ecobee4 with Amazon Alexa Voice Service

ecobee4 Smart Thermostat Review 4


Today is the official launch of the ecobee4 smart thermostat: the latest in what’s now a long(ish) line of WiFi thermostats from the eponymous Toronto-based ecobee Inc. Whenever ecobee releases an even “smarter” version of their smart thermostat, you can pretty much guarantee I’m gonna be all over that product review. I reviewed the original ecobee Smart way back in 2010, and a peek at all my posts tagged “ecobee” since then will reveal that I’ve been an unabashed early adopter of their products. I’ve also used and reviewed other WiFi thermostats in a variety of test environments, but I still always end up using ecobees in my own residential and work spaces. But that’s not to say I’m a fan-boy. I’ll be as objective in this review as I am in all my others, and tell it like it is. So let’s take a peek at the new ecobee4!

ecobee4 with Amazon Alexa Voice Service

ecobee4 with Amazon Alexa Voice Service

What’s in the Box?

ecobee4 Smart Thermostat unboxed

ecobee4 Smart Thermostat unboxed

The first thing I noticed is that ecobee continues to demonstrate their understanding of the importance of a well laid-out box opening “experience.” It feels downright iPhone-ish (that’s a good thing). DIY geeks like me get warm fuzzies due to the attention to detail, while those who might otherwise feel a bit intimidated about installing a smart thermostat for the first time get a “Well this isn’t so bad!” vibe.

The next thing I noticed was Amazon’s Alexa circular logo proudly displayed on the front of the box. The official phrasing from ecobee is that the new ecobee4 features “built-in Amazon Alexa Voice Service.” But that’s just a fancy way of saying that for almost all intents and purposes, the ecobee4 is an Amazon Echo Dot and an ecobee smart thermostat mashed up into one device that sits on your wall — and in addition to SmartThings and IFTTT, also supports Apple HomeKit. As far as I know, it’s the only device currently on the market that combines Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit technologies in the same unit. I shudder when I think of the machinations ecobee CEO Stuart Lombard and his executive team had to go through to negotiate that type of licensing… while still keeping the ecobee4’s price point competitive with other industry players. But that’s not my job, it’s theirs! Mine is to play with stuff and see if I can break it talk about the experience.

Compared to its older sister, the ecobee4 (shown on the right below) is slightly larger and somewhat “rounder.” I didn’t measure them, but the touchscreen looks about the same size… or maybe even a touch bigger on the ecobee4:

ecobee3 (left) and ecobee4 (right)

ecobee3 (left) and ecobee4 (right)

The ecobee4 is also slightly thicker than the ecobee3, probably to make room for all that Amazon juiciness:

The ecobee4 is slightly thicker than the ecobee3

The ecobee4 is slightly thicker than the ecobee3

The rear of the ecobee4 reveals a number of vents, which I’m guessing are for ventilation (up top) as well as microphone (lower right) and speakers (bottom center):

Rear view of the ecobee4 smart thermostat

Rear view of the ecobee4 smart thermostat

The ecobee4 mounts to the wall in a similar fashion as did the ecobee3, but the two wiring harnesses aren’t identical, so while it’s not quite as simple as unplugging the old unit and snapping in the new one, migration from an ecobee3 to an ecobee4 is as simple as migration from pretty much any other thermostat: disconnect the old wires, mount and connect the new wiring harness, plug in the ecobee4. Yes, friends, it’s really that simple. Here’s the ecobee4 with its wiring harness and optional cosmetic wall plate (top) compared to the ecobee3 (bottom):

ecobee4 and wiring harness compared to the ecobee3

ecobee4 and wiring harness compared to the ecobee3

You don’t need to install the trim ring, and the install looks much prettier if you don’t. But I have holes in my wall where an old-school thermostat was mounted and I haven’t gotten around to repairing those holes, so I opted to use the trim ring for this install.

Installing the ecobee4

As I mentioned above, whether you’re coming from an ecobee3, another type of smart thermostat, or even an old-school “dumb” thermostat, installation of the ecobee4 is a snap. The instruction guide provided by ecobee will walk you through everything, and their tech support will help in the unlikely event you get stuck. For me, installation took about 5 minutes.

First, I turned off the power switch at my furnace.

