Ecobee3 Lite vs. Ecobee5: What About Ecobee4?

After years of testing four different Ecobee models, I determined the latest Ecobee SmartThermostat (Ecobee5) is the best overall because it comes with a SmartSensor and has an Alexa speaker built-in. However, you can save substantially with Ecobee3 Lite if Alexa isn’t important to you.

First, I’ll compare and contrast the two models (Ecobee3 Lite vs. Ecobee SmartThermostat) that are still in production by evaluating four categories: smarts, software, design, and compatibility.

Then, I’ll group the capabilities of all four Ecobee products. Lastly, I’ll give a thorough breakdown of the differences between the four Ecobee thermostats.


Smarts: B+

  • During the setup process, Ecobee asks you to provide your typical schedule for when you’re home, away, and sleeping. It’ll ask what time these activities happen, then your preferred temperature during those windows.
  • Ecobee takes the information you submitted, then supplements it with other optional data points to understand if people are home:
    • There’s an occupancy sensor on the thermostat base.
    • You can set up geofencing, which will use your phone’s location to tell if you’re home or away.
    • You can add up to 32 SmartSensors to your Ecobee system. These are essential if your thermostat isn’t placed in a central location in your house. The SmartSensors sense the temperature of a room and if someone is in a room, then reports back to the Ecobee base.
  • If the sensors don’t detect anyone for two hours, Ecobee goes into “Smart Away” mode, which will follow your away preferences.
  • If you have at least one SmartSensor, you can turn on “Follow Me,” which combines the temperatures of the rooms that are occupied and averages them, rather than always using the temperature from the thermostat’s room. It’s a useful feature for older houses with temperature irregularities or big houses. Two examples:
    • When I’m working in my home office and no one else is home, my office is the only temperature that Ecobee regulates.
    • My bedroom gets hot when I close the door, but my thermostat is in the living room. With “Follow Me” enable and my settings properly tinkered with, only my bedroom temperature is regulated.
  • The beauty of Ecobee is that you can keep the features simple, have it run on a schedule and manually edit temperature when needed. Or you can get nerdy by automating, geofencing, and choosing when and where you want “Follow Me” and “Smart Away” on.
  • “Smart Recovery” is Ecobee’s algorithm that takes the data from your system’s previous uses and combines it with the outside temperature to calculate exactly when to turn your system on to reach your desired temperature. If you want it to be 70 degrees at 6:00 PM, but it’s 90 degrees outside and your house is currently 75 degrees, Ecobee knows that cooling your house in these conditions will take time and plans accordingly.
  • For those with whole house humidifiers, “Frost Control” adjusts your home’s humidifier based on the outside conditions to avoid condensation on the windows.

Software: B+

  • Just like any smart thermostat, you get instant access to your thermostat via the app from anywhere that you have an internet connection.
  • The app is well made and has the same interface as the thermostat.
  • Ecobee is the most compatible smart thermostat on the market. It works with iOS and Android. And it works with all the major smart home platforms (HomeKit, Alexa, Google, SmartThings, IFTTT, Harmony).
  • Ecobee’s HomeKit compatibility is a big advantage over Nest. It lets you control your Ecobee with Siri and with your other smart home products inside Apple’s Home App.
  • There’s an online portal that has additional data from usage patterns.
  • You can edit the temperature swing from 0.5 to 3 degrees. A bigger swing can save you money if you don’t mind extra temperature fluctuation.
  • You can set your Ecobee to “Vacation Mode” by letting it know when you’re leaving and when you’re coming back and what you want the temperature to be. When you arrive back home, your system will be running as usual, as if you never left.
  • My only gripe with Ecobee is that their servers aren’t as reliable as they should be and go down frequently. This shouldn’t deter your decision because you shouldn’t need to touch the Ecobee app often.
  • Ecobee will still run fine when the servers are down, but you won’t be able to manually access it from the app.

Setup: D

  • Ecobee products are compatible with 95% of HVAC systems on the market. You can check your compatibility on their site.
  • The setup can be done on the thermostat’s screen or with the Ecobee phone app. It’s a smooth process that’s been refined over the years. If you have the required wires installed from your old thermostat, the setup and installation gets an A+ and can be done in 15 minutes.
  • The installation gets tricky when you don’t have the c-wire. The c-wire gives Ecobee a constant power source, and it’s a requirement for Ecobee to operate. Unfortunately, older houses don’t always have the c-wire.
  • Other smart thermostats, like Nest and Sensi, don’t require a c-wire because they have a backup battery source inside the device.
  • While it’s nice to have options, I prefer Ecobee’s approach of requiring a c-wire because battery-powered thermostats are prone to issues staying online.
  • If you don’t have the c-wire and want an Ecobee product, they include a “power-extender kit” to manipulate one of your existing wires into performing like the c-wire. Ecobee has a detailed tutorial and there are other great online resources showing how to install the power-extender kit, but it’s not something I comfortably recommend to the average person. It requires you to go to your basement and move wires around inside your HVAC system.
  • I installed the power-extender kit because I didn’t have the c-wire. It took me 20 minutes, but I was terrified I’d blow my house up. My house is still intact!

