Review: Venstar ColorTouch T5800

Who’d a-thunk thermostats could be sexy? No one, that’s who. And yet when the Nest thermostat started hitting walls earlier this year, homeowners went ga-ga over its Jetsonian design, web-savvy features, and almost sentient learning capabilities.

Hoping to cash in on our newfound love of climate control, Venstar endowed its already impressive ColorTouch T5800 thermostat with Wi-Fi connectivity and app-powered controls. The result is a home HVAC controller that’s not quite as smart or streamlined as the Nest, but still very cool and capable.

For starters, it’s buttonless. A 4.3-inch color touchscreen handles everything from setting your preferred temperature to creating a schedule to viewing a custom slideshow. Yep, say hello to the world’s first thermostat that doubles as a photo frame.

There’s nothing quite like nudging the AC down a couple degrees without getting out of bed, or making a cold house nice and toasty just before you return home from vacation.

Before you can start packing it with pictures of Fido, however, you’ll have to install it. That’s theoretically a 10-minute job, provided you’re handy with a screwdriver and can manage some basic wiring. However, if there’s no power lead running from your furnace, you may need to call in a pro.

You may also need a firmware update to get the T5800 to recognize the Skyport Wi-Fi Key, which plugs into a side SD slot and sticks out like a sore thumb. Not that the rectangular ColorTouch was all that sexy to begin with, but the key totally kills any aesthetic it had going.

Ironically, you need to transfer some files via SD card to install that first firmware update, though once you get the ColorTouch connected to your Wi-Fi network, future updates can be downloaded directly. Photos, however, cannot: You have to copy them over via SD card.

That’s not only a hassle, it’s a disappointment: Why couldn’t Venstar add a “Send Photos” option to its web-based control panel or Skyport app? They’re otherwise quite capable, letting you adjust temperature settings from afar, monitor heating and cooling runtimes, turn various modes on or off, and even send a text message to the thermostat.

All these functions work quickly, easily, and awesomely: There’s nothing quite like nudging the AC down a couple degrees without getting out of bed, or making a cold house nice and toasty just before you return home from vacation.

More cleverness: The app, web panel, and thermostat will show you the outside temperature and forecast so you can plan your indoor settings accordingly. You can set up a passcode to lock out kids or visitors, schedule temp adjustments for morning, daytime, bedtime, and no-one’s-home time, and pore over runtime graphs to see just how much heating and cooling is happening.

Those are some admirably smart features, and yet if you’re looking for serious thermostat intelligence, the Nest wins the day. The ColorTouch can’t do things like sense your presence in a room, monitor your habits, or learn how quickly your furnace heats or cools the house. Nor can it determine when you’re away and adjust the climate accordingly.

What’s more, although Venstar doesn’t specify a list price for the T5800 and optional Skyport Wi-Fi Key, they sell for around $225 online — just $25 less than the Nest. As much as there is to like about the ColorTouch, it feels less like a wildly advanced climate-control system and more like a kludge that’s straining to keep up with the times.

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