Our Top Pick for 2016: Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation
Read our full review.
Traditional-style thermostats are still the most common type found in most homes and businesses, but the new “smart” thermostats are making a huge impact on the market and rapidly changing what people expect their thermostats to do. For many, the most impressive feature of smart thermostats is the ability to control them remotely from your smartphone. However, there is much more that these products offer, particularly the ability to automate your hour-by-hour and day-by-day temperature settings as never before. The convenience and precision offered by smart thermostats far out-classes the thermostats of the past, but deciding which smart thermostat best fits your needs can be confusing, even daunting, task. Below, we present to you four of the best smart thermostats on the market and give you the information you need to make an informed decision on which one is right for you.
Table of contents
- #1 Gold Pick (1st Place Winner)
- #2 Silver Pick (2nd Place Runner-Up)
- #3 Bronze Pick (3rd Place)
- #4 Budget Pick (Best Cheap)
Works With Amazon Alexa
Works With Amazon Alexa
Simple Sleek Design
Comfort Boost Feature
Customize Screen Color
#1 Gold pick (Winner): Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation
View it on Amazon for $236.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Nest is the top-selling smart thermostat both at Amazon and across the board, and it is also the first modern smart thermostat to appear. It revolutionized the industry when it first came out, and it is now on its 3rd generation and only getting better as new innovations and improvements are added over time.
The Nest is round and has a glass-metal design, which makes it much more stylish than the traditional squarish, plastic look. Its sleek design is matched by its precise functionality and its numerous special smart features, all of which are quickly accessible via your smartphone. Its apps are truly impressive and can be used by multiple smartphones at once by any member of the family.
The Nest weighs only 1.3 pounds and has slim dimensions: 3.3 x 3.3 x 1.2 inches. It runs on a single lithium battery, which is included with initial purchase. You don’t have to intervene to charge the battery, for this is done automatically as needed. The digital display screen covers almost the entire front surface of the thermostat, so it is quite large. The digits are also large, making it easy to spot the temperature at a glance as you walk past. An LED light bulb powers the display. The Nest comes with a two-year, parts-only manufacturer’s warranty and is made in the U.S.A.
The Nest G-3 is mostly the same as the G-2, but the main differences include: an even thinner, sleeker design, a larger display area, and automatically lighting up for easy reading upon approach when enabled with Farsight software. The G-2 costs about $200, while the G-3 is usually around $250. Most find the upgrade well worth the extra $50.
Some of the most impressive features of the Nest include the following: auto-schedule, which means you never have to program manually it unless you want to; remote management, which allows you to change temperatures, check your usage history, and get alerts for over and under heating all from your smartphone; motion detector, which lowers energy usage based on whether built-in motion sensors detect movement in the room; and auto-away, which tracks your smartphone by GPS so temperatures can be auto-adjusted based on whether or not your are at home.
Besides attractiveness and high-tech control, the Nest offers the ability to save big on your energy bills. Most save at least 10 percent on heating and 15 percent on cooling. It is not uncommon, however, for monthly electric bills to shrink by anywhere from 20 to 50 percent if full advantage is taken of Nest’s capabilities. The Nest Leaf feature, which guides you in choosing energy-saving settings, makes it even easier to maximize your savings. Remember that thermostats have control over about half the electric bill of most homes, so the Nest smart thermostat can pay for itself in only a couple years.
The Nest is compatible with 95 percent of 24-V HVAC systems, regardless of whether they be gas, electric, forced air, solar, or something else. It is also compatible with Alexa to enable voice control. Finally, note that Nest is compatible with most smart home security systems.
What users liked most about the Nest were its auto-programming, auto-detection of whether anyone is home or in the room at the moment, the ability to control everything remotely from their smartphones, and quick and easy installation process. The Nest is more costly than most other systems, but there are few dissatisfied customers since it performs at such a high level.
