Expectations can be difficult to manage.
It’s been almost two years to the day that Nest announced the third generation version of their Smart Learning Thermostat. Since that time, the smart thermostat market has grown with competitors like Honeywell, Sensi – and of course, Ecobee – that have challenged (and many argue surpass) the Google-owned company’s offering. While the Nest Learning Thermostat remains one of the best smart thermostat’s you can buy, competitors introduced products that not only offered similar features to Nest, but focused on areas they seemed to overlook (such as ecobee’s focus on remote sensors for multi-story houses). Perhaps most importantly to consumers, they focused on attacking the Nest’s price point; undercutting it by offering cheaper options, or – in ecobee’s case – giving consumers a similar-priced thermostat with more compatibility, and working with partners Nest refuse to play nice with (like Apple and their HomeKit platform).
Because of this increased competition, anticipation reached a fever pitch as many expected Nest to respond by introducing the fourth generation model of their learning thermostat; one that potentially featured a refined design while finally offering up compatibility with remote sensors to give consumers a greater picture of energy efficiency within their home.
Instead, Nest did the complete opposite.
They shuttered expectations by releasing the Nest Thermostat E, a smart thermostat that tosses out the almost iconic, brushed aluminum design of the original – for a model comprised of plastic and outfitted with a white color scheme. The standout feature here is intended to be the price; at $169, it’s significantly less than the cost of the current third generation Nest thermostat.
The missed expectations resulted in many to dismiss the Nest E and brand it’s announcement a disappointment; a complete redesign and use of cheaper materials intended to make Nest more affordable, but not necessarily better. And while those criticisms can be seen as valid, one only need to get the device in their hands to discover that simply may have been company’s intention in the first place. It was not meant to exceed the expectations of current owners of the Nest Learning thermostat; it was meant to introduce the concept of a smart thermostat to those who are completely on the fence about the technology and it’s overall usefulness. And by that measure, it appears to achieve that goal.
I ordered the Nest E from Amazon and expected it to arrive on my doorstep as most of my smart home devices normally do. Instead, my Nest E thermostat was delivered in a large manilla envelope and left in my mailbox, which I should have recognized as the first sign that this was going to be an entirely different smart thermostat than what I expected it to be.
The device itself is almost shockingly small and lithe; it’s 8.1 cm in diameter and feather-lite in weight. The third generation Nest thermostat offers a more substantial feel thanks to it’s brushed aluminum enclosure, and that substantial feel is almost nonexistent here.
That’s not to say it feels bad; Nest says the E has a polycarbonate, ceramic-feel finish – which is a fancier way to avoid saying it’s entirely made of plastic (which it is). But their description is not necessarily wrong, as the device does indeed have a good feel to it. Then again, it’s size and weight needs to be taken in consideration with the idea that this device is going to be attached to a wall for it’s entire operation; what matters is how it looks where it will be prominently featured. And a big component of how it will look on the wall is the display. Nest calls the display on the E thermostat a frosted film, that goes over the traditional display to give it a sleek, minimalist look. This makes the screen gray when it’s off and gives it a softer look, helping it to blend into the wall. But the display itself is 182 PPI; a lower resolution display than the third generation Nest and offers no farsight feature, which is entirely noticeable. Still for all intents and purposes, the display functions and looks fine – it just isn’t a standout feature.
When it comes to the actual hardware installation, Nest says it is essentially the same across the board with many smart thermostats—but that is not necessarily the case. The Nest E is compatible with less systems than the third generation version – it offers fewer wire contacts (only 6), so only 85% of homes can use the Nest E. Compare that to the third generation’s 10 wire contacts – and it’s 95% compatibility- and many people may find that they have systems not compatible with this version. And unlike the third generation Nest, it can control hot water *heating* systems, but cannot control domestic hot water systems. Aside from pricing, these compatibility differences appear to be the reason as to why both are smart thermostat’s are still for sale. Still, if your system is entirely compatible, then the instructions are very detailed, which helps make installation a relatively easy task.
It’s easy to see there are a lot of changes with this version of the Nest thermostat, but for many aspects of the device; many things still shockingly remain the same. While Nest has many partners in the smart home market, it still refuses to play nice with Apple and their HomeKit platform. While this may be understandable given the Google/Apple rivalry, competitors like ecobee have taken advantage and fully embrace the HomeKit platform; allowing Apple to feature them – and other smart thermostat manufacturers – within their retail stores. And seeing as HomeKit only continues to grow in popularity, Nest is only doing a disservice to themselves (and their revenue) by refusing to cooperate with the platform; leaving consumers only interested in Apple’s ecosystem to those other manufacturers. And while Google has integrated Nest control into it’s Google Home assistant, it doesn’t offer the advanced control that ecobee recently introduced for Amazon’s Alexa. So to does both Nest thermostats get challenged and exceeded in even simpler categories like warranty; many competitors offer 2 years – or in ecobee’s case, 3 year – warranties, while Nest offers a standard 1 year manufacturer warranty. In the world of smart home devices and their emphasis on features, design and compatibility, it’s lesser focused on aspects like that which lead everyday consumers who are already on the fence about smart devices to again, look to manufacturers other than Nest. And once again, it’s worth repeating that while Nest’s direct competitor Ecobee embraces and promote their line of remote sensors – and look to new ventures like their concept of whole home voice – Nest still doesn’t offer any remote sensors for their smart thermostat line (other than giving the Nest Protect device the ability to act as one).
Still, there was a part of me that was actually enamored with the Nest E Thermostat. Despite this, it won’t be replacing the ecobee in my home anytime soon. Our HVAC system isn’t compatible with it, and most importantly, we have a multi story home that has allowed the ecobee’s sensors to be an indispensable aspect of our energy efficiency. It is worth mentioning however that the Nest E just so happens to be the first smart thermostat that I have shown to those older than myself – a generation of baby boomers not necessarily technologically inclined; on the fence about technology like this – that wasn’t immediately dismissed. Instead many looked at it, commented on it’s lightweight feel, and commented on it’s “easy to see” screen. And I personally believe this was Nest’s idea all along; a device that would be as reminiscent of the thermostats of old. One that would appear new, yet bold and exciting to those used to thermostat’s that blend in and don’t prominently stand out; and one that wouldn’t break the bank, yet offer enough value to entice one to jump into what they view as an uncertain tech landscape.
No, this may not have been the smart thermostat that us smart home fanatics and gadget-loving enthusiasts may have been waiting for. But I firmly believe Nest is okay with that. This wasn’t made for us, and I think that shows that Nest is still willing to take big risks; with the hope that they will pay off in the long run. The more people on the fence about smart home devices like this that begin to embrace them is simply good for the smart home market to thrive, and the Nest Thermostat E may be one of the products to help lead the charge. Still, I distinctly hope they have something more up their sleeve for those of us awaiting a more innovative, paradigm shifting product than this. Perhaps we will even see it sooner rather than later.
Then again, expectations can be difficult to manage.
The Verdict: The Nest Thermostat E is a radical departure from what we’ve come to expect from a Nest Thermostat. Those looking for a more advanced, feature packed smart thermostat should look elsewhere; but the price and accessibility of it’s design may win over those who are on the fence about smart home devices.
SCORE: 7 out of 10
What do you think about the Nest thermostat E? Will you be picking it up? Let us know in the comments below!