Best smart home hubs 2021: Do more by picking the perfect hub

Zigbee, Z-Wave, Alexa, Google Assistant, HomeKit, SmartThings and more

Pick a perfect smart home hub
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A smart home needs a smart home hub – don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

When you’re blending smart home devices from a bunch of different manufacturers you need a home automation hub to get them all working together, and all controllable within one app.

While the demise of the smart home hub has been much talked about, the reality is a little less clear. The fact is, hubs can take many forms; you may already own a smart home hub and, in a dramatic end of season twist, you may not need to buy anything at all.

While home hubs conjure images of white boxes connected to your router, Alexa and Nest smart speakers can step in to help.

Scroll down to get clued up on the best smart home hubs, including the all-important details on exactly what they do and our in-depth reviews.

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Best smart home hubs

Here are our picks for the best smart home hub for your home. Whether you're just starting out or already committed to an ecosystem - we have the right hub for you.

Best smart home hub: Aotec SmartThings Hub

Aotec SmartThings Hub

Buy now: Amazon | £99.99

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave.

Samsung-owned SmartThings is an incredibly popular ecosystem and, although the Korean company did used to make hardware in-house, it has now shifted the SmartThings device manufacturing process to third-parties.

Now, with the Samsung-branded v3 Hub in very short supply - you'll struggle to find it on sale anywhere - people do have another option - Aeotec's SmartThings Hub is essentially the v3 but with different branding.

The latest SmartThings base is a versatile hub, supporting a broad range of devices thanks to both Zigbee and Z-Wave integration and an open approach.

There's work to be done on general usability, and the app situation needs serious finessing, but those who own a lot of kit from different manufacturers may be able to overlook these shortcomings.

SmartThings' biggest strength is its versatility: it is the most compatible hub out there and it integrates with both Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can control all your connected devices and scenes using voice.

Once it's all set up and connected, SmartThings works great. The app situation was pretty dire as there were actually two: the original SmartThings app, which has continued to be updated until very recently; and Samsung's new Connect app.

The plan is to eventually get everyone over to the latter, and it's a much nicer experience. The trouble is that die-hard SmartThings users have spent years building their automations, scenes and so on in the older app and some of these won't be transferable.

If you're coming in new, however, you can forget all about that and instead just enjoy one of the most feature rich smart home hubs that is compatible with a huge array of devices.

Its power is undeniable, and its broad interoperability can't be beat.

For more, read our complete guide to the SmartThings ecosystem and check out our reviews of the best Samsung SmartThings compatible devices.

What we love

  • Broad device support
  • Z-wave and Zigbee
  • Slimline design

What we don't love

  • Some app confusion
  • Some usability problems
  • An affordable way into the smart home

echo show 10 smart hub

Best Alexa smart home hub: Echo Show 10

Buy now: Amazon | £249

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee.

Amazon's Alexa ecosystem is finally a viable smart home system to run your entire set up on, especially since the tech giant started packing Zigbee connectivity into its smart speakers.

The Works with Alexa platform's incredible reach and array of support make it the best option for those who just want to get control of their multiple devices.

There are precious few smart home devices that don’t have an Alexa skill and Amazon’s voice assistant will easily hoover up control of your devices, the groups and scenes work like a dream, and you can use the app to control things as well as your voice.

Alexa also lets you create Routines that run based on time of day, voice commands, device-based Routines, geolocation-based routines, and Echo Button-based Routines, helping all your devices work as one.

While you can run Routines on any Echo device, the best hub to do this with is the Echo Show (the original 10-inch version or the new Echo Show 10, not the 5-inch or 8-inch models).

This is because it has Zigbee support built in, so you can ditch many of those ecosystem hubs and just use Zigbee to pair with a range of devices including the likes of Philips Hue lights, and even sensors like those from SmartThings or Ring Alarm, straight to your Show.

With sensors, Alexa becomes a much more robust smart home system, letting you create Routines that turn on the lights when you enter a room, without having to use your voice.

The (discontinued) Echo Plus speaker also has a Zigbee hub, as does the new 4th-gen Echo smart speaker, if you don't want a screen. But the screen gives you a handy interface to control your devices and view live video footage from your cameras or video doorbell, which you don't get with the Plus.

However, right now, Alexa is not quite powerful enough to truly stand alone, in the way SmartThings can. There's the fact it only supports Zigbee (no Z-Wave), but even within this Alexa is limited in exactly how much control you can wield over your connected devices, and Routines are not always totally reliable.