Some have mentioned they dislike the display showing set-to temperature instead of actual temperature, though the actual “actually” is on-screen but in smaller digits. In some cases, depending on the type of HVAC system involved, you may need to use a C wire with Nest in order to prevent the battery from charging at the wrong times or starting up the heat or AC in order to charge. This is an easy fix, however, and only necessary with a limited number of systems. Finally, be sure not to install Nest in an infrequently used room since it functions partially based on motion detection.
If you are willing to pay a little more and want the absolute most advanced, high-powered smart thermostat, the Nest 3-G is probably the option for you.
#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): Honeywell RTH9580WF WiFi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat
View it on Amazon for $159.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Honeywell shares with the Nest some of the most basic features that constitute a thermostat “smart,” but beyond that, it is largely its polar opposite. This is not necessarily good or bad in itself, but the differences are great enough that different users will tend to strongly prefer one or the other.
The Honeywell smart thermostat can be programmed to your exact temperatures preferences based on a seven-day template, but you can also control all settings remotely from your smartphone or tablet. It also has the ability to program based on algorithms that read your daily departure and arrival times, but this is merely an option. You can also opt to enter everything through the touchscreen or at Honeywell’s Web portal. Furthermore, you can use iOS or Android apps to program the Honeywell. There are three modes: Permanent, Temporary, and Vacation. This means you can have a default schedule, make special exceptions, and pre-program vacation and holiday settings.
The unit is eight square inches in all, and the screen is significantly smaller than that of the Nest. Yet, on that screen, you will find a plethora of information. It tells you actual indoor temperature, set-to temperature, outdoor temperature, indoor and outdoor humidity, date, and time of day. You can also view five-day weather forecasts, detailed information on your AC or heater, and more. Display options include: screen saver, English, Spanish, or French, Fahrenheit or Celsius, and 12 vs. 24 hour time clock.
The LCD display has a bright background and numerous color options. You can make the color match the wall behind the device. There are 360 colors, 100 shades, and brightness settings. The fonts can also be changed to the desired color. If you don’t wish to get that involved, chose from the 14 pre-set color schemes.
The Honeywell gives you “intelligent alerts” so you know when to change your air filters, when the temperature is too high or too low, and when your Internet connection has been lost or restored. It also has three fan settings: On, Auto, and Circulate. It can automatically determine if your home needs heating or cooling to reach ideal comfort, and if you choose to have it do so, automatically switch over. You also have the option of controlling the Honeywell via voice commands.
The Honeywell smart thermostat, unlike the Nest, does not run on batteries. It is compatible with HVAC systems of 110 volts and up as well as with systems that require a C wire. I weighs only eight ounces, is encased in plastic, and measures 8.5 x 0.8 x 3.2 inches. It is fast and simple to set up, is a certified Energy Saving Thermostat, and has a lockable screen that uses a password. The Honeywell is made in Mexico, and it costs around $165.
The Honeywell is significantly less expensive than the Nest, though it does not measure up to the Nest’s tech and style standards. Nonetheless, it has many special features that go well beyond the basics. Its less automated programming is highly desirable to some customers, as is its abundant on-screen information. Others will consider such features more time-consuming and overly cluttered, respectively, but to a certain segment of the population, the Honeywell is the true “gold” instead of the “silver.”
#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): Schneider Electric Wiser Air Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat
View it on Amazon for $164.88*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Schneider Wiser Air smart thermostat is, in many ways, a compromise model between the Nest and the Honeywell. It partakes of the sleek style and some of the upscale tech features of the former but the greater immediate control and fuller on-screen data of the latter. It is even priced in between the two other smart thermometers reviewed above, at around $225.
The Wiser Air is square, not round like the Nest, but its design is still very “sleek and intuitive.” It has much the feel of a smartphone kind of set up on the display screen. It weighs in somewhat heavy at 2.4 pounds, but once on the wall, that will be a non-issue. Its dimensions are slim, however, at 1 x 4 x 4 inches. It comes in two different colors: black and white.
