Review: The Venstar T5800 is a programmable thermostat and digital picture frame in one
At a Glance
Venstar ColorTouch T5800 High Resolution Digital Thermostat
This thermostat is packed with features, and we dig being able to display our favorite digital photos on its seven-inch screen. But it's almost as expensive as the far-superior Nest when you add the Wi-Fi
The Venstar T5800 programmable thermostat boasts several features that neither the Nest nor the Honeywell RTH8580WF can match, the flashiest of which is the ability to display slideshows of your personal photographs on its seven-inch LCD. But you'll need to buy Venstar's SkyPort Wi-Fi dongle (a $65 option) in order to add this thermostat to your network. At that point, Venstar's thermostat costs just $29 less than the far-superior Nest.
The T5800 began life as a non-networkable programmable thermostat with an SD memory card slot. You can use Venstar’s ColorTouch Assistant software to program the thermostat’s settings using the much larger screen on your PC or Mac, save the settings to an SD memory card, and then transfer them to the thermostat. You can also save digital photos to an SD card and transfer those to the thermostat. Venstart doesn't provide an SD card in the box, so that's something else you'll need to provide (fortunately, low-capacity SD cards are cheap).
The SkyPort Wi-Fi dongle plugs into this same SD card slot. Once you’ve installed and configured it, you can access, manage, and program the thermostat over your network or from anywhere you have Internet access, using a computer, smartphone, or tablet (Venstar has mobile software for the Android, iOS, and Blackberry operating systems). The mobile apps are free, and there are no monthly fees.
Unfortunately, you can’t transfer digital photos to the thermostat over your wireless network. To do that, you must create a photo gallery using Venstar’s free ColorTouch Assistant software, save the gallery to an SD card, and transfer it to the thermostat via old-fashioned sneakernet (i.e., you must walk from your PC to the thermostat, remove, the Wi-Fi dongle, plug in the SD card, upload the photos, and then replace the Wi-Fi dongle).
When you upload the photos, however, you’ll also overwrite all the thermostat’s other settings; so you should be sure to use Venstar’s software to set those up and save them to the SD card at the same time you save your photo gallery. A Venstar representative tells us the company will provide a firmware update later this year that will allow digital photos to be transferred over the wireless network. That upgrade is scheduled to appear after one that enables you to deploy wireless temperature and humidity sensors to create a virtual multi-zone climate-control system.
Rather than relying on the sensor built into the thermostat (or using a wired remote sensor, which the thermostat currently supports), this upgrade will allow you to monitor the temperature in other rooms and to use either one of those temperatures to trigger the HVAC system or the average temperature reported by all the sensors to activate heating, cooling, or dehumidifying (if your home is equipped with a dehumidifier). That will be a great feature, but we can’t take that into account in our verdict since it’s not yet available.
Venstar crams a great deal of information into the T5800’s seven-inch display. At a glance, you’ll see the name of the thermostat (you can manage several thermostats from Venstar’s web portal); the date, day of the week, and current time; the current room temperature and target temperature; and the status of the fan (an icon spins when the fan is running). Touch the large virtual buttons to raise or lower the target temp. In addition to that, you’ll see touchscreen buttons leading to submenus for the fan (on or off), the HVAC mode (heating, cooling, auto, or off), and a third menu for all the thermostat’s settings. A single icon represents current weather conditions (sunny, cloudy, rain, and so on). If you find all these icons confusing, you can turn some of them off.
Venstar's web portal
You can program the T5800 with four events for each day of the week, which is typical of better programmable thermostats (although the Nest allows far more). You can also program the thermostat to send you email reminders to replace the air filter and to schedule periodic servicing (it will even store the name, address, and phone number of your service provider). The T5800 will also notify when firmware updates are available, and when indoor and outdoor temperature extremes occur (high and low, respectively).
All this and more information—including a 72-hour weather forecast and energy consumption reports that indicate how many hours the system has cooled and heated your home—is also displayed on the Skyport web portal and on the mobile device apps (which you can also use to send text messages to the thermostat. Why? I guess Venstar thought “Why not?”)
Installing the Venstar T5800
The T5800 is easy to install, but I always appreciate good documentation. Venstar provides that in an illustrated, 57-page booklet with both a table of contents and an index. As with the Nest, the manual recommends labeling the wires before detaching them from your existing thermostat, but Venstar doesn’t provide the labels.
To mount the thermostat, you must first pry off the back. This exposes a circuit board equipped with a set of DIP switches that can be configured to work with a conventional gas/electric furnace, a heat-pump, or a dual-fuel system.
You then punch the wiring from your HVAC system through a thermal-insulation label on the back of the thermostat and screw the back to the wall. The wires attach to metal sockets, which must be tightened down with small screws. 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.
The ability to display slideshows renders Venstar’s thermostat a dual-function device: It’s both an advanced programmable thermostat and a digital picture frame. But Venstar’s Wi-Fi adapter is a bit of a kludge, and the price tag for the whole kit is nearly as high as the Nest, which is both prettier and more sophisticated (even if it doesn't allow you to display cat pictures).
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 Honeywell RTH8580WF programmable thermostat and the Nest Learning Thermostat.