Nest E Hands-on ReviewBy - 10/09/2017
Adding a smart thermostat was sort of the last frontier for me. My home is pretty smart, but I never felt the need to add a thermostat to the list. I’m almost always home, and I’m fairly habitual about setting the thermostat in the morning and before I go to bed. That said, when Nest launched their $169 Nest E, I decided to make the leap.
What is Nest E and Why is it Cheap?
Nest E is not a replacement for the 3rd gen Nest Learning Thermostat. Instead, think of it as a cheaper alternative. Where Nest E sells for $169, Nest Learning sells for $249. So what’s the difference?
|Nest E||Nest Learning Thermostat|
|Color||White||White, Copper, Black, Stainless Steel|
|Display||Frosted Display||High-Res Color Display|
|Farsight||Shows Indoor Temperature Only||Show Temperature, Time, and Weather|
|Size||3.19 in||3.3 in|
|Compatibility||Works with most 24V heating and cooling systems.||Works with 95% of 24V heating and cooling systems.|
|Humidifier and DeHumidifier Support|
|Works With||Nest, Alexa, Google Assistant, Wink, and more||Nest, Alexa, Google Assistant, Wink, and more|
|Warranty||1 Year||2 Years|
|Visit Site||Visit Site|
The most obvious difference between the two devices is appearance. And I’ll admit, when I first saw the Nest E online, I scrunched up my nose. Where the Nest Learning Thermostat is bling for your wall, Nest E is designed to blend in and it’s made of polycarbonate (that’s fancy talk for plastic, the BPA-included kind). Shopping online, I preferred the sleek, black face of Nest Learning as well as the optional colored rings. I was wrong. Once installed on my wall, I instantly understood Nest’s decision to tone things down. Nest E is white, it blends in with white doors and trim, and it has a softer frosted display. The biggest benefit to the new design? No fingerprints.
I also assumed, based on reports, that Nest E wouldn’t wake on approach. I was wrong, again. While Nest E only displays your home’s temperature, the screen does wake as you approach it. If you’re currently heating or cooling your home, you will also see the amount of time it will take before your target temp is reached. For example, it might show 20 minutes until your target temp of 77° is achieved.
The final significant difference between the Nest Learning and Nest E is compatibility. The Nest Learning Thermostat is compatible with more HVAC systems. If you want to know which systems are compatible, you can use the compatibility checker to confirm before you buy. That said, Nest E is not compatible if your thermostat has stranded wires, thick, stranded wires connected by wire nuts, or if it’s labeled as 110V or 120V. Nest E compatibility is limited to one or two-stage systems as well as heat pumps and fans. It is not compatible with anything more nor does it support humidifiers and dehumidifiers.
Installing Nest E
While I’m new to owning a smart thermostat in my home, I’m not new to smart thermostats in general. I’ve had hands-on experience at CES as well as a hands-on installation of ecobee3 in a friend’s vacation home.
Set up of Nest Thermostat E was a lot easier than I remember ecobee being. That said, I installed ecobee in mid-2015. Not only have I gained experience, but it’s hard to remember an installation that occurred so long ago. One of the major challenges I had during the ecobee3 installation was drywall. The hole behind the original thermostat was too big even when using the included faceplate. Fortunately, I didn’t run into any drywall issues during my Nest E installation. Also, my home happens to be at least five years newer than my friend’s vacation home. The thermostat in my home was more modern and had fewer wires.
In general, installing Nest E was simple. It was a job I felt confident doing on my own and it took no time at all. The first step is to cut the power to your system. Second, pop the cover off of your current thermostat to reveal the wires and snap a picture of your thermostat’s wires for reference. With the wires visible, you can confirm compatibility. Next, use the stickers included with your thermostat to label your wires.
If your system is compatible with Nest E, disconnect the wires and remove your thermostat’s base. Finally, mark where the screws will go using your new Nest E base which includes a built-in level. Screw in the base, connect your wires to the new base, snap on the display face, switch the power back on, and you’re done.
Your new thermostat will walk you through the remaining steps using a built-in setup wizard. This includes connecting the device to the internet, choosing your preferred language, and entering information about your HVAC system. Also, you’ll be asked to create your Eco Temperatures.
Eco Temperatures are predetermined settings that tell Nest how it should behave when you’re not home. The thermostat uses Home/Away Assist (geofencing) to know if you’re home or not. If you’re gone, it will use your Eco Temperature to help save energy. For example, you might tell Nest not to run the heat until the temperature in your home falls below 60° or not to run the air conditioner until the temperature in your home is above 85°.
Finally, you can run a system test to ensure that your system is heating when it’s supposed to heat or cooling when it’s supposed to cool, something I desperately needed after setting up ecobee3.
