Skip to main content

What are you looking for in a 'smart' thermostat?

The internet of Living Rooms is a thing. We point to the very popular, very pricey and potentially cool smart thermostat market to see how it's beginning.

Environmental control is a natural place for smart and connected devices to be. Ever since the middle of the 20th century, we've heard about how the homes of the future will be automated and controllable from one central location. Fast forward to today, and nobody is surprised when they hear about a home that has smart lighting or smart heating and cooling.

We're going to talk a little bit about that smart heating and cooling today. Specifically, what we want a smart thermostat to do for us.

There is a fair-sized market filled with smart thermostats out there. You have the Nest, which most everyone reading Android Central on the regular will know about, but other companies — both newer names like Ecobee as well as familiar names like Honeywell — have products with their own set of compelling features. But when you get down to the basics, most of them are doing the same things.

When you get down to the basics, most smart thermostats are doing the same things

A big draw of any smart thermostat is the potential to save money. We all like to save money, and shaving a couple dollars from your heating and cooling costs every week adds up. Options, like knowing when nobody is home and adjusting the temperature or learning how to adjust the fan on your particular HVAC system to maximize the energy used, are a great way to do just that. It's also environmentally friendly, which is a good thing.

Scheduling and learning when things need to be cooler or warmer is another great perk of having a smart thermostat. Once your thermostat learns that you get home at six every evening and that you like to keep your house at a certain temperature, the smart "stuff" can happen so that you're comfortable when you walk in the door. No more walking in and turning the heat back up by hand and waiting for the house to warm up.

Nest apps

We can't ignore the connected aspect of a smart thermostat. You have a tiny computer that knows how and when to turn on the switches that control your heat and air conditioning, so it's logical that it can connect to things like your smartphone. We love being able to control things without being there to touch them, and no matter how smart a thermostat may be, there are times when you go outside your normal schedule. Being able to change the temperature inside your house while you're on the way home is great. Having your thermostat, which knows that you're not home, being able to control your lights is even better.

Google Home will know more about you than you do. A lot of the things it knows could be used to further automate our heating and cooling systems.

The popularity (and potential) of in-home smart assistants make things even closer to those visions of the future folks had years ago. The Amazon Echo can control several models of smart thermostat, and the same integration is expected with Google Home. Alexa and Google Assistant will adjust the things you tell them to adjust, and both know the weather forecast. These are important bits of information for the brains that control what temperature your house is. Hopefully, one day we can just tell our house to make sure it always "feels like 70 degrees" inside and never talk to it about the weather again.

Google Home and Assistant are especially intriguing. Most people reading this have used Google Now, Now on Tap or even the new Assistant. They're filled with our personal information and in return they can truly keep track of our lives. If you read the privacy agreement you saw when you first tried any of these services you know that they keep detailed data about your calendar, phone book, location data and more. In return, they can tell us which gate to use when we're at the airport or let us know that the weather when we get off the plane will be rainy so we should take an umbrella. With the right data, we don't even need a thermostat to adjust and everything can just happen to keep us comfortable.

The real question about smart thermostats is what you want from one.

There are a lot of reasons to want a smart thermostat, and there are a lot of people writing on the Internet about them. The real question, both for those of us writing about them and for the people manufacturing and designing them, is what do you want from one.

For me, I want to never have to walk over to the wall and make micro adjustments. Some days are colder or warmer than others, and with a typical "not-smart" setup that means you will need to adjust. I like the energy saving ideas. I love the way a smart thermostat can sense when I'm not there and bump things to save me money while being greener. But mostly, I don't want to get up at 3am because the wife is cold and bump the heat up a few degrees.

What features are most important to you? Or what features do you want to see in the next round of connected, smart thermostats? Or maybe you don't want your heating and cooling to be smart at all and want complete control over the dial. Take a moment in the comments and share.

