Best Smart Home Hub – Buyer’s Guide

So you want to control and monitor your home while you are away, but you don’t know where to start.  No need to worry – we’ve compiled a list of the best smart home hubs on the market so you can make an informed decision.  There are a lot of good options, but there isn’t a universal choice; the best platform depends on your needs.

Smart Home Hubs

We’ve spent countless hours reviewing and reading about smart home hubs looking for the right combination of features and simplicity. While your personal preferences will dictate which device you use to anchor your smart home, we think that either the Wink Hub 2 or the Samsung SmartThings Hub v2 are the best bet for most people.

Both devices communicate with a wide range of smart devices from many manufacturers so you can customize your system for your needs. They both have powerful and elegant smartphone apps and most of the critical features needed to manage your home from inside or from afar.

Let’s get started: the table below covers the major platforms.  Click the name of the platform to jump to our review.

Hub Multi-User Voice Control Protocols
Wink Hub 2 Bluetooth LE, Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi Check Price
Samsung SmartThings Hub v2 ZigBee, Z-Wave, IP Check Price
Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge Clear Connect, HomeKit, Wi-Fi Check Price
Insteon Hub Insteon Check Price
Insteon Hub Pro for HomeKit Insteon, HomeKit Check Price
Apple HomeKit HomeKit Accessory Protocol
Many devices require separate hub
More Info
Amazon Echo Requires separate hub Check Price
Google Home Requires separate hub Check Price

Caution: Homekit, Google Home, and Amazon Echo

Unfortunately, we don’t consider Apple Homekit, Google Home, or Amazon Echo to be true smart home hubs. None of these devices communicates directly to smart devices such as switches, thermostats, outlets, or lights; they all require a true smart home hub to control the devices. For instance, your Amazon Echo cannot connect to a smart light switch. Instead, you have to connect your Amazon Echo to a hub like the Wink if you want to tell the Echo to turn on the lights — in that case, the Amazon Echo will listen to you, send the comment to the Wink, and the Wink will turn on the lights.

Apple HomeKit isn’t a hub – it is more of a communications protocol run under an app. While it allows you to speak your commands via Siri, HomeKit requires that you have a compatible hub to communicate to your smart devices.

Google Home and Amazon Echo are basically speakers (with a microphone) that connect to the internet. They cannot control your smart devices without a separate smart hub connected to them. Both the Amazon Echo and Google Home do provide voice control if you pair them with a compatible smart hub. Just keep in mind that you need to buy a separate hub to control your devices.

Wink Hub 2 (Recommended)

Best Smart Hub: Wink Hub 2

The Wink Hub is is a hub that we have had a lot of experience working withm in our home and we find it very easy to use once you have it set up.

The Wink Hub 2 connects to your network (and the internet) via an ethernet cable or via WiFi, which supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz so you should have no problem connecting to devices around your home. The Wink Hub 2 doesn’t require a wired ethernet connection (you can use WiFi) so you can place it anywhere, but we suggest connecting it to the ethernet port on your router for a more reliable connection. Once you are connected, the Auto-discovery feature makes setting up a new device a breeze, but you can also fall back on manual discovery if you have problems.

The best part about the Wink system is that is will connect to a very wide array of devices since it supports ZigBee and Z-Wave, which are industry standard IOT communications protocols. This allows you to choose from a wide variety of devices — you aren’t locked into their own proprietary devices. You can even connect to Bluetooth devices. In addition, the Wink Hub 2 can connect to the Amazon Echo if you want to add voice control.

In older Wink models, the hub would suffer from a lag when using the app to control devices from within the home. This happened because the app would send the command from your phone or tablet to Wink servers, which would send the command to the hub, then the hub would tell the device to adjust. The Wink Hub 2 corrects this flaw by allowing the app to communicate directly with the hub so you eliminate the server communications and the devices respond much quicker.

