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Nest Reviews Thermostats

Review: Nest Thermostat strikes a perfect balance between value and features

In late 2020 Google expanded the Nest product lineup with an all-new thermostat with a simple name: “Nest Thermostat”.

This new entry, identifiable by its flat mirrored face, does not replace any of the existing models. Instead, it is a brand-new, value-priced entry with an MSRP of $129.99. Its low price places it squarely in competition with budget-friendly offerings like the Emerson Sensi and the ecobee3 lite, and that price might be even lower if your local utility company offers a rebate on smart thermostats.

Unlike its predecessors, the Nest Thermostat ditches Nest’s signature “twist ring” for a touch-sensitive strip on the right side of the thermostat unit and metal finish for a plastic one. It still has a very upscale feel, though, with its mirrored face and four different finishes to choose from.

In contrast with other Nest offerings, this thermostat is only compatible with the Google Home app as opposed to the standalone Nest app, and sacrifices some HVAC accessory support. This Nest also lacks the “learning algorithm” that some users rely on to develop an energy-saving schedule, and it also does not support Nest’s room temperature sensors.

Pictured: Nest Thermostat’s mirrored face displays its current task: heating the house to 70 degrees.

We took the new Nest Thermostat for a test-drive and are happy to report that this budget-priced model retains the ease of use and overall charm we’ve come to expect from Nest. It is a solid competitor to other value-priced smart thermostats.

Nest Thermostat is now available on Google’s own store, Amazon.com, and home improvement retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Quick Look

Google Nest Thermostat G4CVZ

This value-priced thermostat from Nest pares it down to the essentials with few real sacrifices.

Pros

  • Easy to schedule, easy to override with a hold
  • Customizable schedules
  • Compatible with a majority of HVAC systems
  • Google Home integration for centralized smart home management
  • Attractive physical design

Cons

  • Time-consuming migration from Nest may be necessary for long-time Nest users
  • Does not support Nest's occupancy sensors
  • Limited support for certain combinations of HVAC accessories
  • Mirrored finish shows every fingerprint

Nest Thermostat hardware overview

At a glance

The thermostat itself can detect temperature, humidity, and motion. When idle, the screen goes blank, essentially becoming a small circle-shaped mirror.

There are few on-unit controls – you can’t set a schedule, but you can set (or cancel) a hold.

Twist ring traded for a “touch strip”

It’s tempting to touch the mirrored screen – we did it ourselves many times in our tests, leaving visible fingerprints every time – but all navigation and interaction with this thermostat is done by sliding a finger up/down the touch-sensitive strip on the right side of the thermostat unit and tapping the touch strip to confirm choices.

Pictured: the touch-sensitive strip along the right side of the Nest Thermostat.

All previous Nest thermostat models use a twistable ring that can be “clicked” (by pushing it towards the wall). The new touch strip isn’t quite the same, but it’s nearly as good and we think most users will conduct most of their interactions with this thermostat via the Google Home app instead of the thermostat hardware itself.

As a minor quibble, the touch strip is only on the right side. If you’re used to the twist ring, you might spend some time stroking the left side of the thermostat wondering why it’s not doing anything. Left-handed people (or people simply holding something in their right hand) may also find the touch strip’s placement awkward or unintuitive. (We adapted quickly.)

Weather and current temp

To the disappointment of some users, the screen goes completely blank when the thermostat is idle and does not detect anyone nearby. – It does not display the time, temperature, or weather information all of the time the way some thermostat idle screens do.

To get this information, you have to navigate to it via the touch strip. If having an always-on display of the outside and inside temps is important to you, keep in mind that the Nest Thermostat doesn’t do that.

Scheduling

Google Home app required

Unlike all previous Nest models, the Nest Thermostat is set up and managed exclusively through the Google Home app.

Presumably, this is where all Nests are going (eventually) as parent-company Google consolidates all things Nest under the Google Home umbrella.

Existing Nest app users who have not migrated to the Google Home app will have to do so in order to set this thermostat up.

No “learning” algorithm

Another surprise for long-time Nest fans and users is that this model does away with the “learning” algorithm. We were not big fans in the first place, preferring iron-clad control and visibility into our thermostat’s schedule to some computer’s “best guess”, but the learning algorithm is what arguably made Nest famous in the first place so this feels like a bold move.

