Best Smart Thermostat

With its round, metallic design, the Nest Learning Thermostat made all other thermostats seem old and outmoded in an instant. Three years after the Nest’s debut, there are finally thermostats that can approach it in style and functionality—but the second-generation Nest is still the leader in the category. The Nest hardware continues to offer the best combination of style and substance, its software and apps are solid and elegant, and it’s easy to change the temperature from your phone or computer, so you won’t have to get up from your cozy spot on the couch to mess with the thermostat.

Last Updated: February 12, 2015
The second-generation Nest is the best smart thermostat for the second year in a row, which we confirmed by using the top three thermostats for more than a month. It integrates with more smart devices than its competitors and has attractive, well-built software paired with our favorite on-device interface.
Expand Most Recent Updates
January 6, 2015: At CES, several more companies joined the Works with Nest program, including Philips' Hue smart bulbs, August's Smart Lock, LG and Whirlpool connected appliances, Insteon, and others. Once these partnerships come to fruition, we'll check in on how useful they are.
December 16, 2014: You can now use voice commands to adjust your Nest. Using Google Now on a smartphone, tablet, or computer, you can tell the thermostat to change temperature. In the Chrome browser, you can speak commands or or type your preferred temperature into the search box.
November 12, 2014: Added Quirky's $80 Norm connected thermostat device to the What to Look Forward to section. We'll be interested to see what the first reviews say once the Norm is released in December.
September 16, 2014: Ecobee is back with an updated, more Nest-like version of its smart thermostat now called the Ecobee3 Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat. It's $250, but comes with the option of adding remote sensors ($80 for two) to other rooms that will optimize temperature in whatever rooms are occupied. See the What to Look Forward to section for more detail.
August 12, 2014: Honeywell's Lyric is now available, and we will be testing it in the next few weeks. We'll update the guide with our findings as soon as we can.
July 7, 2014: Added CNET's review of the Honeywell Lyric. It's set to hit stores in August, but the early take is that the software is still a bit buggy.
June 24, 2014: Nest just introduced its Works with Nest program so makers of other devices and software from cars to activity trackers will be able to communicate with a Nest thermostat and (ideally) save energy. Mercedes Benz, Logitech, Whirlpool, Jawbone, IFTTT, and, naturally, Google, are the first companies announced, with plans for things like your car letting your Nest know when you're almost home, your Jawbone UP telling your Nest you're awake, and so on. Nest is also opening up its API, which means developers can access to information from a Nest thermostat (like whether it's in home or away mode and peak energy use times) and incorporate it into their apps. Once these partnerships come to fruition we'll check in on how useful they are.
June 10, 2014: Honeywell just announced the Lyric, a $279 thermostat that can be controlled via a smartphone app. It looks a lot like the Nest, but based on the description it doesn't appear like it'll be quite as "smart." While th Nest thermostat uses algorithms to learn owners' heating and cooling preferences and adjust automatically, the Lyric uses geofencing to start or stop heating or cooling. Honeywell's thermostat can also be controlled via the accompanying app to activate different temperature settings, and can respond to outside temperatures and humidity. It's expected to hit stores in August, and we'll be watching for reviews to see how it compares to our current pick.

We spent more than a month trying out the top three thermostats in this category, including a dozen-plus hours to actively test the thermostat hardware and perform remote tests using their accompanying mobile apps.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is still the best smart thermostat, thanks to its ease of use, great design, and learning capabilities. But the current model is more than two years old, and other companies are catching up.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $248.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is our top pick for the second year in a row. It has a sleek, round look, is easy to install, programs itself, and is the center of Google’s ever-growing Works with Nest smart-home ecosystem. Its software has improved over the past two years, but it’s no longer the only smart thermostat in its class. 

Also Great
For more sensors in large houses: The Ecobee3 isn't as sleek or intuitive as the Nest but, unlike the Nest, it supports stand-alone remote sensors, so it can register the temperature in different parts of your house—a nice feature for people who need multiple sensor points in a large home.

The Ecobee3 doesn’t have the retro cool look of the Nest or even the Honeywell Lyric—its black rounded-rectangle design and slick touchscreen interface make it feel like someone mounted a smartphone app on your wall. But its support for remote sensors makes it appealing if your thermostat isn’t in the best part of your house to measure the temperature. If you have a large, multistory house with a single one-zone HVAC system, there can be big temperature differences between rooms. With Ecobee’s add-on sensors (you get one for free with the unit and can add up to 32 more), the thermostat will use the sensors’ occupancy detectors to match the target temperature in occupied rooms, rather than just wherever the thermostat happens to be installed.

Table of contents

Why a smart thermostat?

If you upgrade to any smart thermostat after years with a basic one, the first and most life-changing difference will be the ability to control it from your phone. Think about it: no more getting up in the middle of the night to turn up the A/C. No dashing back into the house to lower the heat before you go on errands (or vacation). No coming home to a sweltering apartment—you just fire up the A/C when you’re ten minutes away.

Technically, thermostats have been “smart” since the first time a manufacturer realized there could be more to the device than a mercury thermometer and a metal dial. For years, the Home Depots of the world were full of plastic rectangles that owed a lot to a digital clock: They’d let you dial in ideal heating and cooling temperatures and maybe even set different temperatures for different times of the day and days of the week.

The thermostat world changed with the introduction of the Nest in 2011 by Nest Labs, a company led by Tony Fadell, generally credited to be one of the major forces behind Apple’s iPod. This was a stylish metal-and-glass Wi-Fi-enabled device, with a bright color screen and integrated smartphone apps—in other words, a device that combined style and functionality in a way never before seen in the category.

The Nest got a lot of publicity, especially when you consider that it’s a thermostat. Within a few months, Nest Labs was slapped with a patent suit by Honeywell, maker of numerous competing thermostats.

But once the Nest was out there, it was hard to deny that the thermostat world had needed a kick in the pants. And three years later, not only have the traditional plastic beige rectangles gained Wi-Fi features and smartphone apps, but other companies have entered the high-feature, high-design thermostat market, including the upstart Ecobee and the old standard Honeywell.

The fact is, a cheap plastic thermostat with basic time programming—the kind we’ve had for two decades—will do a pretty good job at keeping your house at the right temperature without wasting a lot of money, so long as you put in the effort to program it and remember to shut it off. But that’s the thing—most people don’t.

