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Nest Thermostat E review: Nest's cheaper Thermostat E is still plenty smart

Nest's Thermostat E looks and acts like the original -- for just $169.

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Megan Wollerton
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Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (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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4 min read

Editors' note (Sept. 13, 2019): Nest ended the Works with Nest program on Aug. 31. 

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7.7

Nest Thermostat E

The Good

Plastic hardware makes Nest's $169 Thermostat E more affordable, but it has most of the same smarts as the pricier Learning Thermostat.

The Bad

The Thermostat E has a low-resolution screen, it doesn't support Nest's "Farsight" display and it isn't compatible with quite as many HVAC systems as the original. Nest thermostats still don't come with remote temperature sensors.

The Bottom Line

The Thermostat E is almost as smart as Nest's other model -- and all for 80 bucks less.

I've literally waited years for a more affordable Nest -- and it's finally here in the form of the $169 Thermostat E. At 80 bucks less than Nest's premium Learning Thermostat, the E excels in its simplicity. 

It sports plastic components, fewer wire terminals and a lower-res screen. Because of the display's limitations, you also won't find Farsight on the E, a feature that displays custom info such as an analog clock or the current weather forecast from a distance. Otherwise, the E does all of the same things as the Learning Thermostat. It will auto-adjust your heat and AC based on whether or not you're home and give you the same remote access from the Nest app. You can even enlist Amazon's Alexa speakers or the Google Home to adjust the temperature for you.

Read more: Google is replacing Works with Nest with Works with Google Assistant and it could make your smart home worse.  

But aside from its more minimal off-white design, the Thermostat E doesn't do anything new or innovative. You still won't find a remote temperature sensor or compatibility with Apple's Siri voice control platform, HomeKit

Even so, the Thermostat E is a welcome, long-awaited addition to Nest's product roster. It's particularly worth your consideration if you like Nest, but don't want to spend $249 on a single thermostat. 

Nest's Thermostat E costs less but doesn't skimp on smarts

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A fallen Nest, but maybe not for long

Back when thermostats were largely considered utilitarian home necessities (2011), Nest introduced its original Learning Thermostat. Suddenly, folks were lining up to spend $249 on Nest's smart heating and cooling device. It wasn't the first app-enabled thermostat ever sold, but its unique rounded design and integrated tech struck a chord with consumers.

Before long, Honeywell, Ecobee and other manufacturers introduced smart thermostats in the same price range. But while Nest was busy working on second- and third-gen versions of the same $249 thermostat, its competitors were rounding out their lineups with new and less expensive smart thermostats.

The $169 Thermostat E matters because Nest is finally offering a more affordable product. (UK and Australian prices have yet to be announced, but that converts to about £130 or AU$210.) At 80 bucks less than its flagship model, the E also has almost all of the same smart functions:

  • Compatibility with Amazon's Alexa speakers and the Google Home
  • Sensors and your phone's location help let the E know if you're home 
  • Pairs with the same Nest mobile app for Android and iPhone

Nest's E also has a similar rounded design, but this iteration is more minimal. It has plastic, rather than metal hardware components and a lower-res screen that doesn't support Nest's Farsight feature. Nest was going for a watercolor effect with the Thermostat E, so its screen has a "frosted," almost blurred look. It's not great for viewing from a distance if you have less-than-perfect vision.

The E has only six wire terminals as well, so it won't work with quite as many HVAC systems as Nest's 10-terminal Learning Thermostat. The idea is that the E is the simpler model, the one you'd chose for a basic home setup, whereas the Learning Thermostat is the grown-up option that one you'd buy for more complicated HVAC systems.

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Fewer wire terminals means fewer options during installation.

Chris Monroe/CNET
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Download the Nest app on your Android or iOS device to install and configure your Thermostat E.

Screenshot by CNET

Testing the E at CNET's Smart Home

If the Thermostat E didn't look slightly different from the Learning Thermostat and leave out the Farsight feature, I would have barely known I was testing a different product. 

Everything, from the auto-adjusting heating and cooling schedule to the app control worked in much the same way. 

The auto-adjusting schedule is Nest's way of saying it will rely on the thermostat's built-in sensors, as well as your and your family's phone locations to determine if anyone's home. If it senses that everyone is out, it will switch the temperature to an energy-saving mode. You can still set ranges, though, to make sure the temperatures never reach extremes in the warmest and coldest months. 

You can also manually override these settings whenever you want by adjusting the thermostat, using the app or with voice commands. For voice commands, you'll need an Amazon Alexa speaker or the Google Home. 

The installation is familiar too. You don't need a C-wire to run the E and the app guides you through the entire setup process. The Nest website can tell you whether your HVAC system is compatible with the Thermostat E. 

Note: Contact a professional if you have questions about your HVAC system and the installation process. 

Since we already had a Nest account for the CNET Smart Home, as well as perfectly-Nest-thermostat-sized holes drilled in our thermostat testing area, the installation took only 10 minutes. It'll take longer if you need to create a new Nest account, drill new holes or paint or patch areas the previous thermostat used to cover. The first step, though, is always to shut off power to your thermostat at the circuit breaker.

The verdict

Nest's Thermostat E is a late but welcome addition to the smart thermostat market. You get a lot for your $169, too, including auto-adjusting scheduling and remote access via the app, Alexa and the Google Assistant. 

You also get a pared-down, arguably improved design. No, the lighter plastic hardware doesn't feel as substantial, but I personally prefer the look of the minimal, off-white E. It's more likely to blend in with your wall, but it also manages to avoid the boring, white plastic aesthetic you find with so many standard thermostats.

But the E isn't perfect. To reduce its price to $169, Nest opted for a lower-res screen, scrapped Farsight and dropped the number of available wire terminals. If any of those things give you pause, but you want to spend less than 200 bucks, look to the Ecobee3 Lite or the Honeywell Lyric T5.

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7.7

Nest Thermostat E

Score Breakdown

Features 7Usability 8Design 8Performance 8