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High-tech thermostats tested by Consumer Reports to find best one

Thursday, September 06, 2012

If you were asked what your favorite high-tech gadget was, we're guessing thermostat wouldn't be that high on your list. But a high-tech thermostat can save you money, cut your energy bill and even be "cool" to use.

The Nest Learning thermostat was designed by part of the same team that came up with the iPod. You're supposed to "use it like your old thermostat, and it'll program itself."

Consumer Reports tested the Nest and 29 other programmable thermostats. One of its unique features is motion sensors that detect when you're home.

"The Nest will actually set up its own program, and then it keeps tweaking the program based on the input it gets from you and from its sensors," said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman with Consumer Reports.

The Nest is one of several new thermostats that lets you use your smartphone to change the temperature, even if you're not at home.

A key test is just how easy each thermostat is to use. It turns out that programming the Nest manually wasn't always so straightforward. But Consumer Reports still recommends it, unlike the Venstar wireless remote model T1100RF. It was the toughest to set up.

Another important assessment is how clear the display is.

In the end, three thermostats were some of the easiest to use, with their colorful, touch-screen displays.

Venstar's ColorTouch series T5800 is the least expensive of the three at $170, and its clear graphics make programming a snap.

For far less, the no-frills $70 Lux thermostat from Lowe's is a Consumer Reports best buy. It's relatively easy to program and lets you enter different settings for each day of the week.

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