Last year, when the ecobee3 smart thermostat was announced, I published a preview, then a “first look” and unboxing video, followed soon after by the very first review of the ecobee3. I followed those up with an ecobee3 installation guide for new users, along with an ecobee Smart to ecobee3 upgrade guide for owners migrating from the original ecobee Smart units. A few months later, I posted articles about ecobee’s new HomeIQ charts, as well as a two-month followup of the ecobee3. So when ecobee offered me a chance to get my hands on the newly released HomeKit-enabled version of the ecobee3, I giggled and clapped.
No, that doesn’t make me an ecobee fanboy.
It just makes me a fan.
I mean, what geek wouldn’t giggle and clap when his Star Trek-fueled dreams of saying to a replicator “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot” are one step closer… and I don’t even drink tea! Using our voice to interact with the devices that control our environment have been sci-fi’s depiction of home automation since before home automation was feasible. Now, Apple’s HomeKit and Siri are taking that extra step along with ecobee, as the ecobee3 is now officially the world’s first HomeKit-enabled thermostat.
That said, I take journalistic integrity seriously, and even with products I really like, I always call it like I see it. That won’t be any different in this review.
This review will focus solely on the new features of the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 thermostat (currently $249 on Amazon), without delving into the messy discussion of why existing ecobee3 units won’t work with HomeKit, or why they can’t be upgraded. There’s a decent piece in Fortune with an interview of ecobee CEO Stuart Lombard, so head over there if you want to light your torches and wave your pitchforks. Or feel free to visit the SmartHomeHub.net forums and vent your frustrations there. 🙂
Because the only difference between the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 and the original ecobee3 is the addition of HomeKit support, my original ecobee3 review (which details all of the ecobee3’s features) still applies to this version. That frees me to focus solely on the new HomeKit-specific features of the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 in this article.
What is HomeKit?
In the words of Apple, “HomeKit is a framework for communicating with and controlling connected accessories in a user’s home. You can enable users to discover HomeKit accessories in their home and configure them, or you can create actions to control those devices. Users can group actions together and trigger them using Siri.” In shorter terms, it’s Apple’s foray into home automation, using iOS and OS X devices as the primary controllers. Between my wife and our four kids, we have 5 iPhones, one iPod, and three iPads — so HomeKit-enabled devices will fit right in at our house. If you don’t have Apple mobile devices, and have no plans to get any, HomeKit-enabled products won’t be of much interest to you. So save yourself some money and buy one of the very slightly-used original ecobee3 units on eBay which are being sold by users looking to migrate to the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3.
But if you are an Apple mobile device user, and you like the idea of being able to say to Siri “Set my thermostat to 73 degrees,” then the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 is for you.
Getting Some Naming and Model Number Confusion Out of the Way
When the original ecobee3 units hit the market, their original model numbers were EB-STATe3-01 or EB-STATZe3-01, depending on how early in the run you bought yours. With this HomeKit-enabled version, ecobee decided not to jump directly to the ecobee4 designation, and so the official product name is simply “HomeKit-enabled ecobee3.” The model numbers for the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 are EB-STATe3-02 for the US version, and EB-STATe3c-02 for the Canadian one. Though I think it would have been awesome to make the Candian one the EB-STATe3eh-02.
So in the interest of brevity, throughout this review I’ll refer to the “HomeKit-enabled ecobee3” and my own made up designations of ecobee3-02, e3-02, and HK-e3 interchangeably.
Finally, as a very small FYI, I recently discovered that a small batch of the very first HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 units left production with the older EB-STATZe3-01 model number printed on the rear of the wall units — while the model number on the packaging was correct. If you received one of these units, don’t worry. Just like the famous Inverted Jenny postage stamp, these thermostats are now collector’s items (cough, cough) and do indeed have the same internals as all the other HomeKit-enabled units. 🙂
Installing the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3
If you’re replacing an old-school thermostat in favor of a HomeKit-enabled ecobee3, you can follow the same steps in my detailed How to Install an ecobee3 Smart Thermostat Guide. Likewise, if you’re upgrading to an HK-e3 from an original ecobee Smart (ecobee’s very first thermostat), you can use my ecobee Smart to ecobee3 Upgrade Guide. But if you’re upgrading from an ecobee3-01 to an ecobee3-02, your hardware installation is as simple as firmly grabbing your ecobee3-01 wall unit, pulling it off the wall, and plugging in the ecobee3-02. Here’s my existing e3-01 and e3-02 side-by-side. From they outside, they look identical.
