Best Smart Home Automation Hubs Buyers Guide 2017

 

If you feel like your smart home may be smarter than you, you aren’t alone. With so many smart home devices that can control everything from your kitchen appliances to your door locks, it can feel like technology is taking over.

But in reality, devices are just pawns, governed by a powerful smart home hub. You set the rules, and your smart home hub enforces them. Which still makes you the leader of your smart home, at least for now.

One smart home hub to rule them all…

You have a smart camera, doorbell, and thermostat but can they talk to one another? Maybe the thermostat and the doorbell can, but not the home security camera. Which means you have to manage the camera separately because it has no idea what the doorbell is doing.

That is where the smart hub comes in. It allows all of your devices connect with one another, and it manages what they do all in one centralized location. While the hub is the manager, you are the one in charge of what they do.

You can set rules that turn your lights off or on or you can set geofencing to open the door when it senses you are in the set zone. Geofencing sets parameters, and if you are within the set zone, your smart door lock, or doorbell can send an alert that lets your lights know its time to come on.

You can also set rules to turn the television on or point the security camera in a certain direction to make sure your dog doesn’t have the refrigerator door open.

But none of this futuristic awesomeness happens without a smart hub. The most commonly known smart home hubs come from Amazon, but with huge new players like Samsung, Apple and Google the market is expanding quickly.

So that begs us to ask, which smart home hub is best?

Best Smart Home Security Hubs

There can be a lot of confusion around the smart home industry as a whole. It’s still a young industry, but it’s a young industry that has been saddled with the burden of almost immediate success. It is easier than ever to come up with an idea for a smart device, and then have that device crowdfunded. Which often leads to super smart people having great ideas, but no experience in how to manage their newly found businesses.

And while new devices and ideas are awesome, they are also prone to issues. Untested and unproven a lot of the crowdfunded smart home devices fail. So like new devices, smart home hubs have still some growing up to do.

Understanding Common Terms

When I first started writing about smart home technology, I couldn’t tell ZigBee from Z-Wave. With so many new names and terms, it can get confusing at times to know what connects with what and how different devices work together.

We have put together some of the common language used in the smart home world. If these terms aren’t new to you, that’s awesome. If theses aren’t terms you know, you will soon be able to speak fluent smart home.

  • Hub: a device that connects to all of the smart devices that you own, and creates a centralized place where you can manage each device and create rules for how your devices interact.
  • Smart Device: an electronic device that can connect to other devices or networks using wireless protocols that include Wi-FI, Bluetooth, and 5G.
  • Home Automation: connecting a variety of devices in your home to work together harmoniously to allow you to manage your device to provide a higher quality of security, energy efficiency, and comfort to build a better way of life.
  • Smart Home: Any home that is equipped with at least one smart device.
  • Bluetooth: a communications protocol that allows you to send data when you are near the device you are using.
  • Bluetooth LE: Bluetooth Low Energy runs on a lower level of power, which allows the user to save energy. Bluetooth LE is common in smart thermostats and appliances that do not use large amounts of data.
  • ZigBee: an IEEE 802.15 specification for low-power, low bandwidth wireless local area networks.
  • Z-Wave: a protocol for home automation devices that allows communication

Smart Home Hub Reviews

Insteon 2245-222 Central Controller Hub

If you are new to smart home devices, Insteon is an easy way to get your footing. Insteon’s hub is a breeze to install, and simple to use it is also free of monthly fees. You can pick up the Insteon Starter Kit at Best Buy. Once you have it installed you can use its free smartphone app to begin your journey to building your dream smart home.

Now, when we say starter kit, we mean a hub and two LampLinc dimmers. But before you start thinking that your smart home dreams have capsized, it’s important to know what while the Insteon hub starts small, you can easily grow it into a solid home automation system. So take a moment to be underwhelmed, and then move on to the other cool things this hub can do.

You can add additional Insteon devices like thermostats, motion sensors, and front door sensors. They also have a decent leak sensor, which can alert you to a small leak before it floods your house. This hub also works with other smart devices like Amazon Echo and Nest Learning thermostat, which makes it a great option to build a robust home automation and security system.

Additional Features

The Insteon hub has made some improvements and it now can be considered a viable solution for your smart home security devices. Some of the upgrades include Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatibility, as well as Android, iOS, Apple Watch and Windows app. They also have a larger range that is 250 feet, and you can get instant push and email notifications.

