We also like to stay up on what’s fresh just as much as shining a light on things or people that didn’t get their just due.  There is no schedule or format–if something tickles our fancy, or does the opposite, we’ll let you know in our reviews section.

Image of the cover for "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander.

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

Image of the cover for "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander.If you are looking to gain a deeper and richer understanding of the justice system in America, and how it has historically been applied to people of color, you need look no further than Michelle Alexander’s, “The New Jim Crow.”  Everything is laid out for you in this book, as court cases from yesterday’s headlines to the antebellum south illustrate how language and litigation have shaped how the legal system views, treats, and regards its citizens of color.

Discussed heavily on $#!+ You Might Have Missed, a regular roundtable podcast on Flash/Black :radio: featuring The Usual Suspects, The New Jim Crow thoroughly explains how slavery gave way to the prison industrial complex.  Every argument and every detail is painfully researched and considered, eliminating the ability of rationale readers to explain away the atrocities that the justice system has exacted upon peoples of color as circumstantial or paranoia.  Because of its thoroughness, and its ability to dissect over three centuries of legal and social precedents, this book is being listed as a must-read for members of the Flash/Black audience, and for those who are part of the multicolored collective.  What’s more, if one who is not a part of the multicolored majority sincerely wants to have an understanding of how race impacts those who are–this is the perfect place to start.  If you haven’t done so already–buy your copy here!

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My LoveChildish Gambino - Awaken, My Love Album Cover Art

Reviewed By: Lee Bennett, III a.k.a. Da Vinci Parks

You May Like This Album If You Like: Parliament Funkadelic, Pink Floyd, Prince, etc.

You May Not Like This Album If You Like: Childish Gambino strictly as a rapper, hard to really say….

The Lowdown:  Ok–so–this is clearly one of my favorite albums from 2016.  Full disclosure–I was way into older stuff last year, so I may have missed some gems here and there.  That notwithstanding–this album would have still been one of my favorites from 2016.  Side Note: I still use the term “album,” and I think bears noticing seeing as though we are in the age of mix tapes and quasi digital LPs and what not (whatever that means…seriously, though, was that shade?).

Flash Back (no pun intended), I “discovered” Childish Gambino (Donald Glover–yes–that dude from The Community & Atlanta) by tripping over the Camp LP on NPRs website.  There had been a write-up on him, and I was familiar with his face, but didn’t know him as a rapper.  After reading the write-up, streaming some of the tracks, I tore through the internet until I found some of his videos.  The kid was dope.  Like, for real.

A bit too many references to his dick for my liking, but seeing as though my third book has had a somewhat similar response, I could look past that.  I’m evolving.  So, needless to say, I’ve been on the proverbial Childish Gambino train for a while.  He was one of those beacons I could cite to affirm that the next generation of hip-hop wasn’t a total loss.

So, as he grew as an artist, I grew along with him.  I tried supporting his LPs (when he actually sold them as opposed to gave them away for free), and I told others about his awesomeness.  His weirdness was relatable to mine.  So, imagine my faux surprise when I discovered that he wasn’t going to be rapping on his late 2016 release, Awaken, My Love.

I’ve been on this ride before.  3000 has done this.  Cee-lo Green did so prior.  I feel like as you grow in the confines of being a great lyricist, you begin to discover that the confines of the 4 measure bar becomes too constricting.  You want more.  I was interested to see what Mr. Glover had in store.  I had heard him sing here and there–but not an entire album…

Awaken, My Love–if I absolutely had to compare, feels like D’Angelo, Prince, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins doing a mash-up of funk/erotic/soul/R&B dipped in the waning throes of an acid trip.  I absolutely mean that in the best way possible.  This album feels like some of the best parts of growing up in the 80s while listening to 70s funk, yet somehow the album feels current and relevant.  In short, this album feels instantly timeless–infinitely vintage–and I love every bit of it.

