Best Smart Home Hubs for 2021

Once the fantasy of every sci-fi enthusiast, automated technology is no longer a pipe dream created by the imaginations of television scriptwriters. Smart home technology is real, here and affordable. The convenience and value of smart homes are indisputable. They are customizable, and some smart devices like thermostats and lights can even save on power bills in the long run.

Smart Home Hub Buyer's Guide

Even if this is your first venture into smart home technology, chances are you’ve heard of a hub. What is a smart home hub, and do you really need one? In this buyer’s guide, we answer these and other common questions about hubs and smart home automation.

We also offer ideas for devices to implement as well as provide a descriptive list of features that make for a great smart home hub.

Smart Home Hub | Recommended


Last update on 2021-08-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What Is a Smart Home?

There is no strict set of parameters that define a smart home. In fact, the term “smart home” can be used to describe a house with a virtual assistant that responds to voice commands “play my playlist.”

On the other end of the spectrum, a smart home can be a house that’s packed full of automated and semi-automated technology like locks and lights that communicates via a single wireless protocol. (For more information about wireless protocols, look at the “What Is a Wireless Protocol” FAQ).


This website is supported by readers. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


What Is a Smart Home Hub?

No matter how many smart devices are in a home, it’s the hub that coordinates them all. A smart home hub, also referred to as a bridge or a controller, is a device through which all the automated appliances and electronics in a home communicate.

By using an app on a smartphone or a web-based interface on a PC that’s linked to the hub, you can access and control every gadget in his house. Some smart home hubs are dedicated hubs while other devices like smart speakers can act as hubs. Either way, the hub makes it easier and more efficient for you to set up and operate your smart home.

What Are Some Popular Types of Smart Devices to Pair With a Hub?

From smart thermostats to smart blinds, the expanse of smart devices grows year after year. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Lights

Yep, even light bulbs are part of the Internet of Things. All smart bulbs are LED lights, which means they consume less electricity than their fluorescent and incandescent counterparts. Via either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, you can program and control these light bulbs through your smartphone.

Smart Lights

Check out the Smart Lights on Amazon >>>

Doors

You can secure your home with smart locks and garage openers. Many locks automatically open when you approach, allow you to issue one-time access codes, and send a notification each time someone enters your home.

Smart Locks

Check out the Smart Locks on Amazon >>>

Thermostats

Like smart bulbs, a smart thermostat offers the benefit of energy savings. One of its most convenient features is the ability a smart bulb gives you to set the temperature when you aren’t at home. Some models even respond to weather conditions.

Smart Thermostats

Check out the Smart Thermostats on Amazon >>>

Surveillance Cameras

With smart surveillance cameras, you can make sure your home is secure from your smartphone or laptop. Video doorbells are also popular. When someone pushes the doorbell button, they can talk to you through a speaker. Since the doorbell has an integrated camera, you can see exactly who you’re talking to through the intercom.

Smart Surveillance Cameras

Check out the Smart Surveillance Cameras on Amazon >>>

Smoke Detectors

Smart smoke detectors take fire safety to a new and better level. These smoke detectors not only sound an alarm but also send a push notification. That way you can be notified the moment the detector senses smoke while at work or on vacation. Smart carbon monoxide detectors are also available.

Smart Smoke Detector

Check out the Smart Smoke Detectors on Amazon >>>

How To Choose the Right Smart Home Hub

Out of all the components that make up a smart home, the hub has one of the biggest jobs (if not the biggest job). It must control and manage communications between multiple devices. In some homes, the number of devices can add up to dozens.

There are numerous options as far as hubs are concerned. No one brand or model is the be-all and end-all of smart home hubs. However, some hubs are designed better than others. Here’s what to look for when choosing a hub for your smart home setup.

The 12 Best Smart Hubs

The Setup Process

No matter your level of technical know-how, you don’t want a smart home hub that’s a pain to set up. With some hubs, all you need to do is plug it in and let the hub do the pairing. With other hubs, you must log into each device’s interface, pairing them to the hub one by one.