Using Nest E
Nest Thermostat E is stuffed with sensors that make it intelligent. It includes temperature, humidity, proximity/occupancy, and ambient light sensors. It also has a built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery, a Bluetooth radio, and support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless communication.
You can control Nest E using the Nest app or by turning its outer dial. You can spin clockwise to turn the temperature up and counterclockwise to turn it down. There is also a menu option that you can access by pressing the Nest button. From here you can swap between modes, turn on your fan, and adjust settings like:
- Create a Fan Schedule
- Check Your Energy History (how many hours your system used the heat or AC)
- Create a Schedule
- Lock Your Thermostat
- Create Eco Temperatures
- Turn On/Off Home/Away Assist
- Access Nest Sense (Auto-Schedule, Time-to-Temperature, Early-On, Cool to Dry, Sunblock, Leaf, Airwave)
- Create Reminders (change your air filter)
- Turn Wake Display On or Off
- Turn Click Sound On or Off
- Swap between °F and °C
- Change Your Internet Settings
- and more
Nest Temperature Sensor
Update March, 22, 2018
Months after I purchased Nest E, Nest launched Temperature Sensors. Temperature Sensors are optional accessories that you can use with your Nest E or 3rd Generation Nest Learning Thermostat.
The sensors are designed to be placed in rooms where you want the perfect temperature but don’t currently house your thermostat. The sensors read the temperature in set rooms and report the data back to your thermostat telling it to adjust according to your preset preferences. Nest E will then fire up your heater or your AC until your desired temperature is reached.
You can schedule when you want Nest E to base its adjustments on your Temperature Sensor’s readings. If you have multiple sensors (you can have up to six), you can also tell Nest E which sensor to prioritize during certain hours. For example, you can tell Nest E to make your home office the priority during the day and your bedroom at night.
The Temperature Sensors sell for $39.00 each or $99.00 for a pack of three.
Nest E Claims vs. Performances
Claim 1: It Learns
The Nest Learning Thermostat includes the term learning for a reason, and Nest E is no different. Nest E should start learning your preferences from day one. As you manually adjust your home’s temperature and as you come and go, Nest takes note. Using this data, it builds a schedule. The schedule is based on a 7 day week and a 24-hour clock, so if you work from home on Mondays and go into the office on Tuesdays, Nest should understand and adjust.
Like most Nest features, learning is optional. You can turn it on or off via the app or from the thermostat itself. I decided to start with learning right out of the box.
After a few days, I noticed that Nest wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. Of course, without taking notes, I had no way to know if the issue was a Nest issue or my weird schedule. After all, I work from home, rarely leave the house, and don’t always wake up or go to sleep at the same time. So, a few days after installing Nest E, I started taking notes and using the built-in energy history data to help pinpoint the problem.
|Early Morning||Post Wake Up||Pre-Bedtime||Bedtime|
|Manual Settings 10/04/2017||7:45am | Cool/Heat Mode 72°-77°||8:15am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°||7:30pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-76°
10:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-72°
|12:00am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
|Manual Settings 10/05/2017||7:45am | Cool/Heat Mode 72°-77°||8:30am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°
12:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-77°
|9:45pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-74°
11:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-71°
|12:30am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
|Nest Response||NA||8:00am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°||7:45pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-76°||NA|
|Manual Settings 10/06/2017||NA||NA||7:30pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-76°
10:50pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-71°
|Nest Response||8:15am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°||1:20pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-77°||NA||12:00am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
|Manual Settings 10/07/2017||7:52am | Cool/Heat Mode 72°-77°||8:30am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°
12:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-77°
|9:45pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-74°||12:00am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°
3:00am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°*
|Manual Settings 10/08/2017||7:45am | Cool/Heat Mode 72°-77°||8:30am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°||8:29pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-76°
11:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-71°
|12:30am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
|Nest Response||NA||9:00am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°
12:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-77°
|10:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-74°||1:30am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
|Manual Settings 10/09/2017||7:45am | Cool/Heat Mode 72°-77°||8:30am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°||NA||12:41am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
|Nest Response||NA||1:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-77°||8:45pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-74°||1:30am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
|Manual Settings 10/10/2017||NA||NA||NA||12:00am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
|Nest Response||8:00am | Cool/Heat Mode 74°-77°||1:00pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-77°||8:45pm | Cool/Heat Mode 65°-74°||1:00am Cool/Heat Mode 65°-69°|
*I woke up hot after setting the thermostat on my phone. For some reason, my phone showed one temperature, but the thermostat showed another. I had to walk downstairs to adjust the thermostat manually.
After taking notes, it was clear that Nest was trying, but perhaps just not smart enough to understand my bizarre preferences. That said, it also seemed to ignore things that are habitual. For example, I usually wake up at 7:45 am to set the thermostat, but the only time it responded in the morning was on the 6th when I slept in and it set the temperature at 8:15 am. When setting my mid-day temperature, I almost always do it around noon but Nest varied between matching my time and waiting until 1:20 pm.