Ask me what my favorite track is?  I have no earthly clue.  On more than one occasion I have awakened, again, no pun intended, with the song Redbone playing in my head.  I really dig Stand Tall in the sense that I can listen to it over and over like Mos Def’s There Is A Way track off of True Magic.

This album almost completely bumped Tribe’s last album out of my rotation (I understand some of you feel a way about Tribe’s LP–but that’s another review, no?).  Sonically, the choral arrangements range from loud to soft, trippy to hypnotic, the instrumentation switches from gentle and soothing to loud and chaotic, and Childish Gambino’s vocals had me asking on more than one occasion if that was really him or was he somehow getting help.  This isn’t what one would call a “safe” album;  Sonically, this album takes risks–especially as his first departure from hip-hop.  Nothing feels forced and it all seems to mesh perfectly.  If you play the album sequentially or randomly–it just works.  It sounds good while I’m playing it through my headphones at work, or blasting it in my office at home.

As an artist, this dude made me want to get in the studio and create something timeless.  That feat is easier said than done, but I will try to answer the challenge.  

For now, I’m going to be rocking this latest Childish Gambino LP until 3005.  Get it?  5 stars out of 5!!!

Recommended Podcasting Equipment Setup (What I’ve Learned Thus Far….)

There are quite a few podcast equipment considerations to make before you get your podcast stood up: How many folks are going to be involved in this endeavor?  What type of software is there to help you with audio editing?  Do you have any comfort or experience with websites and web hosting?  All of these questions and more will ultimately affect your bottom line when deciding what to invest in.  When I decided to shoot for the premium setup recommended on “www.incomschool.com,” I believed my cost was going to be in that ball park.  Unbeknownst to me, it cost me quite a bit more to get up and running, and that’s before I began adding more equipment.

As soon as I got my initial setup, I quickly began to realize that I’d need to double what I had because I figured I may need to interview someone live and in-person at some point.  Then, I subsequently began to calculate, what if I had two guests, or a co-host and two guests?  Simply passing a microphone between people could be done, but that process would detract from the recording experience, and likely the production quality.  Ultimately, my need for equipment grew as my vision did, expanding to accommodate future scenarios just as much as present ones.

I initially chose to go with the “premium setup” that was suggested at www.incomschool.com because I wanted to make sure the quality of the podcast was comparable with the top tier podcasts already out there.  It’s a very real consideration to make—if your quality isn’t to a certain standard—you’re literally losing listeners before they ever have a chance to get into what you’re trying to convey.  I also have adopted the philosophy that I personally want to have the same amount of microphones, headphones, stands, etc.  I don’t believe I need to have super fancy headphones (I will explain why shortly), but even though you are likely going to be monitoring levels and for sound anomalies (a real reason to have headphones), your guests may need a set too, e.g. in order to hear anybody who is not physically in the room.  Sometimes though, folks just like to have the headphones.

So, to start, the one piece of equipment that I feel is absolutely indispensable if you’re going to do any voice over, podcasting, live recording, etc–is the Zoom H6 Recorder.  This lightweight and portable wonder is more than worth it’s current MSRP of $349 (I purchased it at $399 before it’s price reduction) simply because of how flexible and reliable it is.

First of all, it’s battery powered (4 AA batteries), but it can also be powered via a USB port.  While it comes with a 2GB flash media card, it supports up to 128GB, which is more than enough space for the typical user.  The Zoom H6 also allows you to plug in up to 4 phantom-powered devices, like microphones, instruments and more–in addition to an additional port at the top for accessories like an X-Y microphone or ball mic (both of which come with the H6).  I’m going to actually be purchasing the Zoom EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Capsule.  In a nutshell, this accessory will allow me to attach two additional XLR microphones to my Zoom H6 recorder, for a total of 6 devices (check out this thorough YouTube! review for more info–again–you can power this device via a USB connection which they didn’t realize at the time of filming).

