Nest Learning Thermostat Review: Smart temperature control that sticks to your schedule

It's one of the only Wi-Fi thermostats that can learn your daily routine and adjust accordingly.

Nest generation 3 review
The Nest costs $249.Nest

With a larger, easier to read screen, a thinner profile, and host of new sensors, the 3rd generation Nest thermostat offers energy-saving smarts in a slightly more capable and attractive package.

Testing

Simple installation has been one a strength for Nest since its beginnings and the third generation is no exception. The thermostat comes with everything you need, including a screwdriver, mounting screws, and a mounting base. The latter even has an embedded leveler to ensure your Nest is straight when you mount it to the wall. We've grown accustomed to swapping thermostats in and out lately, and so far, the Nest is hands down the easiest. Physical installation took a little under 10 minutes, with an additional 10 required for setting everything else up onscreen and in the app.

After inserting the individual wires into their matching connectors and snapping the main screen into place, the thermostat powers up and provides you with on screen instructions. You select your residence type (single or multi-family, business, or condo), the heating system you use (propane, oil, electric, or geothermal), and then choose a wireless network to connect to. We had already downloaded the Nest app to use with our 2nd gen Nest, so after updating models and ensuring everything was working properly, we spent a week retraining the new Nest to our schedule to see if features like Auto Schedule and Home/Away Assist worked any better.

Standard disclaimer: While the Nest should work with most 24V heating and cooling systems, before buying any new connected thermostat, do yourself a favor and figure out whether you have a power-supplying C-wire (aka common wire). We happen to have one, but they're not actually that common. The goods news is that the Nest remains one of the few smart thermostats that doesn't require a C-wire to work (it can charge its built-in battery using the heating and cooling wires).

Nest thermostat review
The kit comes with everything needed to install it, even the screwdriver.Nest

Observations

Having used and thoroughly enjoyed the 2nd generation Nest thermostat for close to a year, we can confidently say the 3rd gen version improves on it in almost every way. No, these improvements aren't huge, and for most people they probably won't warrant an upgrade. Still, there are refinements aplenty, whether it's the larger, higher-res screen (up from a 1.75-inch 320 x 320 display to a 2.08-inch 480 x 480 one), the Sunblock feature that prevents the thermostat from turning on or off due to direct sunlight exposure, or the new far field sensor that can recognize movement from across the room and then trigger either the time, temperature, or weather forecast on screen.

What continues to distinguish the Nest thermostat from its competitors, though, is its ability to learn your heating and cooling preferences and then generate a customized, energy-efficient schedule based on them. After about a week of "teaching" the thermostat your preferred temperature settings, you can elect to have Auto Scheduling kick in. It'll use those previous heating/cooling commands along with its own sensors and algorithms to come up with an energy-saving schedule that you can then continue to tweak and refine or ignore. We found the feature worked just as well on the 3rd gen model, which is to say flawlessly. Granted, we don't have a particularly large house (~1,475 sq ft with one floor) or a complicated daily schedule, but the Nest had no trouble distinguishing between our weekday and weekend routines, and there was never a morning where we didn't wake up to our preferred temperature.

One area we did noticed some improvement in over the 2rd gen Nest was related to another smart feature: Home/Away Assist. Most thermostats with geofencing capabilities simply rely on your phone's location to figure when you're home and when you're away. That information is then used to adjust the temperature appropriately. As we've discovered reviewing other models, this can still cause plenty of confusion, particularly if the phone reception in your area isn't great. Even with the 2nd gen Nest, there were times when a sustained period of slothfulness was interpreted as an Away, which in turn caused our heating system to switch to its much cooler ECO mode.

The Nest does things a bit differently. It uses a combination of its own motion sensors, plus those of other Nest products (if you have them) like the Nest Cam and Nest Protect, to help determine your location. For us, the result was far fewer false positives. It also meant we were (gasp) free to leave home without a phone yet still rely on the heating system to revert to its ECO mode.

Nest review
The latest Nest display is bigger and has more resolution than the previous model.Nest

As far as integration with other smart home platforms and gadgets go, the Nest remains one of the most compatible connected thermostats you can buy. Yes, there are two notable and not very surprising exceptions: Apple's HomeKit and Samsung's SmartThings. But almost every other popular device we could think of seems to be supported through the Works With Nest program, including platforms like Insteon, WeMo, Wink, Lutron, Vivant, and many more. You can get a full list of compatible devices and platforms here.

This tight integration lets you do things like program your Hue lights to turn off when the Nest goes into Away Mode. The Nest also supports voice commands as well. We didn't have a Google Home to test with it, but can report that using Alexa with Amazon's Echo work perfectly. As a testament to how well the automatic scheduling worked, we found rarely used it.

If you're paranoid (and you should be) about the myriad security risks associated with filling your home with connected gadgets, you'll be pleased to know that you can now enable two-factor authentication for the thermostat through the Nest app. It's a welcome option that most smart thermostat manufacturers still don't offer for some reason.

Overall, the Nest performed reliably and without any major hiccups during the month we used it. Some may point out that, unlike the Ecobee3, the Nest still doesn't offer remote sensors that allow you to monitor and control the temperature in individual rooms (versus just the entire home). Realistically, if you don't live in a multi-level, larger home, you probably won't miss something like this..

Conclusion

With each successive generation, the Nest thermostat gets easier and easier to recommend. While it's not worth upgrading from the 2nd generation Nest, the latest version is an perfect choice for anyone who wants help saving money on their energy bills, but who doesn't want to exert much time or effort doing so.

Details

Price: $249

Colors: Stainless Steel, Copper, Black, White

Dimensions: 3.3 x 1.2 inches

Screen: 480 x 480 resolution at 229 pixels per inch (2.1-inch diameter)

Sensors: Temperature, Humidity, Near-field activity, Far-field activity, Ambient light

Compatibility: See website

Grade: 4.5/5