Our Emerson Sensi Touch WiFi thermostat rating:
Emerson Sensi Touch at a Glance
What it is: the Emerson Sensi Touch is a smart thermostat with a touch screen, easy-to-use app, and a somewhat pared-down feature set compared to the (pricier) competition, all for a wallet-friendly price.
We were super excited to get our hands on the Sensi Touch this year (it launched in mid-2017). We love its predecessor, the Emerson Sensi, which has a more old-school look with chunky plastic buttons surrounding an LCD screen. The Sensi was notable particularly for its compatibility with a wide range of HVAC systems: you didn’t need a C-wire to run it. This made it perfect for our use case (a 2-wire heat-only set up in a ski cabin), and we think the low price attracted a lot of budget-minded buyers who just wanted an easy-to-use WiFi thermostat with an app attached.
Like the previous version, the Sensi Touch is no-nonsense smart thermostat that includes most of what you’d want and lets you skip the stuff you might not want, like the Ecobee’s room sensors or the Nest’s marketing budget. However, the Sensi Touch lost some of what we thought made the original Sensi stand out in an increasingly crowded market. It requires a C-wire and it lacks some accessory support that at least one of its direct competitors, the ecobee3 lite, includes.
**November 2018 Update** Usage reports are coming to the Sensi! Compare heating and cooling run times along with average humidity levels.
Emerson Sensi Touch quick look
Sensi Touch: Our Hands-on Review
We’ve given the Emerson Sensi Touch 4 stars out of 5.
Overall, the Sensi Touch is a great choice. It looks great, works great, and it’s very hands-off after a quick installation process.
Smart thermostats tend to succeed or fail by their apps, since most of us don’t stand around at the thermostat unit itself. The Sensi app is robust and well-designed. It took just moments to set up a schedule (thanks mostly to the default schedule being pretty good by itself) and the rest of the app was brain-dead simple to navigate. (I was 9 months pregnant at the time of testing and we have a toddler running around, and I still managed to quickly and easily navigate the Sensi app with my few remaining brain cells.)
The app is available for iOS (reviews and screenshots) and Android (reviews and screenshots). The worst complaints about the app seem to be in regards to the occasional inability to connect. We didn’t run into this problem during our testing week, but in our experience all of our smart home devices (Amazon Echo, Yi Cameras, Nest Cameras, etc.) have been slow to connect at some point or another due to a variety of factors, including network latency and congestion.
We dinged the Sensi Touch 1 star because at its price-point, it is competing with the “budget” versions of two of the market’s biggest players right now: the ecobee3 lite (see our review) and the Nest Thermostat E (see our review), and both of them offer something the Sensi doesn’t.
- In the case of Sensi Touch vs. ecobee3 lite, the biggest difference is that the ecobee3 lite supports a humidifier and room occupancy and temperature sensors whereas the Sensi Touch does not.
- In the case of Sensi Touch vs. Nest Thermostat E, the biggest difference is that the Nest offers integration with the larger Nest ecosystem (cameras, security system, smoke detector, etc), monthly usage reports, support for optional room temperature sensors, and the little “leaf” icon to encourage eco-friendly settings. However, the Sensi Touch is supported by Apple HomeKit, whereas the Nest Thermostat E is not.
(We’ve explored these differences in a series of Sensi Touch vs. competitor comparisons later on in this article.)
Still, the price is great, scheduling is easy, and it’s been totally reliable through the app. And that’s what we really want out of a thermostat – an unobtrusive, easy experience.
Sensi Touch unboxing and installation
Inside the Sensi Touch box:
- Thermostat unit and back plate
- A very thin installation guide – all it really tells you is to go get the app, which will walk you through the install process
- Mounting screws and optional wire
- Stickers! Put them everywhere! *As long as “everywhere” is your old thermostat’s wires – it’s also a good idea to take a few photos of your old wiring.
Your wiring will almost certainly be different, but here’s what our Sensi Touch’s back plate looked like mounted and hooked up to our 3-wire setup:
Installation was ridiculously easy. You do have to download the Sensi app and make an account, but once you’re through that it goes very quickly. We joined the WiFi hotspot it created and it handled the rest. (Contrast this with having to twist a dial to enter a lengthy WiFi network password like you do with a Nest thermostat or having to configure something by entering codes, and the Sensi really shines here.)