Next, I took a picture of how my previous thermostat was wired. My wires’ colors happen to correspond to the letters on the old wiring harness, but don’t assume that’s the case for your thermostat. The ecobee install guide will explain how to identify the proper wires on your HVAC unit to make sure you’re wiring things up properly. However, if your colors do match up like mine, you can proceed with ease. Here’s my old harness:

Old ecobee3 wiring harness

Old ecobee3 wiring harness

Note that on the ecobee3, I connected the single red wire to the Rh terminal. That’s different on the ecobee4, however, and if you have a single red wire, it must be connected to the Rc terminal. There’s a small blue insert in the ecobee4’s box that makes this clear.

Third, I removed the old thermostat and its harness:

Wall ready for install

Wall ready for install

Because I have screw holes in the wall from a previously installed Honeywell, I opted to use the trim ring that comes with the ecobee4 to hide the holes. It’s a cleaner look to mount the ecobee4 without the ring, so if I ever get around to filling in the holes and repainting, I’ll remove the ring. For now, the ring works fine. I’ve also been told that the trim ring takes paint well, so that’s another option worth considering.

New ecobee4 wiring harness and optional trim ring

New ecobee4 wiring harness and optional trim ring

All that was left was to slide the correct wires into the quick-connect terminals:

ecobee4 wiring harness connected

ecobee4 wiring harness connected

Finally, I clicked the ecobee4 into place and turned on the power at my furnace. My new ecobee4 sprung to life!

My ecobee4 is alive!

My ecobee4 is alive!

ecobee4 Setup and Configuration

An automated setup wizard walked me through getting my ecobee4 up and running. It correctly sensed the terminals I had connected, which gives the ecobee4 a pretty good (well, perfect actually) guess at my setup, which is a standard single-stage furnace with an external A/C unit:

Wiring terminals auto-detected

Wiring terminals auto-detected

After a couple standard questions, the setup wizard then asked how I wanted to configure my WiFi network settings:

ecobee4 setup wizard asking who I want to configure my WiFi settings

ecobee4 setup wizard asking who I want to configure my WiFi settings

Because I have an iPhone, I chose the “Use iPhone, iPad, or iPod” option, which utilizes the HomeKit setup wizard on iOS devices for painless WiFi configuration. I could have also opted for the traditional “select the network, type in the WiFi password” option. Both will result in the ecobee4 displaying a happy screen like this one:

ecobee4 WiFi connected

ecobee4 WiFi connected

The next step was to link my ecobee4 with my ecobee account using the ecobee app on my iPhone (naturally, there’s also one for Android devices). If you don’t have an ecobee account yet, the app lets you set one up. Once the account is set up, the ecobee4 generated a registration code which I typed into my app:

Registration of ecobee4 via iPhone app

Registration of ecobee4 via iPhone app

Once the ecobee4 was linked to my ecobee account, the mobile app prompted me to set up the Amazon Alexa Voice Control:

ecobee4 Amazon Alexa Voice Control setup

ecobee4 Amazon Alexa Voice Control setup

All I needed was my standard Amazon.com username and password. An Amazon screen popped up in the app to confirm I wanted to link the ecobee4 with my account:

Amazon Alexa link confirmation

Amazon Alexa link confirmation

Once I agreed to the terms, the ecobee app confirmed that the Alexa Voice Control service was now linked to my ecobee4:

Alexa link to ecobee4 confirmed

Alexa link to ecobee4 confirmed

Testing Alexa Voice Control with the ecobee4

With the ecobee4 installed, configured, and linked to my ecobee and Amazon accounts, I was ready to test things out. I started with a simple “Alexa, hello!” The ecobee4 lit up the blue indicator on top and replied “Hello!” Success!

The ecobee4 lights up in blue when Alexa listens or speaks

The ecobee4 lights up in blue when Alexa listens or speaks

I then tried “Alexa, good morning,” to which she responded with an interesting fact about the day, and having a “case of the Mondays.” The reply took about 30 seconds, which allowed me to tinker with the volume settings to my liking. Because of the speaker location against the wall, or perhaps because I used the optional trim ring, Alexa’s voice quality isn’t quite as clear as she sounds when coming from a full-sized Echo or the smaller Echo dot. Still, it was easy enough to understand and interact with her.

I logged into my Alexa mobile app and saw that my ecobee4, which I’d named “Maple Kitchen” (we live in Maple Valley, WA and this unit is in the kitchen) appeared there alongside all my other Alexa devices:

ecobee4 appears as an Alexa device in the Amazon Alexa mobile app

ecobee4 appears as an Alexa device in the Amazon Alexa mobile app

It was at this point of my testing that I bumped into my first minor snag. By default, the wake word for every Amazon Alexa-driven device is “Alexa.” It’s the word she listens for, and then “wakes” to interpret the next words you say. For most users, the default is fine. But for users with family members whose names sound very similar to “Alexa,” it makes sense that you’d want to change that. On Amazon Echo devices, you can select between “Alexa,” “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “Computer” as possible wake words. Star Trek fans will, naturally, select the latter.