Secondly, you’re going to need to decide how you’re going to want to approach your recording: Are you always going to have a laptop?  Are you going to have multiple devices?  This may impact the type of microphone you get. I opted for the Rode Procaster, because the reviews and recommendations I read on it were pretty damn high across the board.  As a note–just because you see someone selling a Rode Product, doesn’t mean they’re officially recognized as a Rode distributor.  The importance of this little nugget is that the Rode Procaster also comes with a 10 year warranty when you register your microphone purchase from a recognized dealer (the product page I linked was the same as the one I got from Rode’s website).  If you’ve heard my podcast(s), I’m sure you’ll agree that the podcast has quality audio.  The Rode microphone I bought was such a sturdy and sound pice of equipment, I eventually purchased three more.  At $229 a pop, I believe it’s safe to say I believe in the quality and value of this particular product.  If you want to go high-end, you can get the Rode Broadcaster—which I’m eyeing for 2017.

You’ll need a decent stand that can support the weight of the Procaster, so—get the PSA1 Swivel Mount Boom Arm if you want a flexible mount (don’t forget the Shock Mount if you go this route), or the Rode DS1 Desktop Stand if you want a cheaper more stationary stand (which I used the wrong way a couple of times in the beginning, causing the mic and stand to tip over—because, again—that mic is heavy!).  Lastly, a Wind Stopper is something you can get starting at $5—$6, but sometimes a simple foam Popper Stopper does the trick without all the adjustments.  Doesn’t look as cool, and costs a bit more—but you can decide which works for you.  The Rode Procaster’s come with a built in popper stopper—but they are extremely sensitive!!

Now, on www.incomschool.com, a couple of headphones were suggested—and I chose to go with a cheaper version of the AKG headphones that were mentioned.  I did eventually double back and purchase the AKG 240 L headphones, which were slightly more high end than the first pair I bought.  So, between those 2 purchases, the Beats headphones I already owned, and the Audio Technica ATH M30X I bought most recently—there’s not a lot of difference when it comes to podcasting.  I will say that I like the Audio Technica’s the most because of their fit, comfort and collapsibility, but the AKG 240 L’s are pretty cool, too.  If you’re recording for music, or you want to do video and make more of a statement with your headphones, you may want to make different considerations—but for podcasting, just make sure they’re decent.

Lastly, your wires and connections are what you’ll need to connect everything.  I tried the 5’ Planet Waves XLR Cable, but honestly—I get a little bit of line feedback on my audio if a landline or cell phone is too close to it.  I picked up 2 25’ XLR cables from Radio Shack for less than what I paid for the Planet Waves XLR cable, and I like Radio Shack XLR cables better.   I’d also highly recommend something like a Belkin Multi-Headphone Splitter, simply because you never know how many people may need to plug in, and this particular piece of equipment is super inexpensive.  I’d also recommend Stereo Breakout Cables.  These bad boys will allow you to connect your Zoom H6 to a laptop, computer, phone or tablet, and are a great way to capture audio from those devices.

Now—you don’t have to go with Rode mics and equipment.  I’ve heard that Heil is pretty good, too.  But, when I read reviews and looked at people who do video accompaniment to their podcasts and what not, I noticed a lot of Rode products.  Feel free to find what works for you if Rode is a bit too pricey, or you think you can do better elsewhere.  Don’t let cost be your sole deterrent unless you absolutely have to, though.  I have podcasts where I encourage people to save and make smart buys—so I will not try to persuade you to step outside of what’s comfortable for you.  I am merely conveying what I’ve learned thus far.  Also, sometimes—you have to spend a little money to sound and look like money.  What’s more, I fully intend to write off as much of these purchases as I can.  I hope this proves helpful to some—please feel free to experiment with portions of what I said to configure a set-up that works for you.  Peace!

Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition

NES Classic Edition

For those of you who were around when video games became a thing (the 80s), there’s one particular game system that made a statement and officially launched the movement: The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  If you remember what it was like to game with two wired control pads and 8-bit titan like the NES or Sega Master System, then this one is for you.  Nintendo is relaunching the NES Classic Edition for  old-school video game heads with a bit of a tweak–it’s miniaturized and has 30 classic NES games built-in.  The system has one controller (but you can buy a second for $9.99), and easily connects to any HCMI TV.  There is no word if they’ll enable gamers to be able play other classics down the line, but 30 classics is a pretty good start;  In the suite of classics are the first three Super Mario games along with the first two Zelda games.  Also, there are classics like Pac-Man (which to me is more of an Atari classic), Kid Icarus, Excite Bike, Castlevania I & II, and more.  The sweet part about all of this old school gaming goodness is that you don’t have to pay a grip to get in on all the action.  The NES Classic is only $59.99 for the “system,” controller, HDMI cable and power cord–everything you need to take a trip back to the 80s (unless you’ve been watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix).

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Right around Valentines day of 2016, my cousin Sharlette presented me with an unexpected gift, Ta-nehisi Coates’ latest book, “Between the World and Me.”  I had heard from various sources how awesome the book was, and how much it struck a chord with those who read it.  Because I enjoy reading, but tend to not read nearly as much (or at all) when I’m working on any extended writing projects, I hadn’t read nearly enough as of late.

Because of the size of the book, I had resolved that I would read the book in a day, if for no other reason than to be able to say, “Yeah, I read that book in a day.”  *This may be nothing to avid readers, but between my vision and overactive imagination, I’m not the fastest reader.

When I began reading this particular book, I felt a tinge of regret for making the aforementioned resolve, because I quickly recognized that this book was going to be that perfect mixture of pain, pleasure and anxiety readers feel with that perfect read.  I tweeted this after I finished the book: “Just finished ‘Between the World and Me’ by @tanehisicoates.  It was the most beautifully heartbreaking love letter I’ll likely ever read.”

The book, written for Coates’ then fifteen year old son, articulated virtually everything it meant to be a black male in this country.  What it meant to grow up, to go to school, to go to college (we were apparently at Howard at the same time, although I don’t think I ever made his acquaintance).

Again, I didn’t necessarily need to be told how I felt, but for someone I never met to be able to tell a story so close to mine, even though we didn’t have the same background, was striking on a level I am not fully able to articulate.  The painful aspect was that such a book needed to be written and passed on to a child–his child–speaks to so many unspoken things.  Things, that when spoken, often fall upon deaf ears.  To read this book, however, is undeniably a testament and an ode to growing up as a black male in this country.

This book is the perfect way to figure out how to talk to any young boy of color who is on the verge of becoming a young man.  These conversations need to be had, and this story should be considered as mandatory reading for high school aged children in my humble opinion.  Not only should you buy this book and read it, you should buy an extra copy and give it to someone who could really benefit from reading it as well.  This book gets a 5 out of 5.

Nest Protect Smoke + CO2 Monitor

Nest Protect

The Nest Protect Smoke Detector + Carbon Monoxide Alarm is $99

If you need to replace your smoke detector or Carbon Monoxide (CO2) Monitor, The Nest Protect might be a good bet.  This nifty two-in-one device comes in two flavors: Wired (meaning it receives its power vie hard wiring) and Battery-Operated.  Fret not, the Wired version still allows you to pop in a couple of AA batteries as a battery back up just in case you lose power.

The Nest Protect is a well-built device aimed squarely at killing two birds with one stone. As its name suggests, the Nest Protect indeed protects you by monitoring for heat, smoke and CO2. It can send pre-alarms before going into a full alert, enabling you to silence it manually, or remotely via your phone.

Like the rest of the Nest family of products, the Nest Protect is a “Smart” device that uses your WiFi Network, enabling remote access via a web browser or the free Nest app available in the Apple Store or in the Google Play store.  What’s the value in being able to log into my smoke detector/ CO2 monitor, you ask? Well, there is a value in being able to know when there’s a potential fire event, especially when you’re not home.