So is this claim (It Learns) true or false? On the last day of testing this feature, October 10th, I decided to let Nest do its thing without any prompting from me. It did well. It missed two adjustments: my post wake up and pre-bedtime adjustment, which isn’t a huge deal, but missing my target bedtime temp did bother me. I’m calling this claim true; E is learning, but the feature is far from perfect.
As a side note, I left Early-On off for this test.
Claim 2: Proven Energy Savings
The number one reason why people invest in a smart thermostat is energy savings. Nest claims that the device is so efficient, that it will pay for itself in under two years. Several states even offer rebates. While my state does not participate, I checked out rebates for the zipcode 90210, and of course, there were options. For example, SoCal Gas will provide a $50 rebate on your Nest Thermostat purchase, and if you’re also an SCE electric customer, you might be eligible for an additional $75. Southern California Edison and SoCalGas also provide eligible customers up to $125, which essentially covers the cost of a Nest Thermostat E.
So how do you know if it’s saving energy? One way is to check your energy bill. A second is to use Nest reporting.
From the Nest app, you can view your Energy History. You can see a ten day history of how long and how often your system ran. To view your history, head to the Nest app, click on your thermostat, and click History.
As you can see on the screenshot above, there are dates, bars, and hours. The orange part of the bar represents the use of my heater, the blue represents cooling. The number to the right of the bar shows how many hours my system ran during the day. Finally, days with a leaf are basically like getting a gold star from Nest. The Leaf icon represents energy savings.
If you look at the 9th and the 10th as represented on the middle screenshot, you’ll see clouds. Clouds represent weather, but there are also two other icons not pictured including the adjustments icon and the Home/Away assist icon. Icons help you to understand why energy usage increased or decreased. For example, on the 9th and the 10th, my energy usage increased from around 8 hours to 11 hours. Nest is suggesting that this change is due to rain. If you can’t remember what an icon means, no worries; you can click on it to get more details.
If you want more information, you can click on a day to view a timeline. The timeline will show you temperature changes as well as a detailed breakdown of heating and cooling usage.
In addition to an Energy History, Nest provides a monthly Nest Home Report. This email summarizes events for all of your Nest devices, not just your thermostat. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the report felt a little lackluster. Part of that is that is due to the fact that Nest didn’t have a lot to share with me. In theory, the report can tell you both pros (you’re saving more energy than most people, which I didn’t do) and cons (your furnace turns off when it should be on, which thankfully is not true for me).
My first report only had two bits of information: a suggestion to make my Eco Temperatures more eco-friendly and my total heat/cooled time for the month. While it’s nice information, I’m not sure what to do with it. As I continue to use the system, I should receive a summary comparing the current month to the last month with suggested reasons for any negative change. Another bit of information I’m expecting to see in future reports, Leafs. The report should highlight the number of Leafs earned for the month and compare that accomplishment to other users in my state.
From a reporting perspective, I do prefer ecobee. I can access the reports online on-demand, and the report offers more data including estimated savings, home efficiency, and community comparisons.
Last, but not least, Nest Thermostat E has earned an ENERGY STAR from the EPA. I’m calling this claim true.
Claim 3: Control it From Your Personal Device
Of course, you can control your Nest Thermostat from your personal device. That’s a given! Nest’s supports an app for iOS, Android, Apple Watch, Android Wear, Apple TV, Android TV, and they have a web app. However, the TV apps are not compatible with the Nest Thermostat, only Nest Cam. From one app login, you can access up to twenty Nest Thermostats and two separate locations.
That said, a lot of the features controllable from the mobile app overlap with other claims. The primary reason I use the app is to adjust the temperature, which you can do from anywhere assuming you have a 3G, 4G, or WiFi connection. From the settings menu, you can also control a lot of the same features that you can control from the thermostat itself. You can turn Home/Away Assist On and Off, same with Auto-Schedule, Early-On, Cool to Dry, Sunblock, and Airwave. You can also adjust your Eco Temperatures. Finally, you can control your fan, schedule, and check your history.
Nest’s web app perfectly matches the option controllable via the mobile app.
Claim 4: Can Follow a Schedule
While you can create a schedule using the mobile app, I’ve found that creating one using the web app is a lot easier.
I started with a schedule built on what Nest learned via its auto-learning feature. However, I read online that if I had started with a schedule and not auto-learning, that Nest includes a pre-set schedule they feel is optimized for money savings.
As I wasn’t interested in running a schedule, I only tested the feature for a day, but it worked. Nest followed my pre-set schedule with no problems. This claim is true.