We chose “Echo,” because we have a teenager at home whose name sounds a lot like “Alexa,” and any time anyone said her name, our Echo would wake and complain about not understanding the command. I also have a friend who works on Amazon’s Echo team who has a daughter named “Alyssa,” so he also changes his wake word from the default. So when I selected “Maple Kitchen” in my Alexa app and tried to change its default wake word, there was no “Wake Word” option for the ecobee4. I’m certain this is a fix that ecobee will eventually push via firmware, and I suspect that there’s a natural lag between when Amazon releases an Alexa feature directly to its own devices vs. when it releases them to third-party partners like ecobee. So for now, we’re forced to call our ecobee4 “Alexa” when we want to talk to her, but she’s already been waking up multiple times a day when we’re not actually trying to talk to her, and I’m sure that families with an Alexis, Melissa, Alyssa, Alex, or similar names will also bump into this issue. I’ll update this review if/when that gets addressed. Update: ecobee has confirmed that this issue will be addressed via firmware update.

Next, I tried to control the ecobee4 temperature settings via voice command. I said “Alexa, set Maple Kitchen to 73.” But Alexa complained that there was no device named “Maple Kitchen.” I realized that was likely being caused by the fact that I hadn’t re-run Alexa’s discovery of smart devices, which you can do with a button press in the Alexa app or via voice command. I chose voice command and said “Alexa, discover devices.” The ecobee4 responded “Starting discovery. This can take up to 20 seconds.” A few seconds later, she responded “Discovery is complete.” I tried the original command again: “Alexa, set Maple Kitchen to 73.” But again, she complained that there was no device named “Maple Kitchen,” and while I could see the ecobee4 in the list of Alexa devices in my Alexa app, it did not appear on my list of Smart Home devices (which is in a different section of the app). I verified that the ecobee skill was enabled in the Alexa app, but decided to also try disabling and then re-enabling the ecobee skill in the Alexa app, then re-running Alexa discovery. That did the trick! The “Maple Kitchen” device showed up as an “ecobee thermostat” device in my list of smart devices:

ecobee4 shows up as a smart home device in the Alexa app

ecobee4 shows up as a smart home device in the Alexa app

When I once again said “Alexa, set Maple Kitchen to 73,” she replied “Setting Maple Kitchen thermostat heat to 73.” Success!

For those adding their first ecobee thermostat, I doubt this will be an issue. But if you’re adding an ecobee4 to a setup where you already have the Alexa ecobee skill enabled in the Alexa app, I recommend disabling and re-enabling the skill (it’s literally two button presses) to make sure Alexa’s Smart Home discovery can “see” your new ecobee4.

For the most part, the Alexa Voice Service seems to be able to do most of what an Amazon Echo can do, with a few exceptions. Messaging doesn’t work yet, but that’s a very new Alexa feature that was released by Amazon last week, and I have no doubt it will eventually show up on the ecobee4. The ecobee4 did let me stream Amazon music and my Audible playlist to the ecobee4’s internal speaker, but didn’t support (yet?) Pandora, Spotify, or some of the other third-party services music I attempted from my Alexa app.

The ecobee4 gladly streamed my Audible books and Amazon music via the Alexa app, but doesn't (yet?) support Pandora or Spotify

The ecobee4 gladly streamed my Audible books and Amazon music via the Alexa app, but doesn’t (yet?) support Pandora or Spotify

I was also able to freak my wife out when I launched American Gods from my Audible playlist to the Maple Kitchen ecobee4 while I was away from the house:

Alexa app lets you stream to the ecobee4 even when you're not home

Alexa app lets you stream to the ecobee4 even when you’re not home

Remember, the ecobee4’s internal speaker isn’t really designed for audiophiles, so your music is going to sound as if it’s streaming from a small speaker in a thermostat on your wall. The real power of the ecobee4’s Alexa integration is as a home automation interface rather than a streaming audio device.

ecobee4 Integration with Smart Home Technologies

While the ecobee4’s Amazon Alexa integration is touted on the front of the box, the ecobee4 also works with the most popular home automation ecosystems such as Samsung SmartThings, Apple HomeKit, and IFTTT. It took me less than 3 minutes to configure the ecobee4 to work with my SmartThings Hub, which allowed me to I was able to control the ecobee4’s functions through my SmartThings mobile app as well as via voice control through Alexa to SmartThings (which works very much like Alexa’s direct control of an ecobee thermostat via the Alexa ecobee skill).