Another great feature is Geo-fencing, which uses your phone’s location to help control your home. For instance, you can program the system to turn the lights on in your house once you are within a block of home if it is after sunset. Or you could tell the system to set the thermostat to 72-degrees when you leave the office after 5PM.

Wink Hub 2 Pros
  • Works with a wide variety of devices: Z-Wave, Zigbee, WiFi, and Bluetooth LE support
  • Connecting Wink to new devices is easy, especially with Auto-discovery
  • Local Control makes commands quick: avoids delays due to round-trip server calls
  • Allows multiple users/phones to control devices
  • Clean app interface is easy to navigate

Unfortunately, the Wink isn’t perfect. While the curved, white box is nicely designed, we were surprised by the size: 7.25″ x 7.25″ x 1.25″ thick. The box stands quite tall and we would much rather have a smaller box that would blend in with other electronics a little better. It is by no means ugly — just a little large for our taste.

Programming the Wink Robots, which is the nickname used for automations, took a bit of getting used to. You select a series of events that have to be true from a list of options and then you tell the device what to do (this is commonly called if-this-then-that). You can require multiple events (ifs) to be true; for instance it must be less than 65-degrees in the house and it must be after 3PM on a Wednesday. You can also have multiple commands happen (thats); e.g. turn the thermostat up to 72-degrees and turn the porch light on. This may be complicated for non-techies, but once you get the hang of it, setting up your Robots can be quite fun.

One feature that we’d like to see on all smart home hubs is the ability to run a vacation mode. The vacation mode should keep the thermostat at a set temperature (ignoring the programmed schedule), it should turn lights on and off randomly, and it should also randomly control radios or TVs to make it look like you are home. Unfortunately, the Wink Hub requires you to pay a monthly $1.99 fee for this premium feature. We understand that is costs a lot of money to maintain the servers used to control smart hubs and companies need to generate recurring revenue, but we’d like to see this security feature be included.

Wink doesn’t have built-in voice control capability, but they have partnered with Amazon to allow the Wink Hub 2 to be controlled by the Amazon Echo or the Amazon Echo Dot. We think controlling your lights with voice commands is a but gimmicky, but it is quicker and occasionally convenient if your phone is out of reach and you don’t want to get up.

Wink Hub 2 Flaws
  • Programming automations (called Robots) can be complicated for non-techies
  • No voice control without adding Amazon Echo
  • It is quite large at 7.25″ x 7.25″ x 1.25″ thick
  • Vacation mode is a paid add-on feature

Over all, the Wink Hub 2 is one of our top smart home hubs due to its ability to control a wide variety of devices and its ease of use. Like we said earlier, this is the system we are using in our home and we like the features it has available. We highly recommend considering it if you are in the market for a new smart home system. You can buy the Wink Hub 2 at Amazon.

Samsung SmartThings Hub v2 (Recommended)

Best Smart Hub: SmartThings Hub v2

SmartThings is Samsung’s foray into the smart home — and it is a worthy entry worth full consideration if you are starting a new smart home system.

The hub requires a wired connection to your WiFi router, so be sure you have an available ethernet port before you get started. Like the Wink 2, the second generation of the SmartThings Hub supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Connecting devices is fairly straightforward, but it does require you to navigate through multiple menu options before you get to the point where it is looking for your new device.

The SmartThings Hub supports Z-Wave and ZigBee so it will control a wide range of smart devices. Samsung makes a few devices of its own under the SmartThings name, including outlets, leak sensors, window sensors, and motion sensors. Z-Wave and ZigBee compatibility will cover other items like switches, lights, and thermostats. You will have no problem finding devices that work with the SmrtThings Hub. Finally, the hub can connect to the Amazon Echo so you can start using voice commands to control your home.

One nice feature of the SmartThings hub is a battery backup. While the hub doesn’t recharge the batteries, it is nice to have this backup in case the power goes out. However, you’ll need a WiFi router and a cable modem that are also both backed up. Since most devices won’t work without power it seems a bit useless, but it is nice to know that you can still check in with the home in the event of a power outage. This is probably most useful if you have smart locks — you’ll still be able to get unlock the door with your phone.

