Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Gen on wall

Endearingly frustrating: A review of the Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd gen)

I’ve had the 3rd generation Nest Learning Thermostat installed in my home for the past four months, and now I want to share my experience with this sleek, sexy, and slightly frustrating gadget.

If you don’t have time for a long review, here’s a quick one:

Overall, I’m satisfied.

It’s not perfect, but it’s far better than any other thermostat I’ve ever encountered. My wife is less enthusiastic  but she hasn’t ripped it out of the wall yet.

We’ve only had it for four months because we’ve only owned our home for that long. In our case, buying a house provided a keen insight into the power of the Nest: it saved us over $1000 right away. Let met explain…

We used several highly-recommended inspectors to check out the property when we were in contract to buy the home. The HVAC inspector didn’t find anything wrong with our forced-air or duct systems. We closed without hiccups.

Immediately afterward, we had lots of work done. Popcorn ceilings came down, fresh paint went up. Carpet came up, hardwoods went down. Several weeks passed before we could move in, which also delayed the installation of my coveted smart thermostat.

Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Gen box

Unfortunately,  the installation process did not go well for me. Before I purchased the Nest I made sure my HVAC system was compatible. Thankfully, it was, but I ran into trouble anyhow. Even though I’m a nerd who actually reads manuals, I couldn’t get the thing to work.

I called Nest tech support, and we tried a bunch of different things, but nothing would get it to run. Nest advised me to hire an HVAC company to check out the system. They said if my Nest unit was at fault, they would pay for the service call.

I hired a local HVAC repair company, and they found the problem. The Nest Thermostat was operating perfectly. What was broken was the $4000 air handler sitting in our new backyard. Even though the giant machine was only three years old, part of its heating system had died.

Luckily, it was still under warranty, but only by two months. We had purchased the home in late spring, and we wouldn’t have tried to turn on the heat for eight months or longer. The Nest Thermostat is responsible for discovering the problem. If we just used the old thermostat that came with the house, we would have found the problem much later, and the repair would have cost $1200. This was an early and important win for our Nest!

SIDE NOTE: The HVAC inspector installed the warrantied part free of charge, because they had missed it.

The awful Honeywell thermostat that came with our house didn’t alert us that the heat was busted. Nope. It operated normally, as if nothing was wrong. The Nest didn’t identify the exact problem, but it absolutely refused to connect with our air handler. It gave me a generic warning error, and did nothing else. The beautiful little thing saved us a grand.

First impressions of using the Nest Thermostat

The first few weeks we used the Nest Thermostat, we were without an internet connection. So, if you’ve ever wondered if you can install and use a Nest without any internet at all, you most certainly can. The bummer is that you can’t use the Nest mobile app.

I truly dislike most thermostats. I think they’re all poorly designed. They drive me nuts. Even fancy thermostats that try to be better than the status quo irritate me immensely. The Nest didn’t bother me. It made sense.

My main attraction to the Nest was how you can control it like an old, non-programable thermostat. It’s just a circular dial. Turn it this way, and your home gets hotter. Turn it that way, and it gets colder. It’s a smart thermostat that anyone can operate instinctively. Brilliant idea, brilliant execution. Disruption at its finest.

When I finally got the house wired for internet, I immediately downloaded the Nest iOS app and connected the thermostat. Now I’m used to controlling my thermostat from my pocket. It’s fantastic. I often have to decide which is more difficult: walking 12 steps to the hallway to adjust the temperature on the Nest, or taking the phone out of my pocket and launching the app. It’s usually a draw.

I have the Amazon Echo Dot, and only recently connected the two. Unfortunately, this process isn’t as easy as saying “Hey Alexa, connect to my Nest Thermostat.” You need to open the Alexa app, then log into your Nest account to authorize it. This arduous step kept me from syncing the two gadgets for several weeks.

Now I have a third, even lazier option to control the temp, and it’s great. The more automated your home is, the less automated you are. Win!

What we don’t like about the Nest

The majority of problems that we have with the Nest are probably just normal problems people have keeping their homes at comfortable temperatures. Our issue isn’t the Nest, it’s the way that the ducts work in our new home. It just feels like the Nest is to blame, even though it isn’t.

The Nest does not keep our home at a temperature that’s constantly comfortable. It’s almost always either too warm, or too cold. This is by far my biggest disappointment with the device. This especially annoys my wife.

Ecobee3 Smarter Wi-Fi Thermostat

We need sensors around our house that read the temperature in each room, and share this information with the Nest. Unfortunately, these sensors don’t exist. There is another smart thermostat called the Ecobee3, and it has external sensors. It comes with one, and you can buy a two-pack separately. As handsome and endearing as the Nest is, the Ecobee3 may have been a better choice for us.

Are you smarter than a thermostat?

The marketing behind the Nest Thermostat isn’t shy about how it will save you money on your utility bill. How it’s accomplishing this, however, doesn’t feel very magical in practice.

The following is an everyday occurrence:

Suddenly, I will feel uncomfortably warm. I’ll pull my phone out and launch the Nest app. As soon as the app opens, it displays the temperature the Nest is set to, and, simultaneously, the air conditioning will turn on.

