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Nest kicked off the era of smart thermostats in 2011, and since then, there have been improved thermostats, new products, and a Google acquisition. Through all that, Nest’s thermostats have remained at the premium end of the market. The company’s previous “budget” thermostat was still $180 at launch. The new Nest Thermostat, however, is undeniably a budget device. There’s the price, of course, at a mere $130. The hardware also looks much cheaper in real life, but that’s not totally unsurprising given the price.
If you don’t mind the simpler design and missing features, the new Nest still does almost all the things that make the company’s other thermostats so great. It works in most houses, it’s easy to set up, it integrates with Google Home, and you can’t argue with the price. Most of my complaints are things you’d expect at $130, and I think that makes it a pretty good smart thermostat.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The new Nest Thermostat has some basic design elements in common with older products—it’s still round, but the trademark spinning ring is gone. In its place, the thermostat has a touch-sensitive zone on the right edge. This works well enough, but the ring was a much more elegant way to control your thermostat. The face of the new unit has a mirror finish, and I do mean mirror—you can see if you’ve got anything in your teeth while you check the temperature. Google says the thermostat also uses a Soli radar module for presence detection, but that doesn’t seem to make a noticeable difference compared to older thermostats with different sensors.
The display here is more akin to the Thermostat E than the third-gen “premium” Nest Thermostat. There’s a square LCD behind the mirrored surface, which makes the minimalist UI look like it’s floating in the mirror. The Thermostat E did a good job hiding its square display behind the diffuser, but the new thermostat is much less successful. The display borders are plainly visible from several angles, which ruins any aesthetic effect from the round shape.
Like most people, I thought the new Nest Thermostat looked very nice in the official promo images. However, this is an example of a device that doesn’t look as good in real life. This is not an unattractive piece of home technology, but it looks like a bowl glued to your wall from the side. I also feel like the plastic body looks cheaper than you’d expect from a Nest device. When paired with the trim plate, the Nest can look like it’s off-center from certain angles as well. At the same time (and I’m going to remind you of this several times), this device is only $130, so I can forgive a few rough edges.
You don’t get much in the box with the new Nest—the days of the free Nest screwdriver are long gone. You get the thermostat with pre-installed batteries, mounting screws, and a few booklets. Keep in mind, Google is no longer including trim plates with the device. You can purchase them separately, and I have one installed in all the photos you see in this review. It’s not terribly attractive, but it will hide any unsightly holes or damage from previous thermostats.
Setup and features
It might sound like I don’t like the new Nest Thermostat at this juncture, but that’s not true. This thing is an incredible value when you look at what it can do. The Nest Thermostat is easy to set up, works reliably, integrates well with my Google things, and has a hundred times the functionality of a traditional thermostat. And it looks, you know, okay.
The new Nest won’t work with as many HVAC setups as the flagship Nest, but it’s about on par with the Thermostat E that cost $50 more at launch. Google says it should work with about 80% of homes—I had no problem installing the thermostat with my standard 4-wire system with gas heat and central AC (no C wire). If you’ve installed a Nest before, the process will be familiar. However, instead of using the Nest app, the whole thing happens in the Home app. You’ll get step-by-step instructions that tell you to take a picture of your wiring, label the wires, and then swap in the new Nest backplate. The app will even ask if you’re using the trim plate and reminds you to put that under the base if so.
While Google did trim a lot of superfluous features, I’m pleased the bubble level on the backplate wasn’t one of them. This makes it easy to line up the base before you start screwing it into the wall. Once that’s attached, and your wires are plugged in, you can snap the Nest Thermostat on top. The app should immediately detect the device and help you link it with your account. Again, I had no issue here. It only took a few minutes to swap out my old Nest for the new one, and that includes setting up the scheduling and location-based modes in the Home app.
The Nest Thermostat is easy to set up, works reliably, integrates well with my Google things, and has a hundred times the functionality of a traditional thermostat. And it looks, you know, okay.
The new Nest doesn’t appear in the Nest app at all—the best evidence yet that Google is going to ditch that app in the not too distant future. And honestly, that day can’t come soon enough. The Home app interface for the new thermostat is very similar to what you’ll see if you’ve got an older Nest. The thermostat icon appears at the top of the app, allowing you to access the current temperature, setpoint, and mode with a single tap. There’s also an energy dashboard accessible via a button at the top of the thermostat UI where you can track your energy usage. Sadly, there is no support for the Nest temperature sensors or central humidifiers.
You might have noticed that Google still refers to the third-gen Nest as a “learning thermostat,” but this one is just a “thermostat.” You don’t get the automated schedules based on your presence and activity with the new Nest. However, I personally never found those to be very useful. You might want those features if you’ve got a hectic schedule, but my schedule has been pretty simple during the pandemic, and I’d wager it’s the same for a lot of people.