For tips on how to use Alexa as your smart home hub read our guide to setting up your Alexa smart home and our guide to using Alexa Routines.

What we love

  • Alexa
  • Works with practically everything
  • Simple to use and set up, for humans
  • Zigbee support (Show and Plus)
  • Show doubles as a photo frame

What we don't love

  • Routines can be unreliable
  • Alexa app is clunky
  • Zigbee Echo devices are more expensive
  • No Z-Wave

Read our full Amazon Echo Show review.

best google home hub for smart home

Best Google smart home hub: Google Nest Hub (2nd-gen)

Buy now: | £89.99

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Thread (sort of).

Google is fast catching up to Amazon's Alexa as a bona fide voice assistant-based, smart home hub, but it still lacks a few key features - most notably the ability to have smart home Routines trigger automatically.

However, you can use voice commands, touch and time to have all your gadgets respond, and there are a lot of gadgets that work with Google.

Google is also your best choice if you have Nest products such as the Nest thermostat, Nest Protect smoke alarm, Nest Hello Doorbell and Nest Secure alarm system - as Google and Nest are now one company.

While Google recently killed the Works With Nest program that allowed Nest devices to work with other smart home hubs, Nest products do still work with Alexa, but the Google Nest Hub is the better device to control them with.

Google Nest Hub's Home View, which is a top-down look at your entire smart home, gives you great touch controls for quick access to any connected lights, locks, video streams and thermostats, so no need to use voice or get your phone out if you don't want to. Plus, it's an excellent digital photo display, and integrates seamlessly with your Google calendar.

Today, Google has its Works With Google program, that lets you control thousands of smart home systems and devices through the Google Home app and Google smart speakers using Google Assistant voice commands.

You can turn off lights, adjust your thermostat, lock your door, or have all those things happen at once with a single command, using Google's Routines.

There are still a lot of limitations however, and many of those bajillion integrations are very limited. But the Google Nest Hub is a good, simple interface for managing your home and your digital life and will likely only get better.

Read our round-up of the best Google Assistant compatible devices to see if it would be a good fit for your smart home.

What we love

  • The smaller size
  • Google's Home View
  • Doubles as a photo frame when not in use
  • Cheaper than ever

What we don't love

  • No Zigbee/Z-Wave support
  • Works With Nest now dead
  • Alexa still has more compatibility

Read our full Google Nest Hub review.

best homekit smart home hub

Best HomeKit hub: Apple TV 4K

Buy now: Amazon | £139

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth.

Apple's HomeKit falls between a software hub and traditional hub; there's a small box-like device you need if you want to control your devices while you're out of the house and that runs Automations for you, but you can also just use your iPhone to control any HomeKit compatible devices.

To get the proper HomeKit experience though, you need that box, and the Apple TV is the best hub for the job, as you can use its Remote to summon Siri and it does double duty as a truly excellent set-top streaming box. There's also an ethernet port (which you don't get on the HomePod or iPad) for a more reliable connection.

There's no Zigbee or Z-Wave here, pretty much everything runs over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and you'll need separate ecosystem hubs to connect devices like Phillips Hue light and WeMo products.

However, HomeKit's ecosystem is growing and there are a lot more products now, enough to make a pretty decent set up. Plus, as HomeKit is baked into iOS, there's no confusing new system to learn to use, and you have lots of options for controlling your devices - your iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac computer, and of course Siri for voice control through any of those devices.

Setting up Automations and Scenes in HomeKit is really easy to do, and because most of the communications are locally-based (they don't have to go the cloud for processing), it's one of the snappier smart home hubs we've tested. For more on HomeKit read our guide to setting up an Apple smart home.

Bear in mind that the HomePod Mini actually trumps the older model Apple TVs as a Home Hub, thanks to packing in a Thread radio - but you don't get Ethernet for a super stable connection.

However, if you buy the new Apple TV 4K (6th-gen) model that was launched in 2021, it too packs in a Thread radio.

What we love

  • The visual HomeKit experience
  • Ethernet port
  • It's also a great 4K streaming box

What we don't love

  • HomeKit support still relatively small
  • HomePod mic is better

Read our full Apple TV 4K review.

Aqara Hub M2

Best budget Hub: Aqara Hub M2

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Zigbee.

Buy now: Amazon | £54.99

Aqara is becoming a major player the smart home space, with its low cost, high-quality devices on offer to fill every nook and cranny of your smart home.

Offering a wide range of devices, from motion sensors to smart switches, Aqara's products work with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home.

The Aqara system revolves around a Zigbee smart home hub, of which there are three, and is a decent and growing ecosystem of products. The M2 is a great option at a great price.