The ecobee4 integrates easily with Samsung SmartThings

The ecobee4 integrates easily with Samsung SmartThings

I was also able to use the ecobee4’s Alexa service to trigger other SmartThings events throughout the house that were completely unrelated to the thermostat. I also connected my ecobee4 to my IFTTT account, and configured a geo-fence so that my ecobee4 would automatically kick into “Home” mode as I approach the house, rather than wait for one of the motion sensors to determine I was in the house:

ecobee4 integrates easily with IFTTT

ecobee4 integrates easily with IFTTT

In each case, integrating the ecobee4 with these third-party automation protocols was as simple as a few clicks. The ecobee4 is without question the “most open” smart thermostat on the market, supporting multiple methods of monitoring and control — whether via Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, IFTTT, or other home automation protocols still on the horizon.

ecobee4 Thermostat Functions

Of course, this wouldn’t be a thermostat review if I didn’t stop geeking out long enough to test the actual thermostat functions of the ecobee4. Quite simply, these work exactly as they do in the ecobee3. The included remote sensor is the same as those that ship with the ecobee3. The interface is the same. The programming is the same. The reports are the same. The ecobee3’s smart thermostat functions are excellent, so I appreciate ecobee’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. Those familiar with the ecobee3 functions and interface will feel right at home with the ecobee4.

Like its predecessor, the ecobee4 supports a wide array of heating and cooling setups, and also supports one auxiliary device, such as a humidifier or dehumidifier. Again, none of this was broken on the ecobee3, so it was nice to see ecobee not trying to “fix” it for the latest model. There are a lot of ecobee3 users out there whose input drives development, so I predict that anything that does pop up on the ecobee3 that requires fixing will be pushed out via firmware to both the ecobee3 and ecobee4. Basically, the the ecobee4 does everything the ecobee3 can do, plus HomeKit support (which showed up part-way through the ecobee3’s run) plus the ecobee4-exclusive Amazon Alexa service.

Remote Sensors with the ecobee4

The remote sensors work with the ecobee4 exactly as they did with the ecobee3. Again, not broken, so no need to fix. The remote sensors are, for me, one of the biggest advantages the ecobee line of thermostats has over competitors like Nest and Honeywell. They help save money while keeping the parts of the house currently occupied more comfortable.

I was using two remote sensors with my ecobee3, but I forgot to remove them via the touch-screen interface before replacing my ecobee3 with the ecobee4. I had to remove the battery from the sensors for 5 minutes to reset them, then pair them with the ecobee4. The next time I upgrade one of my ecobee3 units to an ecobee4, I’ll try to remember to remove the sensors via the ecobee3’s touch-screen interface prior to unplugging it. But even if I forget again, it was a simple enough process to re-pair the sensors with the ecobee4.

Room for Minor Improvements

This is the part of the review where I try to be as brutally honest as I can and point out the things I’d like to see changed on the ecobee4. The most pressing, for me at least, is the ability to change the wake word to something other than “Alexa.” I haven’t received any official word from ecobee, but my guess is that this is a temporary limitation driven by Amazon, and that ecobee will push a firmware fix for this soon. Update: My initial guess was right, and ecobee has confirmed to me that this is on the way. I’ve also mentioned that Alexa messaging doesn’t work as of this review, but again, I’m confident that’s an Amazon issue and that a future firmware push will support it. The lack of full compatibility with music streaming services via the Alexa app isn’t that big of a deal for me, especially since the ecobee4’s speaker is too small to sound great with streaming music. Alexa’s voice quality from the ecobee4’s speaker is just “OK.” It works fine, but sounds a bit garbled if you turn the volume up too high, and doesn’t match the voice quality of a standalone Echo or Echo Dot unit. I doubt that’s something that can be addressed via firmware, but if it is, that’s something else worth a few moments of brainstorming at ecobee headquarters.

Oh, also… can we please, please, pretty please get the clock back on the main display? You know, the one that appeared on the original first-gen ecobee Smart? The one I’ve been begging for since the ecobee3 first launched? Thanks, guys. That would be awesome. 🙂

Final Thoughts

So is the ecobee4 right for you? If you don’t already have an ecobee and have been considering a smart thermostat, it’s a no-brainer. The ecobee4 keeps all the functionality of the ecobee3, adds the majority of the functionality of an Amazon Echo Dot (and I suspect most of what’s missing isn’t far behind), and still comes in at the same MSRP as the previous model of $249.I still prefer ecobee’s schedule-based approach to heating and cooling over the Nest’s method of overly optimizing, and the remote sensors extend that advantage. The addition of Alexa Voice Control to what was arguably already the smartest smart thermostat on the market makes calling the ecobee4 a “smart thermostat” feel insufficient. There are plenty of “smart thermostats” out there. The ecobee4 is the world’s first “genius thermostat.”