Additionally, by being able to remotely manage your Nest Protect, you can run diagnostic tests to ensure it’s working optimally, ascertain whether or not the batteries are working, and view a log of any alerts and activity the device has detected over the last month. I, for one, appreciate that I don’t have to listen to random chirps from my CO2 detector smoke alarm in the middle of the night.

The “Smart” technology isn’t the only thing that adds value to the device, though.  For one, if your device detects smoke, it does so on more than one level.  Meaning it can better discern if it’s a minor smoke incident or a fast burning fire.  It can also detect when smoke levels decrease.

Then, there’s the actual alarm part: It talks to you instead of just blaring incessantly.  The Nest Protect tell you what if it perceives is the problem, and where it’s detecting the problem. If you determine it’s not an issue, you can simply press a button on the device to stop it from alerting you—unless it deems it as a serious threat.

Nest also thought about integration in an intelligent way. If you install more than one Nest Protect in your home, say one on each level, they can communicate with each other in order to relay potential dangers to you.  For example: Imagine you’ve installed two Nest Protect devices, one in your upstairs hallway, and another one in the kitchen–both devices can talk to each other and alert you in both locations that the smoke level is increasing in your kitchen.  If you’re not home, or, say, just outside talking to a neighbor, an alert notification on your smartphone could be critical. Nobody likes burnt fish and collard greens, and a burning kitchen would be considerably worse.

I also like that the Nest Protect glows different colors for different events.  It will glow green when it detects the lights go off in the room in which it’s installed, letting you know that it’s checking itself to make sure everything is copacetic before you go off to sleep.  The Nest Protect also has the ability to function as a motion-sensitive night-light, emitting a soft white light when it detects motion in a dark room.  Perfect for navigating a darkened abode in search of a midnight snack.

At $99, the Nest Protect was a little pricier than I would prefer, but I believe the features made it a valid purchase when coupled with the fact that the old smoke detector dated back to the 90s and the plug-in CO2 monitor looked suspect. Also, as a note, CO2 monitors tend to go bad within 10 years, so I was likely cutting it close with the existing plug-in monitor that came with my house. Replacing both my smoke detector and CO2 monitor with quality products would likely cost the same if not more—and Nest Protect is shockingly enough not the most expensive “smart” two-in-one option on the market (at the time this article was written), though that isn’t saying much.

After purchase, installation was easy, as was connecting my Nest Protect to my WiFi network. Connecting my app was also painless, though I don’t use my Nest app nearly as often as I use my Ecobee3 app—but, a smoke detector/ CO2 monitor is pretty much supposed to sit silently until it’s needed—so I don’t have an issue with that. It doesn’t hurt that the Nest Protect is much nicer to look at than a typical detector/monitor, either. Plus, if my Nest Protect lasts the 10 years of its lifespan, I’ve paid roughly $10 a year for a sound product and peace of mind (the Nest Protect costs $99). As I’ve had absolutely no issues with it since I installed it, the Nest Protect earns a 5 out of 5.

Solange – “A Seat at the Table”

By now, those who are current on their soul music are pretty much aware of the latest album by Solange, “A Seat At the Table.”  In short, this album is unapologetically black–as in–black as the ace of spades (for all of my Black Dynamite aficionados).  While this album doesn’t bear any sonic resemblance to Donnie’s “The Colored Section,” it still hits familiar notes–“This is my experience,” “This is my truth,” “If you can’t relate, that’s your problem.”

This album utilizes exclusionary inclusion, defiance, and soulful harmonies to set the soundscape that is “A Seat At The Table.”  Aside from that, this LP is refreshingly simple in its honesty.  It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be anything other than what it is, which is not nearly as commonplace as it should be in my humble estimation.

