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Hands-on: Ecobee4 Thermostat with Apple HomeKit & Amazon Alexa

The Ecobee4 is one of the most flexible smart thermostats available. Not only does it support Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa, it is also an Alexa speaker, supporting most of the same voice commands as an Echo, and AppleInsider has one installed.

Ecobee 4 with Apple HomeKit and Alexa

A thermostat is in some ways the peak of smarthome accessories, since it's one thing to manage your lights with an app, and quite another to trust it to run your furnace and air conditioner.

The promise of the Ecobee4 is not just easier scheduling and remote control —via apps, voice assistants, or the Web —but more efficient use of heating and cooling systems to save energy and money. Part of this is what it chooses to run and when, but it also relies on a mix of internal and external room sensors to get a better picture of your house's climate.

These sensors can optionally be used to detect occupancy, adjusting settings accordingly. Only one external sensor comes bundled with the thermostat though, so you'll have to buy more in packs of two if you want reliable person detection. Alternately you can rely on geofencing, though this can be impractical in homes with more than one person and mixed phone platforms.

We'll need to conduct much more testing before our full review, but it should be said that installation is more complex than your average HomeKit accessory. Theoretically it can be done in as little as 30 minutes —but realistically, expect to spend much longer. Ecobee's software and support make the experience as painless as possible, but even in an ideal scenario there's still drilling, rewiring, and configuring settings and services just the way you like them, all aggravated by the older your house and HVAC installations are.

Some people, like ourselves, are going to run into extra complications by the nature of their heating and cooling systems. We discovered the hard way that our test house uses a heat pump —until we found an article on Ecobee's website explaining how to fix the problem, temperatures soared to 85 Fahrenheit as our HVAC system blasted heat instead of cooling.

Like with all smart home accessories, have a plan and be sure to learn your house's equipment before beginning an installation. If you don't, or aren't comfortable with the process, just hire a professional.

Check in later with AppleInsider to catch our full review. And to pick up your own Ecobee4, the voice-enabled thermostat is available at both Amazon and B&H for $236.