“The majority of people who have a programmable thermostat don’t program it, or maybe they program it once and never update it when things change,” said Bronson Shavitz, a Chicago-area contractor who’s installed and serviced hundreds of heating and cooling systems over the years.

These new thermostats are smart because they spend time doing the thinking that most of us just don’t do.

These new thermostats are smart because they spend time doing the thinking that most of us just don’t do: turning themselves off when nobody’s home, targeting temperatures only in occupied rooms, and learning your household schedule through observation. Plus, with their sleek chassis and integrated smartphone apps, these thermostats are actually fun to use.

Nest claims that a learning thermostat (well, its learning thermostat) saves enough energy to pay for itself in as little as two years.

Do you need a smart thermostat? Probably not. But they’re fun and attractive, and will do a better job of scheduling the heating and cooling of your house—and therefore saving money—than you will.

Who’s this for?

Get a smart thermostat if you’re interested in saving more energy and exerting more control over your home environment. If you like the prospect of turning on your heater when you’re on your way home from work, or having your home’s temperature adjust intelligently without having to spend time programming a schedule, these devices will do the job. And if your thermostat was placed in a prominent place in your home, well, these devices just look cooler than those beige plastic rectangles of old.

If you already have a smart thermostat, like a first-generation Nest, you don’t need to upgrade just yet. And if you have a big, complex home-automation system that includes a Z-Wave thermostat already, you may prefer the interoperability of your current setup to the intelligence and elegance of a Nest or similar thermostat.

If you don’t care much about slick design and attractive user interfaces, there are cheaper thermostats that offer Wi-Fi connectivity and some degree of scheduling flexibility. Their hardware is dull and their interfaces are pedestrian, but they’ll do the job and save you a few bucks.

The devices we looked at are designed to be attached to existing heating and cooling systems. In fact, in some cases they work better with older HVAC systems than new ones. If you’re installing a new heating and cooling system in your home, HVAC contractor Shavitz strongly recommends that you ask your installer about the smart thermostat offered by the company that manufactures that system. Most manufacturers now offer Wi-Fi thermostats of their own, and while they’re generally not as stylish as the models we looked at, they have the advantage of being designed specifically for that manufacturer’s equipment. That has some serious benefits, including access to special features and a deep understanding of how specific equipment behaves that a more general thermostat can’t have.

How we picked and tested

As we researched this category, we decided to limit ourselves to smart thermostats that combined interesting design with smartphone access and intelligent scheduling. There is a much larger category of thermostats that look old-fashioned and feel very much like the technology of the past with some new features stuck onto them, rather than a true rethink of the thermostat. We decided to focus on high-tech, smart devices, the category almost defined by the introduction of the Nest. As Megan Wollerton of CNET put it, the “utilitarian design doesn’t appeal to the same category of consumer as the Nest.”

CNET has covered this category well, with reviews of the major players and continual updates. Consumer Reports has also chimed in, but we question their priorities. In our last review of this category, we referred to CR’s take as “very wrong.” That may be a bit harsh, but their list of top remote-access thermostats seems to massively undervalue the designs and interfaces of the Lyric, Nest, and Ecobee3, preferring more conventional models from Honeywell, American Standard, and Trane. Many of those high-ranking models are also much more expensive than the three models we tested and designed to work with specific HVAC systems.

By eliminating expensive, proprietary, and non-learning smart thermostats, we ended up with three finalists: the second-generation Nest, Ecobee’s Ecobee3, and Honeywell’s Lyric. We installed each ourselves and ran them for more than a week each in routine operation. Testing was done in the fall in a Northern California home with a single forced-air furnace, so we didn’t test air conditioning, dehumidification, or multiple zones. Where rewiring was needed, although we did consult with a contractor, we ended up going to our local hardware store, buying a roll of thermostat wire, and re-wiring the heater ourselves. Our testing considered ease of use in adjusting the temperature, setting a schedule, and using smartphone app features.

Our pick: The Nest Learning Thermostat

The Nest Learning Thermostat is still the best smart thermostat, thanks to its ease of use, great design, and learning capabilities. But the current model is more than two years old, and other companies are catching up.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $248.

The $250 second-generation Nest Learning Thermostat (introduced in 2012) is the leader of this category for a reason. Its learning mode automatically programs the thermostat based on your home and usage, its industrial design is the best, and it works with many other smart-home devices. The Nest offers the best combination of style and substance, its software and apps are solid and elegant, and it integrates with more smart devices than any of its competitors—for now.

The industrial design of the device is strong: a metallic ring with a black front and a circular LCD screen in the middle. The on-device interface is elegant—my favorite of the three we tested—with every setting controlled by either a push on the face or a spin of the ring. The display shows red when heating, blue when cooling.

The second-generation Nest has a single metal ring with a black glass face.

The second-generation Nest has a single metal ring with a black glass face.

The Nest’s onboard software is pretty smart, too. It learns the thermal dynamics of your space and estimates how long it will take to reach a target temperature, and displays that. Its heating and cooling schedules can be set to hit a specific temperature at a specific time, rather than just turn on and off at that time. (For example, I set the Nest to get my house to 70 degrees at 6:45 a.m. On a very cold night it would turn on extra early just to make sure I didn’t get cold toes when I got out of bed.)

The Nest’s learning mode puts it above its competitors. It’s constantly aware of the temperature adjustments you make on the devices—the point is to reduce the need to manually program the thermostat by learning what you like on its own. Coupled with an occupancy sensor that can tell when nobody’s around (in theory), the Nest can learn from your patterns and create its own schedule without any work from you.

I found that the Nest’s learning system worked fairly well, but creating manual schedules is also a breeze. The excellent Nest app (for iOS or Android) lets you program specific times and temperatures with a few taps. And as HVAC contractor Shavitz told me, you can’t discount the psychological power of Nest’s green leaf icon, which motivates you to forgo a little comfort and dial the temperature down just a little bit more in order to save energy.

Installing the Nest was easy. After removing my previous thermostat, I screwed on the the Nest baseplate and was able to follow the included instruction pamphlet to slide the correct wires into the labeled terminals. The Nest can charge its built-in battery via your existing thermostat wiring, and I never had a problem with it running out of battery power during normal use, though if you have a power-providing common wire among your thermostat wires, that will provide extra insurance. Nest also offers an online compatibility checker and phone support for installation help.

