The smart hub is central to any smart home. It is the device that connects all your smart-home products together so that you can control everything from one app.
Why you need a hub
Imagine you have tons of smart devices in your home, and they are all different brands, using different wireless protocols: Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Thread. Now imagine every brand provides its own app, and you have to use several apps to control them – it doesn’t sound like this would make your life either easy or “smart”.
To unify all kinds of smart devices or secondary systems, you need a smart hub to connect them via different wireless protocols, then you can use that hub to control every single device and know exactly what is happening in your home. You can even create a scene in which some devices work together.
Some smart speakers can directly connect other devices and work as a hub. For example, Alexa Echo Plus has Zigbee built in and can control Philips Hue without the need for Hue Bridge. But it can only work with Wi-Fi devices or specific protocol devices (depending on what protocol is built in).
The app works like a hub
Hub app + (Bridge + Device)/Wi-Fi device
If you already have some Wi-Fi-enabled devices, you might first consider using a hub-like app as your smart hub. Some apps like Yonomi or stringify can help you control all your smart devices and save you purchasing a hardware Hub.
This sounds wonderful, but is it really practical? , the working principle of the app is to control Wi-Fi devices on a software level (through the device’s own API), but it can only connect to devices via Wi-Fi. Because of that you still need a bridge device to transform other-protocol devices to be Wi-Fi-connectable. To do this, some brands may require security authorization such as an account sign-in or button push.
Things to consider
If the hub-like app does not work for you, you may still look for a hardware hub. To choose a suitable hub you need to keep some things in mind.
Hub + Bridge + Device
Hub + Device
There are two modes to get a hub connected to your smart device. One is by directly connecting the hub to your device, the other way is using a bridge device as middleware to connect hub and device.
The second mode may not get the device working correctly. For example, you can’t have all the features of Philips Hue without Hue Bridge; you still need to own Hue Bridge to access all light bulb features. By using a smart hub instead of the Hue Bridge, you are only able to turn a light on/off and dim it. So, it’s ok if you are only using this mode for a white light but for a color bulb, I would recommend you get the bridge.
Supported wireless protocol
As previously mentioned, to connect diverse smart devices, the hub must support the wireless protocol of the smart device. So the first thing you should check before purchasing your hub is which protocols it needs to support.
If you don’t know where to start, here is an explanation about commonly used wireless protocols.
Even if the device can connect to a hub’s physical layer, that doesn’t mean the hub can control it. So the second thing you should consider is whether the hub can work with your devices. Usually, the hub manufacturer will provide a product list which they support and also the recommended connection modes. If your device is not included then you should ask their support team to confirm compatibility.
The most direct way to control a hub is by using its app, but you can use voice control by connecting the hub to a smart speaker. So, you may need to check what kind of voice assistants the hub supports and how to connect it to a smart speaker.
Some hubs even provide a touch screen, in an old-fashioned way. If you prefer to use a touch screen rather than a mobile app then such options are perfect for you.
The best solution is to get a hardware hub to work on the hardware level, there are many tested smart hubs in the current market.
|SmartThings 3 Gen||Wink Hub 2||Google Home hub||Almond 3||Echo Show||Echo Plus 2 Gen|
|Zigbee||Y||Y||N||ZigBee HA 1.2||Y||Y|
|Wi-Fi||2.4GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz||2.4GHz and 5GHz|
|Bluetooth LE||N||Y||Bluetooth 5||N||N||N|
Samsung SmartThings mesh WiFi Router
SmartThings mesh Wi-Fi router is best Hub and Wi-Fi router all in one product. As a Wi-Fi router, its whole-home mesh coverage up to 4,500 sq. ft. (with a 3 pack) A single hub covers up to 1,500 sq. ft, a set of three covers homes up to 4,500 sq. ft. You can add up to 32 hubs if you need additional coverage. As a Home Hub, it still supports ZigBee and Z-Wave protocol like old SmartThings Hub, that can connect your devices without any dead zone, which few Hub can provide.
if you have a large house and common Hub cannot cover all your smart devices, then SmartThings mesh Wi-Fi router is your best choice today.
Samsung SmartThings v3
V3 is the latest SmartThings model, and it offers compatibility with standard protocols such as Zigbee 3.0, Z-Wave, LAN, and Cloud-to-cloud integrations. SmartThings works with a wide range of connected devices including cameras, lights, thermostats, sensors and more. You can check the SmartThings compatible devices on the relevant website.
With SmartThings you can create different routines for your needs, like “Away”, “Home” or “Good Night” to make your smart devices work together, or you can use Geofencing to make the routine location-triggered. SmartThings has also come out with a set of branded devices: motion sensors, water leak sensors, multipurpose sensors, buttons and power outlets, which you can use to extend your smart-home system.
