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What I Tell People Who Ask Me What Smart Thermostat to Buy

The Google Nest E has many of the features of the Nest, but a much lower price. Photo: courtesy of the retailer

Smart thermostats have been around for a while, but if you’ve waited until now to buy one, that’s good news, because they’ve just gotten better. The latest models truly live up to their name, using impressive algorithms to understand your household’s heating and cooling needs, automatically adjusting the system’s performance to match. So if you always wake up at 6:30 a.m., your thermostat can recognize that and get the kitchen warm before you come down for a cup of coffee in your pajamas. When everyone heads out for the day, your thermostat knows that too — and you don’t end up heating or cooling an empty home. They all have apps, as well, so you can control the temperature from your phone, whether you’re coming back after a long vacation or just finishing up a run and hoping to sweat a little less when you get back inside.

As a long-time tech writer who has tried a number of smart thermostats, I get asked a lot which one I would buy. Of course, the answer is always, “It depends.” These are the units I recommend to friends and family, based on their needs.

The best smart thermostat

It has a high-resolution screen, attractive design, and dual-band WiFi connectivity, which reduces interference with other devices and improves overall performance. Plus, it comes with a remote sensor that lets you base temperature settings on a room other than the one the thermostat is mounted in. (So if you spend most of your time in a kitchen with high ceilings or drafty windows, the sensor helps you keep that room comfortable.) This option also has the best integration with voice control systems; it may feel silly, but if you’re in the bedroom and your thermostat is downstairs in the living room, it’s convenient to be able to ask Alexa (or other digital home assistants) to turn the temperature up or down for you.

Easiest-to-use smart thermostat

The Nest started the smart thermostat craze when it was released nearly a decade ago. It’s since ceded its dominance to Ecobee, but Nest, which was bought by Google six years ago, still makes great products. This 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat has an easy-to-read, well-organized screen, with a control system that’s familiar to anyone who ever used a traditional round thermostat: just spin the outside ring. Like the Ecobee, it works with single-room sensors. Over time, Nest 3 learns your habits — when you wake up and go to bed, when you’re at work and when you go home — and optimizes your heating and cooling in response. The Nest may not have some features of newer models, like dual-band WiFi, but is simple to use and install, and it’s beautifully designed.

The most precise smart thermostat

I love this smart thermostat because, like the Ecobee and Nest above, it pairs with Smart Room Sensors ($37 each, or you can save a bit by buying it bundled with the T9) to measure and adjust the temperature for a particular room. Unlike other devices, however, the T9 can automatically determine when someone is nearby, so you aren’t basing your overall heating and cooling settings on empty rooms.

The (second) most precise smart thermostat


For only $11 more than the base Honeywell T9, the Ecobee 4 comes with a wireless, occupancy-detecting sensor, giving you maximum comfort in the room you’re in most. It also doubles as an Amazon Alexa speaker, so you can control it with you voice — and ask it to play music.

Best budget smart thermostat

The E’s biggest flaw is obvious in the picture above: It’s not nearly as pretty as other smart thermostats. It has a plastic housing and a lower-resolution screen. But it also has a lot of the same technology features as the Nest Learning Thermostat, including the ability to learn your family’s habits with regard to heating and cooling needs and to pair with room sensors. It works well with Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and other voice control systems, too.

Best manual operation smart thermostat

If you’re a little intimidated by the top-end smart thermostats and all of their features, consider the Emerson Sensi Touch, which has fewer bells and whistles and is easier to use. It still allows control from a smartphone app and can get set to automatically adjust the temperature when it senses that you are home, but if you like to walk up to the thermostat and press buttons, the Sensi Touch’s design makes it feel almost like a traditional thermostat.

Most stylish smart thermostat

The GLAS doesn’t have all of the advanced controls of some of the others on our list, but I sure love the way it looks. Its translucent 5.9-inch OLED touchscreen display lets you see through it when it’s not active. It does have the basic features, allowing you to set temperature from an app on your phone or with voice control. But it doesn’t have an automatic home/away feature, so it won’t adjust its settings based on your location.

Best smart thermometer for baseboard heat

Most smart thermostats aren’t compatible with high-voltage baseboard heat systems, but Mysa’s model gives you similar smart functions and voice control. I found physical installation to be a little tricky, and it did occasionally drop the WiFi connection, but it’s worth the hassle if you want a smart thermostat and have baseboard heat.

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What I Tell People Who Ask Me What Smart Thermostat to Buy