Smart home devices are insanely popular now: it seems like every tech company has their own sensor, thermostat or light switch. But with all of these different devices built by different companies, you need something to tie them all together. This is where a smart hub comes into play.
Being able to turn your lights on and off from your phone while sitting on the couch literally feels like the future because it is the future!
But turning your lights on and off isn’t even the best part. The best part is when your house turns your lights on, heats your house, starts playing music and unlocks your door for you as soon as you get home – all automatically.
And for that, you need a smart hub.
What is a smart hub?
The smart hub is the brain of your smart home. The smart hub connects all of your individual devices and lets them talk to each other and talk to you.
A smart hub lets you control your connected thermostats, lights, switches, outlets, locks, security cameras and more from one central place – typically your phone.
One of the most common uses for a smart hub is automation: a smart hub makes it possible to automate multiple devices at the same time.
Do I really need a smart hub? How can a smart hub automate my life?
If you want to have a smart home, you definitely need a smart hub – especially if you have multiple smart devices in your house. While every smart hub is a little different, they all can do the same things:
- Smart hubs react to your location. Your smart hub makes it possible for your front door to unlock as soon as you pull into your driveway. Or it can automatically lock the doors behind you as you leave.
- Smart hubs react to the environment. Your smart hub can turn your garden lights on automatically as the sun goes down. Or it can turn off your porch light as soon as the sun comes up.
- Smart hubs react to you. Your smart hub can chain multiple actions together for commonly used actions, like turning on your TV, dimming the lights and lowering the shades – all with one button press.
- Smart hubs react to your devices. Your smart hub can identify a water leak, shut off the water to your house, and send you an alert.
How do I pick the right smart hub?
Picking the wrong smart hub will be more annoying than anything! The smart hub itself doesn’t do anything directly, so it relies on you having expensive smart devices already installed in your house.
The smart hub exists to make your life easier, and it does this by connecting all of your smart devices together. So, picking a hub that works with all (or most) of your devices makes your smart home that much smarter.
What good is that smart thermostat, smart door lock or smart light if they’re actually a pain to use? You’ll want to choose a smart hub that works with all of your devices, as well as any planned devices down the road.
When choosing the smart hub to power your connected home, consider a few things:
- What (if any) smart devices do you already have installed? Check that the smart hub works with any devices you already have installed. Some manufacturers have a list of supported devices or protocols on their website, but they’re difficult to understand. (We’re working on a device catalog that should make this easier – we’ll email you when it’s ready.)
- What kind of phone do you have? One of the best features of a connected home is the ability to control it from anywhere. Smart hub manufacturers know this, so they designed the top selling smart hubs to be controlled via an app installed on your phone. Consider what kind of phone you have, and make sure that your smart hub has a well reviewed app for it. If you have an iPhone or a relatively new Android phone, you’re probably fine.
- What hub will still be around next year? This is arguably the hardest since you can’t read the future (and if you can, please email me). Designing a smart home around a hub that’s no longer supported would be a huge bummer, not to mention a huge waste of money.
What is the best smart hub?
Buying the right hub for the smartest home is hard, and I know that you’re not reading this article for me to tell you that “it depends”.
However, it actually depends. (I’m sorry!)
I’m working on creating a wizard to help you choose the best hub for your home (sign up here and I’ll email you when it’s ready). But until that’s finished, it wouldn’t be fair to leave you without some suggestions.
Since I don’t know the specifics of your house and your setup, here are the three most promising smart hubs on the market today. I would buy any of these for my home without thinking twice:
Samsung SmartThings Hub – $75 (Read Reviews on Amazon)
- Supported Devices: This is the most popular consumer hub on the market today, and for good reason. Lots of developers support the SmartThings ecosystem, and the ST hub supports most smart home protocols. Additionally, Amazon sells SmartThings-branded sensors for doors, water, and more.
- Controlling it: The SmartThings hub works with every phone out there, and has apps for iOS, Android and even Windows Phone. Plus, it works with Amazon Alexa so you can control it with your voice.
- Obscurity Score: Samsung SmartThings isn’t going anywhere. This is the hub dujour for connected home connoisseurs. The software is updated frequently, and the system is being actively developed for by Samsung. SmartThings also has an active developer community, so even if Samsung doesn’t directly support something, there is a huge community of developers who probably have a plugin built.
Wink Hub 2 – $99 (Read reviews on Amazon)
- Supported Devices: The Wink Hub is another extremely popular hub, and it’s recently been updated with a version 2. The Wink Hub 2 can support up to 530 devices on one hub, so you’ll never need to worry about outgrowing this hub. The Wink Hub 2 supports bluetooth devices, as well as devices that work on z-wave, zigbee and Clear Connect.
- Controlling it: The Wink Hub 2 is compatible with HomeKit (with a plugin) and Amazon Alexa. The Wink Hub 2 has iOS and Android apps for managing your home from your phone.
- Obscurity Score: This is a brand new version of one of the most popular smart hubs, so it’s unlikely going to disappear anytime soon. The previous generation even 1000+ great reviews on Amazon. People love the Wink Hub.
Amazon Echo – $180 (Read Reviews on Amazon)
- Supported Devices: The smash hit of the 2016 holiday season was Amazon’s smart speaker, the Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot and Amazon Tap. Each smart speaker also includes Amazon’s digital assistant, called Alexa. In addition to telling you the weather or helping order a new Crock Pot, Alexa can act as a smart hub for your home. Alexa currently offers support for the most popular devices manufactured by WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, and Nest.
- Controlling it: Neither the Echo, Dot or Tap has a screen at all – you control it entirely with your voice. While this feels very futuristic, it means you can’t control it from outside or silently from your phone.
- Obscurity Score: The Dot had a record-breaking holiday sales season and is getting great reviews. This will be around for a while.
How do I install my smart hub?
Now that you’ve picked the smart hub for your home, it’s time to set it up.
The smart hub is typically a small box that sits near your internet router. It usually requires an ethernet cable to connect to your network, and a power cable for electricity.
Installing your smart hub is typically as easy as:
- Plug the ethernet cable into the back of your hub and the back of your router
- Plug your hub into the electrical outlet in the wall
- Open the hub app on your phone
From that point, the app will walk you through the process of connecting all of your smart devices to your new hub network.
It’s really that easy. If you’ve ever set up a wireless router, you can certainly set up a new smart hub. And even if you haven’t set up a router before, I suggest trying to install your smart hub yourself, anyways. Manufacturers these days are making it easier to get connected devices set up right from your phone or tablet.
So, what now?
If you haven’t already, get yourself a smart device for your house. You could start with something simple – like a Phillips Hue bulb for less than $30.
Then, grab yourself a smart hub using the guide above and let me know how you like it.