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Ecobee SmartThermostat (2019) review: New Ecobee HomeKit smart thermostat puts an Alexa speaker on your wall for $249

Of course, whether it makes sense (or not) to listen to music from your thermostat will largely depend on where it's installed. My thermostat at home, for example, is in a random hallway -- it definitely isn't a spot where I'd want to play music. But if your thermostat is installed in a more open area, an Ecobee SmartThermostat could be your go-to for playing podcasts while you cook, asking questions about the traffic or the weather and controlling smart home devices, all with simple Alexa voice commands.

While the SmartThermostat can do a lot more with its built-in Alexa speaker than the Ecobee4, it can't do everything an Amazon Echo device can. Specifically, you can't change the wake word from Alexa and it doesn't work with Alexa Guard. Alexa Guard is a software feature that makes it possible for Echo speakers to listen for glass breaking, alarms and other potential security breaches. 

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There's an Alexa speaker built into Ecobee's SmartThermostat.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice integrations all did a good job adjusting the SmartThermostat via voice commands. I asked Alexa, Google and Siri to change the temperature or for the current temperature in the room and got accurate responses every time.

Ecobee also redesigned its temperature sensor. It does look a bit different, but I didn't notice any major changes in how it operates. This remote sensor helps you keep track of the temperature in a different area of your home, so you can customize whether you want to heat or cool based on the temp sensor inside the thermostat -- or based on the temp in your basement, nursery or another room.

Ecobee's remote sensor also helps determine whether you're home or away so it can override a schedule to autoswitch the mode for you. Ecobee says this new sensor has an "enhanced wide-angle detection range," but it performed roughly the same for me during testing as Ecobee's last-gen sensors. This version provided the temperature and switched the thermostat's mode based on whether or not it detected a person's presence.

One sensor comes with your purchase and you can buy a two-pack for $79.

As Ecobee's new high-end thermostat, it competes directly with the $249 Nest Learning Thermostat. Unlike Ecobee, Nest hasn't changed its flagship Learning Thermostat much over the years, aside from some cosmetic updates and the introduction of a remote sensor that only detects temperature.

The Nest is far behind Ecobee in terms of features, although I still prefer the Nest thermostat's design.

The verdict

Should you buy an Ecobee SmartThermostat? That depends.

If you already have the Ecobee4, there isn't enough of a difference to make the upgrade worthwhile. But, if you're considering splurging on a thermostat with a built-in Alexa speaker, the $249 Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control is a great choice.

The glass faceplate, responsive touchscreen and fully functioning Alexa speaker all make the SmartThermostat even better than the already-great Ecobee4.

This model will be a tough sell if you don't want a smart speaker in your thermostat, or if $249 is over your budget. In either case of those cases, I'd suggest the $169 Nest Thermostat E or the Ecobee3 Lite (also $169).

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