Device Brand Compatibility

The more seamless the compatibility, the better, especially when dealing with a lot of smart devices. If you already have devices ready and waiting, you’ll want the hub to be compatible with the brands of your devices.

If you’re buying a hub first, you’ll have more device options by selecting a hub that works with many brands.

Wireless Protocol Compatibility

Like device brand compatibility, wireless protocol compatibility is crucial to seamless communication between devices. The wireless protocol, or protocols, used among your devices doesn’t necessarily have to match the protocol used by the hub.

Ideally, the hub should be compatible with your devices’ protocols. There are ways around compatibility issues; however, those ways require a bridge or an additional hub.

Ongoing Costs

You’re ready to buy a smart home hub. Your budget is set, and you start browsing within the confines of that budget. When you find a hub you like, make sure you read all of its specs. Some hub manufacturers require that you purchase a monthly subscription. If you’re not prepared to shoulder that ongoing cost, move on to another hub.

Router Combos

Most people already have a Wi-Fi network in place. If you don’t, there are some smart home hubs that also act as a router. However, setting up a hub-router combo is extra work than a regular hub.

What is smart home hub (home automation hub)

Exterior Design

Perhaps not the most important shopping point to consider, but aesthetic qualities are a factor for some people. Smart home hubs come in a variety of shapes from cylinders to boxes. White, black and gray are popular, but not a definitive list of, finishes.

If you’re particular about design, chances are you’ll find a hub that’s pleasing to your eye.

Temperature Sensors

This is a fairly new feature for smart home hubs, but a select few models are equipped with a temperature sensor. A built-in temp sensor will likely appeal to you if a thermostat is part of your smart home setup.

This technology allows the hub to lower or raise the thermostat according to the temperature the hub detects.

The App

The app associated with the hub is worth a hard look. Since you will use the app to monitor and control the hub, you want the app to be well-designed. This means the layout should be clean, its response should be intuitive, and the app should be easy to navigate without a steep learning curve.

Best Smart Home Hub

Voice Control Capabilities

Voice recognition is not a necessity. If it is a feature you want, be aware that not every smart home hub has this capability. Additionally, those that do offer voice assistance vary in terms of capabilities. Some are able to carry out a complex sequence of tasks while others are more basic with their responses. You can even find some hubs that work with third-party applications.

FAQ

What Are the Benefits of Using a Smart Home Hub?

There are two major advantages to using a smart home hub. Not all smart devices operate on the same protocol. If two devices each use a different protocol, they cannot coordinate with one another. However, a smart home hub links each device, communicating with the devices in a way both understand.

Streamlined user control is another benefit to having a smart home hub. For example, let’s say you have a smart thermostat, smart light bulbs, and a smart front door lock, all of which are made by different manufacturers. Without a hub, you may need to install three apps on your phone. With a hub, there is just one app to control all the smart devices.

Smart Home Hub

Should I Use a Smart Speaker as a Hub?

The answer to this question depends on your specific needs. A smart speaker will allow you to control certain smart devices with your voice. However, the scope of a smart speaker’s functionality and as a hub and its compatibility with your devices depends on the brand and model of the speaker and your devices.

Generally, if your home automation setup consists of just a few devices, a smart speaker could work as a hub. For a complex smart home, a dedicated hub may be a better choice. Additionally, you’ll want to stick with a smart home hub if you’re someone who just feels strange issuing voice commands to a virtual assistant.

Can I Use a Hub and a Speaker Together?

Absolutely! It’s certainly possible to pair your smart speaker and hub. Doing so can broaden the range of smart devices you can control through the hub. There are even a select few smart speakers that are equipped with an integrated hub.

Why Can’t I Just Use My Smartphone?

There are situations when only using a smartphone makes sense. For example, newcomers who are testing the smart home waters with a hub-included kit would fare well just using a smartphone app.

