Editor's Note: The power cord used for this installation is not included in the standard packaging.
Thermostat giant Honeywell designed this Wi-Fi-enabled model in direct response to the innovative Nest Learning Thermostat created by Apple alumni Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers. Honeywell went so far as to file a lawsuit against Nest on February 6, 2012, claiming the new company violated seven existing Honeywell patents in the making of their iPod-inspired thermostat. Strip away all of that drama, and you still end up with two extremely capable products that have top-notch functionality and identical $249 price tags. So, what makes Honeywell's Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat unique?
In brief, the Honeywell has more predictable design characteristics, a much busier home display, and, in my case, a more complex set-up process. There are a few other slight deviations between models, but the design and installation will be the main deal makers -- or deal breakers -- for most. Where the Nest packaging is akin to that of an Apple product, (it includes a screwdriver and the Web site even offers a quiz that you can take before buying to find out if your home is compatible) the Honeywell is comparatively no-frills. I would recommend the Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat to any home automation DIYer who appreciates traditional style and doesn't need hand-holding during the installation. Just know that it might not work in every home.
This Honeywell is a slightly sleekified version of that old boxy thermostat you probably have at home now. On the home screen, you will see the date and time, the indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity, and up and down arrows so you can change the temperature manually. It's considerably smaller than my old thermostat and it doesn't come with different size base plates, so the previous paint job is clearly visible on all sides.
The Nest, on the other hand, is round and comes with a square and a larger rectangular base plate to cover up any unsightly holes or paint. Its home display is also extremely minimal; it shows the current temperature and that's about it. Honeywell places more emphasis on utility by displaying more information up front, whereas the Nest is more streamlined and design-focused. It's really a matter of preference here.
This DIY installation is not for beginners. There are many different types of heating and cooling systems and some of them just won't be compatible with this thermostat. Honeywell doesn't do a great job of warning you about that beforehand, which leads into a larger issue I had with this setup. You really need a C or "common" wire to power this model. There are a couple of different workarounds available if you don't have a C wire, but they aren't guaranteed to work on every system. So that could cause some installations to come to a screeching halt.
For example, my system has a G, a W, a Y, and an Rh wire. To get power to my thermostat without a C wire, I had two main options. I could run a new wire from the HVAC to the thermostat and assign it to both C ports or I could redirect the G wire to the C wire port at the thermostat and HVAC terminal (which would disable my ability to adjust the fan at will). It was around this time that I learned that my HVAC unit is not in great shape. Everything is connected with wire nuts and there's no terminal unit to be found. I am not nearly experienced enough to figure out where to put the C wire without a port labeled "C" in my HVAC. The same goes for rerouting the G wire to the C wire port -- my system doesn't have a traditional G or C port.
Fortunately, Honeywell also provides power cords to reviewers as a simple and quick installation option. Unfortunately, the cord isn't included when you buy this thermostat or available as a separate commercial purchase. Basically, I wouldn't have been able to install the Honeywell thermostat at all without either the power cord (which isn't an actual option) or help from an electrician. I can't exactly blame Honeywell for my sketchy HVAC unit, but the Nest doesn't require a C wire in most houses. Points Nest.
Like the Nest, the Honeywell thermostat functions so much like a regular digital thermostat that you shouldn't experience too much of a learning curve when you want to use it on your wall.
The Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat is also remotely accessible via free Web-based and Android and iOS mobile apps. I've been using the Honeywell Total Connect Comfort iOS app and it's very intuitive, although the frequent log-outs are annoying.
On the app home page, you'll see a list of all of your connected Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostats. You can customize the names of each, say "First Floor Thermostat" and "Second Floor Thermostat," or "Bedroom" and "Living Room" to distinguish among them. Then you can select the thermostat you want to adjust and you get a quick snapshot of its status. I'm at work, but the app tells me that my house is currently at 75 degrees with 54-percent humidity. If I want a more detailed picture, I can click again and it will display more information. Now I can see that it's 86 degrees outside with 60 percent humidity and it lets me know that it's following the schedule I programmed when I first installed the thermostat. I also have the option to adjust the temperature or completely modify my heating/cooling schedule from the office. The Honeywell Total Connect Comfort Web app works in exactly the same way.
Even if you don't set a schedule for your thermostat, the Honeywell will use algorithms to "learn" your habits and will begin to automatically adjust your heating and cooling based on your usage patterns. Of course, you can still override this by manually adjusting the temperature.
It also offers advanced fan settings designed to keep you comfortable and save energy simultaneously. You can adjust the background color from an established list or use the custom menu to create your own color scheme. This thermostat will send you warnings when it registers an extreme degree shift beyond the norm and lets you know when it's time to replace your air filter. It also tracks the indoor humidity and displays the external temperature and humidity.
If you're worried about security, you have the option of locking the touch screen and you can adjust the length of time the backlight stays illuminated. Honeywell says this thermostat can maintain one degree of accuracy on any temperature setting. That's great, but your heat or air conditioning will kick on more frequently as a result, so you can adjust it down whenever you want.
These Honeywell features closely mirror what Nest offers. Similarly, the Nest will help you save money by studying your energy usage and adjusting accordingly. It relies on system runtime to send filter change reminders. So, the more you use your heating or cooling, the more often you will receive filter replacement notifications. It has built-in sensors that track indoor humidity readings and it notes weather conditions via Wi-Fi to determine how the outside temperature influences your indoor heating and cooling patterns. It also allows you to set an acceptable temperature range and use a four-digit code to keep anyone from making unauthorized changes. Unlike the Honeywell, you cannot change the background color of the Nest. However, the stainless steel ring it comes with claims to adopt the color of the wall like a chameleon. A more significant difference is that the Nest can only promise to get within three degrees of accuracy, so the concept of "set temperature" is a bit more liberal.
The Honeywell Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat exceeded my expectations. The temperature adjusted automatically based on my typical heating and cooling cycle and the scheduling functionality also performed without any hiccups. The touch screen and app are both highly responsive and if your Wi-Fi goes out, your thermostat will continue to function like a regular digital model.
Chances are that this thermostat is more intuitive and efficient than the one you have now and, as a result, it will save you money over time. The only performance problem I noted was that the outdoor temperature and humidity reading is sporadic at best. But for most, that's probably not going to be the deciding factor against purchasing this thermostat.
Honeywell staked its claim in the DIY smart thermostat market with this $249 Wi-Fi-enabled model. Its feature-rich display, straightforward Web and mobile apps, and top-notch functionality make it a worthy rival for the identically priced Nest Learning Thermostat. If you're comfortable with electrical wiring, the buying decision may come down to aesthetics, since they have nearly identical functionality with different design structures.
For me, the main decision comes down to the ease of installation. Overall, each one is a useful addition to your home and especially appealing if you're into DIY and looking for new ways to automate. I'm also interested to see how this market develops. Even if its design isn't quite as polished, Honeywell has shown it can match the Nest in terms of basic functionality. The competition between these two is sure to intensify.