ecobee Nest Thermostats

Comparison: ecobee3 lite vs. Nest Thermostat E – budget versions sacrifice accessory support but keep almost everything else

Last year, two of the best-known brands launched budget-friendly versions of their flagship smart thermostat models. The ecobee3 lite and the Nest Thermostat E pack most of what we love about their full-featured versions into beautifully designed “lite” versions.

On the left: Nest Thermostat E and on the right: ecobee 3 lite

Both models come with an MSRP of $169, which is great news for the budget-conscious shopper and anyone who might be needing multiple thermostats for a multi-zone home. But what are the tradeoffs? And which one should you choose?

Budget-versions go “lite” on accessory support

Generally speaking, both the ecobee3 lite and the Nest Thermostat E sacrificed accessory support but kept almost everything else.

The ecobee3 lite doesn’t ship with ecobee’s famous room temperature sensors, but you can still purchase them separately and add them later. The Nest Thermostat E has a simpler screen, but it’s still got the learning algorithm that made Nest famous. They can both be controlled via an Alexa-enabled or Google Assistant-enabled device elsewhere in your home. And best of all – they both look and feel good in your hand. (Not that you’ll touch either one very much – they both have great apps for managing their schedules and settings.)

Here’s what we think are the key differences between the ecobee3 lite and the Nest Thermostat E.

Multi-stage heating and cooling: ecobee offers more stages

Nest E: no HomeKit support| ecobee3 lite: “Siri, raise the temperature”

Short version: the ecobee supports more stages of heating and cooling than the Nest Thermostat E, for both conventional systems and systems with a heat pump.

The long version: Nest Theremostat E supports 2 stages of either heating or cooling, and 1 stage of the other. So you can have a conventional HVAC system you can have 2H/1C, or 1H/2C, or 1H/1C, but you cannot have 2H/2C if you go with the Nest Thermostat E. It’s a subtle difference, but if that describes your HVAC system, then you might be interested to know that the ecobee3 lite supports 2 stages of heating and 2 stages of cooling simultaneously. This goes for heat pumps, as well – the ecobee supports 4H/2C in heat pump systems, but the same Nest Thermostat E limitations apply.

Read more about single stage vs. multistage heating and cooling and how to tell what you have.

Humidifier support: missing from both

Nest E: no humidifier support | ecobee3 lite: no humidifier support

Many modern HVAC systems include humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and ventilators, and neither ecobee3 lite nor Nest Thermostat E support them.

One possible workaround: you might have a separate control for your humidifier, in which case you can keep that control separate and install a thermostat separately if you want to install an ecobee3 lite or a Nest Thermostat E. You just won’t be able to control both your thermostat and your humidifier from the app.

If you want to control your HVAC system’s humidifier from your smart thermostat, you’ll have to consider the full-featured version of the ecobee or full-featured version of the Nest.

HomeKit support: only ecobee has it

Nest E: no HomeKit support| ecobee3 lite: “Siri, raise the temperature”

If you’re well-established in the Apple ecosystem and have hopes of controlling your home’s thermostat by speaking to your Siri-enabled Apple Watch or iPad, then take note: Nest thermostats do not have HomeKit integration. You’ll want to go with an ecobee (or other HomeKit compatible thermostat) for this feature instead.

Screen design: up to you

Nest E: frosted “watercolor”| ecobee3 lite: larger, detailed

This one comes down to personal preference.

Either you love the Nest Thermostat E’s “watercolor” inspired, frosted-screen display or you prefer ecobee’s sharper full-color display. Aside from size and resolution (the ecobee3 lite is larger in both regards), one key difference is the ecobee3 lite’s idle screen can be changed to show a weather forecast, which many users love.

The Nest Thermostat E screen has a subtle “fuzz” to it, but you won’t be reading much on the screen once you’re past installation. The current temp is displayed in a large font size. It is colored orange when heating and blue when cooling. Compared to its predecessors and flagship Nest model, the Nest Thermostat E feels noticeably lighter weight and the ring lacks the characteristic Nest “heft” (it’s still easy and satisfying to turn, though).

The ecobee3 lite looks and feels a lot like other current ecobees. Interacting with it via its touch screen feels the same as interacting with other ecobee models.  A small icon appears over the temperature to indicate heating or cooling mode.

Photo of the ecobee3 lite's screen lit up

C-wire: you’ll (probably) need one, but ecobee includes a “PEK”

Nest E: maybe but probably | ecobee3 lite: required

When it comes to c-wires, the answer is: it’s complicated.

Nest will tell you that the majority of installs don’t require a C-wire, but if any of these scenarios start happening, you’ll have to go back and add one. We think this is confusing and makes it harder for buyers to make a choice as to which thermostat they want, knowing there’s a chance the Nest may look like it’s working with their system… until it’s not. The Nest Thermostat E is designed to charge itself using the heating and cooling wires, but it’s not easy to know upfront if your particular HVAC setup will be able to do that or if you’ll end up with weird furnace noises and heat running when it shouldn’t be. This is the most common complaint we’ve heard about Nest thermostats: someone installs a Nest without a C-wire hoping they’ll be in the lucky group that can get away without one, and then they’ve got disconnects, stability problems, and the furnace running when it shouldn’t be.

This is something we love about ecobee: they make the c-wire a hard requirement for all of their thermostats so the thermostat always has a continuous supply of power, and they provide a Power Extender Kit to make it easy on you. The PEK is unobtrusive and easy to install. On the back is a magnet to affix it to the inside of your furnace.

Quick comparison table: ecobee3 lite vs. Nest Thermostat E

Nest Thermostat Eecobee3 lite
Amazon PriceAmazon priceAmazon price
Works with room temperature sensorsNoYes, sold separately
Warranty1 year3 years
Supports Apple HomeKitNoYes
ScreenLow-res frosted whiteFull-color 3" touchscreen
Program your own scheduleYesYes
Learns your scheduleYesNo
Compatible with 2-stage heating and 2-stage cooling systemsJust 1H/1C, or 2H or 2C but not both Simultaneous 2H and 2C supported
Compatible with heat pump (4H/2C with Fan)Yes, only 2H/1CYes
Power (c-wire) optionsC-wire or batteryC-wire or included Power Extender Kit
Weather forecast on the unit's displayNoYes
Alexa compatibleYesYes
Dual fuel supportYes, with professional installation recommendedYes, DIY installation

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Still need help deciding?

They’re both solid choices. We love the ecobee3’s “power user” feel and enhanced HVAC compatibility, and we love the gentle glow and intuitive twist-ring of the Nest Thermostat E. They both represent the hard work of their respective teams and companies, and they’re both fantastic examples of what a “budget” priced smart thermostat should be in 2018.

Why choose ecobee3 lite over Nest Thermostat E

  • You need the PEK support for a missing C-wire
  • You need support for more stages of heating/cooling than the E supports
  • You want to use Apple HomeKit, i.e. Siri on your iPhone/iPad to control your thermostat (here’s how to set up an ecobee thermostat with Apple HomeKit)
  • You don’t have a C-wire and you want to use the included Power Extender Kit
  • You’d rather program a schedule yourself
  • You want to add one or more room temperature sensors in the future
  • You simply like it better!

See the ecobee3 lite on

Why choose Nest Thermostat E over ecobee3 lite

  • You have a C-wire or aren’t worried about the potential issues of going without one
  • The learning behavior really appeals to you
  • You have a fairly routine schedule that the Nest Thermostat E can pick up on
  • You have other Nest products and want to stay in that ecosystem
  • You simply like it better!

See the Nest Thermostat E on

Did you choose one over the other? Let us know why in the comments!


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