There are hundreds, if not thousands of smart lights, digital locks, security cameras, thermostats, and more, but if you want to control them all from a single interface, then you're going to need a smart home hub. Based on our extensive testing, the Samsung SmartThings Hub v3 is our favorite smart home hub. Not only is it less than $70 and works with a wide range of devices, but its logic lets you set up fairly robust rules to trigger devices. Still, there areas where it can be improved.
Our favorite budget option is the Amazon Echo Dot; while not a hub in the traditional sense—you can only control devices connected to Wi-Fi— you can link lots of smart home devices in the Alexa app, and then trigger them using the Dot. Alexa's Routines also let you control multiple devices with a single command. Plus, the third-generation Dot has much improved audio over the previous model.
Latest News & Updates (January 2019)
- Best Buy is offering the Apple HomePod for $249 ($100 off).
- Apple has added a few features to its HomePod to make it more functional: The update allows owners to set multiple timers, make calls (via their iPhone), and pair multiple HomePods for either stereo sound or for multi-room audio. It will also gain Airplay 2 support.
The third-generation Samsung SmartThings hub can connect to hundreds of devices — more than most other hubs — and lets you create a wide range of different scenarios for all of the gadgets in your home. The newest version of the hub has Wi-Fi, which means you have more flexibility in where you can place it in your house, but it's lost its battery backup, so you won't be able to control connected smart home devices if the power goes out.
At just $49, the Echo Dot is half the price of most other hubs, making it an inexpensive investment for those just getting into smart home automation. However, it can control a wide variety of devices. The third-generation Dot has a larger and more powerful speaker than the previous model, and it has an updated design with a more attractive cloth cover. In addition to turning your lights and other devices on and off, the Dot can also read news headlines, weather reports, sports scores, and a host of other things.
The second-generation Echo Plus is larger, and delivers a much larger sound, than other Echo smart speakers. The plus also has a built-in Zigbee radio, which lets so-equipped smart home devices (such as Philips Hue lights) connect directly to your network—no bridge needed. The Plus sounds great, and connecting smart devices was a cinch, but it lacks the more complex interactions you can get with other hubs, and it doesn't support Z-Wave devices.
This Amazon Echo competitor also has a built-in speaker, can respond to voice commands, and can both control smart home devices and stream music. But where the Google Home separates itself is its integration with Google Assistant, which lets you search for everything and anything. Plus, if you also have a Chromecast, you can control it via voice through Google Home.
Although its primary purpose is to stream content to your television, the Apple TV also serves as a gateway for a small but growing list of smart home gadgets. If connected through the Apple TV, you can manage HomeKit-compatible devices remotely from your phone, and even use Siri to control them, too. And finally, the Apple TV 4K supports 4K content.
Why You Need a Smart Home Hub
As smart home gadgets proliferate, it can help to have a centralized method to control them all. Smart home hubs offer this functionality, as they can connect all of your devices to the cloud and give you one app that acts as a sort of universal remote. Additionally, a hub provides the ability to automate your gadgets. So, for example, when you unlock your door, the lights in your entryway will automatically turn on, and the thermostat in your home will be set to the temperature you like.
Apart from automation, a smart home hub is most useful when you have a lot of smart home devices that use Z-Wave, Zigbee, WeMo, or Bluetooth, rather than Wi-Fi. These radios are found most commonly in smart locks and door and window sensors. Their low power requirements mean that the devices can be small, and last years without you needing to change the battery. However, they need to connect to a smart home hub in order for you to control them remotely from your smartphone.
Why You Might Not Need a Smart Home Hub
Many smart home devices, such as smart plugs and switches, have Wi-Fi built in, or, in the case of Philips Hue bulbs and the August Smart Lock Pro, come with a Wi-Fi bridge, which lets you control them remotely without the need for a smart home hub.
Also, both Amazon Alexa and Google Home let you automate control of various smart home devices in so-called Routines, a set of pre-programmed actions that will activate at a pre-set time, or when you say a particular phrase. Here's how to set up an Alexa Routine, and how to set up a Google Home routine. In many cases, some smart home devices will even talk to each other, obviating the need for a hub entirely. For example, if your Nest Protect thermostat senses smoke, you can have it turn on your Philips hue lights and unlock your door. Or, the Nest Learning Thermostat can turn off your lights and close your blinds when it enters Away mode.
Which Smart Assistant Is Best?
When setting up a smart home, one of the first things you should think about is the voice assistant you wish to use to control your appliances. We compared Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri across a number of categories to determine which is the best.
Other Smart Home Hubs We Reviewed
If you're looking for a Wi-Fi router and smart home hub in one, Samsung's Connect Home Hub mesh router has its SmartThings hub built in. We liked its ease of setup, its fairly speedy throughput, and the ability to expand its reach with extenders. Samsung offers the Connect Home (which offers speeds up up to 866 Mbps/5GHz and 400 Mbps/2.4GHz), or the Connect Home Pro (1733 Mbps/5GHz and 800 Mbps/2.4GHz).
as well as the Connect Home Pro
Apple's smart speaker sounds fantastic, thanks to its multitude of speakers and microphones, which automatically tune the HomePod to whatever room it's in. However, Siri can't do nearly as much as Alexa and Google Assistant, and HomeKit lags when it comes to smart home device integration.
Slim and sleek, Wink's second-generation smart home hub connects to a large number of smart home gadgets: Alexa, Google Home, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Lutron Clear Connect, and Kidde devices. It will also connect to Bluetooth LE, and has built-in support for Google's Thread interface. Plus, Wink added a more powerful processor, eight times the amount of memory, as well as 5GHz Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port. As with the original Wink Hub, the Hub 2's intuitive interface is good for those dipping their toes into smart homes, but power users may be put off by its lack of advanced features.