I also feel like the laid back vibe of the album is reminiscent of early Badu (think “Drama”) and vintage Amel Larrieux.  “Don’t Touch My Hair” is probably one of the most easily accessible songs, as the title aptly addresses how many of us have felt when someone feels the desire to reach out and touch without permission.  If Solange had decided to sing that refrain, she would have sold most listeners, but she she wisely decided to take things deeper.

While the vast majority of the lyrics aren’t complex, I don’t feel they need to be.  The melodies and the grooves paired with Solange’s vocals create a vibe to simply zone out to.  This LP is great to work to, drive to, lounge to–it stays in the pocket and doesn’t change gears unnecessarily like some LPs that might be trying to capture different audiences (Club jam, radio jam, etc.).  This album just is.  If you can dig it–then this will be in your rotation–if not–well….

Buy Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” here!!

The Nest Smart Thermostat vs. The Ecobee3 SmartThermostat

The Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat

The Ecobee3 w/ Remote Sensor

Everything is being branded with “Smart Technology” these days.  Cars are thankfully being equipped with standard smart features to make safer driving possible, cell phones are getting smarter with each iterative release, and toothbrushes are now coming with Blue-Tooth technology for some reason.

Some of this stuff I can get behind, while others seem gimmicky and unnecessary.  A lot of it falls somewhere in-between.  I’m not quite sure I need a smart refrigerator in my home, but I am certain that while an interesting concept on certain levels, it’s not a priority.  For me, when discussing the true value of smart technology, I feel like it needs to go beyond simply being cool or a niche product.  I am certainly not above buying either, but I feel like if you want me to use your technology a lot sooner, it needs to make a case on a more fundamental level: can this technology somehow improve my quality of life?

The aforementioned smart technology being introduced in cars is a great example of this.  Lane departure warning systems, 360° sensors, semi-autonomous driving capabilities.  All of these features are advancements in technology that are not only cool/niche, but ways to make the drivers and pedestrians safer.  Some of it is still a bit scary–namely the semi-auto pilot (or 100% auto pilot in Google’s cars) being introduced, but I feel these are bold steps that will ultimately make things safer in many regards.

When it comes to the home, however, I feel like many of the smart home technology on the market is more niche than anything.  Although I feel this way, this sentiment did not prevent me from thoroughly researching the potential Return on Investment (ROI) for installing a smart thermostat.  While there were a few smart thermostats within the same price range, roughly $199.99 – $249.99, there were two true competitors I was interested in: The Nest and the Ecobee3 Smart Thermostats.

First, I think it’s important to state why I was looking at a Smart-Thermostat in the first place:  Towards the beginning of 2015, I was looking to move from a condo to a single-family home, and I was concerned about the likely upward shift in my energy bills–namely gas and electric.  There had been some instances in which my electricity bill in particular was unreasonably high for my condo, notoriously so during the summer. I simply didn’t know what to expect going from a relatively small footprint to a significantly larger one.

The programmable touch-screen thermostat that I had placed in my condo a couple of years prior was considerably newer than the thermostat in the home I was moving to, and likely better in most, if not all regards.  However, the programmable thermostat I had installed, didn’t blow me away with energy savings, even though I had actually programmed multiple temperature settings for each day of the week. The energy savings were negligible, but I didn’t spend a great deal on the thermostat.  Oftentimes, you get what you pay for.

Knowing that whatever I installed in my new living space was going to have a significant impact on my monthly bottom line, I decided to really research the features that were likely best suited to serve my bottom-line. One of the things that Smart-Thermostats typically claim to do is dramatically reduce energy costs.  This claim above all the other highly touted features in the relatively small field of smart-thermostats is what intrigued me the most, and is the reason why I quickly narrowed my candidates down to the Nest and the Ecobee3 Thermostats.

Not only are both thermostats not only complimented by free applications (apps)/ accounts (for browsers), they also play nicely with other “Smart” apps (like IFTTT), products (like Amazon Echo) and Ecosystems (like Apple Home Kit). Each product has a small footprint (both physical and carbon), vivid colorful screens (Nest uses a bold and easy to read dial for manual operation versus Ecobee3 being a full-color 2.4” touch-based), and have motion sensors that can sense when you enter the room or when your not home.  The ability to sense the presence of an occupant is one of the many cost-saving features that will enable the thermostat to switch to a more energy efficient setting while you’re away.