Once it powers up, you’ll see the standard request to let it “stretch my wings” as it continues through its boot process:
The HK-ecobee3’s setup wizard runs very much like the original ecobee3’s setup wizard, with one very interesting and welcome addition. Because this is the HomeKit-enabled version, ecobee knows there’s a pretty decent chance that you probably have an Apple mobile device (iPhone, iPod, or iPad) handy. So at the point of the setup wizard where you’d normally use the ecobee3’s touch screen to locate and authenticate on your local wireless network, the HK-e3 gives you the option to use your mobile device to configure its WiFi settings using Apple’s Wireless Accessory Configuration (WAC) instead:
Those who don’t have an iOS device can proceed via the touch-screen. But I whipped out my iPhone, selected the “Use iPhone, iPad or iPod” option, and followed the prompts (my serial number is blocked out in the following photos):
On my iPhone, the WiFi Settings screen showed the HK-e3 as a new device:
I selected the new device and got the Accessory Setup screen:
After pressing Next to confirm I wanted it on my Jenkins network, my phone “thought” for a moment:
and then showed Setup Complete:
My ecobee3-02 wall unit also rewarded me with a “Connection completed” message, confirming that it could now communicate with ecobee’s cloud-based servers:
This new iOS-based WiFi setup wizard is exclusive to the HomeKit-enabled version of the ecobee3, due to its updated on-board WiFi authentication chip. It was a welcome new feature I hadn’t experienced wile setting up previous ecobee3 units.
Enabling Remote Sensors
The ecobee3’s remote sensors certainly aren’t the only difference between the ecobee3 and its competition, but there’s not doubt they’re its most touted… and with good reason. Nobody else offers anything like them (yet?). They allow comfortable temperatures to “follow” homeowners around their house, and help trigger the thermostat’s “Home” and “Away” modes to maximize both comfort and savings. If you replaced an ecobee3-01 with an ecobee3-02, you simply need to gather up any existing remote sensors, remove their batteries, count to 10, re-install the batteries (one at a time), follow the prompts on the ecobee3’s touch-screen to pair them with the new thermostat, then put them back in their respective rooms. I had one sensor in my office (named “Office”) and another in my wife’s office (using the ecobee default name of “Lil’bee” — which will be important to remember later on). You should have also received at least one additional remote sensor with your new ecobee3-02, so pull the battery strip, pair it, and place it somewhere that you’d like to monitor.
Enabling HomeKit Features
With the physical connections, network connections, and remote sensors configured, it was now time to enable the HomeKit features of the ecobee3. From the ecobee3 app on my iPhone, I pressed the + sign in the top left corner to add a new thermostat to my account, then selected the Add HomeKit Compatible option:
Because this was the first HomeKit device I’d ever added, my phone prompted me to add a new home to my HomeKit hierarchy:
I created a new home called “Maple Valley” as set it as the default home:
With my “Maple Valley” home now added to my HomeKit hierarchy, the ecobee3 app prompted me to select the home to which I wanted my new thermostat added:
Then the app confirmed that it had found a HomeKit-enabled thermostat named “MV-Main” on the network:
Pressing the Say Hello button briefly displayed a HomeKit Identification message on the ecobee3-02’s screen (I presume to allow users to confirm the correct device if multiple devices were available):
Pressing the Add button in the app caused a grey box with a number to appear on the ecobee3-02’s screen and prompted me to enter the code in my app to connect the “MV Main” thermostat it to my “Maple Valley” home:
Next, the app prompted me to assign the MV Main to a Default Room:
Then finally a congratulatory message confirming that “MV Main” had been successfully added to my HomeKit, along with the three HomeKit “scenes” currently supported. Those are the three scenes (as you’ll see in a moment) than can be enabled via voice prompts to Siri:
Simultaneously, I received a message on my ecobee3-02’s touch-screen that it had been successfully paired with HomeKit:
Trying out Siri’s Voice Commands with HomeKit-Enabled ecobee3
Using the list from the What voice commands can I use to control my HomeKit-enabled ecobee3? FAQ on ecobee.com, I pressed my iPhone’s home button, waited for Siri’s “beep beep,” then said “Set my thermostat to 74.” Technically, the FAQ says I’m supposed to say “74 degrees,” but I was curious about whether or not Siri would catch my drift. She did:
My wife was sitting in her office on her computer, and my son was sitting in the living room watching Netflix — both of them within earshot. Up to this point, neither of them had been paying any attention to my tinkerings with the thermostat (seeing me tinker with something in the house is nothing new to them), but upon hearing my command and Siri’s response, both of them walked into the kitchen, iPhones outstretched, demanding that I make their phones “do that, too.” Score one for the wife “does it just work?” test and another for the teenager “that’s cool” test.
