Product: Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat with Apple HomeKit support
Compatibility: Any iOS device with iOS 8.4 or later
Date: Nov. 20, 2015
Apple’s HomeKit is slowly making steps to become more relevant. After a small number of products started to hit the market in early summer, we’re finally beginning to see even more (and actually useful) devices with Siri support. Along with the iHome iSP5 SmartPlug and Elgato Eve Weather outdoor sensor, I’ve previously taken a look at the Philips Hue Bridge 2.0 that supports HomeKit.
But first off, a quick reminder about exactly what HomeKit does. The Apple-designed protocol was designed to make it easier for users to interact with products in the growing smart home market. The biggest advantage, for now, is the ability to control and check the status of different devices by simply asking Siri.
One of the more interesting possibilities for HomeKit is smart thermostats. While Nest helped to define the category, the company is now owned by Google and more than likely won’t ever support Apple’s protocol.
But there is another option thanks to the Ecobee3 thermostat. While Canadian-based Ecobee originally unveiled the device back in 2014, an updated version landed earlier this year that takes full advantage of HomeKit.
Installation is up first
The most difficult part of the entire experience comes at the start with installation. Easily put, if you have basic DIY experience around your home, actually getting the thermostat installed can be a quick and simple process. Ecobee includes everything you’ll need to do the work, short of a screwdriver and drill.
But the big issue is a c-wire, also known as a common wire. Not to get extremely technical, but the c-wire is a low-voltage wire that provides constant power to the thermostat. The Ecobee3 needs power full-time to properly take advantage of HomeKit and keep the display on constantly. When you’re not adjusting the thermostat, the display will show the current weather conditions outside and temperature inside your house.
And your heating and cooling system may or may not have a c-wire. The only way you can tell for sure is to remove the front housing of your current thermostat and check the wires. If a wire is connected to a port with “c” you probably don’t have much to worry about. Ecobee says 95 percent of heating and cooling systems are compatible with the thermostat, and you can find out more with a compatibility checker on the company’s site.
If you don’t see a c-wire, the situation can get a little more dicey. In my case, my heating and cooling system did have a c-wire, it simply wasn’t hooked up at the source. But after a quick trip up to my attic and about 10 minutes of adjustment, everything was working great.
I suspect that is out of the ordinary. If you have no c-wire at all, Ecobee includes something called a power extender kit. With it installed, the existing wires can power the thermostat. I’m pretty handy around the house, but I wouldn’t recommend attempting to install the extender kit yourself. It’s definitely something that would require a professional installer, which could add $100 or more to the final bill.
Time for fun with Siri
After installation is complete, go ahead and download the companion Ecobee3 app that’s needed to complete the installation process.
One of my favorite features of the thermostat is its 3.5-inch touchscreen. It’s basically an old-school iPhone mounted to the wall. The UI is simple and easy to use, and should be obvious to pretty much anyone who has ever used a smartphone. The main screen shows your home’s current temperature, the thermostat’s setting, and a slider for adjustment.
Being able to control the thermostat and more with Siri is really fun. Ecobee has the complete list of Siri commands you can use with the thermostat. It might take a bit of learning, but after a few days, I was able to easily adjust the thermostat from anywhere with my iPhone. I especially enjoyed using the voice commands with the always-on Siri feature of my iPhone 6s Plus. And if you have a third- or fourth-generation Apple TV, you can control the thermostat with Siri away from your home network. With my new Apple TV, I had no problem doing that. It was also easy to control with Siri on my Apple Watch.
Speaking of the wearable device, the watch app is a great way to keep track of your home’s temperature. A third-party complication can show what your thermostat is set to on your watchface. Opening the app itself will show the temperature at your home. A Force Touch will allow you to set the thermostat to home or away and turn the fan to automatic or on. Just turn the Digital Crown to adjust the temperature.
Here’s an interactive preview via our sister site WatchAware.
In my testing, the most powerful feature turned out to be the remote sensors. Ecobee includes one with the thermostat. An additional two-pack can be purchased for around $70. Each sensor acts as a small temperature reporting station in your house and can also detect any motion. Both of those features come in handy for a number of reasons.
Most importantly, when you’re at home, the Follow Me function polls the thermostat and your wireless sensors to determine where motion is detected. It will then average the temperature of the occupied rooms to help make your house more comfortable. Even in my fairly small house, that has definitely been a huge help. My master bedroom usually runs hotter than normal while the rooms near the central air return are colder than the rest of the house. If my remote sensor determines that I’m in the master bedroom, for example, it will adjust the temperature to compensate.
Using the app, you can also set detailed schedules when you’re home or away to help save on your energy bills. The functionality won’t “learn” your schedule like the Nest, but it’s much less intrusive and easy to adjust.
The motion detection feature also comes in handy with the Smart Home feature. If you happen to arrive home when the schedule is set to away, the system will automatically adjust and flip on if needed. Smart Away will do the opposite and detect when you’re not around even if your schedule is set to home.
I’ve had the thermostat installed for a few months, and it has done great. Living in Texas, there isn’t much of an off season for either the air conditioning or heating system – depending on the time of year. The sensors have helped to level out the trouble spots around my house, leading to a more comfortable environment. And I’ve definitely noticed some savings on my energy bills, which is a great plus.
I did run into a few issues, though. With the sensors being such a big and useful part of the system, I’d like to see Ecobee include more than one with a thermostat. The iPhone app also doesn’t offer as much information as the iPad version or Web portal, which was disappointing.
To activate HomeKit, the combination heat/cool option has to be disabled. That was bothersome as there are many situations, especially this time of year, that I use heat in the morning and air conditioning in the late afternoon. But when needed, you can switch back and forth from cool to heat via the app or thermostat.
So if you’re looking to start building a smart home – and you’re an iPhone user – the Ecobee3 is definitely recommended. Siri support is a natural addition to a smart thermostat, and its something that should eventually pay for itself. That’s not a bad deal at all.
- Installation should be quick and easy for most users if they have basic DIY experience.
- Large touchscreen makes the interface simple to use.
- Remote sensor system can help keeps your entire house, or just the room you are in, comfortable.
- Using Siri to set the thermostat and check the temperatures around your home adds a great level of functionality to the system.
- The thermostat display is always on.
- Doesn’t need a hub to connect to your router.
- You’ll need a c-wire to provide power to the thermostat or use the included workaround.
- The iPhone app doesn’t offer as much detail as the online portal or iPad app.
- Only one remote sensor is included.
- To turn on Siri support, you’ll have to disable the combination heat/cool setting.
Aesthetic Appeal: ★★★★☆
Wow Factor: ★★★★☆
Build Quality: ★★★★☆
Buy Now: $229, Amazon.com.