The Nest boasts the ability to be able to learn how you like to have your home (after you adjust the temperature manually a couple of times, it begins to know how and when to adjust the temperature in the house), while the Ecobee3 requires user input to get the thermostat and temperature where you want it to be.  Each allows you to wirelessly log into your thermostat, change temperature settings (great for those of us who go on vacation and forget to turn off the AC/Heat), and view usage metrics.  While both thermostats allow users to connect to their thermostat and control it via Wi-Fi connectivity, the Ecobee3 implemented a logical argument that I simply couldn’t ignore: why not allow for more than one thermostat in the house?  OK, technically, that’s not quite accurate, but work with me here.  The Ecobee3 allows you to purchase remote sensors that you can place throughout your home, and, these sensors will all communicate with the main thermostat that you have installed.

The logic behind this is you often had no say in where your thermostat installed.  It’s often placed in a central area, and–an area that doesn’t necessarily reflect how the rest of the household feels temperature wise.  In other words, why should one room dictate the temperature of the entire house?  Put another way, you can choose to buy additional sensors (you can connect up to 32 remote sensors), and use them to more accurately adjust the temperature of your home.

The benefit in being able to add multiple sensors is that you can customize your Ecobee3 thermostat to rely upon one well-placed sensor (the Ecobee3 comes with one remote sensor), a couple of sensors, or average the temperature readings on all of your sensors for both your heating and cooling settings in 3 different comfort settings: Home, Away, and Sleep.

Still not making sense?  Allow me to present one of my scenarios.  I have an upstairs room that I’ve converted into an office/studio.  My thermostat is downstairs on the main floor.  While my thermostat downstairs may indicate a comfy temperature of say 73°, my upstairs office, unbeknownst to me, is currently sitting at 83°.  In a typical home, my thermostat would only have registered 73°, and I would have had to manually adjust the temperature on my thermostat–likely having to walk downstairs to do so.  Now, sticking with this scenario, after I adjust my thermostat, my upstairs temperature would eventually cool down to a more comfortable temperature, but there’s an increased likelihood that my temperature on the main floor will become far chillier than what my wife might want it to be.

With an Ecobee3 thermostat, I don’t have to worry about that because I now have a sensor that measures the temperature in my upstairs office, as while the Ecobee3 is keeping track of things downstairs.  Because I have a sensor in my office now, my thermostat can either exclusively use the sensor I placed upstairs to monitor the heat in my house, or, I can use an average between the sensor and the main thermostat.

Either way, my Ecobee3 is aware of the variance in temperature, and can adjust more fluidly, instead of me trying to tell my system that it has to suddenly cool my entire house by 10.  That approach strains your HVAC system, and adds cost onto your bill.  Ecobee3 eliminates that process altogether if I program it to, and, I don’t even have to tell it to switch between heating and cooling in those in-between months.

If I have a maximum/ minimum threshold for my heating and cooling settings established, I can simply leave my Ecobee3 on Auto all year round and not have to touch it at all.  Now, imagine being able to place a couple of these remote sensors in key areas of your house where it gets particularly warm or cold.  This can lead to a more comfortable home, and a cheaper energy bill.

Now, a particular concern of mine was the age of my HVAC unit, but the Ecobee folks insisted their product would be a better fit than Nest based upon website comparisons. The Nest Thermostat would need to basically be hacked in to the wiring so it could run, while the Ecobee3 wouldn’t. Because I am not an electrician or HVAC specialist, I called someone to install my Ecobee3, and although he had never seen or installed one first-hand, my gut got it done in relatively short order.