Claim 4: Home/Away Assist
Home/Away Assist uses your preset Eco Temperatures and your phone’s location to help save energy when you’re not home. As I’m almost always home, this one was harder to test. Worse, I kept forgetting to check my phone while away from the house. Fortunately, you can double check Nest from the history tab.
From the Energy History screen, click on the day you want to check. For example, I know I left the house on Sunday. Clicking on Sunday will reveal the day’s history, which includes the Home/Away icon. I can even hover over the icon to get more details. According to Nest, it activated my Eco-Temperature at 3:40 pm as my home was vacant.
What makes Nest’s Home/Away Assist extra smart is that it uses both your phone’s presence and your Nest products’ activity sensors. This is good and bad. As I own a two-story home, I was worried that Nest would assume I was gone when I was actually sleeping, but I didn’t find that to be true. In fact, I confirmed it’s not true. Home/Away will not trigger at night. According to Nest,
Home/Away Assist won’t automatically put your home into Away during the night when Nest product sensors probably won’t detect any activity. Otherwise, unwanted things might happen. For instance, you wouldn’t want your Nest Thermostat to be set to Eco Temperatures while you’re asleep. That would probably make everyone uncomfortable. However, if you’ve installed your Nest products in a business, Home/Away Assist will switch Nest products to Away mode, and set the thermostat to Eco Temperatures during the night.
That said, I’m calling this claim true.
Claim 5: Works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and More
I think it goes without saying that Nest Thermostat E is part of the Works with Nest program. It’s controlled using the same app you use to control your Nest Cam, Dropcam, Nest Protect, Nest Secure, Nest Hello, and Nest IQ.
Nest E also works with third-party devices like Wink, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa. Using your voice, you can ask either AI to change the temperature. You can even ask Alexa for your home’s current temperature as well as targeted temperature.
I decided to test the thermostat with Google Home. How did it do? I’d give it a B-.
I asked, “OK Google, what’s the temperature inside?” Google’s response? 67°. Not right. However, I also had the thermostat set to heat/cool mode. I had some issues seeing my home’s temperature on the display while in this mode, and I received conflicting information from Nest regarding the reason. Their answers ranged from “it’s not possible” to “it’s possible but only if there’s more than a 2° variance between set temps and room temps.” With that limitation in mind, I flipped my thermostat from heat/cool to cool and tried again. This time, I had success.
Next, I tried “OK Google, make it warmer.” With this command, Google swapped the thermostat to 82° and turned my settings from cool to heat. I was disappointed that Google didn’t ask how much warmer and even more disappointed that it automatically swapped to heat.
Third, I tried, “OK Google, make it cooler.” This time, Google swapped my settings from 77° to 72°. Five degrees appears to be the swing if you use either command.
Finally, I tried, “OK Google, raise the temperature 1 degree.” This command did not work. Google heard me say “raise the temperature” but didn’t hear the 1 degree part. Again, Google swapped my system from cool to heat and increased the temperature by 5°.
Finally, Nest E does work with the Nest Thermostat IFTTT channel. From here, you can create your own applets or use preconfigured applets such as “get an email when Nest swaps to Away Mode” or “turn off your lights when your Nest is set to away.”
While this claim is true, performance will vary based on the device you are connecting to. In general, I’ve found that direct integrations including schedules and rules are superior to third-party integrations.
Should you splurge on a Nest Learning Thermostat or save with Nest E? My vote goes to Nest E. Not only is it nearly $100 cheaper, but the installation was a breeze, it looks great, and the features that are missing don’t feel necessary. For example, who really needs their thermostat to tell time? Not me, though Nest E does technically include a clock under the settings menu.
Comparing my experience with Nest E to my ecobee3 experience, there are pros and cons. Nest E feels like a true do-it-yourself device while ecobee is more complicated. That’s both good and bad. I felt that installing ecobee was more challenging as was the setup process, but complexity also means customization. ecobee has features that Nest E doesn’t. For example, with ecobee, you can set the minimum cycle off time so that your compressor does not short cycle. With Nest, as I was testing Google Home, I noticed that the system would turn on and off within seconds. In reading a Nest support document, I found something stating that the minimum cycle time is three minutes for a conventional system, but I didn’t find that to be true. Even if it was true, E’s cycle times are set where ecobee’s are customizable. Second, with ecobee you can set a hold temperature which can temporarily or indefinitely override your schedule. That’s not possible using Nest.
All-in-all, the best part of using a smart thermostat is that I can swap over to my preferred bedtime temperature without getting out of bed. Is the convenience worth $250? Not to me. Is it worth $150? I think it is. And that’s where Nest E hits the sweet spot. While most homeowners probably don’t need a new thermostat, there are energy-saving benefits as well as convenience benefits, and the lower price tag might be enough to tempt people like me into making the swap.