This article was originally published in September 2015. It was last updated in November 2016 with information about Google Home and Google Assistant.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

99 Comments
  • To get out of the way and be a smart thermostat Posted via the Android Central App
  • Imo fuq smart thermostats, buy a regular programmable one, program it and be done with it.
    Such a waste of $$ imo
    The don't do anything a regular one can't outside eof communicating with your phone
  • Regular one does not learn from usage. My electric usage has gone down because the Nest knows when to turn on and off and adjust accordingly whether we are home or not.
  • Communicating with my phone is a pretty big deal, though. I'm away from home a lot, and being able to tell my phone to turn the heat on when my plane lands so that my house will be warm when I get home would make life a lot nicer four or five months out of the year.
  • Affordability. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I was ready to buy the Nest thermostat, but unfortunately, my system wasn't compatible. Damn!!!
  • Came here to say this. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Just signed up for Google fiber in SLC, option to get a Nest installed for $200.00. Power company also has a $100 rebate, jumped on it. $100 deal installed, it gets cold here, hopefully it will cut down on my heating bill.
  • And longevity. No one wants to replace a device that's not supported anymore but could still work. My grandparents 1960's thermostat with fulminated mercury stiil runs perfectly
  • To make me a smoothie Posted via the Android Central App
  • Lol MIC DROP
  • I want it to keep an EVEN temperature, without fluctuating up and down like current thermostatic valves and wall thermostats. It should manage each room separately. There should be an option to adjust it from a mobile, BUT ONLY if there is no one else already home! If one "owner" of the system changes a setting, it should advise others so that tehy can override that if necessary. Can you imagine what my wife would say if I went out and decided to switch off the heating, but she had come home early and found the house cooling down around her? However, it also needs to be cheap enough to have a pay back period within my lifetime. At present, that does not appear to be the case for ANY smart thermostat.
  • Not even Ecobee?
  • You're kidding right? $249 for a thermostat with only one remote sensor? My gas costs for a full year are only around £760, that covers heating and cooking. Electricity (for the pump as well as lights and microwave, TV and computers, costs around £500. I cannot see that upfront cost getting paid back any time soon.
  • I do HVAC for a living. It is possible to manage each room seperately but not from one thermostat. You would need to add dampers and thermostats to each room. As far as one "owner" changing the system that's a different story. The easiest way to deal with that is that everyone can connect to the same thermostat from their individual phones. Then they could open the app and adjust as necessary. Unfortunately that isn't the best solution but it works.
  • Since you are in the HVAC business, do you know if a smart thermostat works well with a system that has a heat pump? i found conflicting info online since some people say that programable thermostats are not a good option for heat pump systems since it would cause the backup pump to turn on too often. Was looking into either a nest or Ecobee
  • I'm in the Chicago area where hear pumps are a pretty horrible option. I've seen Nest thermostats and asked the customer. No one has reported back to me that there are any issues.
  • @perrochingon, when setup properly they work just fine with heat pump systems. My guess is many people are not changing the system setting in the smart thermostat for a heat pump system, since by default they ship setup for a traditional heating/cooling system (ex. gas, oil, electric, etc.), and it ends up causing problems. Case in point, I recently replaced a dumb thermostat with a Honeywell smart one and changed it for a heat pump system with backup/auxiliary heating (this also enables the "Compressor protection" option) and it works exactly the same as the old thermostat cycling the heat pump at the same interval.
  • I live in Florida and have a heat pump. The nest has been installed now for about 3 years without any problems to speak of. In fact, it has reduced our total usage by about 20% per month! YMMV but when you have 5 in the household and live in Florida, 20% makes a huge difference!!
  • Smarthome.com has battery powered smart registers that could achieve it without putting dampers. Problem is they don't tell you how to control them and of course you would to be having to change batteries on something else. They also have duct dampers that are hardwired that work with Insteon but you have to configure their control manually. Looking at what they require just makes you want to hire a professional to install zone control system. Posted via the Android Central App