Once my Ecobee3 was installed, connecting it to my Wi-Fi and setting it up was extremely easy. The instant I pulled the tab out of the remote sensor (which keeps the battery from being engaged while it’s in its packaging), the main thermostat instantly recognized it and let me name it based upon a room in my house. It came with a bunch of default names, but I used a custom one because I like specificity.

The end result is that my energy bill has never been outrageous, in either the summer or the winter, and, in fact, has been comparable or cheaper than what I was paying when I lived in my MUCH smaller condo (depending upon the season).  Keep in mind, summer 2015 was one of the hottest summers ever recorded, and my bill remained steady throughout the season with minimal manual adjustments.  That to me is incredible.

To be fair, the Ecobee3 has not been without flaw. There have been instances where I have had to adjust the temperature more than once in the application before it “stuck,” and times where my blower stayed on longer than it was supposed to. There have even been a couple of times where my blower on my HVAC remained in the on position, and I had difficulty getting it to switch off or default to the settings I had established.

In most cases, adjusting the temperature directly from the main thermostat did the trick, although I had to trick my Ecobee3 once or twice by cycling through various settings before I got it to do what I wanted. This has been an issue less than 5% of the time I owned my Ecobee3. It hasn’t been often, but it is annoying when it happens and it’s only right that I mention it.  To be fair, every HVAC is going to behave a little differently, and my HVAC unit is almost 30 years old.

Cool / Cost-Cutting Features:

  • Comfort Settings: This takes the typical schedule you would have with the common programmable thermostat to another level.  Establish what temperature you want your home to be when you are home, away, and asleep for both heating and cooling your home.  I typically let the house reach a less controlled temperature while I’m away, and allow for the temperature to get a little chillier (during the winter) or hotter (during the summer) while I sleep.  Either way, there are boundaries that you set to make sure your house doesn’t get too far in either direction without your express consent.
  • Incremental Blower Settings: When your blower is on auto, you can determine how many minutes in an hour (0 – 60 in five minute increments averaged out evenly over the course of the hour) your blower functions, even if the HVAC isn’t pumping out heat or cold air.  This might sound trivial, but the blower helps to circulate the air in your house, and doing so periodically could help to keep your household temperature more balanced throughout the day.
  • Schedule: Establish what time of the day you are typically Home, Away, or Asleep, and the Ecobee3 thermostat will do the rest based upon your pre-defined comfort settings and sensor settings.
  • Reminders and Alerts: The Ecobee3 thermostat allows users to set up different reminders and alerts, such as when the filter in the furnace needs to be replaced or when the HVAC unit needs to be serviced.
  • Vacation:  Enter a date and time range of when you’ll be on vacation, and the Ecobee3 will allow you to set your temperature for additional savings while you’re away and have your house nice and comfy upon your return.
  • Weather Forecast:  That’s right–you can view the weather forecast for the day (Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Overnight) and the projected Hi/Low temperatures for the next four days right on your Ecobee3 thermostat (or through your app/web-enabled account).

I can’t speak against the Nest Thermostat because I’ve never used it in my home, and, I’m sure there are plenty of satisfied Nest Thermostat users out there.  However, for what I wanted and needed in a thermostat, the Ecobee3 was ultimately the more sensible and cost-effective purchase.  I wanted traditional features that you’d expect in a modern thermostat, while still having all of the smart-technology in place to adjust temperature/settings when I stipulated it was OK to do so, e.g., I wasn’t home, the house gets too hot or too cold while vacant, I go to sleep, etc.

The real deciding factor again came down to the remote sensors.  I understand that there’s quite a bit of support for the Nest Thermostat, but having multiple thermostats throughout my house so the overall temperature of the house is more evenly managed was a great logistical point I simply couldn’t overlook.  The Ecobee3 has worked wonders for me. So, if you’re in the market for a new thermostat, I believe the Ecobee3 Thermostat warrants your serious consideration.  I give the Ecobee3 a 4.5 out of 5.

The Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat and remote sensor.

The Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat and remote sensor.