How to Choose a Smart Hub
Drowning in smart devices? There's a hub for that. Network hubs help your smart devices communicate with each other, let you use one app to access them, and can streamline automation. We dived into the world of smart hubs and resurfaced with the best, easiest ones to use.
NOTE: When evaluating these hubs, make sure they support the smart devices you own and/or wish to use in your home. Learn more about why this is important at the bottom of this article.
Creating a smart home doesn't have to be a difficult process. We recommend the Wink Hub 2 for its unparalleled ease of use and extensive network compatibility. For most users, the Wink 2 will meet all their smart hub needs and will make almost any smart device part of an impressive automation machine (a.k.a. your ridiculously cool home).
- Really easy to use
- Supports WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Z-Wave devices
- Works with Nest, Sonos, Alexa, and Google Home
- Limited command customization
- No battery backup
If you've been in the smart home game for a long time, you've probably accrued a lot of smart things and have a clear idea of how you want to automate them. If your automation plans include complex routines, we recommend the Samsung SmartThings V2 Hub over the Wink 2 because of its superior customization.
- Unparalleled command customization
- Easy to set up
- Backup Battery
- Can't support WiFi or Bluetooth devices
- Doesn't work with Sonos
Wouldn't it be great if every week, when your favorite show is about to start, the lights would dim, your TV would turn on, and your set-top box or streaming device would boot up? Yeah, we think so too. We recommend to Logitech Harmony Elite Hub for its reliability, ease of use, and its included touchscreen universal remote. There's also a less expensive version that uses your phone as the remote.
- Controls media electronics and smart devices
- Universal remote
- Easy to use
- Needs reliable WiFi connection
Amazon's Echo Plus offers the voice-activation you're familiar with the added functionality of a Zigbee hub. We recommend this hub for its ease of use and the built-in Amazon Alexa.
If you already have a second generation Echo or have never used an Echo product and/or other smart hub before, we recommend the Wink Hub 2 instead.
- Works with Zigbee devices and IFTTT
- Amazon Alexa
- Simple app (iOS and Android)
- Limited command customization
- No music integration in routines
Networks and Hubs
Ideally, your smart devices can should be able to "talk" to each other. If you haven't fully embarked on your smart home journey, that probably means you're using WiFi or Bluetooth connected devices. That means one device uses your WiFi or Bluetooth to receive commands from an app, smart assistant, or IFTTT. Some of these commands might allow that device to interact with or even trigger other devices, but not nearly as much as it would if it operated on a network tailored to smart devices.
While it might seem like a good idea to exclusively use WiFi or Bluetooth IoT products, these networks aren't energy efficient and, in some instances, can't communicate with popular network hubs. As your smart home's I.Q. increases, you're going to want your products to be able to do that.
There are over a dozen prominent wireless network protocols, but the ones you've probably seen around are ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Thread (used in most Nest products). These technologies use less power than WiFi and create mesh networks.
In a mesh network, each device has a transmitter and a receiver, allowing every device that speaks that network's language to send/relay commands. Hundreds, even thousands, of devices can use these networks and adding more devices makes the network stronger.
In relation to native English speakers, think of ZigBee as Spain, Z-Wave as France, and Thread as Italy. ZigBee and Thread share a few language similarities so they can occasionally understand each other, but far more devices "speak" ZigBee's language. Z-Wave devices all understand each other with ease, but some ZigBee devices might have strong dialectal differences (Castellano vs. Catalan vs. Basque). Z-Wave and ZigBee devices have similar encryption processes, but the two networks can't communicate with each other at all.
To get your devices to talk to each other, you need hubs and bridges. For example, Philips Hue, which runs on Zigbee, has a bridge that connects all the Hue lights and switches in its lighting system. If you want your Hue lights to work with your Nest thermostat, you'll need a hub that can translate and help them work together.
Some hubs only speak one of these network's languages, like Amazon's Echo Plus (ZigBee), which is fine if you prefer one over the other. Think of open hubs like Samsung SmartThings and Wink like the European Union, helping these different networks work together and efficiently trade information. It's not always perfect, but you can achieve cool automation scenarios and access all your different devices from one app.
Other Things to Consider in a Smart Hub
Ease of Use: Ideally, a hub makes your smart home easier to manage. That means the hub's app should be intuitive to use and easy to navigate.
Number of Devices: Since hubs generally have a maximum on paired devices, so how many smart devices you currently have and how many you envision buying over time can impact your hub choice.
Monthly Fee: Some companies charge monthly fees for security options or other premium features, adding to a hub's overall cost. None of our chosen picks have mandatory monthly fees.
Battery Backup: Surprisingly not an industry standard, battery backups are a great bonus if you're particularly interested in smart security devices. Battery backups help protect your home and keep routines intact should the power go out.
Smart Speaker Integration: Smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home products add the functionality of voice-activation to your smart home, so it's good to know if your hub supports your preferred speaker.
Close, But No Cigar
Apple Home Kit has only recently started to prove itself as a contender in the smart home ring, but there are still some gaps in its reliability. As a result, we didn't consider the Home Pod or Apple TV. As HomeKit improves, we'll update this guide.
Hogar Controls is releasing Milo, a smart speaker and hub, in a few weeks. Milo will use Google Smart Assistant and support WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Z-Wave devices. Once it's on the market, we'll assess its quality and update this guide accordingly.
How We Chose
We cross-referenced expert reviews from PC Mag, Wirecutter, TechHive, Digital Trends, and Tom's Guide to narrow down the field of smart hubs. Then, we referenced user reviews from Best Buy and Amazon to parse down which hubs resonated with the average person over time. We chose these hubs based on their ease of use, connection reliability, price, and network protocol compatibility.