Today I want to clear up some confusion surrounding smart home hubs and home automation. People keep telling me I don’t need to have a smart home hub in order to have a smart home.
While this is true in order to operate certain smart home devices you might want to read all the way through this article to get a better understanding of smart hubs and how they work.
I’ll be digging a little bit deeper into the matter, which smart hubs are best, and what their best features and benefits are.
What Is A Smart Home Hub?
The word “hub” can be rather confusing when you use it in the smart home world. What people really should be saying is “home automation controller” in some cases.
It’s a little bit confusing because a smart home hub actually refers to a device that is a central communication point between all of your smart home devices. A smart hub basically incorporates various communication technologies like Z-Wave or Samsung SmartThings for example and therefore acts as a hub which is a way for various technologies to be connected together.
For example, the Philips Hue has its own smart hub. It uses Zigbee to communicate and acts as a hub for the lights that it controls. But by itself is not a home automation hub that can control other devices within your home. It only controls the lights. Make sense?
Do I Need A Smart Home Hub?
So if you want to know if you need a smart home hub the short answer is Yes. That is if you are building a complete smart home you will need some sort of smart home hub that allows all of your devices to work together coherently.
Sometimes you don’t need a smart home hub. For example, if you are only planning on making your lights smart by using Philips Hue, then maybe it makes sense that you just use the hub that comes with the Philips Hue starter kit. So really, you are the only person that can answer the question, because it is totally dependent on what your intentions are at the end of the day.
Either way, you can always add on a smart home hub later on. But I usually recommend to friends that they should start with a smart hub and find compatible items that will work with that smart hub.
There are a couple of different camps when it comes to smart home automation though.
The Thrifty Smart Home
The first camp has money in mind. They are trying to build a smart home based on their need right now. They do not care about what smart home devices they might be buying down the road.
I have found that typically it’s because they either don’t have a ton of money to dump into a new smart home, or they don’t have the bandwidth to install all of that stuff at once. They also do not care that each device will come with its own proprietary app.
An example of this is if someone wanted to buy smart home lighting. So they just out of the blue went out and bought a Philips Hue starter kit. Sure, it comes with its own hub, and it’s own app. You are connecting the hub directly to your router and that’s the end of it. There really isn’t anything to worry about if that is all you plan on doing though as you can implement a hub later on.
The Planners Smart Home
This camp is filled with people who want and desire nothing else but to eventually automate their home as much as they can. Don’t get me wrong, they may be thrifty as well, just not as thrifty as some others. Not only that but they typically have the bigger picture in mind. They are always thinking of the next thing that they want to automate.
Are you thinking about how you can automate your blinds to go up and down when you aren’t at home? Are you also thinking about automating your thermostats, garage door opener, or maybe even automating a ceiling fan? Then you probably fall into this camp. Especially if you have the disposable income that will allow you to achieve this in a fashionable manner.
These are the people that really should start with a smart hub in my opinion. Yes, you can have an Amazon Echo or Google Home do voice automation. But you really should have something running the show behind the scenes like a Samsung SmartThings Hub or a Wink Hub.
The IFTTT Camp
I do find that there is technically a third party of people out there who say that you can run all of your hubless devices through IFTTT, aka. “If this then that”. This is an app that allows you to tell one thing to do something if another device does something else. It definitely is a growing community and is compatible with a wide array of devices.
While I like IFTTT, and I have seen it do some nice things, it is very limited when it comes to advanced options. It is very easy to set up IFTTT to turn on the lights when your Ring doorbell picks up on motion. Where it becomes difficult is making it happen only the specific times you want it to. While hubs can make it very easy to set up multiple sets of conditions. For example, if it picks up on motion, between 10PM and 5AM.
I don’t know anyone who would want to set up their outside light to turn on every single time they come up the driveway. So maybe that example was a little extreme, but that is the limitation of relying on IFTTT.
But now let’s get into some of the best smart home hubs on the market and go over some of their features and benefits.
Smart Home Speakers and Assistants
Some might not consider smart speakers or smart assistants to be optimal since you are rather limited on what they can do and not do.
We are now in the second generation and going into the third generation of Amazon Echo devices. We’ll start off here since it can be pretty tricky because they have a lot of devices floating around in the market right now
Echo devices allow you to use your voice to ask questions. You can use multiple echo smart hubs as a home intercom system. You can control your Amazon Fire TV device with your voice or you can even do multi-room or whole home music set up.
