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Nest Learning Thermostat (2015) review:

Same great Nest, now with even better looks

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The Good The next-gen Nest Learning Thermostat has a larger display, a better resolution and an all-new far-field sensor for viewing time and temperature information from a distance. It works with Amazon's Alexa, too.

The Bad Nest is behind in the accessories department; remote temperature sensors would add a lot to this smart thermostat's functionality.

The Bottom Line Nest is still a solid smart thermostat, but it isn't massively different from the second-gen model and the Ecobee4 offers more features.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.7 Overall
  • Features 8.0
  • Usability 9.0
  • Design 9.0
  • Performance 9.0

Editors' note, June 10, 2016: This review has been updated to include information on Nest's integration with Amazon Alexa, as well as its new Family Accounts and Home/Away Assist features.

Nest has already had a busy year, with a new home security camera and a new smoke and carbon monoxide detector, as well as checking off a major overhaul of its companion Android and iPhone apps from the corporate to-do list. But now the Google-owned smart-home company is returning to its roots with the launch of its third-generation Nest Learning Thermostat.

The new model uses an all-new design with a larger screen and slimmer profile, plus it adds a couple of new features to the mix. Like the original Nest -- which launched back in 2011 -- the third-gen iteration of its heating and cooling control system relies on built-in sensors to track your whereabouts along with algorithmic smarts to create a custom, auto-adjusting temperature schedule based on those movements in the home. And you can still make manual tweaks to your settings on the Nest app anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection.

But those once-revolutionary features are now par for the smart-home course, with brands like Ecobee and Honeywell offering smart thermostats of their own designed to compete alongside Nest in the DIY market.

Fortunately for Nest, version 3.0 ups the ante with an even-more-gorgeous-than-before design and the introduction of a far-field sensor for viewing the current time and temperature from a distance as well as integration with Alexa-friendly Amazon products. The US-only third-generation Nest Learning Thermostat enters the more competitive landscape for the same $249 price as its predecessor -- any remaining second-gen models will retail at the reduced price of $199 while supplies last -- but I can still wholeheartedly recommend it as a truly smart heating and cooling upgrade.

Design

You know how your smartphone doesn't look dated until you catch a glimpse of the next-gen model? That's exactly how I felt after seeing Nest's latest Learning Thermostat. No, it isn't a massive departure from past iterations. You'll still get that same rounded design, stainless-steel dial and familiar display style. But, there are a few key changes.

The third-generation thermostat has a 40 percent larger screen and an improved resolution for better all-around visibility. (Specifically, the display has 229 pixels per inch; that's 25 percent more than its predecessor, which should make for a sharper on-screen image.) And, Nest slimmed down the thermostat's profile so it won't stick out from the wall as much.

While I noticed the updated display size and resolution instantly, the "thinner" depth was much less obvious. A side-by-side spec comparison shows that the second-gen Nest measured 3.2 inches in diameter (8.1cm) and 1.26 inches in depth (3.2cm). The new thermostat is a touch bigger at 3.3 inches in diameter (8.4cm), but slimmer with a depth of 1.21 inches (3.1cm).

That tiny 0.05-inch difference really doesn't make much of a difference, but other upgrades give the rounded Nest an even bigger edge over the touchpad-style and now somewhat dated-looking Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart or Ecobee3, two of its closest competitors in the smart thermostat market.

The "analog" clock option on the new Nest 3.0.

John Kim/CNET

Features

The third-gen Nest Learning Thermostat also boasts a handful of new features. Where previous Nest thermostats relied on near-field sensors alone (which have a roughly 3-foot range) to pick up on motion activity, this version tacks on a far-field sensor for a new function it calls Farsight. Farsight lets you see your thermostat's target temperature or the current time in either "analog" or digital modes from a distance. That way, you can spot the time and temperature at a distance, without having to be on top of the Nest.

This may seem like a small update, but it actually brings a new level of interactivity to the hardware side. Where the previous model would only "wake up" when you were within about 3 feet (1 meter), you can now interact with the unit without having to walk directly by it. Instead, you can get an at-a-glance look at the time or the temperature from as far as 20 feet away. And, thanks to the new and improved resolution and the larger display, you'll actually be able to read them.

Nest 3.0 also offers Family Accounts and Home/Away Assist, two new features that help improve performance. Family Accounts lets users in the same household set up their own Nest accounts (instead of the shared family accounts that the company offered previously). Once Family Accounts are created, Home/Away Assist jumps into action by tracking each person's phone location. It isn't exactly the same as geofencing, as there's no geofenced range, but it does make it even easier for Nest to keep an eye on your whereabouts.

This model also adds a function it calls Furnace Heads-Up, for those with a forced-air furnace system. Essentially, this feature keeps track of the times your forced-air furnace automatically turns off to prevent overheating. And, if it senses that there's a potential issue, it will alert you in the Nest app, on the thermostat screen and in your monthly energy usage email. Nest says it will add this feature to first- and second-generation Nest thermostats "later this year."

But Nest is missing one thing: remote temperature sensors. Ecobee's $249, £155, AU$285 Ecobee3 thermostat comes with a remote temperature sensor and you can buy additional two-packs for $79 each. This allows you to closely monitor temperatures on a room-by-room basis. Say you set your thermostat to 72 degrees, but the remote-temperature sensor in your bedroom says it's 75 degrees -- you can then adjust your thermostat so that it cools until your bedroom actually reaches the target temp.

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