Complete Guide to Smart Hubs


Smart Home technology keeps growing and expanding, from everyday use devices such as smart speakers and lights to more integrated home security systems. As you add devices to your smart bubble, you will have to find ways to effectively integrate all your devices, that is where a Smart Hub comes in to save the day. However, there are several Smart Hubs, including devices that can act as a Smart Hub, making it difficult to understand and decide which is the best option for your smart home.

That is why we put this guide together. Our hope is to give you some understanding of, not only what a smart hub is, but what it can actually do for your smart home. We will uncover how a hub can make your life a little bit easier; and any limitations that a specific smart hub may have.

Read on as we dive deep into the smart hub.

TABLE OF CONTENTS – Click on a Topic to Jump to It

What is a Smart Hub?

Dedicated Smart Hubs

Smart Speaker with Built-in Hubs

Software Hubs

What Can a Smart Hub Do?

Home Automation

Remote Control

Home Security

Control Access

Benefits vs. Disadvantages of Smart Hubs

Benefits

Disadvantages

Smart Hub Security

Buying Guide

Voice Control

Connections Available

Wireless Protocols

Wi-Fi

Bluetooth

Z-Wave

Zigbee

Systems Compatibility

Connection Requirements

Versatility

User Interface

Head to Head Comparison

Product Details

Amazon Echo Plus

Google Nest Hub Max

Logitech Harmony Hub

Samsung SmartThings Hub

Securitfi Almond 3

Sengled Smart Hub

Wink Smart Hub 2

Conclusion

What is a Smart Hub?

A Smart Hub refers to a device that contains software that connects smart devices in your home together. They allow you to control your smart devices using either a voice or app commands. Smart Hubs can use several communication options. Some of the most common are Zigbee or Z-Wave technology that the hub then can effectively translate to communicate with devices that use another “language”.

Dedicated Smart Hubs

Smart Hubs are referred to as dedicated hubs if they have no other features. This means that their only job is directing information between your smart devices. What is important to understand is that some smart devices are only able to communicate with specific hubs, this may determine the products you choose to integrate into your smart home system.

Smart Speaker with Built-in Hubs

Most people do not even know they probably already have a hub in their home. If you own either an Amazon Echo Plus or Google Home, then you do. Both of these products have built-in hubs that allow you to communicate with compatible devices. There are several speakers and smart devices that have hub software included in them, even if you never realize you are using it, or that it is there.

Software Hubs

Less known are software hubs. These are software that is usually installed on a PC that allows you to manage your smart devices. There are several open-source options for software hubs. Since these can vary so much and are constantly changing, we are not going to go into detail on them. 

What Can a Smart Hub Do?

Now that we know what a Smart Hub is, we can talk about what they can do for you. Even if you do not already own any smart home devices, you may be surprised at the flexibility and sheer options available using a Smart Hub.

Home Automation

Have you ever watched a movie set in the future, where anything someone wants it there at the touch of a button or a voice command? That is what may eventually be possible with home automation. Already there are devices in homes of regular people that offer amazing control over some routine activities throughout the home. 

The term automation may be a bit misleading; this is not a case of the machines taking over the world. Even the smartest device still needs to be programmed to do whatever it is you want them to do, so it isn’t exactly automatic at first. Currently, there are smart technology options for lighting, power, temperature, and even products such as ceiling fans and mini blinds, the options are nearly endless.

A compatible Smart Hub is the core of home automation. The hub is responsible for communicating your programmed preferences to each device. The Smart Bulb does not turn on by itself, it is told to by the Smart Hub.

Remote Control 

Remote Control is another way that Smart Hubs can add flexibility to your life. Unlike the pre-programmed activities that would be considered more home automation, the remote control gives the user access to many of their devices, even when they are away from home. 

Remote Control can be integrated with home automation very easily but scheduling a device to perform and action while you are at work. Another great advantage to remote control is the ability to power off devices you have forgotten. For example, several people report using a smart plug with their coffee pot, when they are unsure if they turned it off, they power down the plug to ensure there is no power going to the coffee pot.

Home Security

One of the star features of Smart Hubs is the ability to control home security devices. These days almost every home security system and component use Wi-Fi technology in some way. Some Smart Hubs offer built-in home security features, while others are specifically designed for home security. In fact, many DIY home security packages are built around a Smart Hub to control the entire system.

