nest's Auto-Away mode; although the calendar view in the Nest app isn't too precise, it looks like Auto-Away began about half an hour or so after I actually left my apartment. If you want it to be more immediate, you can create a trigger using IFTTT (If-This-Then-That, a free cloud-based service), or some other connected device, such as a Jawbone Up or Misfit Shine.
Unlike the Ecobee3, which can be paired with multiple sensors in each room, the Nest covers only one area. If you purchase additional Nest thermostats, (you can have up to 20 per home) they will work in concert with each other. However, this will require thermostat wiring to be in those rooms.
On the other hand, the Ecobee3 has to be manually switched from Heat to Cool mode; the Nest can do it automatically.
One of the key selling points of any smart thermostat is its ability to connect with other smart home products. While this Google-owned product is not compatible with Apple's HomeKit program — and I seriously doubt it will ever be — Nest has launched the Nest Weave and Works with Nest program, where third-party developers will be able to use the Nest API and Thread networking platform to connect their own smart home devices.
In a nutshell, Nest Weave is a low-power mesh network that can be used with devices running solely on battery power — say, a smart lock or window sensor — and can create an ad-hoc network throughout your house. As of this writing, only one device with Nest Weave has been announced — a smart lock from Yale — but other companies, such as Philips, Lutron and GE, have said they plan to release compatible products.
But even now, the Nest thermostat works with a wide range of smart home devices (via Wi-Fi), including the Logitech Harmony remotes, Philips Hue lights, Misfit activity trackers, appliances from Whirlpool, LG and GE, and smart locks from Kevo, August and Yale. And, with Google's acquisition of Dropcam — and its rebranding as the Nest Cam —you can set that device to automatically alert you if the thermostat is set to Away mode, and it detects motion.
In addition, you can connect the Nest to the IFTTT platform, which will let you automatically adjust the thermostat's settings based on other triggers. Here is a list of the full range of devices that work with the Nest.
Of course, the Nest isn't well integrated with iOS. By comparison, the Ecobee3 is now HomeKit- compatible, which means that you can tell Siri to change the temperature, or control the thermostat right from the iPhone’s home screen or an Apple Watch.
Update (3/3/2016): The Nest, like the Ecobee, is now compatible with Amazon's Echo, which allows you to change the temperature using voice commands (e.g. "Alexa, tell Thermostat to set the temperature to 68 degrees."). You can also ask Alexa to tell you the current status of the Nest.
Installation and Setup: A Little Elbow Grease Required
If you know how to use a screwdriver, you can probably install the Nest yourself in about half an hour, if not less. Not only does Nest provide easy-to-follow step-by-step directions, but it even includes a screwdriver — you don’t get that with other smart thermostat kits.
First, turn off the power to your current thermostat and remove it from your wall. Then, you screw the Nest baseplate to your wall, and attach the wires from your heating/air conditioning system to the base. Then, attach the top portion of the Nest to the baseplate and turn the power back on.
After it boots up, the Nest will then walk you through a number of on-screen menus to complete the setup process. This includes connecting it to your Wi-Fi network, setting your preferred temperatures, and creating an online account.
In choosing between smart thermostats, the Nest is pretty evenly matched with the Ecobee3. Both are attractive, easy to install and use, and can connect to a wide range of other smart home devices. I give the Ecobee a slight edge, because its secondary sensor lets you easily monitor the temperature in a second room, it's compatible with Apple's HomeKit, and its geofencing feature takes the guesswork out of knowing when to switch from home to Away mode.
But that doesn't make the Nest any less compelling. Because it's owned by Google, it’s more tightly integrated into other smart home products, such as the Nest Cam and the Nest Protect smoke detector. And, with the new Nest Weave platform, which other companies can incorporate into their own products, it has a better chance of creating an even stronger network of smart home devices. It’s a great thermostat that only promises to get better.