Wiser Air’s screen auto-lights as you approach it, but there is no sensor to detect when someone is moving in the room and raise the temperature in response. It has an auto-switch mode to take you from heating to cooling (or vice versa) as it works to maintain your pre-set temperature. You can also set the temperature manually. Two of the most innovative features are Wiser Air’s Cool Blast and Heat Boost, which give you a quick, continuous blast of either hot or cold that runs for about 15 minutes. This is an excellent way to get a quick temperatures adjustment right after coming home from work.
The LED display light can be dimmed if desired, even all the way down to zero. As the light turns on upon approach, however, many users like to use it as a kind of a night light. A pulse glow lets you know that the Wiser is running smoothly, and the color of the glow lets you know which mode it is in. For example, it turns red for heating, blue for cooling, and green while in “eco-mode.”
The Wiser Air displays the indoor temperature but not the humidity. It does, however, through Wiser Forecast, give you on-screen weather forecasts and alerts. This can be very convenient to glance at as you walk past the box every morning, eliminating the need to look up the weather on your phone or computer.
It only takes 30 minutes and a few simple tools, like a screwdriver, to install the Wiser Air smart thermostat. It comes with a limited manufacturer’s warranty, and it updates itself automatically. Initial updating after purchase can take up to 20 minutes, and be aware that the heat or AC will not run while it is updating. Also note that there is a slight delay, of a few seconds, between setting the temperature on your smartphone and seeing the adjustment take hold on the thermostat box. This is due to the fact it must go through the public Internet, which might be a bit busy at points.
Like other smart thermostats, you can pre-program it for each day and week as you desire. It can be controlled easily through practically any mobile device and any OS. The interface can be customized to your tastes as well, including changing background colors.
The Schneider Wiser Air is included in many energy efficiency programs, which means you can save on your electric bill both because of the device itself and because of the utility program incentive. If you are concerned about reducing your carbon footprint and getting rewarded for it, the Wiser Air is an excellent choice.
The Wiser Air is a high-quality smart thermostat, which got it onto our list. It ranks third here, however, since the Nest and the Honeywell outdo it on each front. The Wiser Air, however, has a niche because it is the best smart thermostat that runs the middle ground between the strengths of the other two models.
#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Sensi Wi-Fi Programmable Thermostat 1F86U-42WF for Smart Home
View it on Amazon for $102.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Sensi Wi-Fi Programmable Thermostat, which we shall hereafter call simply “the Sensi,” is a great choice for those who want the basic functions of a smart thermostat but are willing to give up the more advanced features to keep the cost down. While many people love the top-tier features, there are many others who see them as extra “bells and whistles” that they simply do not want to pay for.
With the Sensi, you get a Wi-Fi powered thermostat that you can control from your smartphone and set to your preferred daily, weekly, or temporary schedules for around $100. The accompanying app works with both iOS and Android, and since March of 2016, Sensi is also compatible with Amazon Echo. Additionally, Sensi works with Alexa voice control and with the Wink app, regardless of whether or not you have a Wink hub.
One of the best things about the Sensi system is its manufacturer, Emerson, a name that has been in the HVAC business for over 75 years. This may explain why the device has an impressive three-year warranty. Emerson has designed the Sensi in a way that makes it compatible with virtually ever HVAC system in existence. This includes gas, oil, radiant heat, geo-thermal, and practically everything else. It will work with your existing wiring, and a C wire is needed only with heat-only and cooling-only systems, which aren’t all that common anyway. They have also made if very quick and easy to install and extremely simple to use. They have also included a very helpful installation guide and video-tutorial.
The Sensi is larger and weightier than the other smart thermostats coverd, being 6.5 pounds and of the dimensions 5.9 x 1.1 x 3.8 inches. It is made out of white plastic and has the look of a non-smart thermostat, which fits in better with many homes’ design features. You can even install it without Wi-Fi and wait for your Internet connection to be set up, while you use only its basic features in the mean time. Two AA batteries are used by the Sensi, but these do not run the device except as a back-up system, which means they will last for many months under normal circumstances.