  • There is a system that let's you manage each room from one controller. It is by Carrier and it is called Infinity Touch with optional remote temperature sensors and damper controls. Very expensive solution.
  • IFTTT control, keep the entire home equalized, and not provide stats to a marketing company.
  • Love my Nest. It learns from all my wife's tuning and has cut out about 2 to 3 hours a day of the AC being on. Plus I like being able to check history and check on it throught out the day from my phone. Also love that it takes the weather into account.
  • To work with my old ass system!
  • Ha! Agreed. I live in an older home in the mountains. Propane and wood stove for heat, no ac needed due to high elevation. Now, if a smart thermostat would load up my wood stove and start a fire, I'm in!
  • Lucky man! I wish I lived in mountains
  • Yes, very lucky for many reasons. From a tech standpoint, a bit limited. My only Internet service option is a wireless service, 8Mb/8Mb for $75/mo, and there is zero cell service available at my home. I'm a big fan of online media services that allow cached/downloaded data and phones with lots of storage or microSD :-)
  • I had a 20 yro gas furnace/AC. I installed an Iris Zwave thermostat from Lowe's (rebranded RCS CTS-101) which supports about 20 different kinds of HVAC configurations. Last year a transformer blew outside my house and my furnace was cooked, so I installed a new Trane dual-fuel gas/heatpump system and it too is fully suported. It' works with Iris, Vera, HomeSeer, SmartThings or Wink. Costs less than $100. Add another $150 for the HA hub of your choice and you're at the same price of an Ecobee or Nest.
  • My system is riser heat-exchanger fan coil
  • and it's high voltage
  • It supports 2 and 3 wire thermostat heating systems, 4 wire heat/AC or heat pumps w/o aux heat, 5 wire heat/AC or multistage heatpump, and 6 wire multi stage heat pumps w/multi stage aux heat. It works with or without a 24v "C" wire. I am not familiar with high voltage heating systems but this thing has a lot of options.
  • If the thermostat is more of a relay that controls the system, go that route. Get a 240v zwave relay, one (or more) zwave temp sensors and the HA hub of your choice to host the on/off logic. I use vera but HomeSeer is another good standalone hub. I don't usually recommend the cloud based systems for vital services like hvac but smartthings has been getting better. You might even be able to work in a standard thermostat in parallel as a backup. You'd leave it set to something like 60F to keep the house from freezing if the HA failed. This is 2 minutes of googling. Amazon sells some variant of these if you're a one-stop shopper. The biggest relay I could find -10KW
    http://www.zwaveproducts.com/shop/brands/Jasco/z-wave-outdoor-amp-with-e... https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.anrdoezrs.net%2F...
  • To work with modulating systems via OpenTherm instead of only full on or off. That would safe soms extra gas :) Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm going to let this technology mature awhile before I consider using it. For now I can handle my own business. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Something that doesn't send my data to the 'cloud'.
    Something with an open API. So tired of the 'cloud'. --- This message brought to you via the sarcasm keyboard available for download at the Google Play Store.
    LG-G2 on Lollipop.
  • This!!! Let me keep it on my local home network and connect/control it directly; no Internet connection or web portal registration required.
  • So much this!
  • I set the thermostat twice a year and never touch it again, which minimizes fuel costs. For minor adjustments, I change the amount / type of clothing I wear. I need a smart thermostat like I need a smart toilet paper dispenser.
  • Don't knock a smart toilet paper dispenser before you try it... if we're talkin' that it wipes for ya, then that's something that I definitely need.
  • Exactly the same here. This is for techy people want want to feel even more techy. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Actually it is for everyone. Most of these thermostats can have an outdoor sensor attached. This allows it to adjust for the temperature outside and evaluate and respond. Also it's a good thing to know what's going on in your house. You don't really need to use the app, but most have a alarm function to tell you if something is going wrong with your system. Honeywell goes beyond that and you can purchase extra sensors to do other things. Such as having a sensor in your basement to detect if there is flooding because your sump pump broke down. There are hundreds of possibilities.
  • yep, I went with a Honeywell ("old" HVAC!!) RedLink and VisionPRO system a few years ago because of the flexibility it provided, including multiple sensors. Not sexy enough for tech blogs to cover... thank god. ;)
  • Went with a bidet seat. Saving tons of cash on TP annually now.
  • couldn't you just get a smart bidet that knows exactly how much water to use?
  • I do not want a nest with fuzzy approximate temperature setting and trying to be smart when thermostats are often mounted in a place you don't spend time. I want simple remote control of the schedule and override temperature.
