Honeywell Lyric Thermostat review:

This round thermostat has a few rough edges

I was able to connect immediately after that, but at what point does this stop being a simple DIY installation? Most people would have to pay an expert to try to fix the router issue, buy a new router, or give up on the install completely. Installing and setting up the Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat was much easier than this, even though I didn't have the required C wire. I asked Honeywell about this networking issue and was told that "it should work with most routers." Hm.

Around this time, I also got a low-battery notification and searched around my house for AAA batteries. I tried a few that were half-used from remotes and other small gadgets, but none of them worked -- it still said "low battery." Turns out, you really do need a AAA lithium battery for the Lyric, which are more expensive but last longer. I bought a pack and it began to work again.

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You can find the "small geofences" option in your phone's settings. Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Registering your address for the geofencing feature and giving your thermostat a name is the final step in the setup process. The geofencing feature autodefaults to a 7-mile radius, but that's not helpful if you live in an urban area and have a 1-mile commute, so you can go into your phone's settings, find the Lyric app, and enable "small geofences." That changes the radius to 500 feet. Now you're ready to start using your thermostat.

The specifics

The functionality on the thermostat itself is fairly simple. A cloud button on the left will give you the daily forecast, and the house button on the right will switch your thermostat to Away mode. You can also use the smaller display on the top to switch between Off, Heating, and Cooling. Use the radial dial to adjust the temperature to a new set point and the larger display will update as the temperature changes to match the new setting.

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Away mode. Colin West McDonald/CNET

You can set all of the basics on the app, but there are also a lot of other features worth exploring. You can set "shortcuts" on the app, which is the same as establishing custom settings for your heating and cooling system. You can ask it to trigger a response based on a handful of useful options: when you press a shortcut, when it's a specific time, when your house is empty, or when someone is at home, something else happens. For example, "When someone is at home, use Home setting." This shortcut uses the geofencing feature to track the location of your phone and from there, to determine if you're home or away.

Depending on the default you use for geofencing -- either 500 feet or 7 miles -- your thermostat will automatically change to Away mode when you leave. The same goes for returning home. Once you cross that distance threshold, it will begin heating or cooling your house to your preferred Home mode settings.

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Although the message notifications were enabled, I received only errors. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

While this feature generally worked, I did experience some anomalies that left me puzzled. Occasionally, the thermostat would switch back to "away" mode after I had returned home. I also enabled notifications for both geofencing and manual shortcuts, but never received a message. Instead, I got a lot of error messages like the one above. I tried uninstalling the app and starting over, but nothing seemed to help.

So, I had to pay very close attention to the Away and Home temperature settings to confirm that they had, in fact switched to the correct mode. Even more confusingly, I couldn't find that the app labels your Home or Away settings at all when it's initiated via geofencing. That's yet another failed line of defense that makes it tough to tell if your thermostat is actually in fact set to the desired setting.

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Lyric is set to Away mode, but isn't labeled as Away. Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

The verdict

While the $279 Lyric is a welcome addition to the smart thermostat market -- and the closest we've seen to a true Nest competitor -- a few performance and usability quirks make it hard to recommend today. But, if Honeywell can fix the networking incompatibility issues (or at least provide more information on its site so you can check your router's compatibility in advance), fix the messaging errors, and solve the odd geofencing wishy-washiness, the Lyric has a ton of potential.

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The Nest and the Lyric side-by-side. Colin West McDonald/CNET

If you're set on a Honeywell product and plan to purchase soon, I'd stick with the $249 Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat -- it may be lacking in design, but it was reliable and accurate. And if you prefer the geofencing feature over the learning algorithm, the Lyric can do the trick, but you might experience some of the same annoying inconsistencies I encountered along the way.

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