Nest’s iOS app lets you edit your schedule, adjust the current temperature setting, and control every aspect of the device.

Nest’s iOS app lets you edit your schedule, adjust the current temperature setting, and control every aspect of the device.

Nest’s mobile app is easy to use and lets you set the target temperature as well as program an entire day-by-day, hour-by-hour schedule, if you’re so inclined. There’s also a website that lets you do all the same stuff, so if you’re at your computer you don’t need to get your phone in order to change the temperature.

Nest Labs, which is now owned by Google, keeps expanding its Works with Nest program, which promises interoperability with other smart appliances and services, from lightbulbs, Dropcams, and smart locks to universal remotes, washing machines, fitness bands, and Google Now. The Works with Nest program has the potential to make the Nest the best choice for people who want their thermostat to interact with other home-automation products. So far, a lot of the integrations are pretty gimmicky, but that may not be the case for long.

Who else likes it

CNET gave the second-generation Nest five stars out of five, saying the minor upgrade from the first-generation model “puts this device even further ahead of the (nearly nonexistent) competition.” PC Magazine also loved the Nest, giving it 4.5 out of five. Wirecutter editor in chief Jacqui Cheng, writing for Ars Technica in 2012, gave the first-generation Nest a high endorsement: She said she’d be sure to take her Nest with her the next time she moved. Engadget gave the Nest 95 out of 100 in a similar rave.

Unfortunately, Nest’s lack of hardware updates in two years means that there are very few stand-alone Nest reviews that compare it directly to its newest competition, though almost all reviews of other smart thermostats mention the Nest.

More recently, CNET reviewed both the Ecobee3 and the Honeywell Lyric, and while the reviews were generally positive toward both products—feelings we wholeheartedly share—they indicated that the Nest was still tops in the category. The Lyric “can compete on features, but doesn’t match the Nest’s intuitive design,” while the Ecobee3 is depicted as still “clos[ing] in on Honeywell and Nest.”

Some minor drawbacks

Nest probably shouldn’t punt the important job of measuring temperatures and occupancy throughout a house to a third party.

The Nest’s greatest weakness is its lack of external sensors. It can connect with the Nest Protect smoke alarm in order to act as an additional occupancy sensor, but you can’t feed the Nest temperature or occupancy data from other locations without buying expensive third-party hardware. This can be a problem if your Nest is in an infrequently used hallway, or on a different floor from the one you most often use. You can get around this by buying the $300 WallyHome Sensor Kit, which gives the Nest access to temperature data from six different locations in your house, and other Works with Nest devices can feed the Nest occupancy data. But Nest probably shouldn’t punt the important job of measuring temperatures and occupancy throughout a house to a third party.

(Some third-party smartphone apps, like the $5 Skylark for iOS and the free Coming Home for Android, add smartphone geofencing capability to the Nest, but first-party support would be better.)

One of the major drawbacks of the Nest, like other smart thermostats, is that it’s essentially a small computer that requires power to operate. If your heating and cooling system is equipped with an energy-bearing “common wire” (also called a C-wire), you won’t have any concerns about power. The problem is, common wires are not very common—Shavitz said that he finds it “fairly prevalent” that no common wire is available. Both the Nest and its competitor the Honeywell Lyric can manage to charge themselves by stealing power from other wires, but that can cause some serious side effects, according to HVAC contractor Shavitz. He said that old-school furnaces generally are resilient enough to provide power for devices like the Nest and the Lyric, but high-tech circuit boards on newer models can be more prone to failure when they’re stressed out by the tricks the Nest and Lyric use to charge themselves without a common wire.

Bottom line: You may be able to run the Nest without a common wire, but it’s probably safer to get a contractor to install one if you don’t have one already, especially if you have a newer furnace—this typically costs about $100 to $150 depending on your location. (The Ecobee3 doesn’t even try to use this trick—it requires a common wire and comes with an entire wiring kit to add one if you don’t have it.)

Long-term test notes

Several Sweethome and Wirecutter editors have used first- and second-generation Nest thermostats, in some cases for years, in areas with hot summers and cold winters (Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston). Everyone loves their Nests, but two editors noted some issues with newer HVAC equipment until they installed a common wire. And almost everyone wishes it came with remote sensors. Most work from home and have the Nest in a hallway that doesn’t see much foot traffic, so it keeps thinking nobody’s home. Still, every editor we talked to would buy the Nest again.

The next best thing (for larger homes)

Also Great
For more sensors in large houses: The Ecobee3 isn't as sleek or intuitive as the Nest but, unlike the Nest, it supports stand-alone remote sensors, so it can register the temperature in different parts of your house—a nice feature for people who need multiple sensor points in a large home.

If you have a large home with a single HVAC system, or you want to be able to measure the temperature in rooms other than wherever your thermostat happens to be, consider the Ecobee3.

The $250 Ecobee3 is not a friendly round widget like the Nest and the Honeywell Lyric. It’s a black slab, a touchscreen that you interact with as if you were using a smartphone app. If your sense of style is more high-tech than homey, you might even prefer it. Because it’s driven by a touchscreen, interacting with the Ecobee3 is much less tactile than turning a ring on the Nest or the Lyric. There are some advantages, though—entering my Wi-Fi password was much easier on the Ecobee3, which can display an on-screen keyboard when it needs to.

The Ecobee3 is like a smartphone app that sits on your wall.

The Ecobee3 is like a smartphone app that sits on your wall.

Beyond its touchscreen interface, the Ecobee3’s biggest strength is its remote sensors. It comes with one battery-operated sensor that you can place elsewhere in your house. The sensor monitors both temperature and occupancy, so the Ecobee3 can better detect who’s in your house and what the temperature is throughout—not just where your thermostat is. If you’re downstairs and it’s cold, a thermostat installed at the top of a staircase might think nobody’s home and it’s plenty warm. With a remote sensor downstairs, the Ecobee3 can realize that it’s not warm enough down where the people are, and adjust accordingly. You can purchase additional sensors for the Ecobee3—up to 32 of them—in packs of two for $80.

Ecobee3’s large touchscreen gives it an advantage over other smart thermostats, and it definitely attempts to use the space. Tap the cloud icon and you’ll get a local weather forecast, for instance. I like how it displays the current temperature in very large type, with the target temperature in a smaller circle off to the right. There’s probably more Ecobee could do to take advantage of the space, but I like the flexibility.

