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Ecobee’s smart thermostats are consistently among our top picks, and the overhaul that produced this fifth-generation product is as welcome as it is unexpected. In other words, we didn’t think the Alexa-powered Ecobee could get much better—but it has. And that goes for the remote room sensors, too (more on those in a bit).
Apart from the glass over its display, the new model doesn’t look radically different from the previous one, because most of the improvements are under the hood. That display, however, is even more vivid and responsive to touch, thanks in part to an all-new quad-core processor. There’s also a new dual-band Wi-Fi adapter, so you can add the thermostat to your 5GHz network if you find the 2.4GHz frequency band in your environment to be too crowded.
An updated microphone makes it even easier to summon Alexa, and the addition of a Bluetooth radio gives you the option of pairing external speakers to the Ecobee in the pursuit of higher-quality audio streaming. The new Ecobee can do pretty much anything an Amazon Echo smart speaker can do.
Well, almost anything. If you already have a bunch of Echos in your home, you might find it to be a crapshoot as to which one answers when you utter the Alexa wake word. An easy fix for this would be to change the Ecobee’s wake word, but Amazon apparently reserves that feature for its own hardware (you can configure any Echo speaker to respond to “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “Computer” instead of “Alexa.” The Ecobee is stuck with the default.)
What’s that? You don’t live in an Alexa household? Take your pick of several other smart home integrations then. The new model also supports Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, and IFTTT.
An easy-to-use smart thermostat
Every Ecobee model we’ve dealt with has been easy to install and easier to use, and this fifth-generation model is no different. The company does suggest you take a quick compatibility test to make sure your HVAC system is compatible (you’ll find that here), but all Ecobee thermostats are generally compatible with a wide range of central HVAC systems, including heat pumps, two-stage set-ups, and other common configurations.
A power extender kit (PEK) for systems without a C-wire is included in the box. One other minor inclusion we appreciated was the surprisingly detailed paper manual covering the entire physical installation process—we much prefer printed documentation over relying on just the mobile app for instructions.
Once you’ve wired it up, powered it on, and the new Ecobee has confirmed your HVAC setup, you need only inform the thermostat of your preferred temperature comfort ranges for when you’re at home, away, and sleeping. It will then establish a basic schedule that will automatically adjust as it learns both your daily activity and any tweaks you make while using the app, via Alexa commands, or by operating the thermostat itself.
An onboard motion sensor and any remote sensors you deploy in other rooms (the kit comes with two) helps the thermostat determine which rooms are occupied. Geofencing is also supported, so you can program the thermostat to automatically adjust target temperatures to avoid needlessly heating or cooling your home while you’re not in it.
Ecobee’s sensors have been overhauled, too
Ecobee was one of the first smart thermostat manufacturers to support remote sensors, so that your home’s climate will be comfortable wherever you are in it. More conventional thermostats simply the monitor the space where the thermostat itself is located—which is typically a hallway that people only pass through. Remote sensors are less unique than they once were, however, as competitors including Nest and Honeywell have followed Ecobee’s lead. Ecobee has responded in turn, making its all-new SmartSensor even better.
Despite being smaller, the new and more attractive SmartSensor can detect motion across a wider field of view. It also draws less power—Ecobee says you can expect up to five years of battery life—and it delivers significantly better range (from about 30 feet to better than 60 feet, although walls and other barriers will reduce that range). During my tests, the new sensor never lost its connection to the thermostat, including when it was placed in locations where the previous-gen device was unreliable at best.