Review: Honeywell's model RTH8580WF programmable thermostat delivers the basics

At a Glance
  • Honeywell Wi-Fi Touchscreen Programmable Thermostat (Model RTH8580WF)

    TechHive Rating

    If you're on a tight budget, Honeywell's programmable thermostat will pay for itself faster than either the Venstar T5800 or the much-talked-about Nest. But it lacks many of the features (some advanced,...

Honeywell, one of the biggest names in thermostats, packs a great deal of value into this online, programmable, touchscreen thermostat. While it’s not very pretty to look at, this device provides most of the basic features you’d want at a reasonable street price of just $149.

Unlike the fancy LCDs on the Venstar 5800 or the Nest, Honeywell’s thermostat (model number RTH8580WF) relies on a retro LED panel. The black lettering on a green background reminds me of the old Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputer I fiddled around with in the early 80s. By default, the display remains lit in low-intensity mode until you touch the screen, but it’s quite bright even in this mode when the rest of the house is dark. You have the option of turning the backlight off altogether and having the display come on for eight seconds only after you touch it.That's what I would recommend if your thermostat is mounted outside a bedroom door—unless you want a night-light for the kids.

Honeywell's RTH8580WF isn't fancy, but it gets the job done.

The panel itself doesn’t convey all that much information: You’ll see the current indoor temperature and the target temperature, the time of day, the status of your HVAC system (heat, cool, or off), messages indicating whether the system is operating according to a schedule or if it’s on manual override, and an icon indicating that the thermostat is connected to your wireless network. There is no information about the current outdoor temperature, humidity, or a weather forecase.

Once you’ve installed the thermostat and performed its initial configuration, however, you won’t spend much time using its touchscreen—nearly all your interaction will be via Honeywell’s web portal, using either a personal computer or a mobile app (there are free apps for Android and iOS devices, but not the Blackberry). Honeywell does not assess a monthly fee.

The thermostat itself has very limited intelligence. You can assign it a name from a predefined list, for instance, by entering a numeric code at the touchscreen: 15 results in “Dining Room,” and there are 50 of these codes to choose from.) Unlike the Venstar T5800, on the other hand, you don’t need to set DIP switches to inform the thermostat what type of HVAC system you have: Gas, electric, or oil; heat pump or conventional forced air; and so on).

Also on the plus side, Honeywell’s thermostat has everything you need to connect to your wireless network right out of the box. The process of establishing that connection, however, is more convoluted than either Venstar’s product or that of the much fancier Nest. You must first connect your smartphone or tablet to the Honeywell thermostat’s own ad hoc network. Once you’ve done that and opened a browser on your device, the thermostat presents a list of the access points it has detected and prompts you to pick one and provide your login credentials.

Honeywell’s Web Portal

Honeywell’s web portal is attractive and easy to use. The landing screen presents a functional display of your thermostat, including the current indoor temperature, current outdoor temperature and humidity, buttons for raising or lowering the target temperature, and buttons for changing your HVAC system’s current mode of operation (heat, cool, off, or emergency heat). The initial screen also informs you if your system is operating according to a schedule or if it’s on manual override.

Honeywell's web portal is attractive and well designed.

A button click opens an overlay window with a five-day weather forecast.

Weather forecasts are based on your zip code.

You must use the web portal or a mobile app to program the thermostat’s schedule; this cannot be done from the touchscreen. You can establish four events and temperature targets for each day of the week one day at a time.

You can program Honeywell's thermostat day by day, if your schedule is that varied.

Alternatively, you can answer a series of questions about your household’s daily routine: “At what time does the first person wake up?” “At what time does the last person leave?” These are followed by questions such as “What temperature do you prefer when you wake?”Your answers to these questions can be applied to one or multiple days of the week at once, which makes short work of programming. The thermostat also has a vacation hold feature that will override the schedule with your choice of temperature for as long as you specify.

You can clone any one day's schedule to any other day of the week.

A feature Honeywell calls “smart response technology” measures how long it takes for your HVAC system to bring your home to the programmed temperature. Over time, it will adjust its start time so that your home is at the desired temperature at the time you desire, as opposed to firing up your HVAC system at that time. If it takes 15 minutes for your heater to warm your home to the temperature you’d like it to be when you wake up, the thermostat will trigger your heater to start up 15 minutes prior to the programmed time.

Honeywell’s web portal offers a limited number of options for informing you of what’s happening with you HVAC system by email, including sending you reminders to change its air filter. You can also turn on email notification when the temperature on the thermostat is higher or lower than a defined value, if your thermostat drops off your Wi-Fi network, or if it fails to respond to a command. But the thermostat won’t remind you to schedule preventative maintenance, and unlike both the Nest and the Venstar T5800, Honeywell’s web portal provides no information regarding the hours your system has operated or the energy it has consumed while heating and cooling your home.

You can direct the web portal to send you email alerts.

Installing the Honeywell RTH8580WF

Honeywell provides a comprehensive, 70-page user manual, plus a fold-out quick-start guide to help you install the thermostat, get it onto your network, and register it with Honeywell’s web portal. Honeywell suggests labeling your existing wiring and provides preprinted labels for that purpose. A coin battery provides backup power to preserve the thermostat’s settings in the event of a power outage.

You'll need a jeweler's screwdriver to fasten the low-voltage wiring to the thermostat.

As with the Venstar T5800, you must pry the back off of the thermostat, run the wires through a hole in the back panel, and then insert them into screw-down terminals. Unlike the Venstar, there is no hard-wired connection for an outdoor temperature sensor. Bring a flashlight: The holes are on the side of the terminal blocks and are difficult to see without abundant light. As you reattach the front of the thermostat to the back, you push pins from the circuit board into these sockets to establish electrical contact with the thermostat.

Final Thoughts

Honeywell’s Wi-Fi Touchscreen Programmable Thermostat delivers the basic features you want in a networkable programmable thermostat, including the ability to control your HVAC system from anywhere you have Internet access. We also like Honeywell’s “smart response” technology. The green LED touchscreen, on the other hand, is ugly and relatively primitive: You can’t program the device from here, and it doesn’t report the outdoor temperature, provide a weather forecast, or deliver much else in the way of useful information.

Note: This review is part of a three-product roundup. Click here to read more about programmable thermostats in general and to find my reviews of two other products: The Nest Learning Thermostat and the ColorTouch T5800 touchscreen thermostat.

Editor's Note: This review was updated on 1/30/2012 to correctly report that the thermostat will send an email alert when the HVAC system's air filter should be changed. We regret the error.

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At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    If you're on a tight budget, Honeywell's programmable thermostat will pay for itself faster than either the Venstar T5800 or the much-talked-about Nest. But it lacks many of the features (some advanced, some relatively basic) that its competitors deliver.

    Pros

    • Everything you need in one box
    • "Smart Response" technology
    • Moderate price tag

    Cons

    • Primitive, ugly black-on-green touchscreen
    • No email reminders about preventative maintenance
    • No usage or energy-consumption reporting
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