The Sensi’s LCD screen displays indoor temperature, outdoor temperature, outside weather, conditions, fan settings, indoor humidity, the time, and thermostat operating status. There is no access to past usage reports, as with more advanced models, but the Sensi does “remember” programming settings even after going through brown outs. There is no automatic light-up upon approach, but you simply push a button to activate the back-light. There is a PIN-lockout features, which is excellent for preventing kids, guests, renters, or employees from changing your chosen temperatures settings.
It is possible to save over 30% on your energy expenses by utilizing Sensi’s customized weekly scheduling feature. The device itself is also designed to consume very little power. You can ensure that temperatures automatically push up when they dip below a pre-set limit and push down when they exceed a predetermined degree. This means you can easily remain comfortable even while saving significantly on your power bill.
One of the most common complaints about the Sensi is that its Wi-Fi connections occasionally disconnect, but at least, they automatically reconnect within short space of time. It is true that the Sensi is less fully featured than other models, but it is also adequate for many people’s needs while costing quite a bit less.
Given the substantial investment that a smart thermostat represents and the increasing number of options that consumers are faced with, it is crucial to have some solid pre-purchase guidelines in mind before you shop. Below, we cover six of the main pre-purchase considerations that smart thermostat buyers should be aware of before making a final decision:
Ease of use
A smart thermostat may be “smart” in the sense of having a large stash of high-tech, unique features, but if it is overly difficult to learn how to use those features, you may end up spending more time trying to get your smart thermostat to work than you would a traditional one. Inevitably, there will be a learning curve at the beginning, but one of the main goals of smart thermostats is to be easy to use and to save you time and effort. Look for “intuitive” controls, a screen with information that doesn’t need special deciphering, and temperature settings that can be automated, re-set, or programmed for “exceptions” without undue confusion. Finally, also make sure it is as easy as possible to install, unless you want to hire a professional to do it for you.
Just because a thermostat is “smart” doesn’t mean it is compatible with the HVAC system you already have. It is true that many smart thermostats are compatible with a wide range of systems. For example, about 95 percent of systems work well with Nest, and almost all of them are compatible with Sensi. Also note that a C wire may be required to produce compatibility. Honeywell, for example, tends to require a C wire more than the other units mentioned above. Finally, if you already have a “smart home” or “smart security system,” be sure the check on whether a new smart thermostat will blend in seamlessly or fail to connect at points.
Among smart thermostats, there are various degrees of high-tech features, with the Nest 3-G easily sitting on top of the market at present. A lower-tech model, like Sensi, or a more mid-ranged model, like Honeywell or Wiser Air, however, may better suit your needs. There is no need to get more features than you actually plan to use, but on the other hand, it would be a big mistake to get an “under-featured” smart thermostat and wish for a more advanced one after you already made the purchase. Basic things like remote access and ability to pre-program make a smart thermostat worthy of the name, but motion sensors, GPS, automatic scheduling, and other optional features will be gold to some but clutter to others.
Another major factor to consider, besides just which capabilities your smart thermostat will possess, is how much information will be displayed on the screen. The Nest, for example, gives you little more than the current temperature setting, while many models include indoor and outdoor temperatures, humidity readings, system status, weather reports, and more. Do you prefer to keep things minimal and just catch a small amount of data as you pass by, or do you want to go to your thermostat box to investigate a large swathe of information? This is really a matter of personal preference, but you may as well select the device that meets those preferences.
Some revel in the sleek, circular contours of the Nest, but others actually prefer a more traditional-looking, squarish shape. Some will be very concerned that their smart thermostat be very small and inconspicuous, while others will not mind a larger, more “visible” machine. The color options, be they silver, black, white, or something else, will also affect how the thermostat looks up against the wall. Finally, the materials used, either snazzy metal and glass or less elegant hard plastic, will also make a decor statement. Design may not be the most important element to consider, but there is no reason not to pair stylish appearance with impressive functionality whenever possible.