Nest app on iPhone 6S

The Nest slyly turns off the air conditioning to save us some money, but the moment it realizes I’ve noticed, it turns it back on. This thermostat behaves like a teenager who thinks it’s clever enough to sneak out of the house undetected, when, in reality, it’s clumsy and obvious.

I know this is for the benefit of the environment, but, I would rather just be comfortable.

We’re a green household. We recycle religiously. We’re mindful of how much water we use. We turn off light switches like strict prison guards. We’re a family of four with only one vehicle. I walk or ride my bike to work every weekday.

I’m an energy conscious person, but dammit, I want to be in charge of the temperature of my home. With the Nest Learning Thermostat, I am not.

You can turn off the smart part of the Nest and just have it operate like a dumb thermostat, but I have yet to do so. Perhaps I’ll give it a go, but I’m hoping that it learns what we want, and starts giving us what we want intelligently. We want constant comfort. We’re not getting it.

Another slight downside of the Nest is its over-reliance on marketing drivel. Some of the features in its settings are called “Nest Sense,” some are not. They’re marketing basic features of the device inside of the device itself. Why is this group of features called Nest Sense? The answer is probably a lousy one. It just makes the device more confusing to operate.

What we love about the Nest

I’ve been harsh towards this product in the review so far, but remember, I am incredibly fond of it. I am very happy I purchased it. If you asked me if you should buy one, my answer would be yes.

This thing looks beautiful on our wall. It’s completely lovely to look at.

Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Gen on wall

When you pass by, it senses your motion and activates its screen. You can set the screen to display a beautiful clock, the current temperature setting, or the current weather conditions outside. This feature is an absolute delight.

If you asked me if you should buy one, my answer would be yes.

The execution of this fine piece of industrial design is exemplary. There are only two companies that can produce hardware like this: Apple and Nest. That’s it. The hardware of the Nest Thermostat is Apple-level great. The software is nearly iOS-level simple and playfully fun. Nest, as a company, has the same extremely rarified DNA.

Or, at least, they had it. The former CEO and co-founder Tony Fadell recently departed the company. Technology journalists seemed to take pleasure in writing about the supposed drama within the company surrounding his ouster. When all was said and done, no one mourned this loss.

It’s sad that Tony left. This isn’t a perfect product. But, there are no perfect products — unless you include finely baked cookies.

It was a bummer when Google bought Nest. When they were an independent startup, it was exciting to root for them. I bought the first generation Nest Protect in late 2013, just before this damning acquisition took place. Even though I had a terrible experience with the Protect, I still appreciated its tasteful design and ambitious capabilities.

As bad as my experience was with the first Nest smoke detector, I recently purchased another, the second generation Nest Protect. This time it’s been a wonderful experience. I’ll probably write a review about it soon.

One of the major downsides of using the Ecobee3 thermostat instead of the Nest is the interoperability between the Nest thermostat and the Nest Protect smoke detector. If my Nest Protect detects smoke, it communicates this to my Nest thermostat, and the thermostat will then automatically shut off the fans in our air handler. This way, if there is serious smoke in one part of the house, the air handler won’t blow it into the other rooms.

Final thoughts

The Nest Learning Thermostat is a great product with several endearing quirks. If you love beautiful gadgets and you’re interested in home automation, this is an excellent choice for you.

If you have no problems with average, affordable programable thermostats, then you’re likely better off without a Nest. You need to desire this device in order to justify its higher price tag, and to handle its quirks. Case in point: when the HVAC company repaired our air handler, they installed a normal thermostat while they worked. The didn’t trust the Nest. They said “it has a mind of its own.”

As lovable as Nest Thermostat is for the right kind of person, its Google stewardship reeks of pure disaster. In the worst-case scenario Nest will be sold to an unscrupulous buyer, or Google may neglect it, and I’ll end up with a thermostat and a smoke alarm that are not properly supported and risky to use.

In the best case scenario, Nest continues to improve and refine these products, and introduces new ones that I can’t live without. Apparently, they didn’t get the memo that I have zero interest in webcams.

Purchase links:

Nest Learning Thermostat - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Ecobee3 Thermostat - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Echobee3 Room Sensor 2-Pack - Amazon USA, Amazon.fr
Nest Protect (battery) - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Nest Protect (wired) - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk
Amazon Echo Dot - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de

Published by

Sam

Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

2 thoughts on “Endearingly frustrating: A review of the Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd gen)”

  1. My issues began with the last software upgrade from Nest that introduced ECO. I use nest in my second home. When I leave and set to away mode, the nest just decides to start cooling randomly. It’s costing me a lot of money and I’ve tried everything to get nest to STOP automating my thermostat. Their online support recommended my mobile phone as the indicator to nest for home and away. That solution is garbage. I am 3000 miles away from the house and Nest is still setting the temp to 75 when I have it at 85 and away. I’ve contacted their phone support and have been on hold listening to music for 45 minutes. This is the WORST customer service I have ever experienced. Even worse than Comcast. I did not believe that could be possible.

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