While Nest was busy rolling out next-gen versions of what is essentially the same $250 thermostat, Emerson, Ecobee and now Honeywell were hard at work developing connected models with major smart-home partnerships that cost significantly less money.
Honeywell's Lyric T5 is the least expensive Wi-Fi thermostat I've reviewed to date at $150, a whopping 100 bucks less than Nest. It works with Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa and it has geofencing functionality. Bonus: Honeywell says its updated Lyric app offers "improved [geofencing] performance" and I have to agree. The T5's geofencing feature worked flawlessly for me during testing.
The outdated font on the thermostat's display may look like something straight out of the 1995 Sandra Bullock thriller "The Net," but I like everything else about it -- especially the price. Definitely consider Honeywell's Lyric T5 if you're on the hunt for a more affordable smart thermostat with solid performance.
There are dozens of different home HVAC systems, wiring arrangements and settings. Ask a professional or a DIY-savvy friend if you have any questions about your specific setup. That said, Honeywell's Lyric T5 is really easy to install if you already have a C-wire configuration. Not sure? Check out Honeywell's Quick Install Guide for more details.
If you already have a C-wire in place and are lucky enough not to have to drill additional holes in the wall or repaint any newly-exposed areas, you can get this thing up and running in 10-15 minutes. After that, download the Android or iOS Lyric app and either create an account or use existing credentials to log in to your account.
The app takes the pairing process step-by-step. Just pick "Lyric T5" from the "Select a device to install" page in the app and answer the questions that follow to make your way through the configuration. At one point, it will transition to selecting options on the thermostat itself -- that's where you'll start to get a feel for the touchscreen.
Like I said in the intro, the font and general layout of the thermostat display is a little wonky. I don't exactly dislike it, but it looks dated. I wasn't quite sure how it worked right away, either, because a modern touchscreen combined with a screen that looks like it was ripped from the early PC days is an odd juxtaposition. But once you get used to it, it's responsive and easy to use.
If you want, you can stop there and simply use the app to create custom schedules for 7-day programming (you can also create schedules directly on the thermostat), adjusting the temperature on-demand anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection.
But you can also turn on Apple HomeKit, an option that lets iPhone users control the thermostat with Siri and geofencing, an option that uses mapping software to let you set a radius around your house. That radius acts as a Home/Away threshold tied to your phone's GPS location. When you leave, the thermostat should automatically switch to Away mode. And when you come back it should automatically switch back to Home mode.
Both HomeKit and geofencing are optional, but are easy to configure directly within the app. They worked well, too. With HomeKit, you can ask Siri to, "Set the CNET Thermostat (the name I gave the T5 in the app) to 70 degrees" and other related commands and she'll oblige. The same is true for geofencing.
Unlike the $200 Honeywell Lyric thermostat, which will continue to sell in stores and had very spotty geofencing functionality when I tested it, the Lyric T5 was responsive and accurate -- I got alerts every time I crossed in and out of the threshold I set, and the Home and Away temperatures it automatically defaulted to were consistently correct.
Note that geofencing performance can vary based on your location, cellular carrier and other factors. A Honeywell representative told me, "The latest version of the Lyric app features updated Geofencing features, including the addition of a sleep setting, improved performance and triggering and enhancements to save battery life on mobile devices." Based on my experiences with the Lyric T5, I do feel like geofencing performance has improved, but it's difficult to say how well it will work for every user.
One key reason I see the Lyric T5 as a better value than the similarly priced Emerson Sensi and Ecobee3 Lite relates to its geofencing capabilities. Where the Sensi and the Ecobee3 Lite are essentially programmable thermostats with related apps and third-party integrations, the T5 is a programmable thermostat with a related app, third-party integrations and geofencing. That puts it more in line with pricier thermostats like Honeywell's higher-end Lyric thermostat, the Ecobee3 and Nest -- all models that offer some sort of "smarts" that allow for more advanced automations.
If that wasn't enough, the Lyric T5 also works with Amazon Alexa products. So, if you happen to have an Echo, an Echo Dot or a Tap lying around, you can enable the Lyric Skill in the Alexa app and go about voice control that way. Like HomeKit, just say, "Alexa, set the CNET Thermostat to 68 degrees." Occasionally she didn't hear me clearly, but it worked most of the time.
For the first time since Nest introduced its inaugural Learning Thermostat in 2011 (now in its third iteration), the smart heating and cooling innovator has some serious catching up to do.
Sure, Honeywell's $150 Lyric T5 is just one connected thermostat, but its relative affordability is hard to overlook and it's the third manufacturer I know of to offer a less expensive smart alternative. If I can get Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa compatibility, as well as impressive geofencing performance from a model that costs $100 less, why would I pay for Nest? That question is becoming increasingly relevant, but Nest's Google Home integration could buy the startup-turned-Alphabet-brand some time.
I still prefer Nest's design and usability over all other connected thermostats, but the Honeywell Lyric T5 is my current favorite in the market for its smart integrations, performance and overall value.