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Best Budget Smart Thermostat: Honeywell Wi-Fi vs. Emerson Sensi
I reviewed six of the best smart thermostats.
Ecobee and Nest have two models each on the market. Both brands are superior to anything that I tested. I highly recommend you go in that direction. (Read about them here.)
That price isn’t for everyone.
If you’re looking for a smart thermostat under $100 that you can control from your phone and works with voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home, you’ve got two options (Honeywell Wi-Fi vs. Sensi).
The Honeywell and Sensi do most of the same things as Nest and Ecobee, but they lack a nice design (they look like traditional thermostats) and the apps aren’t done as well. But they will still get the job done.
#2 – For beginners with c-wire.
Honeywell Wi-Fi (D+)
- Honeywell Wi-Fi is $80 on Amazon. That’s not much more expensive than a standard thermostat.
- Like the Sensi, it’s not intimidating or “fancy” looking. It looks like my old Honeywell thermostat, with the exception of a couple extra buttons.
- The app is hard to look at. It’s hideous and straight out of the early 90s Internet. This makes setup harder than it needs to be. Honeywell is a hardware company (it shows) and now they’re forced to build apps to keep up with the competition.
- Using a thermostat without a c-wire is never ideal, but it isn’t even an option with Honeywell Wi-Fi.
- It has no smarts. For example, let’s say your heat is set to 65 degrees and the current temperature is 63. The furnace kicks on and once it gets to 65, the furnace shuts off. Once it hits 64.9, the furnace will kick on. Most thermostats are smarter than this.
- Some people have complained about not being able to connect to their Wi-Fi if you use spaces or symbols in your passcode. This is asinine and should be an easy fix.
- There are no smart features or geofencing.
- It’s ugly, thick and didn’t snap on well to the base. It felt like it was on the wall loosely after the wires were put in.
- It doesn’t work with multistage heat pumps.
#1 – For beginners with no c-wire.
Emerson Sensi (C+)
- Sensi is priced at $100 and sometimes even cheaper.
- The phone app is surprisingly solid. Scheduling from the app is doable, and they’ve added a feature to lock the keypad from your phone so roommates, children or tenants can’t control it without permission.
- Installation was easy. Make sure you download the app first and it’ll walk you through the process. You’ll get lost if you follow the paper instructions.
- I’m a tech nerd, BUT there are people who want the Wifi features but are too intimidated by the “fancy” looking Wi-Fi thermostats. Sensi looks like a traditional thermostat, which makes it more accessible to some people.
- Sensi’s online guides for setup, frequently asked questions, and troubleshooting steps are great.
- You can offset the temperature if you think it’s not correct.
- I wasn’t expecting onscreen weather and humidity conditions like Nest and Ecobee, but Sensi provides this. (Honeywell only displays the inside temperature.)
- This thermostat does NOT require the c-wire. That’s great, but if you’re not using the c-wire, you’re going to have issues. Because the Sensi isn’t getting constant power, it’ll sometimes be offline and you won’t be able to control it from your phone. The ability to control the temperature from your phone is the whole point of having a Wi-Fi thermostat.
- The backlight is too bright during the night and there’s no way to change the brightness. It’s either on or off.
- There’s no alert for low battery. If you’re not using the c-wire and it runs out juice, you’ll have serious problems.
- There are no “learning” or geofencing features.
- This is a minor point, but unlike the other three thermostats I reviewed, Sensi relies on its own servers in the cloud rather than an internal web server.
- There are no in-depth usage reports.
- The other three thermostats can work as a humidistat replacement, but Sensi can’t.
1. What is the c-wire on a thermostat?
The c-wire is the common wire. It supplies a continuous power stream to your thermostat. Old thermostats didn’t need a c-wire because they didn’t consume a lot of power. Now, smart thermostats are connected to the Internet and have bright LCD displays, so they need more power. Here’s a great guide with more information. For some Wi-Fi thermostats, a combination of the r-wire and others can work, because the r-wire is power, but it’s not continuous power source. It depends if your thermostat has a battery.
I recommend that you use the c-wire even if your wifi thermostat says it’s not mandatory. You’ll have a smoother operation. For instance, sometimes Nest will turn on your HVAC system when it’s not needed to charge the battery. This wouldn’t happen with a c-wire.
Although your “dumb” thermostat might not use a c-wire, in lots of cases there are five wires available, but one wire isn’t used and is tied back (this is what happened at my house). The unused wire is all you need to create a c-wire.
2. What happens when the Internet is down?
Each of the six devices I reviewed contain local storage, so your settings will be saved and the thermostat will function, but you won’t be able to change the settings from the apps because your system will be offline.
3. Can multiple phones be used to control the thermostat?
Yes. You can download the apps on as many phones as you’d like, but you’ll have to give the person the login credentials.
Which one is for you?
My recommendation is to go with one of the premium smart thermostats. It’s worth the extra money.
If you plan to do scheduling through an app once, then never touch it again, Honeywell Wi-Fi or Sensi make sense.
Or let’s say your current thermostat stopped working and you’re looking for a replacement. You’re probably looking at $30 for a normal thermostat. Is it worth it to get some smart features for an extra $50? Yeah, it’d make sense to get Honeywell Wi-Fi (if you have the c-wire) or Sensi (if you don’t have the c-wire).
Honeywell and Sensi are similar but my preference is Sensi.