The SmartThings Hub v2 includes a feature called Local Processing, which speeds up the response time for commands when you are controlling devices from the app while you are at home. Instead of requiring a round-trip call to the Samsung servers, Local Processing allows the hub to handle the commands locally so you won’t experience a delay when you try to turn lights on or off.

Geo-fencing is also used by SmartThings so you can set up automations based on your location. This is great for making sure the lights are on when you arrive home after dark. It works by detecting the location of your smart phone and once you enter or leave a specified area, it will trigger a programmed event. SmartThings also have an Arrival Sensor that you can purchase — put it on your child’s keychain and then program it to send you an alert so you always know when they arrive home from school.

SmartThings Hub v2 Pros
  • Works with a wide variety of devices: Z-Wave, Zigbee, IP
  • Allows multiple users/phones to control devices
  • Local Processing makes commands quick: avoids delays due to round-trip server calls
  • Small form factor at 4.2″ x 4.9″ x 1.3″ thick
  • Battery backup (non-recharging)

Some users and reviewers around the internet complain that the SmartThings app is a bit hard to navigate since it has so many menus and options. Since we are techies, this doesn’t bother us all that much, but people averse to navigating around their phone may be overwhelmed when setting up the system and programming it. However, once the system is setup, we think the app is easy to use for controlling your home’s devices.

Unfortunately, the SmartThings app doesn’t include a built-in vacation mode to randomize lights and other devices from turning on and off. We think this is one feature that every smart home should have to help deter thieves who pay attention to who is around. However, some developers have created plugins that can be used if you want this feature.

Speaking of developers, Samsung claims that they built the SmartThings system to be developer friendly by allowing people to create SmartApps. We haven’t listed this a Pro or a Con because we have mixed feelings on this feature. It is great that users and developers can customize SmartThings to perform tasks that aren’t officially supported in the main app. However, we are concerned that this could open the system to malicious attacks. Researchers have been able to use SmartApps to take control of homes in the past, and Samsung has corrected this problems through patches, but we are still concerned. SmartThings is as secure are any other smart hub on the market, but we strongly advise users to avoid SmartApps to prevent potential malicious attacks.

If you require voice control for your smart home, you will be disappointed to learn that it isn’t built-in to the SmartThings Hub. However, the hub is able to interface with the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot if you want Alexa to help you control your home.

SmartThings Hub v2 Flaws
  • App menus are too deep — it takes too long to get to what you want
  • No voice control without adding Amazon Echo
  • No vacation mode for randomizing lights

Overall, we believe the SmartThings is a very capable device and so we recommend it as your main smart hub. However, we suggest staying away from SmartApps if you are concerned about security. You can purchase the Samsung SmartThings Hub v2 on Amazon.

Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge

Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge

The Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge is a lighting and window shade hub that supports Apple HomeKit. If you are interested in controlling your lights and shades using Apple HomeKit (or if you only need to control those items) then the Caseta Smart Bridge may be for you. The hub is quite small – it weighs less than a pound and measures at 3 x 3 x 1.2 inches.

Lutron Caseta Wireless operates using the proprietary Lutron Clear Connect. Clear Connect is a wireless technology that works in a low and non-interfering frequency band to communicate with individual control devices. It also uses Wi-Fi to connect to other systems that it can communicate with, like Nest. As with most other hubs, the Smart Bridge requires an ethernet connection to your router so you can access it when you are away from home.

Because of Clear Connect, the Lutron Caseta does not affect your homes internet performance or bandwidth (although that isn’t generally a problem since smart hubs only use a small amount of data). To connect to Clear Connect, you use the Lutron Smart Bridge – accessed through the cloud during the initial setup process. The standard range of one device is thirty feet or 2500 square feet. To extend the wireless range, you must install a lamp dimmer within range, and that will add another thirty feet of range. You can only extend the range once per system.