Not to nitpick, but I did notice that although I’d asked for 74, Siri replied that the thermostat had been set for 73.9. My guess is that being from a Canadian-based company, the ecobee3’s “native” temperature scale is Celsius, and so my request probably got converted into Celsius to perform the change, then re-converted back to Fahrenheit for the confirmation message. This is a very minor issue, and probably the result of rushing (and pressure from Apple) to be the first HomeKit-enabled thermostat on the market (which the ecobee3-02 is). I’m certain this minor annoyance will be fixed in a future firmware update.
I continued down the commands list:
Now for the first real test: during the setup wizard, I’d told my ecobee3-02 that I didn’t have a ventilator, humidifier, or dehumidifer attached to the thermostat. Therefore, I shouldn’t be able to set the humidity. I was curious to see what Siri’s error response would be:
Strangely, I didn’t get an error response at all. Siri responded that she’d “set the thermostat to 50,” which made me immediately wonder if perhaps she’d set the temperature to 50F or possibly 50C (aka 122F) — both of which would be expensive and uncomfortable. Peeking at the touch-screen, I confirmed that she hadn’t changed my temperature set point at all, so I chalked this up to another minor “rush it out the door” HomeKit bug that I hope gets fixed shortly. It seems the internal logic to manage the humidity set-point via HomeKit is still accessible, even when the equipment isn’t.
If any ecobee techs are reading this, while you’re working on fixing these HomeKit results messages, may I suggest that the humidity results also contain units (such as %) just as the temperatures always do? If I did have a humidifier connected to my system, I would have wanted Siri’s reply to be “OK Steve, I set the thermostat to 50%.” Wait, actually, I’d want her to say: “OK Steve, I set the humidity to 50%,” though if the HomeKit limitations (and I realize that Apple controls a lot of this) require her response to use the word “thermostat,” maybe she could say something like “OK Steve, I set the thermostat humidity to 50%.” Cool? Cool.
I decided to try setting the “scenes” that the HomeKit confirmation screens had promised:
In HomeKit, scenes can incorporate multiple devices, so it’s conceivable that if I had more devices, this command could set the thermostat to “Home” mode, turn on some lights, deactivate my alarm, and stream my “Welcome Home, Steve!” playlist from my Apple TV over my whole-house speakers! But for now, Siri just put my thermostat into its “Home” mode. The “Enable MV Main Away” and “Enable MV Main Resume Schedule” commands both also worked fine, though I found that last one to be a mouthful, so I tried simply saying “Enable MV Main Resume.” Siri auto-completed the command, and even though I didn’t say the word “Schedule,” that’s exactly how the command appeared — and Siri replied “OK, your humble abode is ready for MV Main Resume Schedule.” Rock on!
My last test was to query my remote sensor’s temperature readings. I started with my office:
So far, so good. I’d used an extra “my” in the command, but it didn’t seem to matter. But when it came time to ask about my sensor named “Lil’bee” — which is the default name for the first remote sensor on every ecobee3 thermostat, I ran into a little trouble:
No matter how I phrased it, I couldn’t get Siri to understand “Lil’bee.” I decided to rename both sensors (which is accomplished easily via the web or touch-screen interface) to “Steve Office” and “Keri Office.” I gave Siri another crack at it. She had no trouble understanding me and reporting the temperature for “Steve Office,” but when I told her “List Keri Office temperature,” the command appeared on-screen as “List Carrie office temperature,” which then got auto-corrected to “List Cary office temperature.” I tried all the Siri-hacks I knew: adding phonetic spelling in Keri’s contact entry, telling Siri “That’s not how you pronounce Keri” and had her try to re-learn, and creating keyboard shortcuts that would auto-correct both “Carrie” and “Cary” to “Keri” in text apps. None of those worked. So for now, my advice is to name your remote sensors something that Siri can’t confuse with something else… something boring… like Office 1 and Office 2.
