Review: The ecobee SmartThermostat is the best choice for HomeKit users but needs AirPlay 2
After making waves with the ecobee4, ecobee is back with their latest thermostat and is dropping the numbering scheme. The new ecobee SmartThermostat is an upgraded smart home thermostat that takes aim at the premium market with speed, better design, improved audio, and much more.
There are many HomeKit-enabled thermostats on the market, but ecobee has always been one of the better options, even if it doesn't have the name recognition as some of its competition. We've used the ecobee4 for the past year or so and were excited to try out the new improvements in the ecobee SmartThermostat.
A familiar design
Ecobee retained the familiar industrial design found on the ecobee4 which itself was slightly modified from the ecobee3. If you aren't familiar, the ecobee SmartThermostat is a rounded rectangle with a display squarely in the center. The display is a touchscreen that automatically springs to life as you approach it, but the temperature is still viewable across the room.
This year, ecobee has opted for a glass panel on the front rather than plastic. The glass seems to be very thin which actually makes it feel almost plastic-like but it is overall smoother and should hold up better long-term to being poked and prodded constantly.
On the back, there is a speaker on the bottom and vents along the top. The top is also home to the status light used for Alexa so you know when Alexa is listening to you.
The mounting mechanism — which involves affixing a mounting plate to the wall with all the requisite wires — is the same as on the ecobee4. If you're upgrading, the install process amounts to popping off the old one and popping on the new one.
If you have to go through the whole installation process it still will only take 30-45 minutes or depending on your home's setup. It is easy to do in the bulk of homes and if you are uncertain, just check with an electrician (or a really handy friend).
After the physical install, the SmartThermostat will spring to life and walk you through a bit of a basic setup process where you set your schedule, preferred temperatures, add any SmartSensors (one comes in the box), and some physical aspects of your home.
The new SmartSensor
Replacing the lil' bee is the new SmartSensor. It has been completely redesigned to be more compact and premium-looking than before. The base is no longer plastic but is metal and it magnetically attaches to the top of the SmartSensor. There is a considerable size difference between the two, with the new one being far smaller which allows it to fit in better with the home and not being so obvious.
It runs off of a simple CR2477 3V watch cell battery that can be accessed from the back. The front of the sensor is now nearly solid without the small patch in the corner that the previous one had. This creates a more seamless aesthetic and is an absolute improvement.
Alexa and HomeKit
The new ecobee SmartThermostat works with both Apple's HomeKit and Amazon Alexa — same as the ecobee4.
With Alexa, the voice assistant is built-in so you can query her just as you could with an Amazon Echo or an Amazon Dot. New with the SmartThermostat is the ability to use Alexa messaging, Alexa calling, and Alexa Drop In. Drop In is a really fun and useful tool in family homes where you can simply use Alexa devices as intercoms. With good thermostat placement, it can be really beneficial.
All other Alexa features work too such as playing back audio from Audible, Amazon Music, or Apple Music. Alexa can also adjust your thermostat, answer questions, read the news, and a host of other tasks.
As Apple fans, HomeKit is what we always look for in our smart home accessories and why we've been early fans of ecobee. The setup of HomeKit is a little odd, and requires you to open the Home app on you iPhone after installation and add an accessory. It won't show up, so you tap that you have a HomeKit pairing code down towards the bottom. This will then cause the thermostat to show and when you tap it, a HomeKit code will appear on the thermostat display. It is a bit wonky and not as streamlined as we'd hoped.
It isn't just a thermostat that shows in the Home app, but a motion sensor too that acts as the occupancy sensor on the thermostat. The SmartSensor will also show in the Home app as both temperature and motion. These can be placed in different rooms and can trigger different scenes and accessories.
In our setup, we placed our SmartSensor at the top of the stairs. This gives the thermostat a good reading of our upstairs temperature and we use HomeKit to turn on the stairway lights whenever someone walks up or down the stairs. We even have the lights turn on to different brightnesses based on the time of day.
The redesigned speaker
One of the most exciting — and disappointing — aspects of the ecobee SmartThermostat is the improved speaker. We found the speaker in the previous generation ecobee 4 to be fairly lackluster. It was used for Alexa and playing back music but it just didn't sound amazing. We used it for Alexa occasionally, but other dedicated speakers were preferred for actual listening.
It is welcoming to see that this time around ecobee put considerable effort into improving the overall quality of the speaker. For its size, it is a great sounding unit, but again — for its size. It is still a small speaker so if you want real room-filling sound you must look elsewhere. For casual, easy listening in the home we are very happy with what the ecobee SmartThermostat puts out.
Making it even better is that it now supports Bluetooth and you can easily pair and stream right from your phone.
What makes this speaker such a disappointment is the exclusion of AirPlay 2 — even with HomeKit support. The device is already a smart speaker connected to the internet so why doesn't ecobee add AirPlay 2 support at the same time? It should meet the necessary technical requirements with the beefy new quad-core processor, yet ecobee left it out.
Spotify users will rejoice, however, as their account can be directly connected to stream right through the ecobee SmartThermostat. If you listen to Spotify over Apple Music, this is a really nice little feature.
The user interface of the thermostat too has stayed the same. There is a large temperature reading the center and when one approaches, the bottom illuminates with a series of menu items and a slider to the right. Using the slider you can increase or decrease the temperature in your home. In doing so, it will "hold" that temperature until told otherwise.
Of the menu items on the bottom, the first three-lined icon is the main menu. Here you can view all the necessary information regarding your thermostat. Adding SmartSensors, viewing the Wi-Fi status, changing the modes, adjusting your schedule, etc can all be found here. The second icon over is for weather. There is normally a small weather indicator towards the top but this menu gives a bigger picture and forecast. Third is a quick toggle for home or away, and the last is the menu item for voice control where you can access or mute Alexa.
We noticed immediately how fast the UI was with the new SmartThermostat, with menu items opening and closing instantaneously when we touched them without a hint of lag. Previously we saw some stuttering but the new quadcore processor here is so powerful that this nearly predicts our actions before we do them. It is absolutely a fast unit.
Smart home, comfortable home
A lot of changes to this thermostat were refinements from the previous two, but really it is a whole new, more premium experience. The speaker is better, the unit is faster, the Wi-Fi now supports 5GHz and is more reliable, Alexa has new skills, and the design has been updated with glass and metal on the thermostat as well as the SmartSensor.
In terms of creating a premium smart home product, ecobee hit it out of the park. It is hard to recommend jumping from the ecobee4 to the ecobee SmartThermostat but if you have the third generation this one may be worth considering.
If you don't have a smart thermostat, or you are looking to migrate from something like a Nest to something HomeKit-equipped, then this is absolutely one we'd recommend. Few others have such premium build quality with so many outstanding features, let alone the SmartSensors that boost accuracy and give you addition HomeKit motion sensors.
The only thing missing, is AirPlay 2.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Where to buy
The ecobee SmartThermostat is available now for $249 and includes one SmartSensor in the box.