In addition to allowing you or a professional monitoring company access to the system, the Smart Hub monitors for any alarms, changes, or irregularities depending on your personal setup and alerts when there is a problem. In a way, the Smart Hub is the 24/7 security guard, that you don’t need to feed.

Control Access

We’ve hinted at this aspect already, but a Smart Hub allows you to control your devices, but it also allows you to limit control of your devices as well. This is handy for turning off a light when a kid refuses to stay in bed, or when you want to keep someone out of your home that has had access previously. The level of this type of access control is going to vary depending on the Smart Hub and connected devices you use, but even the basic systems allow you to change a password if you need to eliminate access.

Benefits vs. Disadvantages of Smart Hubs

Everything in our world has its strengths and weaknesses; Smart Hubs are no different. There are several personal benefits that utilizing a Smart Hub may provide, but they basically fall into the following categories.

Benefits

Smart Home Control – With the constant advances in technology, we are always adding new devices to our homes. Maybe you decide to grab some Smart Bulbs when they are on sale, or some gifts you a Smart Speaker; the more devices you have, the more complicated it can be to control them. A Smart Hub helps to integrate these devices allowing you to control them more easily, often using a single application or even voice commands.

Time – One of the biggest advantages to automating our homes is the time we are able to save. For example, using a Smart Hub with a voice-enabled system you may be able to perform several activities at one time, such as arm an entire home security system, or turn off all of your connected devices. This can not only save time but can allow individuals with physical disabilities more control over their environment.

Disadvantages

Unfortunately, even the most up to date technology is going to have some downsides, although we often ignore them for the sake of the benefits.

Cost – Smart Hubs are separate devices that often have no other function, so it can be hard to justify the expense. When we add smart devices to our homes, we can usually witness first hand what they can do. Since everything with a Smart Hub is digital there is no tangible reason to spend the money. Although you can usually experience the benefits quickly enough.

User Interface – Smart Hubs can be tricky to set up, especially for those very new to home automation and smart technology. It can be overwhelming to understand protocols, connectivity, compatibility, and all of the other things that can be involved. Luckily, these individuals can take advantage of YouTube Videos and customer service options to help them. Also, most people know one techy they can call.

Updates and Newer Models – Most people now understand why it is more than wanting the newest technology that leads people to purchase the newest smartphones. Often smart technology is designed to fit within current standards. The problem is that these are constantly changing. Smart Hubs often need regular updating to keep up with the latest protocols. In some cases, it may be necessary to purchase newer equipment.

Smart Hub Security

The security of our information and access to our network is a valid worry in today’s technological world. After all, everything most of us do is somehow connected. It is only natural to wonder how secure your home, privacy, and devices are when using a single Smart Hub (or multiple connected) to control everything. The truth is we really do not know how secure any technology is until it is too late. 

There are some steps you can take to help improve the security of your Smart Hub and any connected devices. While we couldn’t possibly list everything, here are some important steps.

  1. Strong Passwords – this is a valid security measure for all of your devices, including any apps, software, and external systems such as internet providers. There are several ways to increase the strength of your passwords. 

The strongest passwords with contain a mix of letters (both upper and lowercase), numbers, and special characters; the longer the better. Avoid using common names or numbers that you have some connection to, such as your birthdate. And finally, rotate your passwords often to avoid hackers and limit who you give access to your home systems.

  1. Never Buy Used Devices – the unfortunate truth is that there are some shady people in this world that prey on the innocence of others. This includes selling tech devices only to gain access to networks and personal information. By avoiding buying second-hand, you will never have to worry about who had previous access to a device.
  1. Local Protocols – Many Smart Hubs utilize local protocols such as Zigbee and Z-wave. These utilize several high-security standards. Other devices may communicate outside a local network, that increases the risk of a breach.
  1. Stick with Brands You Know – You wouldn’t drop a ton of money on a car from an unknown manufacturer, so why risk your digital security on unknown and untested devices. We encourage new technology, but when it comes to personal information security, we recommend going with well-known brands that have something to lose if they pose a risk.

Buying Guide

Ok, now that you have some idea of what a Smart Hub is and how it can streamline your home automation. Choosing the Smart Hub that fits your needs is still complicated. Before picking a Smart Hub, you are going to want to consider the following criteria and decide which you must have, and possibly which you can do without.

