At the center of many smart homes is the smart home hub, a piece of equipment that connects all of your smart devices (light bulbs, locks, thermostats and more) to each other. A smart home hub lets you control your devices from a central location, like a smartphone app or voice assistant, which can make it easier to set up and use routines involving multiple products.
GO AHEAD: Top Rated Smart Hubs
But with so many big brands, like Amazon, Google and Apple – and a few smaller names, like Aeotec – it can seem like an overwhelming decision to make when shopping for a hub for your own smart home.
We spoke to smart home tech experts to find out more about the top-rated smart home hubs widely available on the market and what to consider when buying one for yourself or your family.
How to Select a Smart Home Hub
Selecting a smart home system is largely a matter of “which company you feel comfortable with, because you’re inviting that company into your home,” said jonathan collinsdirector of smart home research at ABI Research, a technology research and strategy firm that advises on topics such as 5G telecommunications technology, artificial intelligence and the growing network of interconnected data-driven devices .
There are a few questions to ask yourself before you begin:
- What smart devices do you already own? If you have a smart speaker like a Amazon Echo Where Google Nest or smart home products under a certain brand, you can choose to stick with that platform.
- What type of smartphone do you use? Again, if you are used to a specific user experience, it may be easier to go with this platform: Apple HomeKit for iPhone users, for example or Google Nest for those on Android.
- What smart home products do you want to add? The list of devices compatible with smart home ecosystems is long, so you’ll likely find most of what you need no matter what platform you’re anchoring with. However, if you are looking for something specific, make sure your hub supports it. And if your devices work primarily via Z-Wave or Zigbee (more on these communication protocols below), you’ll need a compatible hub.
- Do you have or are you planning to buy a smart TV? Smart home hubs, like Samsung SmartThingsare already built into TVs, doing away with separate hardware entirely.
There seems to be a long list of devices to choose from, but Sumi Helalprofessor of computer science and information science and engineering at the University of Florida and director of the Gator-Tech Smart House, said almost any smart home hub will do.
“Start with anything, preferably of the same species as your smartphone or TV,” he said. “There is no advantage in choosing one [hub] on the other other than the range or the list of devices that can be brought.
Top Rated Smart Hubs
If you want a hub, you might want to consider one of the following options, which are highly rated and meet our expert recommendations, including ease of setup and integration with familiar smart home ecosystems, interoperability with a wide selection of smart devices. , and compatibility with smartphone operating systems and applications.
Those who want their smart home hub to double as a speakerphone, as well as anyone who relies on Alexa’s voice assistant capabilities, may want to consider the fourth-gen Amazon Echo. This versatile hub is compatible with the vast selection of smart home devices that use Zigbee, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, according to Amazon, and it has all the benefits of a smart speaker: voice-activated music and entertainment via Spotify , Audible, Amazon. and Apple Music, over 130,000 Alexa skills and routines, and hands-free calling, among other features. Plus, it offers built-in smart home functionality with Alexa Guard — Amazon says the speaker itself listens for smoke detectors and broken glass, potentially eliminating the need for additional sensors. The Amazon Echo smart hub has an average rating of 4.7 stars from nearly 105,000 reviews on Amazon.
Google Nest Hub
The second-generation Google Nest Hub doesn’t work with any mesh protocols, but it does integrate with Wi-Fi-enabled smart home devices as well as Google Nest products like cameras and doorbells. According to Google, there are more than 50,000 devices which are compatible with its Google Assistant-enabled speakers and hubs. A huge advantage of the Nest Hub is the touchscreen, which lets you tap and swipe your controls as well as view feeds from your security cameras and even watch content from Netflix, YouTube and more, says Google. The hub performs triple duty as a smart light for morning and evening routines, sleep tracking, and a smart sensor for glass breakage and smoke detectors through Nest Aware, according to the company. The second-generation Nest Hub has an average rating of 4.7 stars from over 1,300 reviews on Best Buy.
Apple TV 4K
If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, the Apple TV 4K can be a great choice for easily integrating your smart home via HomeKit: just log into your iCloud account on your TV and launch the Apple Home app, according to Apple. Apple’s iPad and HomePod speakers can also be used to control HomeKit scenes and automations, but with Apple TV 4K you get the on-screen visual experience and, unlike the iPad, the The device doubles as an entertainment and streaming hub, according to the company. Note that it does not support any other protocol, like Z-Wave or Zigbee. And although HomeKit’s device is compatible with fewer devices than other platforms, Apple, which has long presented itself as having more privacy protections than its rivals, is generally considered a safer bet for privacy-conscious people than some other companies. The Apple TV 4K has an average rating of 4.8 stars from over 1,500 reviews on Best Buy.
If you’re looking for a true smart home hub that integrates over 5,000 devices across protocols and smart home assistants, the Aoetec may be worth a long look. It’s compatible with Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Wi-Fi, and can be voice-controlled with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Bixby, according to the company. Major brands that work with the Aeotec Smart Home hub include Nest, Sonos, Samsung, Philips Hue, Ring, and Yale, to name a few, Aeotec says. It replaces Samsung’s now discontinued SmartThings Hub. The Aeotec Smart Home Hub has an average rating of 4.3 stars from almost 500 reviews on Amazon.
What is a smart home hub?
Before you buy one, it helps to understand what a smart home hub actually does – and to do that, you need to know how your smart home devices work together.
One type of smart home connectivity is a mesh network, which essentially allows your devices to communicate directly with each other rather than through your home Wi-Fi. Common protocols for this include Z-Wave and Zigbee. Thread is another small but growing mesh networking option. Mesh networks require less power from your devices and don’t affect your Wi-Fi performance. There are thousands of smart home products that work well with these protocols, which rely on a central smart hub, but they don’t are not always compatible with each other.
Other smart home products communicate over your home Wi-Fi network. These devices are easy to set up, connect and control from your phone or smart speaker, which acts as a hub. However, adding dozens of devices can slow down your network, and constant communication over Wi-Fi tends to drain device batteries faster.
Finally, some smart home devices can communicate directly with a mobile app on your smartphone via Bluetooth, but they require you to be nearby.
Do I need a smart home hub?
One of the benefits of a smart home hub is the ability to link all your devices to automated routines – for example, if you want your Phillips Hue bulbs to dim, August door locks to close and have the Nest Thermostat turn off when you’re ready for bed. With hubs supporting voice assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, a simple “It’s bedtime” command could trigger a cascade of actions. Plus, instead of having to open multiple apps to set up or change your routines, you can do so through your hub’s mobile app dashboard.
A hub is also needed for smart home devices that rely on Zigbee, Z-Wave, or another home automation protocol in addition to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
You probably don’t need a smart home hub if you only have one or two connected devices that don’t need to talk to each other, or if you don’t mind controlling them in separate apps. Devices that require a specific hub or bridge to connect to your Wi-Fi network can have one, although it won’t allow you to chain multiple products together. Unique devices, like smart plugs that work over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, may just require you to have the right smartphone app. You don’t necessarily need a hub if your smart home devices are If this then that (or IFTTT) enabled.
Matter, an open-source platform announced at CES 2022 (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) and launching later this year, is a product that has a lot of potential to make any smart home device decision easier. It is expected to integrate smart home devices from all brands, including Apple, Google, Amazon, LG, and Samsung. With Matter, you wouldn’t have to choose a single platform, and devices that weren’t previously compatible could talk to each other, according to the company.
“A lot of the effort around Matter is about getting rid of complexity,” Collins said.