“Alexa, compare these two thermostats.”
When ecobee announced the ecobee4, a completely new update to its flagship thermostat, we were intrigued. We already think the ecobee3 is awesome, so what’s the deal with the 4?
Let’s take a look!
The ecobee4 is just like the ecobee3, except now Amazon’s Alexa is built into the device. It’s like having an Echo inside your thermostat (minus a few features), except its speaker isn’t suitable for listening to music (and music streaming services like Spotify is disabled on it :()
Nearly everything else is the same or equivalent. You can re-use sensors from the ecobee3 (if you have one), but you can’t migrate your settings (boo). The companion app is the same and the ecobee4 is compatible with a wide variety of North American 24V HVAC systems.
Amazon Alexa voice service is built in
Alexa – microphone, speaker, and all – is built into the ecobee4. It’s like an Echo Dot and an Ecobee had a baby together and made this talking, listening thermostat.
The big draw here, of course, is that you can walk right up to the thermostat and speak to it. You can say thermostat-related things like, “Alexa, turn the temperature up”, but you can also say things like, “Alexa, turn the lights on” if you have other Alexa-integrated systems in your home, like a collection of Hue bulbs. If your household is already immersed in the Alexa ecosystem, installing an ecobee4 is (almost) like getting another Echo!
It doesn’t do *everything* an Echo does: you can’t change the wake word (it must be “Alexa”), some third-party apps don’t work on it (including Spotify 🙁 ), and you can’t send/receive messages. Also, you still have to add the thermostat as a separate device in the Alexa app.
Oddly, Alexa doesn’t know it’s a thermostat right out of the box. If you set up your Ecobee and start telling it to lower the temperature, it won’t know what you mean until you install the Ecobee as an Alexa-enabled device through the app. (Of course, these things might get fixed in the future.)
However, it can still do loads of normal Alexa things:
- tell you the weather
- be a timer
- play games, including Jeopardy!
- create shopping lists
- tell you the current time
- convert units
- and more
You can disable Alexa integration, if you want. There is a blue light on top of the ecobee4 hardware that glows to indicate Alexa’s responsiveness to your queries. However, this light comes with a notable drawback: disabling Alexa turns this light a bright red. Lots of people are complaining about this, though, so there’s a chance ecobee is already aware of the issue and will soon allow you to fully disable the light.
You might have seen the words “Works with Alexa” on ecobee3 (and many other smart thermostats). This means that you can speak to a different Alexa-enabled device on your home network, such as an Echo, Dot, or the Alexa app to issue commands to the thermostat, but you cannot speak directly to the thermostat. The ecobee4 can also be controlled this way. For example, commands you speak to an Echo or Dot in your basement or bedroom can be received over WiFi by your ecobee4.
Interface changes: a new microphone icon, voice control settings
The ecobee4’s interface is the same as the ecobee3’s, with the addition of a new icon added for Alexa/Echo controls.
Voice control screen:
Physical changes: bigger, rounder, heavier
The ecobee4 is noticeably thicker than the ecobee3 (1.02″ vs. 0.86″) , likely due to the microphone hardware in the back as you can see in this comparison image:
The old design was basically a square with rounded corners, and the new model is sort of between a square and a circle. The ecobee4’s face is flat, the older one was slightly round. Flat face feels better to use – less glare on the screen, and easier to touch the icons. The ecobee4 is noticeably heavier than the 3.
Upgrading from an ecobee3?
There’s good news, bad news, and some important things to be aware of.
You can re-use your existing sensors
Your old sensors are compatible. Set up your ecobee4, then (on each sensor) pop the battery out and put it back in. The ecobee4 will automatically pick up the sensor.
The ecobee4 has a redesigned backplate
You won’t be able to use your ecobee3 backplate with the ecobee4.
The ecobee4’s backplate is smaller and different, and some of the wiring terminals have moved! So, be careful when you unhook your existing wires. Be sure to note which one went where. The image below illustrates the terminal changes:
But hey, there’s some good news: the little built-in bubble level is still there!
If you turn off Alexa, you’ll be stuck with a red light
Maybe ecobee will issue a patch for this, but until then – disabling Alexa in your ecobee4 leaves you with an always-on red light across the top of the thermostat. If you really, really don’t want Alexa in your ecobee thermostat, consider grabbing an ecobee3 while they’re still around.
The power extender kit (PEK) has been redesigned
The Power Extender Kit (PEK) got a redesign. The terminals and buttons are bigger, and the thing has a magnet in it so you can stick it inside your HVAC unit.
Good news: If you already went through the trouble of installing a PEK you can keep yours in place. No need to replace the PEK you installed earlier for an ecobee3.
Back trim panel got a redesign
The decorative (and optional) back trim panel got a redesign. It’s rounder and the wire hole is smaller, so less air might rush in from inside your wall and affect the thermostat’s temperature reading.
Should you get an Echo Dot and ecobee3 instead?
Maybe. The Alexa integration in the thermostat is limited in ways that some users will find annoying:
- you cannot change the ecobee4’s Alexa’s wake word – it must be “Alexa”, not “Computer” or “Echo”, and if your thermostat is near a television, advertisements for the Echo might activate your ecobee4’s Alexa
- you might want to put an actual Echo or Dot in the same room your thermostat is in, and if you do that, you’ll probably end up disabling the in-thermostat Alexa… and get stuck with an always-on red light
- the acoustics/layout of your home may make it difficult to use the in-thermostat Alexa depending where your thermostat is located (the ecobee4 microphone capabilities are very good, but every home is different and unlike an Echo or a Dot, you can’t just reposition your thermostat if you find it’s struggling to hear you accurately)
- the Echo is a much better speaker
- an Echo Dot is versatile, and you can plug it into whatever (better) speakers you want
- some Alexa features are disabled entirely on the ecobee4 thermostat:
- no messaging of any kind
- no Bluetooth
- no Amazon ordering
For these reasons, some buyers are saying they’d have preferred the older ecobee3 plus an Echo Dot (or Echo).
Whether these disabled Alexa features will annoy you is for you to decide. You can still grab our long-running favorite, the ecobee3, for the time being. However, the ecobee3 is slowly disappearing from ecobee.com, so grab yours while you still can.
The bottom line
Our household is already full of Echoes and Dots, so we’re excited to see Alexa starting to get built into things. Yay! Talking to household electronics is one of my favorite things, and the new ecobee4 just excites me to no end. My thermostat happens to be near my kitchen, so I could see myself getting a lot of use out of using Alexa to set timers or update grocery lists.
Alexa integration is literally the only thing differentiating the ecobee4 from the 3, though, so if you aren’t excited about Alexa integration, note that the ecobee3 is the exact same thing, and the ecobee3 lite is the same thing as the 3 minus support for some HVAC accessories and the room temperature sensors.