Ecobee 4 Smart Thermostat Review - Heart of the Smart Home

Truly the center of the smart home

Smart thermostats have become increasingly popular since Nest came around, but Nest isn’t the only company making compelling products by any means. The Ecobee 4 is the fourth generation smart thermostat from Ecobee, and it’s not just a smart thermostat, it’s also a full-fledged Amazon Alexa speaker too. As such it will quickly become a pivotal point in the center of your smart home, the place where thermostats are usually placed anyway, and opens the door for many future possibilities too. How well does it work? Let’s take a look.

Installation and What’s Included

Ecobee packs the box full of everything you need to get started. The thermostat itself, a mounting bracket with screws, and the wiring plate are all inside along with an easy to follow instruction manual that breaks down which wires need to be plugged into which port. This instruction manual details all sorts of different types of heating and cooling systems, as well as the required wiring diagrams for each. For instance a 2-wire boiler/radiator heating system simply will not work with the Ecobee 4; it needs that dedicated third wire for power, but a more complex system with auxiliary heat will likely work better than ever with this thermostat.

Ecobee also includes a secondary sensor that can be placed anywhere in the house, particularly a room that’s hotter or cooler than the rest of the house, and can help even out temperatures throughout the home. Installation is reasonable, although the wiring will certainly be a challenge for some systems. Once the plate has been wired, the Ecobee 4 just snaps into the mounting plate with a set of pins, and is fully self-contained from there. Since Alexa is built in, you’ll need to link your Amazon account through the Ecobee app to get this functionality rolling.

There’s also a separate Ecobee account that needs to be set up, and you’ll also have to link your Ecobee thermostat to Alexa’s Skillset within the Alexa app. Ecobee also supports Google Assistant now, although that’s not built in the way Alexa is. This still means that you’ll need to link your Ecobee account to your Google account within the Google Home app. This grants the ability to integrate Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or both if you so wish. Once accounts are set up, configuring your system comes next. The Ecobee 4 supports a wide range of HVAC systems, all with simple setup that attempts to auto detect many aspects of your HVAC system. The system we have it hooked up to, for instance, is a heat pump and AC system, with auxiliary natural gas when it drops below a certain temperature outside. We didn’t need to make any tweaks to what the system autodetected, which was impressive to say the least.

Hardware and Design

Ecobee’s design is simple, yet iconic. Sporting an all-black color scheme, this squircle design feels right at home with most modern smartphone icons, and the tall touchscreen in the middle only furthers that view. To the right of the screen is a small sensor panel that includes a proximity sensor. While it’s idle, the screen will only display the current temperature, but as you approach the unit the proximity sensor will turn the screen on fully and show the climate controls. It’s a very minimalist design overall and attempts to blend in with your home rather than stand out on its own.

Ecobee’s interface is extremely intuitive, with a large reading of the current temperature inside the dwelling, as well as a humidity level, current operating status, and a quick slider on the right for immediate temperature changes. This temperature gauge will also show the current thresholds for both cooling and heating, depending on which options are set. Along the bottom you’ll find four icons, from left to right: menu, weather, quick settings, and microphone toggle. This microphone toggle can come in handy for folks that don’t want Alexa always listening, or don’t want to trigger Alexa accidentally on the Ecobee itself.

Ecobee ties in with local weather services, if you allow it, and can use this data to predict heating and cooling patterns in your dwelling. This is easily accessible via the main screen and will need to be given permission to operate. The menu and settings are laid out identically to the app’s in most places, and will functionally mirror the app. This creates a consistent experience between the ways to interface with the Ecobee 4, and makes things less confusing overall. A large blue LED light is located on the top to indicate when Alexa is listening for a command.

App

One of the best reasons to get a smart, connected thermostat like this is the ability to control it from anywhere. The Ecobee app essentially mirrors the exact same functionality and layout as the Ecobee 4 itself, and thus makes adjusting settings and checking temperatures easy as pie. The main screen looks identical to the thermostat’s main screen, showing the current temperature, adjustment slider and so on and so forth. This makes it incredibly easy to check the house temperature and adjust it as needed, and Ecobee’s automatic scheduling engine is extremely powerful too.