There are a few customization options for the home screen – whether to display indoor humidity, whether to display the time of day, and whether to use Fahrenheit or Celsius. (I think it’d be cool if Sensi added the ability to change the background color and display local weather, too, but nobody asked me :D)
There are more settings to play with in the app itself, such as locking the thermostat down so that it can only be controlled via the app, adjusting the temperature offset, and changing the heat and cooling cycle rates.
Setting up a schedule is easy and customizable within 15-minute increments. You can have 8 adjustments in a 24 hour period, and it starts you off with 4 that attempt to mimic a traditional 9-5 work schedule. In this example, it’s trying to make a schedule suitable for summer months (it cools the house all night and lets it get warm during the day when presumably no one is home).
The times are adjustable in 15 minute increments.
As an alternative to entering a day-by-day schedule, you can rely on geofencing instead. Based on your (well, your phone’s) location, if you are within 3 miles of your home it will use your “home” temperature, but if you go outside the fence it’ll assume you’re away and let the temp drift to a more energy-efficient setting.
This might work well for people who come and go all day with little day-to-day consistency, assuming wherever they are going is far enough away from the geofence. Personally, I could run errands all day and stay within a 3-mile radius of my home, so I wish the fence radius could be customized to a smaller range.
As a third option, you can choose “no schedule” and just manually control the temp from the app or thermostat itself whenever you feel like it.
And that’s it! It took me less than an hour to attach the thermostat to the wall, set it up, and design a suitable schedule (and I was taking photos the whole time, too.) After the initial setup, I never touched the unit again and only looked in the app a couple times to adjust things.
The Sensi Touch is very “set it and forget it”, which is exactly what we want out of a thermostat.
Sensi Touch vs. Sensi
Longtime readers and thermostat enthusiasts (there’s dozens of us, I tell you!) might remember the Sensi name from the older model featuring an LCD display and plastic buttons. (We first installed the older Sensi back in 2016 and you can read our 2021 updated review here.)
For the most part, the Sensi Touch is a direct descendent of the original Sensi – it uses the same app, it has (generally) the same compatibility with HVAC systems, but there’s one major difference: the Sensi Touch requires a C-wire. Whether or not this is a problem for you depends on what wires you have and what you’re willing to do to get them. (Read our guide to the C-wire here.)
However, the Touch adds a few new features not seen in its predecessor besides just a touch screen: geofencing and support for Apple’s HomeKit (the updated ST55 model of the original Sensi also supports HomeKit with the addition of a C-wire).
In general, though, the Touch doesn’t add a whole lot that the original Sensi didn’t have. Which one you choose might come down to your budget (the original is significantly cheaper, hovering around $100 last we checked), whether you already have a C-wire or are willing to put one in, and how badly you want a touch screen on your thermostat.
Sensi Touch vs. ecobee 3 lite
We have long felt that original Sensi’s ability to run without a C-wire was a huge part of its appeal. Since the Sensi Touch requires a C-wire, we feel it’s now fair to directly compare it to its similarly priced competitors, the ecobee3 lite and the Nest Thermostat E.
The biggest differences between the Sensi Touch and the ecobee3 lite are:
- ecobee3 lite supports your HVAC system’s humidifier, if present
- ecobee3 lite can hook into Ecobee’s famous room occupancy and temperature sensors (sold separately)
- Sensi Touch has larger on-screen buttons (the ecobee’s are quite tiny)
- both require a C-wire, but the ecobee3 lite throws a Power Extender Kit into the box for you
- ecobee3 lite generates usage reports (“Home IQ”) but they’re far from perfect so don’t get too excited (you have to wait a full month to get your first one and the data is rather limited in scope) but the Sensi Touch generates no data whatsoever
- ecobee3 lite can display current weather on its idle screen
- both offer Apple HomeKit support (which you might know as “Siri”)
HVAC compatibility: Sensi Touch vs. ecobee 3 lite
The only major difference between the HVAC support offered by Emerson Sensi Touch and the ecobee 3 lite is support for a humidifier/dehumidifier accessory. The Emerson Sensi Touch does not support this accessory, while the similarly-priced ecobee 3 lite does.
|Emerson Sensi Touch||ecobee 3 lite|
|Types||Gas, electric, oil||Gas, electric, oil|
|Yes / Yes||Yes / Yes|
|Heat pump||4H/2C, aux. heat||4H/2C, aux. heat|
|Humidifier / dehumidifier||No / No||Yes / Yes|
|Dual fuel support||Yes||Yes|
|C-wire required||Yes||Yes, power extender kit included|
Choose the Sensi over the ecobee3 lite if you prefer a larger touch screen, don’t need the humidifier support, and already have a C-wire.