The prices of the devices reviewed above range from around $100 to about $250, though of course, prices can vary based on where and when you buy. You will definitely “get what you pay for” with smart thermostats. All of them are good buys for the right customer, but the value for your dollar will be determined by how much of what you buy you actually use. A second factor to consider is how much your new, much-smarter thermostat can save you on your power bill. It may well be that your thermostat can pay for itself within months or a couple years at most, in which case, price will take a back seat to the other considerations. Nonetheless, the prudent shopper will look for the smart thermostat that allows them to make the fullest use of all its features, for anything beyond that is “waste” of sorts.
Where should you look to buy your new smart thermostat? It is possible to track down some models in brick-and-mortar stores, but the easiest way to keep all of your options in front of you is to shop online. You can buy from a marketplace like Amazon, or once you have decided upon a particular thermostat, go to the manufacturer’s website to make the purchase there (if possible). Shoppers do well to take a look at customer reviews and answered online questions and to scrutinize each feature point at the purchasing site. After all, the more information you peruse, the better your chances of making a purchase you will never regret.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
The traditional thermostat works well enough at basic temperature control, but the advent of the new smart thermostat has added many benefits that traditional models lack. These include: the ability to remotely control settings through your smartphone, highly detailed programming options, sensors that allow the thermostat to regulate temperatures based on your presence in a room or building, and algorithms that automatically learn your heating and cooling habits without your ever having to enter them into the machine. Such features as these, to many, make it well worth the added expense involved.
Smart thermostats allow you to optimize temperature settings at all times, without having to be physically present to do so. This allows for maximized energy efficiency as never before. The money you invest in a smart thermostat will almost certainly come back to you.
Knowing how to decide which smart thermostat is best for you will require a detailed examination and comparison of available models. We have chosen four of the best-selling and best-designed smart thermostats for analysis above, but there are others as well you may be interested in learning about. It always pays to “do your homework” before committing yourself to a major purchase. You want a smart thermostat that fits needs, your style, and your budget.
You should be willing to pay for everything you will consistently find useful, but it makes no sense to go a step beyond. Which smart thermostat is best, the Nest, the Honeywell, the Wiser Air, or the Sensi, will depend on what you value the most. The Nest is ideal for those who want the most advanced technologies and an “uncluttered” screen, the Honeywell for those who like lots of information on-screen and more direct control over their device, the Wiser Air for those who like a balanced of the Nest’s and Honeywell’s strengths, and the Sensi for those who want an adequate smart thermostat that is simple to use and low-priced.
Discussion and comments
We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?
Do you know of an even better product?
- By Nest, Nest Learning Thermostat, 3rd Generation, Works with Alexa, Amazon.com, accessed April 3, 2016
- By Honeywell, Honeywell RTH9580WF WiFi 9000 Color Touchscreen Thermostat, 8.06 sq in., Premier Silver, Amazon.com, accessed April 3, 2016
- By Schneider Electric, Schneider Electric Wiser Air Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat with Comfort Boost, Black, Amazon.com, accessed April 3, 2016
- By Emerson Thermostats, Sensi Wi-Fi Programmable Thermostat 1F86U-42WF for Smart Home, Works with Alexa, Amazon.com, accessed April 3, 2016
- Jason Snell, Best Smart Thermostat, thesweethome.com, last updated January 26, 2016
- Michael Brown, Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat review: Call it the anti-Nest, techhive.com, October 15, 2013
- Daniel Jacobs, The Best Smart Thermostat Reviews, bestsmarthomesystem.net, November 12, 2015
- M. B. Grant, Review: Emerson Sensi Wi-Fi Thermostat (1F86U-42WF), smartthermostatguide.com, May 14, 2015