The more devices that are added to a smart home, the more complicated the setup. Subsequently, the more apps you must install, which can get complicated quickly.

Another issue can arise if you have a full household. When you use your smartphone as a hub, you may be the only family member who can control certain smart devices. That responsibility quickly gets tiresome when you’re constantly asked to adjust the thermostat or start the coffee pot.

There is also the IFTTT route. Read below for more information about IFTTT. However, this method involves a learning curve that may overwhelm those who are new to smart home technology.

Smart Home

What Does IFTTT Mean?

IFTT is an abbreviation for If This Then That. This third-party service is akin to a hub except it’s in the cloud. To use IFTTT as a smart home hub, you choose Applets that trigger actions, such as turning on your smart light bulbs at 10:30 p.m. You can choose from premade Applets or create your own.

One downside to IFTTT is that it won’t support smart devices from companies that haven’t partnered up with the platform. Additionally, it’s difficult to customize the triggers when there is more than one parameter involved.

What Is the Internet of Things?

Chances are you’ve heard of the term called the “Internet of Things.” The Internet of Things, or IoT, is not as cryptic as the phrase leads you to believe. IoT is simply a term used to describe all devices that have an IP address, are connected to the internet and each other, and are able to be remotely accessed. IoT is a crucial component of home automation.

Best Smart Home Hubs

What Is Home Automation?

The answer to this question is not as simple as you may think. Home automation is a setup within a house where the HVAC system, the electrical system, appliances, and electronics are not only connected to the Wi-Fi network but also controllable from inside or outside of the home.

In order for home automation to occur, the devices that are connected and controllable must be completely automated. For a device to be fully automated, it must not require user intervention to operate; these devices utilize sensors for autonomous operation. Semi-automated devices like a door need a smartphone or voice assistant to work.

What Do Home Automation Devices Do?

Any smart device that’s part of an automated home network will do one of three tasks (some devices do more). The device will either detect environmental changes such as sound and temperature, respond to a change in the environment, or process incoming data.

How Does Home Automation Make the Crossover to Being “Smart?”

Of course, devices in a home automation setup will be automated. However, they cannot truly be smart unless they are connected to a control unit. This unit itself must be able to connect to the internet.

In other words, there should be an app, a software platform or a hub that gives you access to the devices for setup, monitoring or operational changes.

Is a Hub All I Need to Meet My Home Automation Goals?

While a smart home hub is important, it isn’t the only component you need to complete your home automation goals. You also need reliable internet and a strong Wi-Fi signal. If your home’s internet connection leaves something to be desired, you may run into trouble with certain smart devices such as surveillance cameras.

The Wi-Fi network in your house matters too. Weak signals can make for a device-connectivity nightmare. Sometimes, a weak Wi-Fi signal may be caused by outdated wiring or an aging router. Other times, the problem is caused by walls that block the signal between the router and the smart device. A mesh network may be a viable workaround for a subpar Wi-Fi signal.

What Is a Mesh Network?

A mesh network is a system that makes a home’s Wi-Fi network much stronger than just a router alone. In a mesh Wi-Fi network, there is the usual router and the modem to which it connects. The magic stems from the nodes. Nodes are small devices that you set up throughout your house.

The Wi-Fi nodes connect to a standard electrical outlet and operate on the same network. You simply pair them with each other to achieve a strong Wi-Fi signal from end to end of your home. If the construction of your home impedes the Wi-Fi signal, a mesh network is a worthwhile investment.

What Is a Wireless Protocol?

As you’ve learned, every smart device operates on a particular wireless protocol. You also now know that a smart home hub can allow devices with incompatible wireless protocols to communicate.

A wireless protocol is like language that a smart device uses to communicate with other devices. Two devices that operate on the same wireless protocol can understand one another. Without a wireless protocol, a smart device couldn’t function.