PROS:
  • Works with a wide range of smart home devices
  • Provides push and email notifications
  • Allows you to create schedules to manage devices
  • Updated mobile app makes it easier to control devices

CONS:
  • Hub is best for very basic home automation systems
  • Doesn’t support Z-Wave or ZigBee devices

Logitech Harmony Home Companion

When I think of Logitech, I think of keyboards, mice, and universal remotes. So it came as quite a surprise to know that they had a home automation hub tucked into a universal remote. The Logitech Harmony lets you control all of your device using their Elite remote. You can also add on the Harmony Hub should you miss having a hub.

The Logitech Harmony lets you control all of your device using their Elite remote. You can also add on the Harmony Hub should you miss having a hub.

The Harmony Hub will turn your smartphone or tablet into a universal remote that allows you to control all of your entertainment and smart home devices from their app. You can even control your devices when you are away from home.

It is a decent hub when it comes to controlling your home theater, but something about the Harmony feels undone. The Harmony is supposed to be compatible with over 250,000 devices that are sold by a variety of smart home device companies. But sometimes adding too much can end up with a hub that is confused and not focused on the devices that matter.

As a hub that works with just about everything, the Harmony Hub does have a lot to offer. The remote makes it easy to control connected home devices like your lights, home security devices and the temperature of your home.

If you were waiting for the day you could manage everything in your home with a remote; you are much much closer to that reality now. The Harmony Hub is small enough to be placed on a shelf or even in a cabinet. It connects to your Wi-Fi network, and links to your Wi-Fi enabled smart home devices. Logitech is always working on the customer experience, and as they put out new versions, the setup process should get easier.

The Elite remote has a micro USB port that allows you to connect to a laptop or PC to complete the setup process. But you can also complete the setup using the iOS or Android apps. Depending on the number of devices you want to connect and create rules for, you may want to set aside a little bit of time too get everything added.

The Harmony refers to rules as “activities” these activities allow you to set a sequence of commands that tell the devices what to do. You can create activities for your television, lighting, temperature a slew of other smart devices that connect to the hub.

Additional Features

One upgraded feature that we like is the upgrade that makes the app easier to use.  The interface now makes it easier to add and set activities for all of your Wi-Fi connected devices. You can now see the devices that have activities, and you can and access them by swiping.

Another improvement has also made it easier to manage devices from the Elite remote. You can now use buttons on the remote to do everything from turning your coffee pot on to turning your lights off when you are watching a movie.

PROS:
  • They have improved the setup process to make it easier
  • Updates to the interface allow you to add activities and manage them with ease
  • The Elite remote has added buttons to allow you to control more smart home devices
  • The Harmony Hub can work with over 250,000 devices

CONS:
  • Adding too many devices can make managing them all a bit confusing

Wink Hub 2

Buying smart home security devices is just the start of building a home security system. You also need a way to connect your devices that allow you to manage them from one centralized hub. But adding a smart home hub can some times be expensive and labor intensive.

But not with the Wink Hub 2. This reasonably priced hub ($99) allows you to control your smart devices using an Android or iOS app.

If you thought that the first version of the Wink looked more like a router than a hub, you were right, but the Wink 2 is a pleasant surprise. It no longers just lays there on the shelf, it has been redesigned into an elegant vertical hub that will easily fit anywhere you want it to go.  It also has both a Wi-FI and Ethernet connection option, so should you want to connect it with an Ethernet, you can.

Setting up your Wink 2 is a fairly simple process. You just need to connect the power and the Ethernet cable. Next, you download the iOS or Android app and follow the steps. Once you have completed the setup process, you can connect the Wink 2 to your Wi-Fi if you want to.

Once you are all set up you can link your smart devices accounts in the Wink app.  One downside is that any rules you have set for those devices will not work in the Wink app.  After you have connected your account, you should get a notification on the device app to complete the linking process.

Some devices may require extra steps in the setup process, but overall the setup and connection process is not too complicated. Once you have your devices connected, you can create “Robots” that allow you to set actions for each device. So while Wink 2 doesn’t carry over rules, they let you create new ones using the Robot option.

Additional Features

One nice thing about the Wink 2 is how well it plays with other smart home devices and protocols like ZigBee and Z-Wave. Wink 2 supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Lutron Clear Connect, Google Thread, and Kidde. It also works with several Nest products including the Nest thermostat, smoke detector, and the Nest Cam.