Voice Control

There is no denying that voice-activated smart devices are all the rage. Voice-enabled devices are available in speakers, smartphones, even in our cars. When it comes to Smart Hubs, you have two options; purchase a Smart Hub that is integrated into a voice-enabled speaker system OR makes sure that the Smart Hub you want to use is compatible with other voice-enabled devices, such as Alexa or Google Assistant.

Connections Available

Some smart hubs are only able to connect and control a few devices, while others can virtually control an unlimited number of devices. This is extremely important to pay attention to when you are searching for a Smart Hub, as you want to make sure that it can control all the devices within your home and any future devices you may want to integrate into your system.

Wireless Protocols

Wireless protocols refer to the way devices are able to communicate. Think of wireless protocols as radio stations, some come through crystal clear while other stations may have some static, and finally, some low-end radio stations may actually be overcome by stations with more power. This is very similar to the radio frequency technology used in wireless protocols.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is the most common wireless technology, and what most people are familiar with for using wireless devices connected to each other, or the internet. Many Smart Hubs integrate Wi-Fi with other connection protocols to allow for faster communication with fewer interruptions. Wi-Fi networks tend to have issues with interference especially as the number of connected devices rises.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth involves the use of a PAN (personal area network). While this connects devices securely there are distance limitations, though manufacturers are working to improve these limitations. You are not likely to find Bluetooth connections integrated with Smart Hubs except in the case of Smart Speakers with internal smart hubs.

Z-Wave 

Z-Wave is a wireless protocol that uses radio frequencies that are much lower than most other devices. This allows devices that use Z-Wave protocols to experience less interference than other protocols. One of the biggest advantages of using devices that utilize Z-Wave protocols is increased compatibility. Z-Wave devices can usually communicate no matter who manufactured them.

Zigbee

Zigbee is a wireless protocol, and perhaps the most common behind Wi-Fi. It utilizes both standard wireless and 2.4GHZ radio frequencies to provide a more stable communication between your devices. Zigbee devices are also extremely secure, as they are built on deep encryption.

The best Smart Hubs with utilize both Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols for secure, local communication that is about as stable as you can get.

Systems Compatibility

Almost everything technology-based is compatible with both Android and iOS; with a few exceptions. Make sure to check, before you purchase your Smart Hub, to see that it is compatible with the operating system that you use whether that be Android, iOS, or another operating system. The best option will be compatible with all major operating systems; in case you make a switch in the future.

Connection Requirements

If you have purchased very many smart devices, you’ve probably gotten used to checking to make sure that it can connect to your system. When it comes to Smart Hubs, some of them will require being directly connected to your router via Ethernet; while others can work using Wi-Fi at 2.4GHz or 5 GHz. 

Versatility

Some Smart Hubs only work with very specific brands of devices; while others can connect and communicate with several brands across several different protocols. Knowing the versatility of the smart home hub that you are considering purchasing is going to save you some future headache.

User Interface

A smart hub will do you no good if you cannot easily use it to control your devices. Most smart hub manufacturers offer smartphone apps to easily operate the smart hub and its connected devices; some even have options for PC or Mac. 

Head to Head Comparison

Now for the reasons you are here. Next, we will dive into the most commonly used Smart Hubs. We’ll start with quick comparison to give you a sense of their differences. Then we will dive into each of them in more detail. 

CategoryLocal ProtocolsVoice AssistantSpeakerAuto DetectionConnectivity
Amazon Echo Plus2.4GHz/5Ghz
Google Nest Hub Max2.4GHz/5Ghz
Logitech Harmony HubSupported2.4GHz
Samsung SmartThings HubSupported2.4GHz/5Ghz
Securitfi Almond 3Supported2.4GHz/5Ghz
Sengled Smart HubSupported2.4GHz
Wink Smart Hub 2Supported2.4GHz/5Ghz

Product Details

Now let’s take a closer look at each product.

Amazon Echo Plus

The Echo Plus is a smart speaker with a built-in smart hub. The newest generation offers improved audio and a familiar design. Adding devices is super easy, just like all other Echo devices. One huge advantage to the Echo Plus as a hub is that it can control other smart hubs, though in some cases you will not have access to all of the other hubs advanced features. However, for individuals that want to add simple automation and voice control to their smart devices, the Echo Plus makes a great choice.

