So you are thinking about adding more “life” to your home like remote control and automation? A Smart Home hub is the central nerve in your home that will be the one responsible for automation/intelligence for your smart home devices.
Currently, there is a lot of different hubs available at the market, so the BIG question is – What Smart Home hub should you choose? Smart Home Geek is here to help you. When you are done reading this article you should have enough knowledge to select the right hub for your home that will suit your needs.
What is a Smart Home hub?
I could be writing a long section about this, but for simplicity, I will keep it short for you. A Smart Home hub is the central nerve that integrates and facilitates the automation of various Smart Home devices in your home.
Many people do the mistake of buying different stuff for when it’s needed. This gives a problem in the end if you would like to make them even smarter. Lots of the Smart Home devices aren’t aware of each other. In a common Smart Home, you would have a combination of lights, switches, speakers, blinds, thermostats, sensors, etc. All these devices might be running different protocols. This could be Zigbee, Z-Wave, WiFi, LAN, Infrared, Bluetooth, RF to name a few.
For each of these devices, you might also have a separate app to control them. What if you would like to trigger one device from another? What if you don’t like to switch between a collage of apps to do the basic stuff? This is where the Smart Home hub comes into the picture. It allows you to connect all the devices and automate them.
Different types of Smart Home hubs
Currently, you can get a lot of different kinds of Smart Home hubs. In this article, I’m going to categorize them to make it easier for you to navigate in the hubs. Below you will find details about hardware, software, speaker, and combo hubs.
A hardware hub is one of the more normal or should we say traditional hubs. They are often small devices that are connected to your home network and they act as the interface for all your Smart Home devices. Each hardware hub has its own user interface and ways to automate and configure devices. Often they will have both integrations with the popular protocols Zigbee and Z-wave. Below is a simple list of the advantages and disadvantages of a hardware hub.
- Easy to install.
- At most times they got good documentation and tutorial for usage.
- Device support is big out of the box.
- Often you can make use of add-ons to expand functionality.
- In most cases, they require internet access to run your commands.
- In some cases, they can be difficult to configure.
- The manufacturer is in control of features and access. They are also capable of deciding to stop supporting it with updates.
Hardware Hub Examples
On the other hand, we got the software hubs. A software hub will separate the software needed to run your software apart from the hardware. A software hub requires you to install home automation software on a pc, virtual machine, or small device like a Raspberry Pi.
For this, to work you need to have some familiarity installing and configuring software. For your device to work with protocols like Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc. you are required to buy some more hardware to make your hub able to “talk” with your Smart Home devices.
Most of the software hubs are free to use and allow you to fine-tune your Smart Home with automation at a much more detailed level than a hardware hub allows. However, the software hubs come with a price – the learning curve is steep. When it comes down to automation, you got several options. Node-RED is a great tool for creating visual flows. If you would like to get started with Node-RED and Home Assistant. Make sure to check out my guide on Getting Started with Node-RED and Home Assistant.
- Many fully featured software hubs on the market.
- You pick the hardware.
- Great flexibility when it comes to customization.
- Often you will find great community support with open-source solutions.
- You can add extra features yourself.
- In most cases, a software hub is running locally meaning that you won’t need internet.
- Many software hubs can integrate with hardware hubs.
- You encounter often a steep learning curve.
- The software must be installed on an always-on computer.
- Additional hardware is required for interacting with protocols like Zigbee etc.
- You are responsible for everything.
Software hub examples
Smart speaker hubs
The Smart Home speaker hubs are new when it comes to hubs. They haven’t been on the market as long as the hard- and software hubs. Many people don’t think that their Google Home or Amazon Echo can act as a Smart Home hub.
Smart Home speakers have grown in their integrations over the past years and they have begun to take place in more homes as the central hub instead of the other hard- and software hubs. A smart speaker can communicate with the home security cameras, thermostats, locks, switches, blinds, lights, etc.
In the recent updates to Google and Alexa automation (routines) have been introduced allowing you to trigger multiple actions. Amazon has even made a smart speaker that comes with a built-in Zigbee controller which allows you to integrate with most of your Smart Home devices. If you want this, take a look at the Echo Plus.
- Devices are born with voice control out of the box.
- Chances are big you already have one in your home.
- Configuration is easy.
- Seamless integration with various stream services and media devices.
- Limited customization when it comes down to automation and interface.
- In most cases, you need extra hardware to control Zigbee and Z-wave devices.
- Every single voice command has to go through the cloud to be processed.
- Requires internet access.
Examples of Smart Home Speaker hubs
A combo hub is more than a Smart Home hub – a little like with the Smart Home speakers above. Smart speakers are also some sort of a combo hub, but still, they get placed into their own category. The most common combo hubs are routers and security systems for the home, which can also act as Smart Home hubs.
- You might already have experience with a particular system that also is capable of acting as a hub.
- Usually pretty limited in the Smart Home capabilities.
- You are forced to stay with one vendor. What to do when you only want to upgrade the hub in the future?
- More expensive.
Examples of combo hubs
What Smart Home hub is the right choice for your home?
I recently started over myself here at my own home. Due to this, I went through the same process you are going through right now. You have to ask yourself the following questions:
- What to do if the company behind decides to stop supporting the hardware or software?
- For privacy concerns – are my data shared to a cloud service hosted by the vendor or do I keep to get as much on my local network as possible?
- Will it support most used protocols like Zigbee, Z-wave and Network (LAN / IP)?
- Any big open communities with lots of tutorials or help?
- Is it easy to make automations (routines) and customize the interface for different devices and areas?
- What about the setup? Am I ready to take on a steep learning curve or should I go with the easy hardware hub?
My general recommendation for you when choosing the Smart Home hub for your home is that you think about how much time you got to invest in the project, what kind of automation are you looking to implement and what devices have you already acquired, and which ones are you going to buy in the future. Below is a shortlist of recommendations for you to consider:
- I started with Samsung SmartThings and for beginner and most people I would still reccomend this hub. It’s popular, got lots of integrations, easy to configure and get going with and comes with a beautiful UI for your smartphone.
- If you are looking for simple routines and voice control, go for the Google Assistant or Alexa in a Smart Home Speaker. Both do a very decent job when it comes to making routines and you can easily get started with them through the app from the two vendors.
- For the ones (like me) who would like to be in control of everything and want’s a Smart home that still works even though the internet goes down – pick Home Assistant. The learning curve might be steep depending on how techy you are.
Smart Home hubs are the heart of your Smart Home and the core to every automation you perform with your devices. What Smart Home hub you should choose is up to you, but choose wisely as it’s a big job to do it over.
The hardware hubs are great if you want to get up and running quickly. A software hub is for those who like to sit down and tinker with the system (great for night owls – like me). If you have little or no time to spend on the project, you might just go with a Smart Home speaker.
I hope this article has given you some insights on what Smart Home hub you should choose. If you got any questions, please leave them in the comments below. As always – have a nice day! 🙂