Thermostats have come a long way since the days of the gold-colored round Honeywell dial thermostats at your grandma’s house. Ecobee launched the first “smart” thermostat in 2007, but others like Google’s Nest and Honeywell’s Lyric weren’t far behind. But now even those manufacturers are shipping 2nd or 3rd generation hardware… meaning that in “tech years,’ even smart thermostats have come a long way.
Meet the Lux GEO
It’s no secret I’ve been an ecobee fanboy since my first ecobee product review over 5 years ago. Which is exactly why the fine folks at Lux Products contacted me and asked me to put their newest offering, the GEO WiFi Thermostat, through its paces. In fact, they fully acknowledged that I’m an ecobee fanboy, but had zero fear about handing over one of their products, with no conditions, and asking for an honest review. I appreciate that kind of confidence.
Price and Options
The Lux GEO WiFi Thermostat has an MSRP of $255, with a street price closer to $150 on places like Amazon. That’s around $100 cheaper than either the $244 street price of the current-gen ecobee3 or the 3rd gen Google Nest. Admittedly, you’re going to give up some features for that $100… but whether or not those features are worth the extra $100 is up to you, and this review will hopefully help you make an informed decision. But the Lux GEO has a few tricks up its sleeve, and actually has some functionality that both the ecobee and Nest lack. And as much as it pains me as an ecobee fanboy to say so, it’s the type of functionality that just might make you choose the Lux GEO over the ecobee3 or Nest… even if they cost the same amount!
You can get the Lux GEO in Stormtrooper white or Darth Vader black, (ok, those aren’t the “official” colors… they call them “black-piano” and “pearl white”) and because I planned to install it on a wall near light-almond colored switches, I chose black so as not to clash:
Here’s a peek at the back:
In addition to the thermostat, the box contains stickers for identifying thermostat wires, screws and molly bolts for installation into drywall, and a rectangular-shaped piece of trim that matches the thermostat color for hiding old screw holes and/or paint color variances. They also included a well-designed fold-out installation booket (in both English and Spanish)… which I immediately put aside because I wanted to see how intuitive the setup would be without any help.
Oh, one more important thing came in the Lux GEO’s box that you won’t find in the box of an ecobee3, Nest, Lyric, or most other smart thermostats: a pair of AA Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries. First, hats off to Lux for including the expensive AA lithium batteries over the cheaper “Advanced” lithiums or alkalines. But what’s truly remarkable about the Lux GEO is that it can actually run on batteries, much like the digital Honeywell thermostats from the 80s and 90s. The “leading” smart thermostats all need to “steal” power (usually 24 volts) from your furnace via the R and C wires. With other smart thermostats, if your wiring doesn’t include a C-wire, you have to piggyback the C wire using a separate device (such as ecobee’s PEK), or in the most extreme cases, abandon hope of using a smart thermostat altogether. If you do have a C-wire available, the Lux GEO will steal power from your furnace like any other smart thermostat, or you can even power it with a mini-USB adapter, if you happen to have a use-case that requires it. But the fact that the Lux GEO can power itself completely on batteries, and is smart enough to allow you to select from one of three power profiles (High Performance, Balanced, or Optimized) while on battery may be the smartest feature of this smart thermostat. I’d recommend using the batteries as a backup power source, even if you do have a C-wire available. When the power flickers at my house, my ecobee3 always needs to reboot. That won’t happen with the Lux GEO.
Getting Set Up
Like many thermostats, the Lux GEO comes in two pieces: a “base” unit that screws into the wall and connects to your thermostat wiring, and a “main” unit that contains all the high tech stuff:
The jumper switches you see let you bridge your furnace’s Y1 and W1 and/or RC and RH terminals if needed, but in my case, I didn’t need to touch anything. My test environment was the HVAC system at my Utah house, which is a pretty average setup: a 2 stage gas furnace with a single stage outside A/C unit. And even though I do have enough wires in my wall to connect the R and C wires to steal power, I decided to use the batteries for this test. One of the huge benefits of going that route for this review was that I could sit down to configure and program the Lux GEO before having anything wired at the wall. I popped in the batteries and the Lux GEO’s LCD screen sprung to life:
One of the reason’s the Lux GEO can get away with battery power is that it’s not powering a high-resolution touch-screen. It’s a simple backlit LCD screen (and the backlight turns off after 10 seconds, though that’s user-definable). User input is done entirely though a large round knob which produces a surprisingly satisfying “click” when turned (there’s something nice about having a tactile response in a smart device) and that accepts a “push” on either side: one with a blue play symbol and the other with a red X. The dial interface is simple and intuitive, and your first setup task forces you to use it right away. You can operate the Lux GEO in what I’d call “landscape” mode (wide than it is tall) or “portrait” mode (taller than it is wide). Since the default orientation was landscape, I changed it to see the difference:
The Lux GEO then asked me a series of questions about my system. Clicking through the setup wizard without any help from the instructions was a breeze:
I won’t bore you with endless photos, but I clicked through and told the GEO that my furnace was a 2-stage gas unit, and that I wanted stage 2 to kick in only if the set point was 3.0F above the current temperature (what Lux calls the “offset”).