I have a few other minor gripes about the restrictive language Siri requires me to use, but no real deal-killers. I’m glad I can ask something as naturally as “What’s my thermostat temperature?” and get a reply of “The thermostat is at 79.9F,” but then it’s confusing to immediately say “List my thermostat temperature” and get a reply of “The thermostat is at 74.8F.” Geeks like me will understand that the first is the set-point and the second is the actual temperature reading. However, I can ask “What’s my thermostat’s set point?” and get the correct response, but when I ask “What’s my current indoor temperature?” I get “Interesting question, Steve.”
You need to be careful and specific when dealing with Siri (naturally, there’s a learning curve). If I ask “What’s my current humidity?” I get a weather forecast with a response that tells me the outdoor humidity index based on Internet data. What I should have asked was “What’s my thermostat current humidity?” to which she replied “The thermostat is at 41.” Interestingly, that question also worked when phrased “What’s my current thermostat humidity?” — so it seems the word “thermostat” helps put her on the right track when dealing with the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3.
The biggest mistake I could cause Siri to make was when I tried setting the thermostat in relative terms, instead of a specific temperature. First, I asked her to “Lower my thermostat by 2 degrees.” She didn’t understand. So I tried “Lower my thermostat by 2.” That she did understand… but her response was “OK, I’ve set the thermostat to 50F” — even though my current set point was 76F. In response, my thermostat posted a warning message on its touch-screen, and sent me an alert email, saying “A desired temperature of 50 will cause your equipment to run excessively and may damage it. To protect your equipment, we have changed the desired temperature to 70. To change the permissible range, tap menu > settings > preferences > cooling range.” Thank goodness for smart thermostats that are actually smart!
Again, none of these “launch issues” with Siri are deal killers, and I imagine that as time goes on, ecobee and Apple will work to make the interaction between me, Siri, and my ecobee3-02 more and more smooth, natural, and predictable.
Interactivity with Other Apps and Devices
It seems that the really big question is “How does the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 interact with other HomeKit-enabled apps and devices?” I asked Siri that question, but she wasn’t much help. The truth is that it’s too early to tell. I currently don’t have any other HomeKit enabled devices to test with the ecobee3, but I plan to change that soon. As far as other apps, I tried installing the iHome Control app on my iPhone, but it was unable to “see” my ecobee3-02. The Elgato Eve app seems promising, however — it allows me see and control all the HomeKit-enabled elements of the ecobee3-02, including the occupancy and temperature readings of my remote sensors.
I’m guessing (and hoping) that once iOS 9 (which is currently in beta) gets released, more opportunities for HomeKit integration across multiple devices and applications will arrive. For now, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with verbal commands to query values and override certain ecobee3 settings and programs, which isn’t a bad start.
So is the ecobee3 worth the upgrade? As one of my college professors used to say, “Where you stand depends upon where you sit.”
If you don’t have (and don’t plan to have) any Apple mobile devices in your home, then you don’t need the HomeKit-enabled version of the ecobee3. An ecobee3-01 (currently $222 on Amazon) will be fine for you.
If you’re an Apple device user who’s upgrading from a “dumb” thermostat, the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 is the device you want.
If you’re an Apple device user who’s upgrading from a first-generation ecobee Smart or another smart thermostat like the Lyric or Nest, then I also believe the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 is the right move.
But if you’re an Apple device who bought an ecobee3 just a few months ago, prior to the HomeKit announcement, only to learn you can’t simply add HomeKit functionality to your existing ecobee3… you’re probably feeling a little bit of a sting right now. ecobee offered an upgrade window for existing ecobee users, but that window closed on July 6th, and I don’t know if they have any plans to re-open it. If you just simply have to have the HomeKit integration (and I won’t lie… it’s pretty darn cool), then I recommend biting the bullet, buying the HomeKit-enabled ecobee3, then listing your e3-01 on Craigslist, eBay, or sell it to a neighbor (and sweeten the deal by offering to install it yourself).
But if the thought of huddling under your covers on a cold winter night with the ability to nudge up the temperature two degrees without needing to find your reading glasses on your nightstand simply by pressing your home button and whispering “Siri, set my thermostat to 68 degrees” makes you quiver with “just-gotta-have-it-itis,” you simply can’t put a price on that.
Wait… yes you can. It’s $249 on Amazon. 🙂
As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and feedback below. I also invite you to join the HomeKit and ecobee conversations over on SmartHomeHub.net.