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Honeywell Lyric Thermostat review: This round thermostat has a few rough edges

This geofencing-enabled thermostat may look like the Nest, but it defines "smart" very differently.

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Megan Wollerton
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Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton covers renewable energy, climate change and other environmental topics for CNET. Before starting at CNET in 2013, she wrote for NBC Universal's DVICE (now SYFY). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

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6 min read

I really liked the $249 Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat I reviewed last year, but its utilitarian design doesn't appeal to the same category of consumer as the Nest Learning Thermostat (also $249), even though it was very similar in terms of features and performance.

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7.2

Honeywell Lyric Thermostat

The Good

Whatever your schedule, the Lyric can use its 500-foot or 7-mile adjustable geofencing feature to adapt to it. The thermostat and app are clear design upgrades from the brand's Wi-Fi Smart thermostats.

The Bad

The thermostat isn't compatible with certain routers, it periodically shifted to Away mode when I was home, and the app doesn't always label your heating and cooling status, making at-a-glance monitoring of your Home or Away settings a real challenge.

The Bottom Line

While the Lyric has a ton of potential, the app needs some major updates to make its usability and performance on par with the Nest.

Nest fans are looking for solid performance, innovative features, and statement-making design, which is a tough combination to find in the thermostat industry. But unlike Honeywell's previous Wi-Fi thermostats, the $279 Lyric matches the precedent set by Nest, giving it the potential to pose a very real threat to this still-niche market -- at least someday.

Cooling down with the Honeywell Lyric Thermostat (pictures)

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While the geofencing feature promises the utmost convenience for those of you with impossible-to-predict schedules, the thermostat would occasionally and inexplicably revert back to Away mode, even when I was at home. I also found the iOS app glitchy (an Android app is also available) and the setup challenging. I'd hold off on the Lyric for now, but a few key tweaks could change everything in its favor.

Getting started

Honeywell's Lyric thermostat is a white, circular thermostat that comes with two screws, a AAA lithium battery, and a round baseplate. The baseplate is optional, depending on your need to strategically cover any holes or mismatched paint. The Lyric measures three inches in diameter and one inch deep.

Unlike Honeywell's other Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, the Lyric doesn't require a C, or "common," wire to operate. Instead, you can install the Lyric using the same wire configuration as the Nest, which worked out well for me because my system doesn't have a C wire.

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The installation process was fairly simple. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

So, I turned off the AC and furnace at my circuit breaker, removed my old thermostat, noted the wiring, and made sure everything was correctly labeled -- I have G, W, Y, and Rh wires, but my Y wire is light blue rather than yellow so it's nice to have that information recorded somewhere. I fed the wires through the baseplate and the base of the thermostat and screwed them into the wall.

The Lyric app walks you through the entire setup process, including everything from removing your old thermostat to connecting your new Lyric to your home Wi-Fi. Here's where I started running through the app instructions as a guide and ran into something confusing. The app asks you to list your wires and then shows you how to install them.

Interestingly, the app told me to hook up the G, W, and Y wires only. I know that the Rh wire, which can double as the R wire, was needed to power the system, so I hooked all four wires up anyway. This was my first usability snag with the Lyric. When in doubt, double-check your wiring setup with a knowledgeable friend -- in this case, the app was actually wrong.

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Configuring and connecting the thermostat. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Then, I snapped the faceplate on and turned the AC and furnace back on at the breaker. The thermostat began to power up, showing the Lyric product name on the display and a ring of lights around it that illuminated slowly over two to three minutes as the thermostat turned on fully.

Next came the configuration process, which is simple if you know basic info about your heating and cooling system -- fuel source, cooling stages, and so on. Connecting the thermostat is the next step, and this gave me the most trouble by far. I followed the steps exactly to add the Honeywell Lyric network to the Wi-Fi and then input the details for my home Wi-Fi, but I kept getting the same error: "I can't connect. Make sure DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) is enabled on your router."

Now, DHCP is required for this setup, but I logged into my Netgear router and confirmed that it was already enabled. I tried a couple of other fixes to no avail and eventually decided to try a different brand router after reading this forum, which discusses networking issues between certain routers and Honeywell thermostats (although no one named the Lyric specifically).

Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat
The Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat. Colin West McDonald / CNET

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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7.2

Honeywell Lyric Thermostat

Score Breakdown

Features 9Usability 6Design 8Performance 5
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