I was then presented with the screen that makes this smart thermostat “smart,” the network connection wizard:
After choosing “Yes,” the thermostat put itself into “access point mode” and prompted me to download the Lux app for my mobile device to continue setup.
Lux has an app for both iOS and Android devices, so searching for “lux thermostat” in the Apple App Store did the trick:
Connecting the Lux GEO to your local WiFi is a similar process to connecting a Belkin WeMo smart switch. You “join” the device’s mini WiFi network, use the app to tell the device about your home WiFi network (including your home WiFi password), switch your mobile device back to your home WiFi network, cross your fingers, and hope everything connected properly.
Thankfully, the process worked great with the Lux GEO:
After naming the thermostat, the app walks you through the rest of the process. Again, keep in mind I did all this before even starting to wire the thermostat to my furnace. But now that things were getting serious, it was time to wire in the wall-mounted base unit. I connected the R, Y, G, and W wires. My system also has a humidifier (which is the brown wire I didn’t connect), but the Lux GEO doesn’t support additional accessories like the ecobee3 does (that’s at least one thing you get for the extra $100). If you want to run a humidifier with a Lux GEO you can, but you’ll need a separate humidistat on your system.
UPDATE: Lux informed me in a follow-up email that they plan to release another model in the near future with humidity control, and promised to send that unit for testing and review.
I switched back to the app, named my thermostat “Main Floor,” and then got the Schedule Setup screens. The interface is extremely intuitive, and guesses that your Mon-Fri settings might be different than your Sat-Sun settings:
It also lets you set a general efficiency, so it can take a stab at the ideal set points for how efficient you want to be (all of which are modifiable, of course):
My favorite part was the slider for setting “home” and “away” times:
Of course, all these same options are available for setting your cooling, too, and you can simply copy over the heat program times to the cool program times, or run completely separate ones (you can’t do that with the Nest or ecobee):
The final step is to select the set points for when you’re away:
I was thrilled to see that the Lux GEO uses your mobile device and geo-fencing to automatically set itself to “away” mode when you leave your house. You can enable or disable this feature, as well as set the size of the geo-fence as a radius around your house (I’d show you the screen shot, but I don’t want you knowing where I live!).
This is something I wish the ecobee3 supported, and I’m still surprised that it doesn’t, since no changes to the hardware would be required. All the logic for “geo-fence away” would be done in the mobile app and cloud-based back end. Correction: The ecobee3 added geo-fencing to their HomeKit-enabled ecobee3 in October 2015.
Once everything’s set, the app’s main screen looks like this:
Control and Function
You can control basic functions of the thermostat from the app, as well as see runtime settings (the ecobee3 makes you go to the website to see runtime info).
I did notice a bit of a lag between changes on the app being reflected on the thermostat. I don’t know how often they “poll” for changes, but I’d like it to be faster. Of course, this might have been a function of me running battery mode, and it might poll more often if the power were hard-wired. But in my testing, this lag was the only real annoyance with the Lux GEO. I like devices to respond near instantaneously to app inputs.
UPDATE: A follow-up email from Lux confirms that the slower polling rate on the GEO only occurs when running on battery power, so that it conserves energy. If you connect with C-wire or the additional USB port, then you will have a near instantaneous response from the app.
Of course, all the features are also accessible from the thermostat itself. I went to test the manual override feature by turning the dial up a few clicks, but before I could… the unit launched an automatic firmware update! So I guess that answers that question. Yes, the Lux GEO automatically updates its own firmware:
Once the update finished (it didn’t take long at all), The screen returned to normal:
It wasn’t really 80F in my house, I think the Lux GEO was self-calibrated, and within 15 minutes the temp read normally. I tested overriding the temperature manually by rotating the dial, and noticed you can choose override times in 15 min increments (the ecobee makes you choose between 2 and 4 hours):
With an override in place, the home screen shows the set point it’s trying to reach, and the “flame” icon shows that the heat is on (that solid flame means Stage 2 heat):
Cancelling the override is as simple as clicking the X side of the knob, or using the app.