PROS:
  • They have improved the setup process to make it easier
  • Works with more devices than before
  • Connects with a wide range of protocols and smart home devices
  • Updated app is easier to use

CONS:
  • Wink 2 doesn’t import device rules from the smart device’s account
  • Not all device features work on the Wink 2

Samsung SmartThings Hub

Every company has challenges getting new products to work they way they are supposed to. Even well-known companies like Samsung can struggle with new devices. Following a lackluster response to the first generation of the SmartThings Hub, they are rolling out the 2nd generation of their SmartThings Hub.

The new version comes loaded with additional features and now allows users to connects with the cloud. One thing that is a nice surprise is that despite all of the shiny new options, the price has remained at a very affordable $99. The 2nd gen has also added some needed improvements to the design of the hub. Less boxy, it looks more current and less like it was rolled out in 1990.

Glammed up and ready to mingle it now connects to Amazon Echo, so now you can use voice commands to manage the majority of your devices. So now you can set your temperature, change the lighting, or start a movie just by asking.

The SmartThings Hub 2 also includes a battery back-up that can keep your devices working for you to ten hours. Other new additions include redesigned sensors to make them smaller and easier to place, which is nice. And it also has upped its power game and resolved one of the biggest complaints about the first gen hub.

It has kept its support of Z-Wave and ZigBee protocols and Wi-Fi connected devices. There are also a few other things that are a welcome addition; first, the hub now supports 2 USB ports and Bluetooth. The Bluetooth isn’t active yet, but that it is included speaks of good things to come.

Another interesting improvement is the addition of professional monitoring option. You can now add a month to month professional home security monitoring option through a partnership with Scout. The rate for the monitoring will be $19.99 and provide you with 24/7 monitoring.

Additional Features

The new app, which is better but still not great, has a new dashboard that comes with a Smart Home Monitor option. It allows you to set up rules that you can attach to various devices to allow you to monitor what is happening in your home from your smartphone.

You can also manage your alarm system from the app; you can arm and disarm from anywhere now. And now checking the status of your connected devices is just a swipe away. So now you can know what is working and what isn’t when you are away.

Another added benefit with the 2nd gen SmartThings dashboard is the way it works with connected security cameras. The dashboard now has extra features like buffering video so you can see what happens before and after an event takes place. They also support security cameras from D-Link and Samsung.

One thing I find odd is that they don’t support the new Scout camera through the partnership they have with them. But perhaps monitoring is just the beginning, and we will see a more robust partnership with Scout shortly.

PROS:
  • New battery backup for 10 hours of connection in a power outage
  • Supports ZigBee and Z-Wave protocols and other smat devices
  • Adds new professionally home security monitoring through partnership with Scout
  • New enhancement to connected to security cameras that include buffering

CONS:
  • Despite some improvements to the mobile app, it still needs more
  • Still relies on ethernet to fully control some devices

Google Home

What doesn’t Google do?  As of late, its seems Google is everywhere, with the acquisition of Nest and YouTube, Google continues to grow more powerful almost every day. And now with Google Home, it has jumped into the Smart Home assistant realm.

Given how Google operates it only makes sense that the internet giant has one of the better smart home hubs around. Google Home is similar to Amazon’s Echo; each provides a wireless hub that allows you to connect smart home devices that you can then control by using voice commands.

Unlike some of the traditional hubs, like SmartThings, Google Home has the added convenience of being able just to say what you want your devices to do. It is easy to set up and only takes about 15 minutes to get things going.

Once you have the app installed, you can use the app to connect to all of the wireless devices to your home network. Depending on your Wi-Fi speeds and how many devices you need to connect this process usually takes no longer than five minutes.

When you have completed adding all of your devices you can use the Home Hub to control them. With Nest devices, it’s easy since Google owns them, but you can also connect devices from SmartThings, Phillips and other providers.

If you want to create rules for the connected devices, you can use IFTTT to create them. Once you have your rules in place, you can use voice commands to tell Google Home what to do.

Additional Features

Google Home also has some additional features that make your life easier. It connects to Google Assistant, which means it knows what is on your Google Calendar and when you have unread emails in your inbox. You can also use the hub to set reminders to tell you when your mom emails you (to either answer or avoid her) and tell you when your hair appointment is scheduled.