With this thermostat, you’ll have to schedule it yourself. Fortunately, setting up a schedule takes only minutes and can be done from your phone, with copy and paste features that make it easy to recycle one day’s schedule onto others.

You’ll have to think of your schedule in terms of “events”, which is the time at which you want the thermostat to switch to a different temperature.

There are three default “events” built in:

  • “Comfort” – use this one when you’re home
  • “Eco” – use this one when you’re out of the house
  • “Sleep” – if your bedtime varies, you might like to set this one to start later than your latest usual bedtime
  • You can also add custom presets

You can customize what “Comfort”, “Eco”, and “Sleep” mean to you in terms of temperature, for both heating and cooling:

To build a schedule, you choose a temperature and a start time. You can apply this setting to as many or as few days of the week as you need.

Here’s a simple Nest Thermostat schedule:

Creating custom presets is useful if you’ve got different people at home at different times (for example, if you have a different idea of “Comfort” than your spouse does, you might want different comfort presets for the times when you’re each home by yourselves).

You can also use custom presets for creative scenarios like having the house at 72 all day, 70 at bedtime, then have it gradually drop to 65 as you sleep.

In this example, “Deep sleep” begins at 3am and lowers the house to an even cooler temperature.

It’s a simple tool but you can get fairly nuanced with it.

Motion-detection sensor

The Nest Thermostat is the first to include Google’s Soli sensor. This motion-tracking chip is also used in the Pixel 4.

Here, it’s used to wake up the display when you come near the thermostat and determine whether you are home or not for automatically switching into Away mode. The screen is blank when the thermostat is idle.

Whether you find this feature useful or not probably comes down to where your thermostat is located. For example, our thermostat faces into the least-used room of our home, so we don’t get a lot of use out of a motion-detecting thermostat.

AA batteries

Previous Nest models use rechargeable lithium batteries, but this one comes with two user-replaceable AA batteries.

Pictured: the Nest Thermostat’s unconnected backplate and the back of the thermostat unit itself, with two white AA batteries installed.

Like all Nests, the Nest Thermostat can work without a C-wire in some installations (though your results may vary). The AA batteries are only there to fill in in the event that the HVAC system stops providing power for some reason.

Google estimates the AA batteries should last a few years in the Nest Thermostat and they probably will if you “set it and forget it” they way they hope you will. Nobody wants to play with a thermostat every day, do they?

Four color choices

The Nest Thermostat comes in four colors: Snow, Charcoal, Sand (a pale bronze color), and Fog (a pale teal color).

We’ve only seen Snow and Charcoal at our local stores, so if you have your heart set on Sand or Fog you may need to order online.

Something these product shots don’t make clear is that the face of the thermostat is a mirror. It’s not frosted or dulled in any way – it’s as reflective as your bathroom mirror.

Pictured: the mirrored face of the Nest Thermostat made getting hand- and camera-free shots for this article an interesting challenge.

The “sand” model has an orange tint to it. We were unable to acquire a “sand” colored Nest to verify this, but user photos from around the web seem to confirm that the mirror has a tint.

Trim kit

The “trim” backplate is sold separately from the thermostat, though some retailers (like Amazon) offer the thermostat and trim together as a bundle.

You might need the trim to cover up missing paint or a hole in your wall that used to be hidden by your old thermostat.

Another note on installation: The screw holes for this Nest model are closer together than the previous Nest models. If you’re replacing an older Nest, you might be surprised to see the holes don’t line up. We had to drill new holes for this installation.

Nest Thermostat HVAC Compatibility

Nest claims this thermostat is compatible with “85% of 24V systems”, so odds are in your favor if you’ve got a 24V HVAC system.

We can’t cover every possible compatibility question here, but Nest’s own compatibility checker might be helpful.

In our experience, which we’ve gathered over the years by installing Nests ourselves, talking to HVAC professionals, and by reading countless reviews online, it is best to have a C-wire for your Nest.

It may look like it’s working without a C-wire, for a while, and then it may begin to fail in unpredictable ways. It’s a difficult to detect problem that may not be readily apparent. Read more about why we recommend a C-wire for Nests, even if Nest doesn’t.

Nest Thermostat compared with other Nest models

The current Nest lineup includes three different thermostat models, each of them with a slightly different feature set and price point.