Design: C+

  • The Nest Learning Thermostat is my favorite looking smart thermostat. Ecobee doesn’t bring the same level of craftsmanship, but Ecobee is nice to look at and more attractive than old school thermostats.
  • Ecobee thermostats feature a 3.5″ touchscreen display. The screen has the same menu and interface as the phone app, which makes it easy to learn.

Ecobee3: 8/10

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  • Ecobee3 was my first Ecobee product. It’s a great device and doesn’t differ much from the latest version, Ecobee SmartThermostat.
  • There’s an occupancy and temperature sensor inside the thermostat base.
  • You get an additional room sensor that detects occupancy and temperature, letting you track two rooms in total.
  • Ecobee3 gets as low as $170 and is a great buy at this price.

Ecobee3 Lite: 7/10

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  • Ecobee3 Lite is similar to Ecobee3, but there are three differences:
    • Ecobee3 Lite does not include an additional room sensor, but you can add additional sensors later. You buy SmartSensors for $40 each and add them to any Ecobee model.
    • Ecobee3 Lite has a temperature sensor on the base, but it doesn’t detect occupancy, meaning you’ll lose the Smart Away feature. “Smart Away” is one of Ecobee’s best features because it puts your Ecobee into your away settings when it senses you’re not home. There are two ways to keep your HVAC system running efficiently while you’re away:
      • You can rely on geofencing, which tracks your phone’s location and automatically goes into away mode when your phone isn’t home.
      • You can purchase SmartSensors and add up to 32 of them to detect occupancy.
    • It’s not compatible with HVAC accessories like humidifiers, dehumidifiers, ventilators, ERVs, or HRVs.
  • Ecobee3 Lite is a great budget option for those who want to run a consistent schedule with the option to manually control the temperature with your phone. It looks better on the wall than old school thermostats too.
  • Ecobee3 Lite is great for power users who want to save money and tinker with settings, but only when you get a pair of SmartSensors to go with it to enable the Smart Away and Follow Me features.

Ecobee 4: 8/10

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  • Ecobee took the brilliant Ecobee3 and built Alexa into it.
  • Like Ecobee3, Ecobee4 includes an additional room sensor, letting you track and regulate two rooms.
  • Alexa on Ecobee4 is a gimmick for four reasons:
    • The mics don’t hear well. If you want the wake word, “Alexa” to be picked up, you’ll have to scream. Ecobee’s Alexa is missing features, like calling and Spotify Connect, and won’t work as smoothly as a native Alexa device made by Amazon.
    • The speaker sounds terrible.
    • Do you want your thermostat listening to your conversations while it’s waiting for you to say the wake word?
    • Is your thermostat in a central location and within speaking distance?
  • There’s nothing wrong with Ecobee4 if you can find it under $200, but Alexa can and should be disabled at all times to avoid headaches.

Ecobee SmartThermostat: 10/10

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  • Ecobee SmartThermostat is “Ecobee5” because it’s the fifth generation and a substantial upgrade from the fourth, but they named it “Ecobee SmartThermostat” to make my blog posts more confusing. I hate the name but love the product!
  • Four upgrades from Ecobee4:
    • The mics for Alexa listening to you were upgraded from analog to digital. There are still questions about Alexa’s utility on a thermostat, but built-in Alexa works almost as well as native Amazondevices. I’ve had no issues with it hearing me. It’s a space-saving way to have Alexa in more rooms.
    • The speaker was improved with better clarity and volume. It sounds as good as Echo Dot and may sound slightly better. It’s not a premium speaker, but you can play music on it via Bluetooth or with Spotify Connect if you’re desperate.
    • The “Room Sensors” were renamed “SmartSensors.” Both room sensor models function the same, but the new SmartSensors are better crafted and look more appealing.
    • The screen is made of a glass rather than plastic. You won’t notice from far away, but it feels slightly firmer. It’s a subtle but welcomed difference from previous Ecobee models. It’s not in Nest’s league yet though.
  • Ecobee SmartThermostat is what Ecobee4 should’ve been: the best product Ecobee has ever shipped and the best thermostat on the market.
  • While Ecobee SmartThermostat is the best thermostat overall and my recommendation to those without money constraints, you’re overpaying if Alexa doesn’t interest you.

Which is best for you?

Ecobee SmartThermostat

Get Ecobee SmartThermostat if you want the best smart thermostat on the market or have HVAC accessories (humidifier, dehumidifier, etc). The SmartSensor makes it a good choice for people who have a large house or want accurate home and away detection. The built-in Alexa works as well making it a great value.

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Ecobee3 Lite

Get Ecobee3 Lite if you don’t want built-in Alexa and don’t have HVAC accessories. Ecobee3 Lite’s biggest faults are that it doesn’t detect occupancy or include a SmartSensor. Automatic Away Mode will only work if you buy SmartSensors ($40 each) or you use your phone’s location to detect when you’ve left your home.

Get the Ecobee3 Lite w/ two SmartSensors for $239 if you want SmartSensors without Alexa.

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