While most home automation hubs can manage devices, Google Home manages all of your wireless devices like a boss.  While the main command to wake Google Home up is “Okay, Google” I actually never say that. I always say “Hey Google, ” and it answers whatever random question I have.

Google benefits from being Google. Which means it has one of the most powerful web browsers around, this gives it infinite power when it comes to answering your questions. From driving directions to how to install strobe lights (if that is your thing), Google can find it.

And now they can make it easier for you to binge watch cat videos on YouTube.

 

PROS:
  • Easy setup for wireless devices
  • Uses Google Assistant which manages your calendar and email using voice commands
  • Can provide useful information when asked
  • The speaker is high quality for a reasonable price

CONS:
  • Response times can be slow
  • If you ask for a joke, you will get a bad one

Amazon Echo

Not all smart home hubs are the same, so before you dismiss the Amazon Echo as more of a voice assistant than a truly smart home device manager, you may want to take a second look. Much like Google Home, Amazon Echo, with a little help from Alexa, is also a smart home managing digital assistant.

What makes the Echo different than other voice assistants isn’t about Alexa, it’s about the convenience Alexa adds. And unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Amazon sells everything. From facial cleansers to automotive parts, you can find pretty much anything and everything on Amazon.

And only one smart home hub voice assisting device can get you everything you want without opening your wallet or going to a website. The Echo and it’s smaller less expensive sibling Dot, lets you buy things just by telling Alexa what you want to buy.

It is the buying power behind the Echo that makes it different from other smart home hubs. While both Google Home and Echo have an edge on some of their silent smart home hub competitors, Amazon not only manages all of your smart home devices, it makes it easier to buy more of them.

While Amazon Echo has native compatibility with some devices, others may require a little help to pair with the Echo. Other smart home hubs like Wink 2 or SmartThings can bridge the gap if there are pairing issues.

Additional Features

Obviously,  the biggest draw for the Amazon Echo is Alexa, she can call an Uber or order a pizza, and that is all both wonderful and amazing. But there are some other things that your Echo can do; it can control your lights, and the temperature in your home, and it even works with home security systems like Scout and Vivint.

PROS:
  • Easy set up for some smart home devices
  • Can pair with other smart home hubs to add additional devices
  • Allows you to manage your smart home using voice commands
  • The speaker is high quality for a reasonable price

CONS:
  • While the Echo has some native pairing options, others require the assistance of other smart home hubs

Our Favorite Smart Home Automation Hub

Samsung SmartThings Hub

 

We love all things smart home automation here. That is why we choose the SmartThings Hub as our favorite hub. It supports DIY, for those of us who are tech savvy, and it has a price that is friendly to every budget. We want everyone one to have a fully automated smart home, and the SmartThings Hub can help us accomplish our goal.

By making a Smart Hub that allows you to pair devices with ease, it makes smart home automation available to everyone. It also makes setting up a smart home security system less stressful by providing a Home Monitoring Kit. The kit includes the sensors and security monitoring that helps you to start beefing up your home security.

SmartThings also has the most potential when it comes to adding new protocols and devices. It can already boast that it works with Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Nest and Amazon Echo. And now through the acquisition of Nest by Google, is works with Google as well. That gives consumers the ability to choose devices they like, rather than ones that connect with their hub.

So for all of these reasons, SmartThings Hub is our preferred smart home hub. Yes, I know I have Google Home, but now it plays well with SmartThings too, so I am already planning my own home automation expansion!

Why Everyone Needs a Smart Home Automation System

Smart home automation isn’t just about making your life more convenient although that is a terrific benefit of owning smart home devices. Home automation also keeps your homes and families safe. Adding a security system that can quickly identify and report a break-in as it happens even when you aren’t home is just one of the reasons to build a smart home.

You can also control the temperature in your house; you can set it to raise or lower the temperature when you leave the house, and then do the opposite when your smart lock notices you are walking up to your door. The result is that you use less energy when you aren’t home.

Beyond just being cool, home automation gives us more control over our homes and security. And while I still feel amazed when I ask Google to start a movie, and it does it. It is even more impressive to know that your home is always safe, even when you aren’t there. But your cat will still be mad that you were gone “forever” so you may want to buy some treats before you come home.

 

Jennifer Kelley is an author and technology blogger. She feels weird writing about herself in the third person, but does so when asked. A graduate of The Ohio State University she is a dedicated football fan and a total dork who loves all things written. You can follow her on twitter @theonlyjen

Home Security List