  • Emerson's Sensi is perfect ...found Nest to be a pain.
  • I don't understand why people want a device sticking out of the wall. My ideal thermostat is an app on my phone. The thermostat part should be hidden away and connected to the internet. It doesn't even need a display. I want a thermostat that works like a Chromecast. I've looked around for something like that. Apparently most people want some ugly box (or an expensive slightly less ugly circle) jutting out of their wall.
  • I guess if you want something for looks instead of energy savings then yes, current ones aren't for you. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Get one of the wink thermostats and build it into the wall like a plug
  • It would be nice of Nest added more stats, alerts, widget and simple hold temp..
  • I'd like mine flush mounted in the wall, maybe sticking out 1/2 in, tops. I like the geofencing idea from flobee, and I also want it to interface with the other connected devices in my home like the nest. Really, we need a home automation standard interface so I can buy whatever cameras, smoke detectors, locks, lights, whatever I want. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Have you checked out Wink?
  • Haha u don't even have a 'dumb' thermostat! Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • I live in San Diego. What's a thermostat? Posted via the Android Central App
  • In San Diego? I'm guessing it's the thing that controls the air conditioning... Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • Obviously you have never been to San Diego. Posted via the Android Central App
  • In SD you just leave your windows open year round. LOL Posted via my Nexus 6
  • This
  • I bought a Tado smart thermostat. It connects to your router and you have an app on your phone. It knows when you're coming home and will automatically switch on your heating. Also gives you pretty fine grained control of temperatures during the day. I installed mine myself - Tado supplies instructions specific to your boiler and I'm no DIY expert by a long way. Not sure if Tado is available in the US though - they're a German company. What initially attracted me was that they have an app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone and I do occasionally use a Lumia 930. Posted via the Android Central App
  • HOLD function.
  • A LAN only wifi thermostat... Its silly that if the inet goes down you cant remotely manage your thermostat via wifi. I think the Hue does this right with its ecosystem but sadly no thermostats save ones that use ZWave or Zigbee or a few older wifi or ethernet ones do. Everything is sent to the cloud and works from there. Aside from that anything more would need an accompanying HVAC system upgrade with dampers, etc to be zone aware. I suppose I do like the multi-sensor support of the ecobee that will at least give a better average temp of the whole house.
  • I just don't get the need/appeal of these at all! I've got central heating that I put on in the winter, there's a temperature setting in the hall and all the rooms have thermostatic valves on them if I want different temperatures there. When I go on holiday I turn off the heating or turn it right down. I don't get what Nest or its ilk would add? Not sure there's going to be much take up for them in the UK!
  • The ability to turn off your heat or AC remotely if you accidentally leave it on is nice as is the history of when you had it running. I enjoy my Nest and couldn't imagine going back to a regular thermostat.
  • I'm not against Nest or any smart thermostats. Maybe I'll get one in the future, but for now, to me, it's just another thing I have to worry about.
  • Same here. I'm not buying into the 'internet of things' at this time. Maybe some day down the line, but it has no value to me right now.
  • WiFi connectivity mostly...like mine has. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Multi thermostat control as I have 2 thermostats and currently would have to buy 2 nests
  • I don't see the point honestly. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Well then, don't buy one. Lol. But I thought the same thing and then after using nest it more than paid for itself. It learned my schedule, saved energy, added features like keeping the fan on after the air turned off so that all the cold air in the vents would be pushed out and not wasted, I can also turn it on when I'm heading home so the house is comfortable when I get home. Not to mention it has saved me money and can warn me if something goes wrong with my system. Plus it works in conjunction with the nest protect which is great. That said, $249 is pricey. I got mine on sale and used rewards from best buy. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't understand this, it's really not THAT difficult to adjust the temperature yourself... This is honestly a ridiculous idea, in my opinion. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yep, it's ridiculous when most people forget to adjust their adjustable thermostat or when their schedule changes and they have to do it again. Not to mention it's ridiculous being able to control it remotely or adding new features to an older system that helps conserve energy and also getting a report every month to see how your saving energy and what you can do to save more energy. It's so ridiculous. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I thought that also, for three years, then I bought the Nest. It makes a lot more sense to me now. Is far more intuitive, actually does save me on HVAC costs, and puts the entire family on a temp budget (the goal is a leaf a day). Bonus for turning on and setting the temp when I'm headed home from the bay area to have the house comfortable when I arrive.