The Caseta Smart Bridge connects to a series of Caseta Wireless capable devices like light switches and dimmers. In addition, they have a series of window shades that are compatible. Keep in mind that the Lutron App will not control other devices like leak detectors, most thermostats (although it can work with some Honeywell thermostats), locks, etc. You would have to control those devices through the HomeKit app.

Installation of the Caseta Wireless Hub is straightforward. All the products including the hub and all the dimmers come with the option of hardwiring or wall plugins. If you decide to hardwire the wall dimmers, they are a standard switch and some do not require a neutral wire. The website offers thorough instructions on how to install everything, as well as a comprehensive list of compatible bulbs and lamps.

Setup is simple and starts with getting the wireless hub and downloading the iOS or Android app. Once you download the app, you will be prompted to connect to the Lutron Clear Connect Technology; this allows you to control all the devices in your home free from interference. You also will need to join the app to the Smart Bridge by signing up for the initial setup. There are step by step instructions in the beginning that show you everything you need to know. When using the Smart Bridge, it only supports one account per house, but you can have up to 10 smartphones connected to a system at a time.

If you decide to do so, you can set up lighting scenes and geofencing. A lighting scene is a predetermined light and shade level that you set up to happen automatically from your app. Geofencing is when you use your phone’s location to set up action. For example, you can set your porch light to come on when you are 1000 feet from your home. With geofencing, the app can also be configured to notify you if you left on a light.

This system is compatible with Apple Homekit if as you have an Apple product with iOS 8.3 or newer. When you are set up with Apple Homekit, everyone in the home with a compatible device can use Siri. The Lutron Caseta Hub is also compatible with Amazon Echo once you install the free Amazon Alexa app on your compatible device. The Lutron Caseta Hub is also compatible with Google Home. You need to have a Google Home or compatible Android phone with Google Assistant. Using Google Home, you can link that to your Lutron app, and handle all your lighting scenes through Google Home.

If you are looking for a simple lighting control hub and don’t need to monitor all kinds of other devices, the Caseta Wires system is great, especially since it works so well with HomeKit.

Caseta Smart Bridge Pros
  • Easy to set up with a User-Friendly App
  • Is fully HomeKit compatible
  • Small size
  • Reliable and durable
  • Includes vacation mode to turn lights on and off when you are away

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks. Namely, it is not a true smart hub so you would have to us other apps or systems to control your devices. If you are using Apple Home, this isn’t a problem.

Caseta Smart Bridge Flaws
  • Not a true smart home hub
  • To create a scene you need to set up each device separately, you cannot go according to rooms or groups.
  • Limited range may not work with very large homes

You can purchase the Caseta Wireless Smart Bridge on Amazon.

Insteon Hub

Insteon Hub

The Insteon Hub is the base model smart home hub that doesn’t support HomeKit. It is a closed ecosystem so most of the devices available are manufactured by Insteon, which means you can be sure they work well together, but it also limits your ability to use devices from other manufacturers. If you are comfortable with this and want an easy-to-use smart home, then you may want to consider Insteon. The hub is one of the smaller hubs out there, coming in at 3.75″ x 3.75″ x 1.5″ thick.

The Insteon Hub connects to the internet and your WiFi router through an ethernet cable so you should confirm you have an available port before you purchase the hub. The hub communicates with individual devices with Insteon’s proprietary 915MHz wireless system. It can also communicate with devices through it’s powerline communications feature.

While there are a few exceptions, all of the devices that connect to the hub are manufactured by Insteon. The closed nature of the system is beneficial because it ensures that each device you use will work seamlessly since it was designed and developed by Insteon. It also means that Insteon can tightly control the security of the devices on its system, which is good for users. However, the drawback is that you cannot use devices designed by other manufacturers so you are limited in your ability to develop a customized system. Luckily, there are two key devices that work with Insteon: the Nest Thermostat and Amazon Echo.

The Insteon app that you use to control your home is very nicely designed and simple to use. Setting up the system is also relatively simple and easily programmable.