A Zigbee-based system, the M2 works with Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant, and can expose all of Aqara's battery-powered sensors and smart gadgets to your voice-controlled smart home system of choice (or Aqara's own in-house system and app).

Aqara hubs can accommodate up to 128 "child" devices. However, you can only add 32 "terminal" devices (battery-powered sensors, buttons), before you'll need a Relay device to add 16 more. A relay device is always powered and in the Aqara system is any wall switch with a neutral wire.

The M2 also has a speaker that can double as a siren if you choose to set up your Aqara system as a self-monitored alarm.

It also has an IR transmitter built-in, so you can use it as a replacement for any IR remote you may have for a TV, fan, or game console.

What we love

  • Works with all ecosystems
  • Affordable
  • Built in siren

What we don't love

  • Native app is clunky
  • Security system is a bit buggy

Read our full Aqara smart home review.

Smart home hubs buying guide – everything you need to know

Best professional smart home hub: Control4

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave and many more.

Buy now: | £Varies

Control4 specializes in bespoke connected systems for houses, hotels, business premises, and more, with only authorized dealers able to install and configure the setups.

It's a high-end offering that costs a lot more than kitting your house out with do-it-yourself smart home hubs we've discussed. But at the same time, Control4 offers reassurance to its customers that they're getting a best-in-class system, with a support network in place for any issues or alterations.

A Control4 system can be configured to control lighting, multi-room audio, HVAC systems, security systems, smart locks, and more. It uses the likes of Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth and is compatible with over 35,000 devices from a huge collection of brands.

Control4 is designed for people that have both serious money to spend on a high-end smart home automation hub, while at the same time have no interest in dirtying their hands building their own DIY system.

High-prices aside however, it offers its customers absolutely world-class tech in a rock-solid, expert-supported, system. If you're looking for the very best home network or a premium audio experience, Control4 has you more than covered.

What we love

  • High-end devices
  • Amazing customer service
  • Slick looking controllers
  • Evolving system

What we don't love

  • Very, very expensive
  • Locked-down system
  • Limited user configurations
  • Smart doorbell isn't great

Read our full Control4 review.

Best smart home hubs 2019: Do more by picking the perfect hub

Best smart home hub with security: Abode Iota / Essentials Gateway

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, abodeRF.

Buy now: Amazon, From £299

Abode has two versions of its security system, the Essentials Gateway (2nd gen) and the Iota - both of which have plenty of smart home bug skills thanks to 4G cellular radios, Z-wave 500 series chips, a Zigbee radio; plus six-hour battery backup and a microSD card. The Iota can works on Wi-Fi, while the Gateway needs to be connected to a router via Ethernet.

These are high-end smart security systems first and foremost, with smart home hub functions second. They're not a perfect assimilation of the two, but it’s one of the best attempts so far. The integration with Alexa and being able to trigger Alexa Routines with Abode sensors is a big step in the right direction.

It integrates with Google Nest, Philips Hue, Ecobee and Lifx, and you can connect up to 160 Zigbee and Z-Wave devices to it.

Additionally, the proprietary abodeRF radio in the Abode hubs has a range of 1,000 feet, much further than most systems we’ve tested, so even in larger houses you should be able to get a reliable connection between sensors and hub without needing a mesh network or extenders.

CUE automations, which you set in the app, are IFTTT-style automations that let you tailor the system to your lifestyle.

What we love

  • Great security system
  • CUE automations are great
  • Easy installation
  • Z-Wave and Zigbee on board

What we don't love

  • Smart home hub features play second fiddle
  • App is a little bit clunky
  • Extra security components are pricey

Read our full Abode security system review.

Other smart home hubs worth considering

The hubs listed above are our current top picks by they are by no means the only options. Here are some other models you may want to consider for your smart home setup.

Best software smart home hub

Best software-only hub: Yonomi

Yonomi is a smart home hub that works on your smartphone – both iOS and Android versions are available. It lets you to manage your smart home devices and get things working together.

Yonomi works with all the big brands – Sonos, Alexa and Google Assistant, Philips Hue, Ecobee, GE, Honeywell, Lifx, Logitech, Schlage, TP-Link, Belkin We-Mo and August… and breathe.

To get set up just download Yonomi for Android and iOS, let the app "discover" your devices and get started creating Routines that run based on time of day, sunrise/sunset, location and the actions of other smart devices - plus you can use voice to trigger Automations through Google or Alexa.

Check out our guide to Yonomi to find out more.