There are three default presets for the new Nest: comfort, eco, and sleep. Comfort is what the thermostat uses during the day, and sleep turns on at bedtime. Eco, meanwhile, activates when you’re away from home. I found the home and away routines worked better via the Home app than they have been with the Nest app (you can augment this with Nest-based motion sensors, but I’m only using phone location). You can also create additional presets to activate on the fly or to schedule throughout the day. It’s quick and easy to make these changes, and I don’t think you’re losing much without the “learning” aspect.
Should you buy it?
Nest Thermostat (2020)
Yes, if you’re looking to replace your traditional thermostat with something smarter. This device looks cheaper than either the third-gen Nest Learning Thermostat or the Nest Thermostat E, but you should expect that to some degree. This thermostat is $50 cheaper at launch than the Thermostat E was, and the current flagship is still $250. At $130, you get a lot of functionality, and controlling that functionality via the Home app instead of the Nest app is a win in my book. I also appreciate the continued reliability of Nest’s thermostats—it only took a few minutes to install this, and it works flawlessly.
Most of my complaints are aesthetic in nature. I don’t much care for the reflective face, and the display under it is too visible. The shape is also more awkward in real life than you’d expect from the official images. Maybe you feel differently, or perhaps your thermostat isn’t in a very visible place, and the design isn’t a big deal. In either case, you only lose a few niche features from the high-end Nest. If you don’t need things like additional temperature sensors or multi-stage heater support, the $130 Nest gets the job done and then some. The functionality is good, and the price is right.
Buy it if…
- You don’t need the niche features exclusive to the third-gen Nest.
- The Google Home app is already key to managing your smart home.
Don’t buy it if…
- You have a complex HVAC setup.
- Your thermostat is in a prominent location, and you don’t like the design of the new Nest.
Going back to my old thermostat
I’ve had no real issues with the Nest Thermostat in the last few weeks, but I’ve still decided to put my old Nest third-gen thermostat back on the wall for now. The new Nest certainly gets the job done—it’s kept the house in the right temperature range, the Home app is great at home/away settings, and it talks to all my other smart things. I haven’t missed the learning features of the more expensive Nest, either.
The spinning ring on other Nests is foolproof, but I’ve occasionally missed the touch-sensitive zone on the edge of the new Nest Thermostat. Because of the shape, you can’t see exactly where the sensor is while standing directly in front of it. Something simple like nudging the temp one way or the other can end up rather frustrating. Once you get your bearings, the touch controls are adequate for getting around the spartan interface. The design has not grown on me, though. It looks more utilitarian than stylish.
None of that would make me want to return the thermostat if I’d bought it. My only real concern is the lack of support for Nest temperature sensors, which I was using with the third-gen Nest. Not a lot of people use the sensors, so I understand why the new thermostat doesn’t support them. I’m going to miss the Home app integration, but Google is slowly adding support for other Nests in the Home app. I’ll probably stick with the third-gen until there’s a new premium Nest thermostat.
I do still think this device is very much worth buying. If you’ve got a non-smart thermostat, the Nest is a huge upgrade for not a lot of money. That makes it a great way to get into smart home tech. If you’re already using a smart thermostat, you probably don’t need to rush out and buy this one.
I decided to leave the Nest Thermostat in place for another few weeks after my last update, but I did eventually move back to my old Nest Learning Thermostat. This has given me a little more insight into Google’s new, entry-level Nest. The cheap Nest is surprisingly sluggish compared to the new one, but I don’t mean to imply that’s a deal-breaker. You probably won’t have to interact with the thermostat too much, but tapping and swiping on the side is imprecise — sometimes I can’t be sure if the Nest didn’t detect a tap or if it’s just being slow. If I decide to stop in front of the thermostat and make a change, I want that interaction to be as quick and effortless as possible. The more expensive Learning Thermostat does that. The spinning ring and the faster full-color LCD are much better for that.
I’m very happy I don’t have to look at that ugly little screen anymore. Once you see the borders of the screen behind the thermostat’s mirror finish, you just can’t unsee it. I know I’m being picky, but the Nest Thermostat has an otherwise clean, sophisticated design. The display is the worst part, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. I’ve also noticed that the tapered design of the 2020 Nest makes it a bit more annoying to install. If you’re not using the backplate, your wall has to look good right up to the hole where the system wires come out because this device has such a small footprint. My wall is peppered with holes and gaps from installing multiple thermostats in the last year. The more expensive, better-looking Nest Learning Thermostat covers all these holes with no backplate, but the cheap Nest does not.
It’s expensive, but the Nest Learning Thermostat also looks expensive.
One thing I’m not happy about is losing the full Google Home app integration. The Nest Learning Thermostat still appears in the Home app, but most of its features are only accessible from the increasingly janky Nest app. We all know Google is going to can this app eventually, so let’s get on with it. If you don’t have a smart thermostat, the 2020 Nest is a great buy, considering the price. If you want the best, that’s still the Nest Learning Thermostat, but try to find it on sale.