Insteon Hub Pros
  • Closed system ensures devices connect easily
  • Allows multiple users/phones to control devices
  • App is easy to use and navigate

We have a few issues with the Insteon system, which we find problematic. We’ve already mentioned that you are locked into using Insteon devices so you cannot take advantage of other devices that may offer features not available otherwise.

A big missing feature is the ability to use conditional triggers. For instance, turn the lights on when returning home or make sure the garage door is closed when I leave the house. These features are very convenient and also provide extra safety.

Another missing feature that has become popular over the past couple of years is some form of local control. Local control allows your phone to communicate directly to the hub to make commands happen quicker. Currently, you phone must send the command to Insteon’s servers through the internet, the servers then send the command through the internet to the hub, which then tells the device to activate. This can potentially cause a delay of a couple of seconds from the time you tap your phone. While this is a minor annoyance, other hubs have solved the problem.

Insteon Hub Flaws
  • Closed system limits compatible devices
  • No voice control without adding Amazon Echo
  • Lack of conditional triggers (if X happens, tell device to do Y)
  • No local control — all commands from your phone go through the internet so there may be a delay

While the Insteon Hub is a reasonable smart home hub, we think there are better options that provide more flexibility in devices and in programming the system. If you want the added peace-of-mind (security and ease of use) that comes from one manufacturer and ecosystem, then Insteon may be for you. You can buy the basic Insteon Hub at Amazon.

Insteon Hub Pro for Homekit

Insteon Hub Pro for HomeKit

While we have high hopes for the Insteon Pro for Homekit, it just isn’t there yet. The integration is simply too limited. We’ll get to the flaws in a moment, but let’s look at the positives first.

Like it’s companion, the Insteon Hub, the Insteon Hub Pro for HomeKit connects to the internet through an ethernet port on the back of your WiFi router so be sure you have an extra port available. It also connects to smart devices through the powerline or Insteon wireless protocol. The hub is a bit larger with dimensions of 7″ x 4″ x 1.5″.

In addition to controlling Insteon outlets, switches, dimmers, and lights, the hub is also able to control many HomeKit devices. Unfortunately, there are a lot of devices that it doesn’t interact with including Insteon sensors, cameras, and the Nest thermostat. This is a deal-breaker for us, but it may not be for you.

You have two options for an app to control the Insteon Hub Pro. You can use the Insteon+ app or you can use the Apple Home app. While you must install many devices with the Insteon+ app, the Apple Home app has a few additional features that you can take advantage of, including a few conditional triggers. However, the Home app is still a bit lacking in complex controls that require two or three triggers – for instance turn the lights on if it is after sunset AND I arrive within 2 blocks of home. Unfortunately, the neither app can communicate with sensors so you won’t be able to monitor for leaks or open windows or doors. Over time, we expect this to improve.

Insteon Hub Pro for HomeKit Positives
  • Closed system ensures devices connect easily
  • Woks with HomeKit enabled devices
  • Allows multiple users/phones to control devices
  • App is easy to use and navigate, and you can use the Apple Home app if desired
  • Includes voice control support through Siri

There are a few items that we find problematic. As we already covered above, the list of compatible devices is limited. For instance, you only have one choice for a thermostat so if you already have a smart thermostat, you’ll have to purchase a new one.

Of course, since the device is specifically for Apple’s HomeKit, you must be using a newer iOS device &mdash there are no Android or Windows Phone options. This isn’t a big deal because if you want to use HomeKit, you probably have an iPhone.

If you want to control your devices when you are away from home, you will have to use an AppleTV (3rd generation or newer) that remains awake at all times. Again, if you are interested in controlling your home with HomeKit, it is likely that you already have an AppleTV or would be happy to add one to your entertainment system. Luckily, the AppleTV doesn’t draw a lot of power so you don’t have to worry about leaving it on all the time, but you will have to change a few settings to make sure it doesn’t go to sleep.