A simple scheduler allows for temperatures to be set for any day of the week, just for weekdays, or just for weekends. The automated occupancy scheduler is definitely the best though, as it’s not just a static schedule, rather it moves between three different presets depending on what it senses: home, away, and sleep. The Ecobee 4 will utilize the main thermostat, as well as any paired sensors throughout the home to determine room occupancy, and adjust the temperature as dictated by your settings. You’ll also find an easy vacation mode that can adjust the temperature to save energy while you’re away from the house, and automatically re-adjust it for when you return.

All settings and adjustments can be made from the app too, including system type and configuration, the name of the thermostat can be customized, and many different types of alerts can be configured too. Maintenance reminders can be set for filter changes, UV lamps or other types of regular maintenance needs. Other alerts include temperature and humidity alerts, as well as alerts for excessive runtime or outdoor temperatures too.

Interconnection and Smart Home Compatibility

As the Ecobee 4 ships with Alexa built in, it can act as any other Alexa speaker would. This includes a full featured version of Alexa, not just a simplified one that would only accept commands for the thermostat itself, so you can effectively use it in place of, or in addition to, any of Amazon’s own Echo products. The speaker on board is primarily made to project voices clearly, not necessarily to offer a quality music experience or anything like that, although it can certainly be used in addition to other speakers for whole-house music capabilities.

Having Alexa built in can be a bit weird at first, simply because it seems like Alexa should be deeply integrated into the Ecobee, when in fact it’s a completely separate system running in parallel. This means commands won’t instantly happen, rather there’s the usual processing delay that comes with commands, and at times I had issues getting Alexa to do what I wanted. This isn’t unique to the Ecobee’s implementation of Alexa; I’ve had this problem before with Amazon’s assistant, as the voice recognition isn’t quite as good as Google Assistant in the natural sense. Alexa seems to rely more on specific commands than organic questions, and while this is still a limitation of Google Assistant in some ways, Amazon has a ways to go before it catches up to Google here.

Fans of Google Assistant will be happy to know that Assistant is officially supported for the Ecobee 4, although not through the built-in speaker on the Ecobee itself. You can use any other Google Assistant-powered speaker in your home to issue commands, or just use your phone or other supported device as well. IFTTT is also supported for more advanced, granular commands, which can come in handy if you need something specific that otherwise might not be available through Ecobee’s built-in commands. IFTTT also gives full programmatic abilities to the Ecobee’s functionality, so if the automated modes that Ecobee provides don’t quite match what you need, a few quick clicks in IFTTT will allow you to schedule actions based on times, dates, locations or thousands of other criteria. It’s a brilliant way to open up your product to an infinite amount of possibilities.

The Good

Beautiful, minimalist design

Wide compatibility with many HVAC systems

Simple installation and detailed tutorial

Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT support

Easy to use interface

Brilliant remote control capabilities

Full-featured app

Can be used as the center of the smart home

Wide range of programmable and scheduling options

Ultra efficient use of outdoor weather conditions

Extra sensors help balance out the home temperature

The Bad

Separated Alexa can be confusing

Won’t work with 2-wire systems

Final Thoughts

The Ecobee 4 is truly everything you need in a smart thermostat and nothing you don’t. With Alexa built in, the Ecobee 4 can quickly become the true center of the smart home, giving the ability to control everything from its voice-activated assistant. With options for Google Assistant and IFTTT as alternative control points, the Ecobee 4 truly works itself into every ecosystem imaginable without compromise. It works with nearly every kind of HVAC system you can devise, and the simple installation with detailed walkthrough will have you up and running in no time. To top it off, a truly excellent app puts all the options at your fingertips and makes remotely controlling everything a breeze. It’s a no brainer to get one.

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