Pros:

  • Most user-friendly 
  • Improved speaker and design over previous models
  • Compatible with many other hubs to unify your home automation
  • Alexa enabled with all of the capabilities of Alexa skills

Cons:

  • Does not support Z-Wave devices
  • Limits some smart device options if used as a sole hub

Google Nest Hub Max

The newest addition to Google’s line of Nest products, the Nest Hub Max combines the dependability of the previous Google Hub with the flexibility of a huge 10” screen display with a built-in camera. Google Voice Assistant controls the Hub Max with the same easy to use commands as all other Google voice-enabled products. A great new feature of the Hub Max is the motion-tracking camera that has only hit the market in a few other select products.

While there are some definite improvements since this is a new release, only time will tell if the hub capabilities are worth anything.

Pros:

  • Bigger screen
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Compatible
  • Uses both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi
  • Android and iOS compatible

Cons:

  • Not a dedicated smart hub

Logitech Harmony Hub

Consumers that have no issue with a Smart Hub that requires a smartphone to operate will like the affordability of the Logitech Harmony Hub. The compatibility with other devices is impressive. The app, available on Android and iOS, can reportedly replace up to 8 remotes.

This hub works particularly well with entertainment devices, such as music and TVs. 

Pros:

  • Inexpensive hub option
  • Compatible with many smart devices
  • Works well for entertainment control

Cons:

  • Adding smart devices requires using a PC wizard application
  • Requires specific model numbers for pairing

Samsung SmartThings Hub

Samsung products are beginning to have the same type of following that Apple products have had in recent years. The Samsung SmartThings Hub is a no-brainer for those individuals that only purchase Samsung products.

The goal of the manufacturer is not to just provide easy to use control but to integrate into your daily routine. The SmartThings Hub couples with the smartphone app can automate a significant part of your day depending on the devices you choose to connect. You can set up schedules or have actions occur automatically using sensor detection. 

Pros:

  • Free App
  • Battery Backup
  • Medium level of Compatibility
  • User-friendly once configured
  • Can simplify lives of Samsung fans

Cons:

  • Compatible devices are often pricier than other systems
  • Configuration can be complicated, especially for less than perfectly compatible devices

Securitfi Almond 3

The Almond 3 is a mesh router/smart hub combination that offers advanced Wi-Fi Networking capabilities combined with Smart Hub control. The Almond 3 is specifically designed to create a single Wi-Fi network within your home. That means you have added security and control. Real-time monitoring of all your connected devices within range directly from your smartphone with the free app. 

Almond 3 is compatible with most major smart device brands, including home automation devices and home security systems. 

Pros:

  • Mesh router with integrated smart hub
  • Single Wi-Fi Network with up to 3 connected Almond 3 – no dead zones
  • Enhanced security 
  • Real-time control with free app
  • Compatible with most major smart devices, including all Echo devices for voice control

Cons:

  • Not as fast as other Wi-Fi mesh routers
  • Z-Wave support not included

Sengled Smart Hub

The Sengled Smart Hub is by far the cheapest of the hubs in this guide, but that comes with some limitations. The Sengled Smart Hub can be connected to Amazon Alexa devices for voice control; however, the hub will only allow you to control Sengled brand smart devices. 

Pros:

  • Inexpensive and often comes packaged with Sengled Starter kits
  • Free and easy to use Sengled Home app (Android and iOS)
  • Uses only 2.4GHz Wi-Fi

Cons:

  • Only compatible with Sengled brand devices

Wink Smart Hub 2

The Wink Hub 2 is a great option for individuals who have already acquired a collection of smart devices from several brands. Wink provides the best protocol and compatibility among most Smart Hubs. The hub is dependable and stable as it uses both a direct Ethernet connection and Wi-Fi.  

The Wink Smart Hub 2 is perfect for individuals who want fewer limitations on the devices they want to add to their system.

Pros:

  • Extended compatibility
  • Most expansive protocol options
  • Dual connection
  • Simple to set up

Cons:

  • No battery backup

Conclusion

We know we have covered a lot of information, and honestly, there is still a ton more that could be covered. Hopefully, we have given you a head start in learning what you need to about Smart Hubs, and maybe even helped you decide on what your specific needs are in a Smart Hub. Regardless of which Smart Hub you choose the most important aspect is compatibility, so you avoid wasting your money. Happy Connecting!

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