There is a variety of wireless protocols used by smart device manufacturers. The compatibility and functionality of these protocols are constantly changing and updating. Therefore, it’s important to plan ahead when configuring your smart home setup.

Smart Hubs

What Are the Different Wireless Protocols?

As you research and browse for smart home hubs, you’ll come across mentions of many wireless protocols, each of which offers unique advantages. Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi are two common wireless protocols.

Bluetooth LE is an excellent power saver, and it’s a great option as long as the device falls within its range. The Wi-Fi protocol makes connecting devices easy. Wi-Fi works wonderfully when enough bandwidth is available.

Z-Wave and ZigBee are two other widely used wireless protocols. Z-Wave has a far reach in terms of the number of smart devices with which it’s compatible. This wireless protocol even has a built-in mesh network to boost your home’s Wi-Fi signal.

With ZigBee, you get the benefit of low power usage. ZigBee is also a wireless mesh network. It’s easy to set up and can support over 6,000 nodes.

How Do I Get Started With My Hub?

Usually, setting up a smart home hub is easy. The process varies from model to model, and some hubs are faster to get up and running than others. The first step is connecting the hub to an electrical outlet and an Ethernet port. To get the best signal strength, put the hub in the most open area of your house if possible.

At this point, you need to sync your smart devices to the hub. Some hubs require you to sync each device manually while others detect and automate the process. Once all your devices are connected to the hub, all that’s left is installing the hub’s app on your smartphone, which gives you access to the hub’s interface.

Are Smart Home Devices Secure?

With any device connected to a Wi-Fi network, there is an inherent hacking risk. However, there are actions you can take to keep your smart home network secure. The FAQ immediately below offers methods to use that will safeguard your network.

Best Smart Home Hub Systems

How Can I Keep My Network Secure From Hackers?

There are plenty of ways you can bolster the security of your home’s Wi-Fi network, and all these measures are easy to take. Start with your router. You should not only ditch the default Wi-Fi password but also use WPA2 encryption for the password. Encrypting the password makes it harder for hackers to read the data transmitted by your local area network (your home network).

Opt for two-factor authentication whenever it’s available. This creates an extra layer to go through to access your smart devices. Two-factor authentication comes in different forms. Fingerprint recognition and a PIN code are two examples.

These are two actions you should already be taking. However, if you aren’t, now is the time. Regularly run an antivirus and malware protection program. You can set them up to run automatically, so you won’t forget and leave your network vulnerable.

Always install software updates as soon as they come available. Often, these updates close security gaps that developers have discovered in the software. If you stay current on updates, you can decrease the risk of a security breach.

Some people want more network security than password encryption and two-factor authentication. Using a VPN, or virtual private network is one such measure. A VPN changes the virtual location of your home network, preventing hackers from finding security exploits. You can also just set up another network for your smart devices that are separate from the network used for your PC.

Don’t forget your smartphone. Keep it locked down with any access key of your choosing. That’s one action people often neglect to take.

​Smart home hubs buying guide

Can I Use Any Hub With My Smart Devices?

It depends on the manufacturer that makes your smart devices. Not every device will work with any hub. Some manufacturers incorporate cross-protocol capabilities in their products. Always find out what wireless protocols a device supports before buying it.

Due to potential communication issues, we suggest that you first buy a hub before you purchase any smart devices. With this approach to building a smart home, it’s easier to make sure your hub and devices will work harmoniously.

Smart Home Hub | Recommended


Last update on 2021-08-03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


This website is supported by readers. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


If you have any questions or comments, please add them below in the comment section. Similarly, please let us know if you spot any mistakes or omissions. Thanks!


About the author

Hi I’m Alexander, founder of HouseholdMe.com and I’d like to say thank you for dropping by. Like most of you, the first thing I look at before buying something online is reviews or buying guides. By reading what other people say will help me gauge whether or not a product is good or not.  I am trying to help people find answers, solve problems, and get inspired.

Leave a Comment