Unlike SmartThings V2, the latest version doesn’t have battery backup and it packs less RAM. However, it can wirelessly connect to a router (V2 needed to be wired to your router).
|Samsung GP-U999SJVLGDA 3rd Generation SmartThings Hub, White||$599.95||Buy on Amazon|
Wink Hub 2
Wink Hub 2 looks more like a book thanks to its upright design. It comes with a power supply and one Ethernet cable, although use of the Ethernet port is not obligatory as the hub can connect using Wi-Fi instead.
Wink Hub 2 enables you to connect and control 400+ smart-home devices, including those made by Nest, Philips, Ring, Ecobee, GoControl, Schlage, Sonos, Arlo, Yale and Chamberlain. You can check Wink compatible devices on Wink’s website.
The setup is really simple, and the auto-discovery and guided setup feature makes the process even more intuitive and lightning quick.
Google Home hub
Google Home hub has Google Assistant built into it with a seven-inch touchscreen. Essentially it has the functionality of all Google Home products include regular, mini and max. It has an auto brightness feature that can adapt to different types of lighting. When the screen is off it will show an ambient mode, you can show Google photos or clocks (six different clock styles).
On its touch-sensitive screen, swipe from left to right to go back, up for volume and brightness, and down to reveal your home view dashboard. Or with its full-range speaker, the Google Home hub can detect your voice from across the room.
Unlike SmartThings or Wink, Google Home hub only supports Wi-Fi-enabled devices, but one thing’s for sure, Google Home hub works great with Nest products like other Google Home products. It can’t directly work with devices using other protocols like Zigbee or Z-Wave, so to make sure your devices will work, you need to check Google Hub compatible devices.
Basically, Almond 3 is a router but much more powerful than a common router. It has a 2.8-inch touch screen, Zigbee and Siren built in. If you use multiple Almond 3, you can create a dual-band Wi-Fi mesh network (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz). Almond 3 doesn’t have Z-Wave built in, but you can install a Z-Wave USB dongle to make it work with Z-Wave devices.
Almond also provides some accessories to improve your smart-home system, like Peanut Plug, Door Sensor, Motion Detector, Flood Sensor and Almond Click. There is also a new model Almond 3 S with backup battery, cellular backup and some home security features, but the product seems buggy and difficult to use.
|Securifi Almond - (3 Minute Setup) Touchscreen Wireless Router/Range Extender||$89.99||Buy on Amazon|
Echo Plus 2 Gen
Echo plus 2 Gen is the most powerful smart speaker in the current Amazon Echo series. It is powered by Dolby play 360° audio with crisp vocals and dynamic bass response, with seven microphones, beamforming technology, and noise cancellation, Echo Plus hears you from any direction – even while music is playing.
Thanks to built-in Zigbee, it will perform as a hub if you can connect compatible Zigbee devices to it. That’s very different from the basic Echo, which still needs connected to a separate hub. While you can also use voice commands to play music, make calls, and request information such as news, sports scores, and weather, to me it’s more like a speaker and hub combined – two in one.
Echo Plus 2 Gen still inherits built-in Bluetooth from 1 Gen, but it only works for audio streaming from your mobile device to Echo or from Echo to your Bluetooth speaker, and Bluetooth speakers requiring PIN codes are not supported.
Amazon also provide Echo Plus 2 Gen with a free Philips Hue White bulb, but do not try to use the Echo Plus with a Hue color bulb or light strip as it can only utilize the Philips Hue system in a limited capacity. To get full use out of the Hue bulbs, you still have to buy the Hue Bridge.
|Echo Plus (2nd Gen) - Premium sound with built-in smart home hub - Charcoal||$149.99||Buy on Amazon|
Echo Show 2 Gen
Very similar to Google Home hub, Echo Show 2nd Gen is a speaker and 10.1-inch touchscreen combination. Compared to the 1st Gen, 2 Gen provides a bigger display (7-inch display for 1st Gen), better sound, and a built-in Zigbee hub.
Its Zigbee and Bluetooth connectivity is just the same as Echo Plus 2 Gen, and it supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi networks, and also includes an 802.15.4 radio for support of smart-home devices.
The smart hub can give you the ability to make all your smart-home devices really work as a unified system. With a hub you can do what you want to do and see what’s happening in your home. You can also create a situation in which devices work together, or use location-trigger or time trigger modes to control devices automatically.
Yet there is no perfect hub, since everyone’s needs are different. You need to consider the compatibility, the ecosystem behind the hub and the smart products you already have. After all, you don’t want to have to replace a whole ecosystem because of a hub.
Remember, all smart hubs above are useless without internet, so if you have a need to work offline with your smart home, then the smart hub isn’t the right choice for you.