The Ecobee3 requires either a common wire or the installation of its included power-extender wiring kit (which cleverly saps power from your heater and sends it over your existing thermostat wiring, so you don’t need to run new wire). Depending on your home’s wiring, this might be no big deal, or it might be a showstopper. In my case, I ended up having to rewire my heater in order to install the Ecobee3. It took me only a couple of hours, but the Ecobee3’s power-consumption needs make it more finicky than its competitors if you don’t have a common wire.

Reviews for the Ecobee3 are pretty strong. CNET’s Megan Wollerton gave it 3.5 out of five. She liked the performance of the thermostat but found the apps glitchy. Adam Miarka at Zatz Not Funny also liked it, especially the remote sensors, and Steve Jenkins’s review and follow-up both say it’s better than the Nest or the Lyric—though he’s a longtime user of previous Ecobee products.

Unfortunately, I encountered numerous quirks with Ecobee3’s smartphone app and its website. The app quit repeatedly, and when it did work, it didn’t feel especially responsive. It did a good job of emulating the same interface I saw on the Ecobee3 screen, though. I also ran into a problem where the Ecobee3 thought I was living on Eastern Time, despite it knowing I was in California, and turned on my heater three hours too early. (Blogger Steve Jenkins seems to have run into it too; Ecobee says it’s changing the way time zones are set to avoid this problem.) I also found that the Ecobee3 screen was sometimes hard to read, either because it seemed too dim in bright light or because of glare off its shiny surface. I also couldn’t get used to the fact that the Ecobee3 often seemed to be displaying the wrong temperature, though when I looked closer it turned out that the main thermostat was displaying an average temperature based on its own location and the room containing its remote sensor.

Because its remote sensors are so useful and easy to add, the Ecobee3 is a compelling choice for people with large, multistory houses that don’t have multiple zones or HVAC systems, since your thermostat isn’t always in the best spot to measure the temperature of the rooms you use more often. The Nest is still better for most people, but the Ecobee3 is the closest competition.

The competition (is much better than it used to be)

Without any hardware releases from Nest in the past two years, the competition has picked up the slack a bit. In addition to the Ecobee3, there’s another stylish, intelligent device that threatens to upset the Nest’s ownership of this category. Neither has quite toppled the leader yet, but Nest doesn’t have much more time to keep resting on its laurels.

Like the Nest, Honeywell’s Lyric is round, with a spinning ring for setting the temperature. The Lyric covers more wall than the Nest, but it also doesn’t stick out as far.

The Honeywell Lyric is round like a Nest, but its display is quite different.

The Honeywell Lyric is round like a Nest, but its display is quite different.

The Lyric was the easiest of the three devices to install, though I found it easier to attach wires on the Nest and the Ecobee3. The smartphone app walks you through all aspects of installation, with clearly written (and well-illustrated) instructions. Once you’ve wired it up, Lyric broadcasts its own Wi-Fi network, which you connect to with your smartphone. Then you use the Lyric app to enter in your local Wi-Fi network’s name and password, saving you from having to laboriously “type” it via clunky thermostat hardware, à la the Nest.

On the front of the Lyric there are two touch-sensitive buttons and two display areas: The large circle at the center displays the current temperature (though if you tap the weather-forecast button, it shows you a local forecast). The smaller one at the top shows the target temperature and indicates if you’re in heating or cooling mode. These displays are always on, which I liked. The Nest turns its screen off to save power unless you’re in close proximity; it was nice to be able to glance across the room and see the temperature right on the Lyric’s display.

While the Nest’s control ring glides effortlessly, I found the Lyric’s unpleasant to turn—it was harder to grip and offered much more resistance. I also prefer the Nest’s all-black front to the Lyric’s white front with black display circles, but that’s a matter of taste. Displaying the current temperature more prominently than the target temperature was a good choice—after having used both the Lyric and the Ecobee3, I find it preferable to Nest’s heavy emphasis on the target temperature.

The Lyric’s major selling point is that “it doesn’t need to learn a routine,” according to the Lyric website—making it a bit of an anti-Nest. Instead of learning your routine, the Lyric uses its own occupancy sensors as well as connected smartphones to get an idea of when your house is occupied and when it’s empty. The Lyric app monitors your current location and can transmit that information to the Lyric. In theory, this means that if you’re headed home, it can turn on the heater—and if you leave to go to the movies, it knows you’re gone and can immediately go into power-saving mode.

If the thermostat adjusts only when you come within a few miles of home, are the extra few minutes of heating or cooling really going to make much difference?

Not every member of a home owns a smartphone, and the act of setting up everyone’s phone with the Lyric app seems a bit much. I’m also not sure if this approach is much more than a gimmick—can’t the occupancy sensor do most of this work itself? And if the thermostat adjusts only when you come within a few miles of home, are the extra few minutes of heating or cooling really going to make much difference?

(A $5 third-party iOS app called Skylark adds similar geofencing capability to the Nest, and apps like Coming Home offer it for Android users. So if you’re intrigued by the Lyric’s geofencing feature, there’s a way to get it on the Nest as well.)

Though you can set the Lyric into Away mode by tapping its Away button, Honeywell seems to want you to control it mostly from its smartphone app. You can use the app to design different heating and cooling modes, which can be executed based on time or your location, or manually by tapping in the app. Setting up the modes seemed a bit too fiddly to me, and I found myself missing the simplicity of the Nest’s scheduling.

CNET’s Megan Wollerton gave the Lyric 3.5 stars, saying “a few performance and usability quirks make it hard to recommend today.” John Brandon at TechHive gave it just 2.5 stars (or hives, or whatever they are).

The Lyric does have the advantage of supporting HomeKit, Apple’s upcoming connected-home initiative and its response to Google’s Works with Nest program. If you’re interested in the larger smart-home ecosystem and think you’ll swing toward Apple, it’s worth considering.

The rest

The $250 Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat is a network-enabled smart thermostat, complete with a learning algorithm. Its features are arguably more impressive than Honeywell’s Lyric, but it’s a plastic rectangle with a touchscreen housing an old-school interface.

The $300 Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat with Voice Control is pretty much the same product, but with the addition of voice-command capabilities, so you can shout across the room to make it cooler. This is probably the most impressive of the more traditional smart thermostats, and it’s Consumer Reports’s top choice.