The value-priced Nest Thermostat (MSRP $129.99) is the least expensive of the bunch. This is the thermostat featured in this article. Overall, we think it’s great, but keep in mind this is the only Nest model without the “schedule learning” algorithm.

Next is the Nest Thermostat E (MSRP $149.99) with its “frosted” display. This E is priced right in between the Nest Thermostat and the Nest Learning Thermostat. It’s very similar to the most expensive model, the Nest Learning Thermostat – it’s got the same “learning” algorithm and support for temperature sensors. The only things it lacks are support for some higher-end HVAC accessories and the display only shows the indoor temperature, not the full report displayed by the Nest Learning Thermostat.

Finally, there’s the Nest Learning Thermostat (MSRP $249.99). This is the flagship model, the one that made Nest famous. It’s got ten terminals so it is compatible with the greatest variety (and quantity) of HVAC accessories. The screen displays indoor and outdoor temp when you approach it, which is more than the E or the Nest Thermostat do, but besides that and the expanded accessory support there aren’t a whole lot of strong reasons to pick this model over either of the two lower-priced ones.

Which Nest should you choose?

Basically it comes down to:

1. how many terminals you need

2. whether you want room sensors or not (only Nest Thermostat E and Nest Learning Thermostat support them)

3. whether you want the learning algorithm to assist you in scheduling your heating/cooling (only the Nest Thermostat E and Nest Learning Thermostat include the “learning” capability)

4. which one you like the look of best (the Nest Thermostat E has a frosted display, the Nest Thermostat has a mirrored face)

If you want room sensors, pick the Nest Thermostat E, or the Nest Learning Thermostat, or an Ecobee model.

If you have a multi-stage system, heating, cooling, a humidifier, and a helicopter hangar all controlled via the thermostat, and you want a Nest-brand thermostat, then you will almost certainly need the 10-terminal Nest Learning Thermostat.

But for the rest of us, the Nest Thermostat is more than satisfactory. We enjoyed using it and recommend it to anyone who wants a Nest without the high price.

Nest Thermostat unboxing

Inside the Nest Thermostat box: thermostat, backplate, two screws, and a skimpy “getting started” booklet that mostly exists to direct you to the Google Home app.

They didn’t include a screwdriver this time around, but everything else you need is here, including two mounting screws. The built-in bubble level on the backplate is a nice touch.

Nest Thermostat installation and setup

It took us about 25 minutes to set up the Nest Thermostat.

Overall, the installation was slightly more challenging and time-consuming than we expected. There are no instructions in the box whatsoever, just instructions to go use the Google Home app.

The Google Home app has no idea you’re in the midst of installing a new thermostat, either, so you’ll have to click the “+”, choose “Set up device”, and then choose “New devices”. It will search your network for a new device, which it will fail at because because you haven’t been instructed to even remove your old one yet.

This process felt clunky but we found our way eventually.

During our Nest Thermostat setup we were prompted to migrate our existing Nest account into Google Home, which we did. It was a many-step process that added a good 15 minutes to the thermostat setup time and seemed to require that all of our other Nest devices go along for the ride. This official Google support article covers some of the (many) ins and outs of migrating a Nest account to a Google account.

From there, the app-guided installation is pretty good – the animations demonstrating how to do things were particularly appreciated.

There were a lot of steps along the way, including having to migrate our Nest account to Google Home and opportunities to turn on various features.

Overall, the installation went well – we particularly liked the step that asked us to photograph our existing wiring, and then saved that photo for reference within the app.

We also appreciated the way the app asked what wires we had and then attempted to correct anything we had wrong. We deliberately gave it bad inputs to see what would happen, and it told us exactly what wire(s) what we were missing.

The app customizes its wiring diagram to your specific needs:

The bottom line

Nest continues to outdo themselves with their value-priced smart thermostats.

This new pared-down model continues where the Nest Thermostat E left off, with its simplified screen and touch controls and reduced accessory support. If all you wanted to do was schedule it yourself, you probably won’t miss the room sensors or “learning” algorithm.

If you’ve been waiting to replace your old fashioned thermostat with a smart one, the Nest Thermostat is a great pick.

The short of it

Nest Thermostat G4CVZ

Nest's value-priced thermostat is a winner

Nest's lowest-priced thermostat is easy to install, easy to use, and easy to love. It doesn't "learn" your habits like other Nests, but it still supports geofencing and presence detection for modern a smart home experience.

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