  • Most non smart thermostats can be set on a time based schedule. I want to say over 90% of people know what time they are going to leave work most days.
  • My wife stays at home with the kid (and another due in November). We also have 2 dogs. Basically the A/C needs to be on all day everyday unless we get a couple days of window open weather. But we are pretty tied to the house other than weekends. And I just manually turn the A/C up a few degrees if we leave. But I can't change it too much because of the dogs. All this applies to the winter as well. I figure these smart thermostats aren't for my situation. The only thing I would find useful is one I can control from my phone outside the house in case I forgot to make a change before we left the house. But that happens so infrequently. Then again, I pay only $115 a month for electric in the summer in Chicago and about $50 a month for gas in the winter. Extra insulation, plaster walls, and a brick house make things a lot cheaper...lol Posted via the Android Central App
  • I laugh each time I read about these smart thermostats and the prices they charge to add no value except gimmick. A regular programmable thermostat costs much less and does all that is needed: you program the schedule of the temperature you want and then put it on run. It doesn't have to "learn," you tell it what to do. Just as important, to be economical, you leave it on the schedule and don't change the temp on a whim, that's how you save money. But in the case that you do need to change the temp in case the senior folks come to visit and you need to raise the temp, you get up off your butt and change the temp on the thermostat, that way you don't get blisters on your fingers from tapping your phone, and you get a little exercise to boot.
  • My Nest is perfect for my needs. The auto-away feature is great. I made another gmail account I share with my wife, so both of us can access the app. It's nice to cool the house before you get home.
    Never had an issue with the Nest Protect and the night lights are pretty cool, and senses the cat sneaking down the hall. Getting a notification there is an issue when you are away is nice. And the monthly reports are helpful to see trends.
    I bought mine thanks to Phil's experience. Maybe this would apply to Connectedly. Posted via the Android Central App
  • More data and usage statistics. I have had 2 Honeywell WiFi t-stats for about a year now on my 2 hvac systems and find them quite useful. I wish I could see which one is being used more and the associated cost with running each. It is convenient to lower/raise the temp while away when you forgot to lower it manually before you left. Those little savings add up. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I have a nest and love it. I did have a programmable thermostat before. To counter the argument of program it and forget it. The advantage of nest is the WiFi and app control. In the event I get off late from work I can delay it turning on till I leave work. Also in the event you leave the house and forget to turn it on away it will do it for you. That is also a down side I've had it go into auto away while sitting in the home office or living room since the thermostat is in the hallway. Overall I like it since it has saved me plenty of money in the hot and humid Louisiana summer. I think people that had some one that stays home everyday would not benefit but for busy working family's I think it fits the bill, or at least shrinks the electric bill anyways. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I installed our Nest almost 2 weeks ago. So far so good, I love it! If I had to pick one thing, I'd say I wish it would save us even MORE money!
  • Easy, familiar "dumb" functions (no phone, on thermostat control). Compatible with as many Home Automation ecosystems (namely SmartThings). Also an affordable price is important. Posted via the Android Central App
  • To not join Skynet... Posted via the Android Central App
  • I'm not in with the IoT, in the same way I'm not in with self driving cars.
    Maybe I'm old fashioned, maybe I'm just old, but I just don't want it. Posted from the redheaded stepchild of the Nexii
  • My Nest is O.K., but I really wish I could get a thermometer peripheral for my bedroom that would tell the nest when I was in there, and what the temperature in the room actually is (my Nest is on the other side of the house). It'd also be nice to be able to look through all my old data, instead of just the past month.