The $450 American Standard AccuLink AZone950 was also a Consumer Reports top choice and is available through dealers. It’s yet another traditional rectangle with a touchscreen interface. It uses American Standard’s AccuLink Communicating System, so it’s really designed to fit into a house outfitted with American Standard equipment.

Another Consumer Reports top pick, the $550 Trane ComfortLink II xL950, is almost identical to the American Standard in look, features, and concept: It’s available via dealers and largely designed to fit in with Trane’s equipment. (Both American Standard and Trane are owned by the same parent company, Ingersoll Rand.)

What to look forward to

In November 2014 Quirky announced Norm, an $80 thermostat that is controlled entirely with mobile apps. The Norm is a featureless white box with a single button, which you can tap once to turn the temperature up, or twice to turn it down. From an app running on your phone or tablet, though, you can do just about everything these other devices do. It has support for multiple external sensors, too. Essentially, the Norm seems perfect if your thermostat is in an out-of-the-way location where style and a physical interface aren’t necessary—or if you’d just rather use your phone to control your heating and cooling. Quirky says the Norm will be available this year, and we’ll update this review once we’ve had a chance to test it. One bad sign: It requires a $50 Wink Hub or $300 Wink Relay home-automation hub in order to work—not to mention a smartphone.

Wrapping it up

Despite its age, the second-generation Nest is still the best smart thermostat for most people. The hardware is excellent, and the software behind it is elegant and smart. And the Works with Nest program means the Nest can integrate with a growing number of smart-home devices. However, Nest is in danger of losing its once-substantial lead in this category. The Honeywell Lyric isn’t as beautiful or as clever as the Nest—its focus on geofencing via smartphone app seems a little misguided—but it’s a solid device with (as CNET put it in its review) “a ton of potential.” The Ecobee3 is a scrappy upstart that essentially puts a smartphone app on your wall. It, too, has a lot of potential—but the software and smartphone apps need to be better. And Quirky’s Norm tosses the old concept of a thermostat out the window, opting for smartphone control instead.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $248.

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  1. Thermostat Ratings, Consumer Reports
  2. Jacqui Cheng, A thermostat that learns? Three months with the Nest, Ars Technica, August 2, 2012
  3. Megan Wollerton, This round thermostat has a few rough edges, CNET, July 3, 2014
  4. Megan Wollerton, Ecobee’s new Ecobee3 closes in on Honeywell and Nest, CNET, September 30, 2014
  5. Adam Miarka, Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat - A Solid Nest Challenger, Zatz Not Funny, November 22, 2014
  6. John Brandon, This smart thermostat needs to wise up, PCWorld, December 4, 2014

Originally published: February 12, 2015

  • breedm

    I think the 3M/Filtrete Radio Thermostat at least deserves a shout-out. It’s a programmable thermostat with wifi capability for cheap! It’s far from perfect and won’t knock the Nest of it’s pedestal, but it gets your foot in the door with connectivity, and it’s got a robust API which is great for the DIY/programmers.

    • Michael Zhao

      Thanks for pointing that out. I did some digging and it looks very intriguing at that $100 price point, but it also no longer seems to be available. When I go to their website, the buy now link directs me to the Home Depot home page:

      Also, it’s only being sold at inflated prices via third party sellers on Amazon.

    • Jools

      I’ll second the Radio Thermostat; I’ve been using the 3M version for several years. It’s not a learning ‘stat, but you can edit the 7-day schedule online or in the Android/iOS apps (half the burden of programmables) and store separate “summer” and “winter” schedules. You get 4 setpoints per day. The schedule is synchronized with the cloud service, but stored locally on the thermostat in case of a connectivity failure. The company documented the REST API for writing your own control
      software on a PC on your local network, too. They even support a snap-in
      module for ZWave, if you’re into that.

      The app gives you remote setpoint/fan/heat/cool controls and reports temperature. If your phone’s on the same network as the thermostat, it talks directly to it instead of routing through their cloud service. Otherwise, the app tells you the last time it “saw” the thermostat online. I’ve used that info on vacation to figure out whether my house had power during severe weather.

      While the CT30 was rebadged by a number of companies, the current model seems to be the Radio Thermostat CT50. It’s on Amazon and

  • Phillip Levinson

    My question and I have seen a lot of this around if my system would work with Nest 1.0 is there any reason to spend 250 on the 2.0 when I could spend 190 on the original? As far as I know the original has gotten all the firmware/software updates the 2.0 has its just not as thin and the adjustment ring is a bit different.

    • Michael Zhao

      Not really. It’s a bit smaller, which is nice. Thinking in the long term though, it would probably add an extra couple years of firmware support. In general, when buying new, it’s a good idea to get the most up to date model.

      From another perspective, if you’re already spending $190 on a thermostat, an extra $60 probably isn’t too much to pay for peace of mind.

  • DonutATX


    Sorry for spamming y’all on the launch site and twitter, but I am really hoping for some information.

    Before I drop $500 on these beauties, does anyone have ANY information on their home automation road map? When can I use their software to control NEST locks, NEST sprinklers, NEST modules for lights, etc? I have asked Nest, but they are really quiet, which is vexing.


    • The Tech Whore

      Nope, just thermostats. They haven’t mentioned anything about expanding into the home automation market. It would be pretty awesome if they did.

    • DK

      This is actually the biggest problem I have with the Nest, not even mentioned in this review. Do not assume that the ability to program is coming–it’s been asked for by MANY. There are hacks to get around it (screen scraping basically), but at this point it’s deliberate that Nest has not released it.

      I will NOT be buying a Nest for this factor alone. I don’t need this system to guess when I’m away, it’s very easy for it to know with 100% when I’m on vacation and 95% accuracy for just about everything else–all because of social networking. The guess work that Nest dose now is nonsense. Sure it works for “most” but it’s inferior for others. We’ll look back at it one day and laugh.

      • Jason Rossitto

        “We’ll look back at it one day and laugh.”

        You mean like when we look back at the first iPod?


  • DK

    The auto away is more than a minor inconvenience–it’s an ideological battle ground from the Nest corporation. There are so many ways that “auto away” could be engineered in a way that it was MUCH more accurate, but because Nest has purposely not released an API for programmers to access, they’re keeping it a “closed system” and we are stuck with what Nest gave us… which is a system that we’ll laugh at one day.