Insteon Hub Pro for HomeKit Flaws
  • Closed system limits compatible devices (Insteon or HomeKit)
  • Not compatible with sensors or cameras
  • Limited conditional triggers (if X happens, tell device to do Y)
  • No local control — all commands from your phone go through the internet so there may be a delay

We have high hopes for the Insteon Hub Pro for HomeKit and Insteon should be praised for taking the leap and creating a HomeKit hub. As both technologies develop further, we have faith that this will be a powerful device, but at this time we cannot recommend it. If you want to build a HomeKit smart home and don’t have a use for monitoring sensors or using a camera then this may be the device for you. The Insteon Hub Pro is available through SmartHome.com.

Apple HomeKit

Apple HomeKit

If you are considering starting a HomeKit based smart home, you need to be aware of a few things. First, most of the HomeKit compatible devices you can buy still require a hub to operate. Apple doesn’t make a hub and the AppleTV just provides and internet connection — contrary to what the Apple HomeKit website makes you think, you can’t just buy a light bulb or switch and expect your Home app to control it. We are hopeful that future generations of the AppleTV incorporates a smart home hub or perhaps Apple will release their own hub at some point in the future.

While the Apple Home app is beautiful, unfortunately you probably have to also install your device’s app in order to set up the device. For instance, Philips Hue lights require you to purchase the Hue Bridge and then set up your lights using the Hue App. Then you can use the Home App to control the lights. In our mind this is still too cumbersome.

Apple HomeKit requires a separate smarthub in order to control lights, switches, and outlets. Some devices allow Bluetooth connection so you can control them without a hub, but you need to be in the home.In addition, if you want to control your home while you are away or if you want to set up automations, you will need to have an Apple TV: check Apple for more information.

Keep in mind that the Apple HomeKit is still a very young product so we are pretty sure all of these problems will be solved over time. If you are interested in being one of the first owners of a HomeKit controlled home, we suggest you jump back up to the Insteon Pro for HomeKit and consider that hub. Right now, it still lacks a lot of the features we think are important, but that will change over time as Insteon and Apple continue to develop their products.

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo and Dot

The Amazon Echo has become a very popular item in many homes due to its interesting always-on voice commands, run by Amazon Alexa. Simply ask the Echo (or the smaller Dot) to look something up and it will scour the internet and tell you the answer. It also contains a fairly powerful speaker that allows you to play music or other streaming media through it.

You can even use it to operate your smart home through voice commands, but beware — you will need to add more hardware in order to make that happen.

The Amazon Echo and Dot are WiFi connected devices that have a microphone and a speaker in them. They do not have any ability to control smart home devices using the standard communications protocols like Z-Wave, ZigBee, or HomeKit. If you want to control your home with voice commands, you will need to use one of the Alexa capable hubs we mentioned earlier in this article. In that case, the Echo will send the command to your hub, which will then send the command to the device you want to control.

The Echo and Dot do connect directly with a number of thermostats, including the Nest (3rd generation), Honeywell Lyric T5, and ecobee3. If you only want to adjust the temperature, you can do that fairly easily.

But if you are interested in commanding your entire home using the Echo or Dot, we suggest you check the hubs above. We recommend either the Smasung SmartThings or the Wink Hub. You can also use the original Insteon Hub.

Google Home

Google Home

The Home is Google’s entry into the digital voice assistant market and is a direct competitor to the Amazon Echo. Like the Echo, it has a built in speaker and microphone and it connects via WiFi. You can use the Google Home as a speaker for your streaming music and it takes advantage of the Google Assistant to answer questions that you ask.

Unfortunately, Google Home doesn’t have the capability to communicate directly to smart home devices aside from the Nest Thermostat. You will need more hardware to truly command your home.

Since the Google Home is still relatively new, it doesn’t connect to very many devices. We mentioned earlier that it does connect directly to the Nest Thermostat, which is good if you have one. You can connect to Philips lights if you have the Philips Bridge. Otherwise, your only option is to use the Samsung SmartThings Hub if you want to control your home.