Sensi Touch vs. Nest Thermostat E
The Nest Thermostat E is, in some ways, in a class of its own. Compared to the competition, it looks different (thanks to its frosted display), it operates differently (thanks to its twist ring instead of touch screen), it schedules itself differently (it tries to “learn” your preferences and adapt), and it integrates with a large system of home automation devices (such as a smart doorbell, security system, cameras, and a smoke detector) from Nest. No other thermostat on the market looks or operates like the Nest. (Read our full Nest Thermostat E review here.)
However, not everyone cares about the “extras” that a Nest brings to the table and some people are turned off by the idea of giving parent-company Alphabet (Google) so much insight into their home.
Nest claims that you can run their thermostats without a C-wire, but if you do so, you can expect the thermostat to charge itself by turning on your heat every now and then (or you might just find it struggling to connect or dead, as some users report). We think it’s safe to assume that the Nest thermostats require a C-wire, just based on numerous reports we’ve seen of them misbehaving without one.
The biggest differences between the Sensi Touch and the Nest Thermostat E are:
- Sensi Touch supports Apple HomeKit (which you might know as “Siri”)
- Nest Thermostat E supports room temperature sensors (sold separately)
- In some systems and/or climates, the Nest Thermostat E can run without a C-wire but your mileage will vary
- Nest Thermostat E integrates into a larger collection of home automation products (there are many)
- Sensi Touch shows more info on its default idle screen (time, humidity, etc)
- Sensi Touch is a touch screen, Nest Thermostat E does everything via its twist ring (push the ring “in” to confirm a selection)
HVAC compatibility: Sensi Touch vs. Nest Thermostat E
In terms of compatibility, neither Sensi Touch or Nest Thermostat E support a humidifier accessory and there are some nuances in how much support you can expect for multi-stage conventional heating and heat pumps. In general, the Nest Thermostat E’s support for accessories is worse than the Sensi’s, so even if you are interested in the Nest Thermostat E, you might find it doesn’t bring the compatibility you need.
|Emerson Sensi Touch||Nest Thermostat E|
|Conventional||2H/2C||1H/1C or 2H/1C or 1H/2C|
|Types||Gas, electric, oil||Gas, electric, oil|
|Heat-only / Cooling-only||Yes / Yes||Yes / Yes|
|Heat pump||4H/2C, aux. heat||2H/1C|
|Humidifier / dehumidifier||No / No||No / No|
|Dual fuel support||Yes||Yes, but pro install recommended|
|C-wire required||Yes||Maybe, depending on your system and usage|
Choose the Sensi Touch over the Nest Thermostat E if you need the better HVAC and accessory compatibility, want to integrate it with Apple HomeKit, don’t need or care about the Nest product line or features such as schedule learning, and/or want an actual touch screen with large buttons.
For more assistance with Sensi and Nest compatibility
- check out Sensi’s handy wiring compatibility checking tool
- contact Sensi support directly
- try Nest’s compatibility checker
Smart home hub integration
It’s basically a given that all smart thermostats offer smart home integration these days – the ability to walk up to an Amazon Echo or a Google Home device and bark a command is a huge selling point and very popular with buyers. The Emerson Sensi Touch is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit (Siri). Just discover the device through your smart home hub and start issuing commands such as, “Alexa, set the upstairs temperature to 72 degrees” or, “Hey Google, lower the temperature 2 degrees”.
More Sensi Touch Info & Reviews
- Emerson Sensi Touch official site
- TechHive’s Sensi Touch Review rates it favorably but calls the Touch “not as deluxe as the competition”
- Sensi Touch reviews on Amazon.com are generally positive and point out nuances unique to many individual’s own HVAC systems
The bottom line
By itself, the Sensi Touch is an excellent smart thermostat. It brings everything you expect from a WiFi thermostat, albeit with few of the extras that competitor models are known for. Whether the Sensi Touch is right for your home depends on which accessories and wires you have and your personal preferences. The Sensi Touch beats the competition in regards to its touch screen size (the ecobee3 lite’s on-screen buttons are very small, and the Nest Thermostat E doesn’t have a touch screen) and its Apple HomeKit integration (which ecobee3 lite also has). It lags behind when it comes to some of the “extras” that competitor manufacturers have developed for their products, such as room temperature sensors and reports.
Overall, we found the Sensi Touch was easy to install, program, and use on a day-to-day basis.
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