    I have my meetings, work schedule, vacations in a calendar… There’s no way Nest should have to guess when I’m away. TripIt, Google, there are endless ways Nest could augment the sensor information with actual real life confirmed information that I’ve already provided. Nest is setting themselves up to be the iPhone when the Androids are chugging away with less glory.

    • Skylark

      Apologies in advance if this is viewed as an irrelevant plug, but check out . It’s an iOS app that sets your Nest to home or away based on the location of your phone. We recommend disabling auto-away and just using location instead.

  • Marcy Holmes

    I wonder what your opinion is about the amazon reviewers who had their unit fail and lock their heat or a/c on. That makes me a little nervous.

    • Edge Trio

      I originally purchased the 1st generation of the Nest Learning Thermostat and the only thing I didn’t like about that version was how far it protruded from the wall. On my final day for the return policy of the 1st gen model, the 2nd gen was already being advertised to be released soon. I didn’t hesitate to uninstall the 1st gen model to send it back and pre-order and wait on the 2nd gen. The 2nd gen thermostat’s profile in my opinion is perfect for the look and style I desire in my home. It makes my home appear a little more modern but not too much. The installation was easy (a video instruction can be found here – ) and it looks great just as with the 1st gen. I noticed a $35 drop in my $120 per month power bill. I have a 2200 sq/ft home w/ three bedrooms and two baths that’s occupied by only myself and my wife. My AC system is a basic single stage AC and a two stage heater and I hooked up six wires: O, R, B(C), W2, G, Y. I live in beautiful Florida and the AC runs at 82 during the day and 78 at night. I’m hoping for about the same performance if not better with the 2nd gen Nest. I’ll admit I did try to go with a programmable Honeywell thermostat which ended up not being compatible with my system while waiting on this order. So my options were to keep my pre-order with the 2nd gen Nest or keep the old thermostat from over ten years ago with no features. I’m glad to have decided to go with the 2nd generation Nest Learning Thermostat. It truly is best programmable thermostat around today.

  • Tyler Williams

    I work for a HVAC contracting company that installs HVAC system in new homes.

    More and more frequently, I am seeing homeowners replacing the thermostats that came with their homes with NEST’s, only to have the heating system in their home no longer work and requiring the original thermostat to be re-installed.

    Unfortunately, I only work in the office and don’t have a lot of HVAC knowledge or experience (so maybe someone else could get more specific) but essentially the NEST isn’t compatible with all heating systems. The problems I have seen is mostly with “zone” systems which uses dampers to allow for different heating levels to different areas of the house. From what I’ve been told by our service department, the NEST is not compatible with the Honeywell zone controller (HZ311K is the part number) that is used for the zone systems that my company installs.

    Basically, before you spend the $250 on a new thermostat, consult with an HVAC professional about whether or not the NEST will be compatible with the HVAC system in your home.

  • Todd Kuipers

    I recently took my Nest gen2 thermostat off the wall (after 11 months) and replaced with the Lux mentioned above. After months of wifi failures, and poorly timed temp regulation failures (i.e. going on vacation and having the Nest fail), I couldn’t take the risk any longer. Any device that rates wireless connectivity over temperature maintenance is kinda nuts.

    I troubleshot this thing to death (many hours spent), specifically trying everything on this forum thread (, and nothing produced reliable results. At minimum I would wait until the Nest crew fix their 3.5.1 implementation.

    That said, the Lux 9000 took me <15 minutes, from getting the package, through programming a full 7 day schedule, to hookup, to firing the furnace. Well worth the $60.

    • curationary

      Why didn’t you change to a different router, that router was not supported according to the link yo gave. Stay with popular wifi routers can help to avoid this type of compatibility headache.

      • Todd Kuipers

        A new router with the device capacity I need = $200+. A new thermostat that doesn’t change it’s compatibility on a firmware update, and has a design bias towards connectivity over battery levels when -30F isn’t unusual = $60.

        I’d prefer a house with heat than trying to match a regularly changing compatibility list. How there is a compatibility list at all is bizarre – if you’re rated to use an IEEE spec, use an IEEE spec.

      • Kevin M

        The Nest has had regular problems with wifi. When it was working they’d push an update and then it woudln’t work. I’ve used mine with several different router changes, none because of the Nest cause who on earth changes their router to make their thermostat work. I will say that after much wifi problems early on, mine has been pretty solid of late.

  • JustinD

    Michael, do you have any information as to why Amazon has stopped stocking this themselves? For the last week and a half or so they’ve only had it from overpriced 3rd party sellers. Is there any chance that stock is low because Nest is readying a 3rd generation of the hardware?

  • Alain Tremblay

    I bought an ecobee 3 and I definitely recommend you take a look at it as an alternative to Nest. It is as smart, but more predictable (the algorithm doesn’t try to guess what you want, yet is sophisticated enough to get increased economy)

    Remote sensors are a GREAT idea.

    • tony kaye

      Consumer Reports also liked the Ecobee which also has built-in internet controllability and is versatile enough to be used with most HVAC systems. But Brian, Sweethome’s editor, had one for a while before Nest and noted the touchscreen and app was buggy/laggy and a chore to use and program. It’s also expensive. Consumer Reports liked it, even though we found it nowhere near as great as a Nest, and they gave it a 94/100. To Brian, that is, as he put it, “insane.”

      Maybe when we refresh we’ll look at the 3.

    • Bill B

      FYI, you can can turn off the auto-schedule feature of the Nest and set a manual schedule. When disabled, you can still use auto-away, early-on, and other “smart” features.

  • sophistroland

    I just purchased and installed an Ecobee Smart Si. At $140 (what I purchased it for on Amazon), I think it is a much better deal than the Nest. The Smart Si is a previous generation thermostat (around first generation Nest), but gets any updates to the web portal and app. The app and web portal were recently updated with the introduction of the Ecobee 3. When I read through a bunch of HVAC professional forums, they talk about how bad the programming is for the Nest, especially when you have a heat pump. It has much better lock out functions for your auxiliary heat and more user control, but is still a learning thermostat. It does not have a touchscreen, but I don’t plan on touching the screen. I do that in the web portal or the app. The display itself is a color LCD with the indoor and outdoor temp and pulls up the current weather for your area, but it is a small display.

