A smart home needs a smart home hub â don't let anyone tell you otherwise. When youâre blending devices from a bunch of different manufacturers you need a 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.
Scroll down to get clued up on the best hubs, including the all-important details on exactly what they do and our in-depth reviews.
Jump to the information you need
- The best Google hub
- The best Alexa hub
- The best HomeKit hub
- What does a smart home hub actually do?
- Different hub types explained
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: Samsung SmartThings
Samsung SmartThings is an incredibly 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.
What's more, the new Connect Home box offers a hub/mesh-router combo that helps cut down on white box clutter, and integrate everything more tightly.
SmartThings' biggest strength is its versatility: it is the most compatible hub out there, plus Samsung has its own range of devices that can be tied in, including outlets and various types of sensors. Finally, 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. It's just a little bit of work to get there. This is in large part because the app situation is dire. There are two: the original SmartThings app, which has continued to be updated; and Samsung's new Connect app. The plan is to eventually get everyone over to the latter, but in the meantime it makes things unnecessarily complicated, not least because the Connect app is much less reliable on non-Samsung phones.
It does feel like a hub for the more tech-savvy, but its power is undeniable, and its broad interoperability can't be beat.
What we love
- Broad device support
- Z-wave and Zigbee
- Connect Home router has SmartThings built-in
What we don't love
- The app(s) needs work
- Some usability problems
- An affordable way into the smart home
Runner-up smart home hub: Wink Hub 2
The Wink 2 hub is an aging beast and any review must come with the caveat that this ecosystem is on shaky ground. However, right now, itâs a well-oiled machine that makes home automations easy. The app is easy to use, the standards supported are comprehensive, and most of the big name brands are on board.
Since its inception, Wink has been committed to making things as open as possible. IFTTT, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, Lutron's Clear Connect and Google's Thread interface are all compatible, and it also supports Sonos, Alexa, Google Assistant, Philips Hue, and Honeywell.
There are notable absentees, however - Lifx, Belkin, D-Link, Nest to name a few - but as you can hook up voice assistants, there's often a workaround - and thereâs a bustling community of hackers who can help you tinker to your heartâs content.
The Wink 2 is a slender little thing that could easily be hidden on a bookshelf and, while Ethernet connectivity to your router is recommended, you also have the option of connecting it to your home network over Wi-Fi, with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz supported. Unlike Samsung SmartThings though, there is no battery back-up option - so you'll have to have it plugged in and powered up at all times for your automations to work.
Wink calls those automations 'Robots,' which are multi-step, multi-condition automations (think day, time, home/away status and the like) that allow you to team up your compatible tech to work in tandem. For example, you can have your Hue bulbs come on if your outdoor camera notices some motion or have your Sonos speakers start playing music if your Ring Doorbell is pressed when you're not home. The possibilities are endless and you can keep track of what Robots have been working and why, within an activity stream on the app.
Adding devices to the app is a breeze - some things, such as Sonos, will just show up if they are on the same network, whereas some things just require you to link your accounts. Wink also has its own range of sensors, bulbs, and security sensors and the like if you want to keep things really simple.
What we love
- Sub $100 price
- Slim-line, slick design
- Multiple protocol support
What we don't love
- Few big name brands missing
- Wi-Fi pairing can be tricky
- Robots is a stupid name for automations
- Status of the company is in flux
Buy now: Amazon | $229.99
Amazon's Alexa ecosystem is finally a viable smart home system to run your entire set up on. 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 donât have an Alexa skill and Amazonâs 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 (only the big guy, not the 5inch or 8inch models). This is because it has Zigbee support built in, so you can ditch many of those ecosystem hubs and just pair Zigbee devices like 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 Echo Plus speaker also has a Zigbee hub, 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 the Wink Hub 2 or 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.
What we love
- 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 buggy and slow
- Zigbee Echo devices are expensive
- No Z-Wave
Read our full Amazon Echo Show review.
Buy now: Google | $129
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, and learn more about how to use it as a smart home hub in our Missing Manual to the Google home.
What we love
- The smaller size
- Google's Home View
- Doubles as a photo frame when not in use
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.
Buy now: Amazon | $179
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.
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.
Best professional hub: Control4
Buy now: control4.com | $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 high-end smart home automation, 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 software-only hub: Yonomi
Yonomi is a smart home hub that lives on your smartphone â both iOS and Android versions are available. It lets you to manage your smart home devices and get things working together.
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.
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 youâre on holiday, youâre going to need something to offer remote and secure access to your stuffâŚ essentially something that has a Wi-Fi connection so it can communicate with your smartphone.
A hub also helps 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 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.
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 youâve gone out and invested in a Samsung SmartThings doesnât 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 work arounds, 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.
The Amazon Echo Plus and Echo Show both have a Zigbee radio inside, making 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.
You donât always have to buy a new piece of hardware for your home â 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 these will 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 donât need any hardware, just a bit of patience to get the app set up properly. It's pretty powerful too.
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 â 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 â 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.