What does a smart home hub do?

If you have multiple smart home gadgets in your house from a variety of different manufacturers you'll want some way of making them work together - enter the smart home hub.

A good example is smart bulbs. You've somehow amassed a collection from three different manufacturers and want them all working in the same room, controlled as one - you need a smart home hub.

A smart home hub's primary purpose is to talk to the internet on behalf of all your devices, giving you the ability to control your house when you're away (over the internet).

If you want to turn your heating on from the office before you return home, or schedule your lighting when you’re on holiday, you’re going to need something to offer remote and secure access to your stuff… essentially something that has a Wi-Fi connection so it can communicate with your smartphone.

A hub works by helping your devices talk to each other, acting as a translator for all their different languages (or protocols), including Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and others.

For example, with a SmartThings hub you can set up a motion sensor by your front door that works over the Z-Wave protocol, and when it senses motion it can tell the Samsung SmartThings hub, and the SmartThings hub can tell your smart bulbs on the Zigbee protocol to turn on.

These devices can't talk directly to each other as they're small and in some cases battery-powered. Having multiple radio protocols jammed into them would make them bulky, power-hungry devices. So, instead of giant sensors and ugly smart light bulbs, one small hub packs all the radios and does all the communicating - it's like a switchboard for your home.

control4 control panel hub

How do I choose a hub?

There are three types of smart home hubs: traditional radio-packed hubs, voice-assistant hubs and software-only hubs. You may need just one type, possibly two, and if you're going all in - maybe three. Here's what each type does:

Traditional smart home hubs

Samsung SmartThings, Wink and Hubitat are hubs equipped with all the protocols and software required to suck up any device and let you control them all from one app.

While these seem like a one-stop solution to all the smart home's problems, there are a couple of issues. For example, just because you’ve gone out and invested in a Samsung SmartThings doesn’t necessarily mean you now have one hub to rule them all.

Many ecosystems (see below) only work with their own hub in place, and not all products are "supported" by every hub - even if they have the compatible radios. There are workarounds, but that's where things get complicated, which is where traditional hubs fall down in general, they have a pretty steep learning curve.

Voice Assistant Hubs

Smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are quickly becoming viable smart home hubs, in large part because they are much simpler to use. What's easier than voice?

However, these can't handle the more complex automations traditional smart home hubs tackle with ease. Instead of relying on radios to read device's protocols, smart speakers use software through their Works with Alexa and Works with the Google Assistant programs to connect your gadgets.

Once devices are under the spell of Alexa or Google, you can start taking control of them via voice, as well as Groups and Scenes. That means you can group devices and control them with a single command.

Amazon launched the Echo Plus with a Zigbee radio inside a couple of years ago and has put the Zigbee hub inside subsequent Echo smart speakers such as the 4th-gen Echo and the Echo Show 10.

This makes them a hybrid between a Voice Assistant and Traditional hub. The benefit here is you can get rid of some of the ecosystem hubs brands like Philips Hue use, as you can connect Zigbee devices right to your Echo.

Software-only hubs

You don’t always have to buy a new piece of hardware for your home – there are some apps out that can take on the role of a hub. This will cover the job of unifying different devices on your smartphone, reducing the need to delve into multiple apps to control elements of your home. The one caveat here though, is that some services only work when you're in your home.

Apple HomeKit is a software hub and a hardware hub. HomeKit devices can plug into your Apple Home app no problem, regardless of needing a hub or not, and you can control them with Siri or your iPhone. But if you want remote access you need one of Apple's always-on hardware hubs - an iPad, Apple TV or HomePod.

For broader compatibility, and if you have an Android phone Yonomi has the power to control a heap of devices. You don’t need any hardware, just a bit of patience to get the app set up properly. It's pretty powerful too.

Smart home hubs guide – what’s the deal?

Ecosystem hubs

A quick mention is needed here about a fourth type of hub. Most mini-ecosystems (Hive, Philips Hue, LightwaveRF to name but a few) come with their own hub (sometimes called as Bridge). That's because they run on protocols such as Zigbee or Z-Wave that require an extra device to sort everything else.

That doesn't apply to all devices, because for better or worse, many use Wi-Fi to communicate, so no hub is necessary – Lifx is one such example. In general you will need to use another smart home hub in addition to your ecosystem hub to have a fully-fledged smart home

How to choose your ecosystem

Still confused, unsure what ecosystem to go all-in on? We're here to help. Read our guide to the best smart home ecosystems for a deeper dive on all the above platforms, and more.

TAGGED    smart home

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