    • tony kaye

      We talked about the Ecobee above

      Consumer Reports also liked the Ecobee which also has built-in internet controllability and is versatile enough to be used with most HVAC systems. But Brian, Sweethome’s editor, had one for a while before Nest and noted the touchscreen and app was buggy/laggy and a chore to use and program. It’s also expensive. Consumer Reports liked it, even though we found it nowhere near as great as a Nest, and they gave it a 94/100. To Brian, that is, as he put it, “insane.”

      I wrote just below this comment, we’ll likely take a look at the next gen model. If it’s better, it will be the top pick.

    • Jason Snell

      Just a note that this article has now been updated to review the ecobee3!

  • Core

    Next time test the Tado as well please. I have it, and like it very much.

    Draw back of the Nest is, that it doesn’t use ‘ Open Therm’, it just shuts down/turns on the heater, while with ‘Open Therm’ is just lowers or heats up (like the Tado). Price of the Tado is about 250 Euro.
    Otherwise check this test:

    • tony kaye

      It’s not available outside of the EU. If we can’t get it stateside, or if it’s not built to work here, we can’t test it. And even if we could test it, we wouldn’t recommend it for anyone since it’s EU only. Sorry :(

      • Core

        I still like the Sweethome and Wirecutter… ;-)

  • Adam Miarka

    Still enjoying the Ecobee3. If Nest ever figures out remote sensors, it would be a tougher call though as Nest has a lot more 3rd party integration. Spending $300+ dollars on Wally just doesn’t feel right.

  • Terry Maraccini

    Smart thermostats escape me. My programmable Honeywell heats or cools according to my wishes. It obeys the schedule I’ve set.

    It cost me $30.00

    It’s 5 years old.

    • Bill B

      Yeah, but you have to get off your couch to adjust the heat….sucker!

    • Andrew Richards

      The killer features to me were:
      1. I can adjust the thermostat from anywhere in the house, and beyond.
      2. It can roughly detect when I’m not home, and not waste heat or cooling cycles — this is important for someone like me who has a wildly varying schedule.
      3. It looks like HAL9000 on my living room wall, and is quite a conversation piece when we have guests over.
      4. Humidistat — the Nest controls my humidifier too, eliminating the need for a second box on the wall.

    • Jason Snell

      There is definitely a reason we discussed that at the very top of the article! There are cheaper, and simpler, thermostats out there. If you don’t want whizzy features, you should buy one.

  • Steve Jenkins

    Hi, Jason. This is a good analysis of the major players in this space. Even though we end up at different conclusions (I prefer the schedule-driven approach to the learning algo one), the piece is a great read and your conclusion is defensible (and thanks for the shout out on my ecobee3 review). :)

    • Jason Snell

      Thanks Steve! I don’t mind the schedule-driven approach, but I do wish that the other units made an effort to learn from adjustments and alter their schedules, since (as the HVAC guy pointed out) most people just never set their schedules, or set it once and forget it. I’m dubious about Honeywell’s app-based location thing too. Regardless, these are all good products. I was pleasantly surprised at how hard it was to make final judgments.

  • RonV42

    Good article but I am concerned about privacy and any solution that needs to send data to Google to operate is a non-starter for me. I don’t need my lifestyle exploited by a company for their benefit of selling information to sell ads. I’ll stick with my home automation solution and communicating thermostat that has no connection to the internet.

    • Max Velasco Knott

      This too is my biggest concern. I want a strong Google-alternative thermostat. The weather where I live is fair and I don’t need to make adjustments often (nor want my system to run unless absolutely necessary). I’d settle for something as basic as an iPhone remote that works similarly to my Hue system. I may try the Ecobee3 to see if it fits this need alone. Anyone have thoughts on something that talks to an existing ZigBee or IFTTT network?

  • Tom Johnson

    This article had to be written by a Nest personnel. I have replaced 8 Nest’s with Honeywell’s. I use only the basic version but have installed some Lyrics. Look the nest interface is pure junk. If you want to raise the temp you can just dial it up unless the program changes it in 10 minutes because you had it programmed to be a different temp. Because it doesn’t notice anyone for a few ours it may if you allow it to automatically drop into away mode. Even stats from the 70’s at least allowed you to set the temp up or down for a period of time and then drop back into the programmed defaults. Honeywell allows you to do that. But if you have a vacation house do not even think of the Nest! There are no push notifications from Nest. Honeywell’s will send you email / texts if any preset are hit. Such as heater is down, temp has fallen bellow to a freeze level or overheat condition.

    • tony kaye

      Just because YOU have had issues with them (sounds more like you just don’t like the interface..boohoo) doesn’t mean this is a promotional post for Nest. Do you see the part where we mention other brands? Nest would FIRE an employee for even mentioning other brands in a Nest-paid for article. The thing has a 4/5 star rating on Amazon with near 3,500 reviews.

      If you want to be rude, you can GTFO.

    • Jason Snell

      I appreciate the shade, but I call ‘em as I see ‘em. In addition, I’ve used the first-gen Nest for a couple years without trouble, and Wirecutter staff experiences match up with that.

      That said, all three of the products I tested are good. This is no longer Nest’s category to own. If the features one product offers address your needs in very specific ways, you should buy that product.

  • Kevin Malm

    Engineer here, used programmable thermostats for last 10+ years, all Honeywells, all worked and though difficult to program from the limited interface controlled heat and cooling very nicely. Only time there was ever a problem was if the batteries died.

    I have now lived with my Nest for 1.75 years. Originally it was almost complete junk. It is now tolerable after unlimited software updates. I spend half my life using the web interface to try to set a million changes in temperature which I used to be able to do easily with stuff like hold until the next heating period. Most of the updates early on made it far worse rather than better.

    I spent a great many hours with support and even paid a certified HVAC guy to come out and try to get the Nest to work 1/2 as good an an old fashioned dumb programmable thermostat. I would wake up with the Nest all orange thinking it was heating the home but it was not and it was crazy cold. This was a regular occurrence (several times a week). Summer with cooling was much better than heating. Changing back to the old thermostat, everything works great. Use the Nest, its a total crapshoot.

    Biggest problem is the Nest is designed by software guys not thermostat guys. Basic functionality of a thermostat like hold functionality completely ignored by the Nest guys in favor of trying to set the thermostat for us by guessing when we are home using a motion detector in the Nest unit. Epic fail.