  • You just described the Ecobee3. It has remote sensors that you place in different rooms, so the thermostat knows what the temperature is in each. You can tell it to do an average and keep the house at that temp, or you can have it only pay attention to certain rooms and ignore others at certain times. For example, when you're in bed, it can only use data from the bedroom sensor and ignore other rooms.
  • My roommate and I have two radically different schedules, and we both like very different temperature settings in the house. I already have a smart Honeywell thermostat, but there are three things that I'd like to see out of it: 1- Tracking where we are with our smartphones. Yes, I've already got all the wake/work/home/sleep settings, but I get "home" at a different time almost every day- it would nice to come home to a cool house when I get out of work an hour early, or to not have the AC fire at all on nights when I'm out late. 2- Use different temperature settings based on who is home. If I'm home, I probably want it at 78F. But if she's the only one home, she prefers it at 82F. We'd save a little time and money if the thermostat was able to make those changes automatically. 3- It would be great if I could use the phone as a remote thermometer-- in other words, instead of measuring the temperature in the upstairs hallway where the thermostat is located, use my cell phone to get the temperature in my living room where the fireplace is going.
  • I would like my nest thermostat to also sync with my alarm panel so that when I leave the house I can fully set my house to away from one place or app. I'd also like it to sync with my alarm system to have more accurate detection of if people are in the house through motion sensors. Does anyone know of an alarm panel that "works with nest"? my current alarm system isn't smart in the slightest and I don't want to have to pay for monitoring. That's something I should be able to do without a monthly charge if only my panel had IoT compatibility.
  • The upstairs and downstairs need to be controlled independently.
  • White Rodgers Sensi stat is perfect for my household. Easy to use controls, and an easy to use app.
  • Seems like a LOT of recycling of old articles lately. May be useful if updates from the original story (if there are any) is highlighted.
  • Yep. I was coming to comment, and then saw my original comment at the bottom of the list :)
  • Yep The articles are good, and the original post can be modified to current perspectives... But I rely - enjoy - the readers feedback. The intelligent interaction is what keeps me coming back. Simply put - I learn from the guys and girls from AC. I enjoy the interaction. Period. The authors have their own perspectives and that is welcome, bring it - guys and girls. That said, I don't enjoy scrolling through dated comments... That may or may not apply to the new article... I guess that's just confusing to me... - shoulder shrug - .
  • Exactly, reading outdated comments which contain incorrect information due to changes that have occurred since original writing can be misleading and frustrating.
  • Yeah. I have no problem with these "best of" and "what does AC think of" articles being reposted as they're updated, because this stuff changes rapidly and having this kind of information all in one place makes more sense than posting discrete update articles every few months. But retaining all the old comments is confusing and counterproductive. Hell, just a few minutes ago, I barely caught myself before replying to a year-old comment.
  • I just want to to be able to control it remotely. I live in Southern California. Most people don't leave their thermostats on/active.
  • I hear CA is beautiful weather wise. I just wish taxes could be lowered....but for now, Florida is it. But here, A/C is a must or you'll die of heat stroke!!
  • Sensi.... Relatively cheap... Especially if you can get a rebate from your energy company..... incredibly easy set up.....perfect phone app....internet access.
  • To work remotely - I could change the setting and on the AC internationally is awesome. Also, openly works with other home systems (like Smarthings).
  • The Ecobee3 is everything! I finally retired my first gen Nest. The remote sensor of the Ecobee3 is the perfect feature and was well needed in my house.
  • There are "smart thermostats" which are part of the IoT and directly on the internet and then there are "Home Automation" thermostats, which aren't on wifi/internet directly and rely on a hub to provide the smarts and net presence. I.e. I have a Zwave (900Mhz) thermostat bought from Lowe's connected to a Vera HA system. On its own it is a standard 7-day a week programmable thermostat. I have a zwave sensor on the porch, another upstairs, and a third downstairs farthest from the thermostat. The Vera system has the logic to synthesize the data from the different sensors. I have more than a dozen devices attached to the Vera and the Vera is the only thing online. If the Vera remote access system has a security hole, I can isolate my hub from the net and it will still do its job. If I put my own VPN server on my network I can still have remote access.