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Nest Thermostat (2020) review: A better Nest for less

Google improves upon the Nest Thermostat with this $130 model.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Google borrowed the basics from its previous thermostats for this new, more affordable model, but added in some notable improvements. This iteration -- called simply the Nest Thermostat -- still has a rounded shape, but it's slimmer and an overall sharper design than the tech company's midrange $169 Nest Thermostat E

It also features a side touch interface that streamlines the hardware into slide-and-tap controls so you no longer have to turn the entire thermostat ring to browse through the settings -- or press down on the entire device to make your selection. While the Nest Thermostat doesn't have a built-in smart speaker like the Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control, it works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and has remote access via the Google Home app. 

8.2

Nest Thermostat (2020)

Like

  • Its $130 price.
  • Improved design

Don't Like

  • It doesn't work with Siri.
  • Right side controls not ideal for lefties.

The new thermostat's use of the Google Home app is notable. This is the first Nest-branded thermostat to ship without support for the Nest app that existed before Google acquired Nest in 2014. The Nest app still works for legacy Nest devices, but Google essentially "retired" the Nest app for new products when Google aligned its Nest and Google Home brands in 2019 -- more on this below.

In addition to a new app and a new design, Google's latest Nest Thermostat also has a better price than its predecessors: It costs just $130. Yes, $130 is still a lot to fork over for a thermostat when you can find super-affordable nonsmart ones for under 30 bucks, but the new Nest narrows that price gap a bit and offers a ton of extra features. I strongly recommend the Nest Thermostat, especially as my favorite affordable smart model.

Read more: The best smart thermostats of 2020

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The basics

Google's latest thermostat comes in four colors -- snow (white), sand (rose gold), fog (light greenish/blueish-gray) and charcoal (dark gray). It weighs just under 5 ounces and has a 3.3-inch diameter and a depth of 1.1 inches. That's the same diameter as the Nest Learning Thermostat, which Google will still sell for $249, but its new model has a narrower profile and weighs a lot less. 

Google will no longer sell the $169 Nest Thermostat E on its site as a DIY product, but the thermostat is still available through professional installers for an additional fee. Find out more here.

Overall the Nest Learning Thermostat still has the most premium look of the three thermostats, thanks to its stainless steel ring. But, at over $100 less, the new Nest Thermostat's mirrored display also looks pretty awesome. It's a definite design improvement over the frosted plastic design of the still-nice-looking Nest Thermostat E.

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The Nest Thermostat is available in snow, sand, charcoal and fog.

Google

Out of the box, you get the thermostat and mounting hardware -- and that's it. There's no tiny Nest-branded screwdriver as before, nor is there a trim kit to cover any old paint or holes from past thermostat installations. Google does sell matching trim kits separately for $15. This thermostat looks best installed without the trim plate, but if you do need one, you at least have the option. This thermostat has built-in motion, temperature, humidity and ambient light sensors, but it isn't compatible with Google's Nest Temperature Sensor accessory for automating your heat and air conditioning around the ambient temp in rooms other than the one where your thermostat is installed.

Even though this is the first Nest thermostat to require you to use the Google Home app out of the box, the experience is still largely the same as before. You can make adjustments to your thermostat's settings anywhere you have an internet connection, but you can also set automatic schedules that adjust for you, and preferred temperatures ranges that adjust automatically (using your phone's location) when you leave home and, again, when you return home. All of these features worked well for me, and similarly to previous Nest thermostats I've tested. 

Like other Nest thermostats, this model also features a leaf icon on the thermostat's display and on the app screen when it's set to an energy-saving temperature. Click on the little chart icon with a leaf to see your home's energy dashboard in the app, which gives you a more detailed look at your energy usage over days, weeks and months.

The move to the Google Home app also makes it significantly easier to create scenes (which Google calls "Routines") with multiple Google Nest devices. For example, I have this Nest Thermostat and a Google Nest Hub smart display, so when I said "Good night" to the Nest Hub, the Nest Thermostat automatically adjusted to my preferred sleeping temperature. If I had additional Google Nest devices, that same "Good night" command could also lock the front door, adjust compatible lighting products and more. 

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Inside the Google Home app, setting up and using the new Nest Thermostat.

Screenshots by CNET

The details

When it's time to install and configure your thermostat in the Google Home app, if you don't already have a Google Home account, download the app and create one. You add the thermostat by selecting the plus sign on the top-left corner of the app's home screen and then selecting "Set up device," to walk through the steps to get your Nest Thermostat up and running. 

Note: If you have any questions about your home's heating and cooling system, talk to an electrician or a professional thermostat installer to answer questions or handle the installation for you. 

You can also consult this article for basic steps on how to install a thermostat, but the Nest Thermostat was a simple installation that took about 20 minutes. Luckily, I already had holes from previous thermostat tests that lined up with this thermostat, which made things move along more quickly, and the baseplate does still have a built-in level to help keep things straight as you install it. (Like the other Nest thermostats, this model does not require a C-wire to operate. If you're unsure about your C-wire setup, start here.)

In addition to the switch over to the Google Home app, Google also overhauled how you interact with the thermostat in person. 

Instead of turning a dial and pressing the thermostat down to select an option -- like you do with the Learning Thermostat and the Thermostat E -- the new Nest Thermostat has a subtle touch control on the right side of the thermostat. Slide your finger to scroll through your options and tap to make a selection. Since I'm used to Nest's old design, this took me a second, but I like how streamlined it is by comparison to the last-gen Nest thermostats. I do have one complaint, though. The right side controls aren't ideal for lefties like me, who will instinctively try to use their left hand to make the thermostat adjustments. It still worked fine, if not a little awkwardly with my left arm stretched across the thermostat to the right side, but the controls were responsive and worked well in general. 

I also tested the thermostat's voice compatibility with my Nest Hub, using the command, "Hey Google, set my thermostat to 68 degrees" or "turn the heat down two degrees," as well as the "Good night" command I mentioned earlier, and they all worked as expected.

The verdict

Google's $130 Nest Thermostat is an excellent affordable smart thermostat. Its design has a premium feel, it's easy to set up and use -- and it works well, both when using the new side controls at the thermostat itself, via the Google Home app or with a compatible smart speaker or display. 

I do wish Google included a trim kit with your purchase, and that this model worked with the remote Nest Temperature Sensor accessory, but I still highly recommend this solid, reasonably priced product if you're looking for a great entry-point into smart thermostats.