I went in and tinkered with some of the settings:
…but truthfully, I didn’t need to change anything. For me, the Lux GEO worked right out of the box.
A Very Quick Call to Tech Support
Though during my testing, I wondered how things would be had things not worked so well. The box touted live phone support, so at 2:23 PM Mountain Time, I dialed the support phone number (which wasn’t in the instructions… I had to Google for it).
The automated attendant thanked me for calling, informed me that customer service was available Mon – Fri, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Eastern time (they’re in Philly). With 7 minutes to spare, I figured I’d ask tech support a simple question, just to see how they did.
I pressed “3” when prompted because I was a “consumer.” I remained on hold for a couple of minutes, the phone rang again as I connected… and then it hung up on me.
I dialed back at 2:26 PM Mountain / 4:26 PM Eastern. The automated message said something like “Due to high call volume, we won’t be able to answer to your call before our phone support hours end. Please call back during normal business hours.” Hmm… that’s no bueno. First, if I’m connected and on hold before your support hours end, I should get support.
Second, “normal business hours” have changed in the global economy age. Being an East Coast company and ending your support hours at 4:30 PM local seems sub-optimal for me. I happened to be in Utah when I called, but had I been in Seattle, I’d have needed to call tech support before 1:30 PM… when many people are just getting done with lunch. That’s definitely something I’d like to see Lux change, though I suppose you could include that in the “what do you give up for $100” list.
UPDATE: I received the following in an email from Lux: “We apologize for the poor service on our customer support line. When you do get through to our team we have a friendly and knowledgeable team! The first weeks of winter increase our call volume a huge amount so we do struggle to speak with all customers at this time of year. We recognize that the service hours are not acceptable for customers in the west of the country and we will look to improve on that before the start of the new year. We really appreciate your honest feedback on this.”
Lux Web GUI
Lux also lets you access and control your thermostat thought their web interface, which also gives you insight into runtime and how your house compared to other houses in your area (like ecobee does with HomeIQ). I found myself opting for the app over the web interface, as the app gave me everything I wanted. But for those who don’t have mobile smart devices (like my parents), or who simply prefer a web browser to an app, Lux’s web GUI is just as slick, colorful, and pretty as their app interface.
Except for the glitch with phone support, my overall impression of the Lux GEO is extremely positive. And with a street price of $150, it’s almost 40% cheaper than the ecobee3 or the Google Nest. Is the ecobee or the Nest worth the premium?
If you can’t get a C-wire to your thermostat location, then the Lux GEO is a no-brainer. It’s currently the only WiFi thermostat that can run on batteries. I didn’t test the unit until the batteries ran out, but there is a “low battery warning” so you’ll have time to replace the batteries before it goes dead. Lux confirmed to me in a follow-up email that you should expect anywhere between 6-12 months of battery life, depending on the profile selected (High Performance, Balanced, or Optimized) and your home’s WiFi conditions.
If you’re highly price sensitive, then choosing the Lux GEO is probably the right move. You get nearly all of the operational features of the more expensive smart thermostats, an app that’s just as good (or maybe even better) than the competition, and all you have to give up is the flashy color screen.
If you’re hooked on the ecobee’s remote sensor and motion sensing features, and/or not as price sensitive, then the price difference to go for the more expensive option might be worth it to you. So head to head against my beloved ecobee3, it’s a “maybe.” But even a “maybe” from me is a pretty big deal, given how much I love my ecobee3.
Against the Nest, however, I think the Lux GEO wins hands down. The Nest doesn’t have remote sensors, and I’ve never been crazy about the “learning” approach, and the GEO’s much cheaper. Unless you really want to be a part of the Nest eco-system with its smoke detector integration, save your money and buy a Lux GEO.
The Lux GEO offers entry-level pricing into the smart thermostat world, with much better than entry-level features and a mobile app that’s gorgeous, intuitive, and simple.
And that makes it a bargain.
There’s still time to put one under someone’s Christmas tree… even if that someone is yourself. 🙂
Still want more info? Check out Lux’s YouTube channel for product overviews, install, and how-to videos.