    One of the worst consumer electronics pieces of equipment I’ve bought in years. The product was hardly ready for beta testing and they’d shipped a bazillion of them.

    Oh, there is one thing everyone points out. It looks cute on the wall. It comes totally over packaged just like every other product trying to look like it came from Apple. You even get a Nest screwdriver for your $225.

    Would I buy a smoke detector from this company ? not if my life depended on it.

    I am still using it. I have to nurse it often. I would never recommend it to anyone who is not tech savvy.

    All this said, I still love being able to grab my pad and turn up the thermostat from bed when I’m cold.

    • Jason Snell

      I appreciate your perspective. As someone who bought the original Nest early on in its lifespan, I haven’t seen any of the issues you report, but I don’t doubt that you had a bad experience.

  • zack

    A question for the experts – I own a four-story, 3-family townhouse in Brooklyn, NYC. We have a hydronic heating system, using radiators in each room. It is a single zone for the entire house, with no central AC. There is a single thermostat on the second floor to control the heat in the whole house. From all that I can find online, there is no use in getting a smart thermostat for any purpose except for monitoring/changing/scheduling the heat status from a smartphone. There is no point in the thing learning habits, because the occupants in the apts all have different habits. Obviously, without AC, that functionality is null. Anyone have an opinion based on knowledge?

    • tony kaye

      @jsnell:disqus might be able to answer this!

    • Jason Snell

      You could place separate occupancy sensors (from the Ecobee3, not the Nest) in all three townhouses and the thermostat could adjust based on that, but given that it’s a single zone I fear it would just turn into a battle between the three different families over who wants it warmer or colder. In that situation I’m not sure a product like this is worth it.

  • AndyF

    I was about to buy one but was spooked by the comments on Amazon. The ones which point out that the Nest is not fail-safe– it sometimes fails in the on position an you get a stuck on heater or AC.

    How do you feel about this and was it a consideration in your review?

    • tony kaye


    • Jason Snell

      I’ve never seen this behavior with the Nest.

    • iamlucky13

      There have been a lot of reviews from people experiencing this. Some discussion on it based on teardowns suspects that Nest is undersizing the transistors that switch on your HVAC relays, possibly in part due to the smaller size. If a thermostat fails on, the best case is it wastes money. The worst case is it does thousands of dollars damage to a central AC or heat pump.

      Other factors I’ve never liked about the Nest is that Google uses it to monitor your home’s occupancy (of course they will never confirm it, but the ability to better target ads to your phone based on when you’re at home is clearly the reason they bought Nest. In the corporate world, you can safely assume that if a business can do something that benefits them, they will), and more notably, it wastes energy by trying to guess when it should be on instead of being programmed like a normal smart thermostat by an intelligent device that actually know when people will be home: the homeowner his or her self.

    • jjkraw

      Even worse is failing in the off position, which mine did twice after the software release concurrent with the release of the Protect (which appeared to be rushed and under-tested based on the reaction on Nest’s community board).

      What makes the Nest non-fail-safe is that the basic operation of the HVAC relies on the health of the microprocessor, which also runs all of the smart stuff. If the thermostat is connected to the net, you cannot control if and when new software is pushed. And if that new software has bugs sufficient to actually crash the processor (as it did for me and others), you could be dealing with a really bad situation if no one is in the house to notice that the heat isn’t coming on. It takes a hard reset to get the thing working again. Needless to say, my Nests came down after this happened.

      In order for me to feel confident about using a Smart thermostat again, I’d have to know that the hardware was designed with fail-safe in mind. To me, this means the logic operating the HVAC is separate from the “smart” processor. One way to think about this logically is if, say, you had a robot pressing the buttons on a basic programmable Honeywell. You wouldn’t really implement it that way, but the basic idea is if the “smart” part fails, the basic, simple HVAC firmware still reliably turns the heat on and off. If anyone has details of the Ecobee or Lyric hardware, I’d love to hear about them.

      I also saw the chronic offline issues over multiple releases – the thermostat can have problems staying reliably connected to the Nest server, regardless of what router or access point one uses. I have a systems and networking programming background, so I was able to take network traces that identified the buggy behavior and give them to Nest. From looking at the community forum, it appears that none of the bugs I found have been fixed yet (more than a year later).

      Anyone considering the Nest would be wise to spend an hour or two in the community forum at

  • David Riethof

    The Nest and Ecobee are great if you have an uncomplicated HVAC setup and you like the data reporting and sleek design. But the programming that controls the HVAC system itself, especially for heat pumps, has a long ways to go before it’s even as good as a basic, ugly Honeywell. At the end of the day, is it more important to have a cool thermostat or one that actually works and doesn’t fry your system? Just be careful if you have a heat pump or some other complicated set up and don’t live in a mild mild climate like the bay area — i had to learn that the hard way.

  • garbanzito

    picked up a Nest (2nd gen) used at Goodwill; upshot is i would never have paid full price, and it helps if you’re a good troubleshooter, but if you can get it for half price it’s kind of nice

    installed it in about 10 minutes, but it was causing my crap 90s furnace to buzz every few seconds and do a lot of short cycles; i did some internet searches and realized i had the “no common wire” problem; there had been only red & white wires connected to my old Honeywell programmable thermostat, but the existing wire bundle included unused green (fan) and blue (common) so i went down to the furnace and hooked them up, then back up to the Nest and hooked them up, and now it works fine; one thing about it “learning” is that we have a quite varied schedule, i work from home a lot and bedtime varies, so what’s to learn? the Skylark app (which is just a trial without an in-app purchase) might be a requirement to get it to be any more efficient than the Honeywell, but it is nice to be able to turn it down from upstairs

  • David Fischer

    Despite this detailed review, I’m still don’t feel like I know what’s the best thermostat for someone who programs their thermostat. For someone who thinks these problems are from a sitcom and not real life: “no more getting up in the middle of the night to turn up the A/C. No dashing back into the house to lower the heat before you go on errands (or vacation)…”

    I need a schedule driven thermostat that’s easily programmed and then simply switched between and Heating and Cooling programs, and auto-sets for DST. A Vacation mode would be a benefit. And for me, it needs to support two-zone dampered system (one unit, with a damper controlled by a second thermostat.). Smartphone apps are a benefit, welcome, but not needed.

    From this review, the Honeywell or Ecobee sound like top choices.

    I appreciate any additional insights :)