When you have more than one echo device and it’s linked with a third-party home automation hub like Philips Hue, you can use your voice to control lights and other devices. That’s actually how we originally caught the smart home bug in our home.
Basically, the Echo and the Echo Dot utilize voice control, where the Echo Spot and Echo Show utilize both voice and video. The Echo Plus is the exception to the rule in smart speakers as it actually has implemented a Zigbee Hub right into the device. Therefore making it more of a real smart hub than any of the other smart voice assistants on the market.
After Amazon’s Echo product line came Google Home’s product line. Including the Google Home, Google Home Mini and Google Home Max. Basically, they have the same functionality as the Amazon Echo devices. With the exception that you have Google’s smart assistant technology backing up the entire service instead of Amazon Alexa.
With that said, some might consider these devices as being a tad smarter due to the fact that they actually use Google to get your answers. Where Alexa would possibly use Wikipedia or other specific sources to pull information. However, the Amazon Echo Plus is the clear winner in this category due to it’s ability to implement within the Zigbee realm of devices.
Samsung SmartThings V3 Hub
Samsung SmartThings has really amped up its game over the last few years moving into the Samsung SmarThings V3 hub that I recently reviewed.
The Samsung SmartThings hub is probably the most versatile smart hub on the market today. Because it is compatible with both Z-wave and Zigbee devices it works with a large array of smart home devices. The first time I set up a SmartThings hub it took some figuring out to get where I wanted to go. But once it’s set up it works seamlessly.
There is a more effective way to implement this technology into your smart home though. If you buy the Samsung Connect Home mesh router, it technically doubles as both a smart home hub and a router. The best part is, you can buy extra connect home boxes and put them all throughout your home or office, making the entire set up way more powerful.
Worth noting is that you could actually bypass all of this and just pick up a Samsung Connect Home Pro which is everything you would need for both your wifi and smart home hub needs all in one box.
Another feature that I love about the SmartThings hub is that it works with both Google Home and Alexa for voice control. You can also use it with IFTTT and you can use that to get around some of the troubled waters that are presented as the SmartThings doesn’t integrate with Apple HomeKit or Nest.
The new Samsung Connect App is really slick and offers a way to control everything in your home right from your smartphone.
The only downside to the SmartThings hub is that it takes some work to get it set up and isn’t necessarily for someone who is afraid to dive into a tech-savvy project. It’s certainly usable for the less tech literate, but it needs a little bit of learning.
However, you should know that Samsung offers several of its own smart home devices and sensors that can be tied in, which I also mentioned in my review of their hub.
If you are interested in looking further into the Samsung SmartThings hub or more reviews on the product, make sure you check it out over here on Amazon.
Wink Hub 2
The Wink Hub is not much different from the aforementioned SmartThings. However, Wink’s smart home hub works with an incredible amount of different standards, which in turn gives you one of the complete smart hub experiences you will find on the market.
It works with IFTTT, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, Lutron’s Clear Connect and Google’s Thread interface, and it also supports Nest, Sonos, Alexa, Google Assistant, Philips Hue, and Honeywell.
However, it does not support Lifx, Belkin, D-Link just to name a few. Since it works with IFTTT, Google Home and Amazon Alexa there are always workarounds though. Wink also has an incredible amount of community support, with folks who have already done that and been there too, which helps.
Adding devices to the Wink app is too easy. Certain devices like my Sonos will just show up if they are on the same network, whereas somethings just require you to link your accounts. Like the Samsung SmartThings Wink also has its own range of sensors, bulbs, and devices if you want to keep things “all in the family”.
If you would like to find out more about the Wink smart home hub then I would suggest checking out the reviews over here on Amazon before buying.
I probably could have made this article a lot longer. But in the end, while I find IFTTT an interesting way to control things, I do not find it effective enough for me to use it with my devices by itself and have heard the same from many other people.
If you are someone who has a couple of devices with their own hub and If both of those devices were supported by IFTTT then you might be able to get by just fine.
But if you are someone who wants to have more of a complete smart home, then you should consider buying a smart home hub of some sort.
Personally, I am seeing more of a shift into all in one types of devices, where Mesh Wifi Networks are adding in their own version of a smart hub and I believe that will be the way of the future as more and more companies model their mesh networks after the SmartThings.
Make sure you check out my recommended tools page before you leave and see what else you may need for your smart home.