The Ecobee 3 Lite has had an interesting history in its relatively short life. Originally marketed as the Ecobee thermostat for those that do not want or need additional features, such as support for the company's room temperature sensors, the thermostat has essentially evolved into the full fledged Ecobee 3 replacement. In fact, Ecobee no longer sells the Ecobee 3 model, which it replaced with the Amazon Alexa integrated Ecobee 4 and this Lite model. Since the Lite model does not come with the aforementioned room temperature sensors, it retails at a much more affordable price of $169 and can often be found even lower through various sales. This price coupled with software updates that have expanded the capabilities of the Ecobee 3 Lite make it a great choice for those who want to step into the smart thermostat realm and also allows them to add to it if they desire in the future. Let's take a look at all that the Ecobee 3 Lite has to offer and how it compares to the Ecobee 3 model that I had in my home previously.
The Ecobee 3 Lite, design-wise, is almost identical to the original HomeKit enabled Ecobee 3. The thermostat features a clean rounded rectangular design, with an all black front, and a white base plate that attaches to your wall. A small, 3.5” LCD touch screen with a display resolution of 320 x 480 sits in the middle of the device, which serves as the only method of input directly on the thermostat itself, as there are no hardware buttons. The touch screen itself relies on taps and swipes to navigate the various features within the interface, and the screen has good response time. Underneath the face of the thermostat lies the pins for connecting the screen to the base, which snaps in and out easily. Also located on the base are two nice features, one being a built in level to ensure that your new thermostat is aligned perfectly when installing, and quick clip in wiring terminals, which do not require a tiny little screw driver to insert and secure your wires, like other thermostats on the market. One design element or feature that is missing from the Ecobee 3 Lite is an occupancy sensor which was previously located in one of the bottom corners of the front face. Obviously, this means that the thermostat does not offer the ability to use occupancy sensing with regards to your home's climate. This was not a big deal in my case, in fact it was somewhat of a plus, as I found myself never using it when I had the Ecobee 3 installed, more on that later. Installing the unit is relatively straight forward. After unboxing, and removing your previous thermostat, you simply slide your wiring through the center of the base, and insert the wires into the appropriate terminals. Two screws are used to secure the thermostat to a wall, and as mentioned earlier, snapping on the front face of the unit is the final step. Ecobee also includes a trim, or “goof” plate in the box, which is a large white ring that surrounds the thermostat to cover any defects in your wall, and a Power Extender Kit which allows the thermostat to be installed without a "C" (common) wire that most modern thermostats require.
Setting up the thermostat features a slightly different process than normal when it comes to HomeKit. Typically, HomeKit enabled devices come with the HomeKit code attached to a device or an instructional manual, which is not the case here. Ecobee uses its screen to display the HomeKit code, which is found a few steps into the set up process. The set up process starts with downloading the company's app, and unfortunately also involves creating an account with Ecobee. As I have mentioned many times before, I try to avoid purchasing devices that require an account to use, but in some cases, there are no better alternatives available. Thankfully, Apple requires all HomeKit devices to function with just a local connection, but it still leaves somewhat of a sense of worry when it comes to privacy and how the company uses data harvested from having the device in the home. Once the device is set up, the app will display your device in a similar fashion to the screen located on the device. The app features a dark theme, with thin fonts, which reminds me of older Android design paradigms, and is not the most friendly to use with regards to locating its various settings. Speaking of other platforms, the Ecobee 3 Lite also supports Amazon Alexa, Samsung SmartThings and IFTTT, which makes it very flexible.
The Ecobee App, is somewhat of a mixed bag. As I previously mentioned, I found the App to be confusing, as there are two different menus which provided access to different functionality. For example, just after opening the app, a home overview screen is displayed with the installed thermostat or sensors listed. From this screen, you can click on the “hamburger” menu button on the top left to see options to put your thermostat in vacation mode, install a new device, set up HomeKit, and Donate Your Data. Notice that there are no options to actually control your thermostat to be found here. To get to these controls, it requires that one click on the thermostat icon itself from the very first home overview screen after opening the app. Once in the controls portion of the App, you will find the ability to adjust the temperature in the home through the use of a slider, change the thermostat mode, view the current weather, and additional menus near the bottom. These additional menus come in the form of another “hamburger” menu button which leads to scheduling options, and a settings “gear” icon which allows one to set the characteristics of their home and setting alerts. Thankfully, one can simply ignore the Ecobee App, and use the native Home App to accomplish pretty much everything one would need, minus manually controlling the house fan, which is actually a really nice feature for those who just want to circulate some air every once in a while.
In the Home App, the Ecobee 3 Lite basic controls, such as raising and lowering the temperature, can be accomplished quickly as it utilizes familiar controls seen from all other HomeKit devices. One thing to note about the Home App, or when using Siri with Ecobee thermostats is that it will override any schedules that you may have built within the Ecobee App, as well as any “smart” actions that the thermostat would normally run if set. These actions can include automatically turning off or on the thermostat if occupancy is sensed (using the option room sensors) which pretty much negates any energy savings claims that Ecobee touts. Obviously, this could be seen as a huge downside for some, but in my case I found it to be perfectly acceptable as I saw little to no benefit from these “smart” features due to there almost always being someone at my home. In fact, I ended up deleting most of the schedules within the Ecobee app (it will not let you delete all though), and simply set up automations within the Home App to automatically change the thermostat set points based on times of the day as it makes it easier to create scenes based on the season, and disable/enable them as needed. An example would be that I currently have a Winter Days and Winter Nights scene which has my desired temperatures assigned, and they are set to run at set times. When Spring finally rolls around, I will simply need to disable the automations set for those scenes, and enable my Spring Days and Spring Nights scenes.
Reliability-wise, the Ecobee 3 Lite has been pretty much rock solid. While I have seen some instances of the device taking a few seconds longer than usual to update its status in the Home App, it has always been available, and “No Response” messages have not been seen. Even though I am not fond of having to register an account, and have my data stored and sent on Ecobee’s servers, it is this reliability that has kept me coming back to Ecobee. One thing to note about reliability though is that for those not in the HomeKit world, the company has been plagued with server issues over the last year. Since the Ecobee 3 Lite can be controlled locally, the effects of these server issues has not been seen, however for Android users that have to rely on using the Ecobee App for control, it has been a crapshoot on whether or not it would actually be available to control. The extent of these server issues has been serious enough to warrant a VP from the company to recently post on r/ecobee that they have identified the issues and that they believed that they had fixed the issues. While this was a promising sign with regards to the company actually addressing its user base, the server issues have not yet been eradicated, with the servers going offline again within 24 hours of the post. Again, while this does not apply to those of us with HomeKit set up, it is something to keep in mind, as it could indicate that there may be problems within the company, especially due to the length of time that has passed since these issues first started.
When it is all said and done the Ecobee 3 Lite is an easy thermostat to recommend. The thermostat has always been available and responsive to any commands sent from the Home App or Siri, and features a nice sleek modern design that will fit in with the decor in most homes. The thermostat offers something for everyone, with the ability for temperature changes to be accomplished entirely in the Home App, to comprehensive reports focusing on usage patterns and alerts that notify an owner of potential problems for power users, the Ecobee thermostat provides quite a bit for a device that comes in below $200. Pair all of this with hardware that has not given me any issues over the course of the past fews years (including my previous Ecobee 3), makes this one of the few “no-brainer" devices out there.
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