Even if you have another brand of smart thermostat, I’d still suggest considering a switch to the ecobee4. No other thermostat has its features or supports as many methods of home automation integration. If you were an early adopter of smart thermostats and your first-gen T-stat is getting a bit long in the tooth, the ecobee4 is a perfect upgrade.

I could only think of two groups who might want to think twice about whether or not the ecobee4 is the right choice. The first group is ecobee3 owners who already have an Amazon Echo device. They already have the same functionality, albeit shared between two devices, but if they really want the latest and greatest and have a good “hand-me-down” destination for their ecobee3 (or can sell it on eBay), they may want to upgrade anyway.

The other group where it might not make sense is homeowners whose thermostat location wouldn’t work well as an Amazon Alexa microphone location. For them, the ecobee3 (which now has a lower price) might be a better choice. Our kitchen is a perfect place for an ecobee4, because it’s an area where we spend a lot of time, and where we already use an Amazon Echo (which I plan to move downstairs to the gym now that the ecobee4 can handle its workload). But our upstairs level where three bedrooms are located (and which has its own HVAC system) has an ecobee3 mounted in the hallway. Anyone wanting to interact with Alexa would have to yell into that hallway. We’ve got an Echo Dot in the bedroom, where we don’t have to shout at it to get weather updates, control lights, or play music. But if your thermostat is located in a high-traffic area of your house, the ecobee4 is the perfect device for you.

If the ecobee4 is right for you, you can pick one up right now on Amazon.com. The ecobee4 ships with one remote sensor, but you can purchase additional sensors for maximum coverage and flexibility.

ecobee4 Launch Giveaway

To celebrate the launch of the ecobee4, ecobee was generous enough to provide four units to give away to my blog readers! If you’d like a chance at winning one, just do the following three things:

1. Subscribe to my blog by putting your email address here (don’t worry, I won’t spam you).

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Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

2. Follow me on Twitter: @sjjenkins.

3. Tweet a link to this review and and tell me why you should win a free ecobee4 using the hashtag #ecobee4giveaway. Be sure to include @sjjenkins and @ecobee at the end of your tweet with the hashtag.

Winners will be chosen at random and must live in the continental US to be eligible (yes, I’ll check to make sure you met all three conditions). I’ll announce the winners on my Twitter feed when I make the random selection at the end of the month. Good luck!

Join the Conversation

As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and feedback via the comments below, on my Twitter feed, or share your own rating of the ecobee4 Smart Thermostat below!

  • Mark H. Johnson

    Great review. Just put an ecobee4 in downstairs and ecobee3 Lite in the upstairs. I am definitely looking forward to the trigger word change on e4 as we have a Tap in same area and we had to switch the Tap back to touch activated because of the overlap. I do find the e4 mic sensitivity to be much less than the Tap and I often have to say the trigger word louder and twice to get the e4 to activate. I read where some thought the e4 had a better mic sensitivity than Echo Dot. Not sure about that in my location. Also, I’m interested in your take in that area in the lower left corner of the face on the e4 – it looks like some type of touch menu control (1/2 moon shape). I can’t figure it out as to purpose as the e3 doesn’t have that on the face. Thanks again, I am really enjoying the ecobee tools and look forward to more updates on e4.

    • Chris Steckroth

      Mark, I’m also curious about the lower left face area. Mine is wavy, almost like there’s protective film still on it, but I can’t seem to peel anything off. It really kills the look for me. My ecobee3 felt more polished in the looks department.

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/62a7e9c5c98a1c47878c3e655fdfc0b2ec0cb77f753d8b2f72d06fa75f169225.jpg

      Edit: and of course right after I send this reply, I find my answer. Very disappointing, you see in the photo how mine looks. Funny how my ecobee3 could sense occupancy without this eyesore.

      • Ryan

        Seriously driving me nuts. I swear it must have a small protective cover of its own. Did you ever figure it out? We just got ours, and that thing looks terrible, so I’m googling to see if anybody else has the same issue and found your post.

  • SkepticalOne

    Hey, did I win? 🙂 Great review.