The Best Smart Hub
How We Found the Best Smart Hubs
15 Hours of Research
10 Smart Hubs Tested
3 Top Picks
The Best Smart Hub
A smart hub is the centerpiece of any smart home. It channels signals from all your devices so you can control everything from a single app — that way, you don’t have to juggle five, 10, sometimes 20 different apps to get the most of your technology. There isn’t a single “best smart hub,” and the market is saturated with options. We considered major factors like appeal, compatibility and accessibility when choosing our top picks to ensure we covered options most users will want for their hub.
The 3 Best Smart Hubs
The Best Smart Home Hubs: Summed Up
Samsung SmartThings Hub
Why we chose it
If all you need is a basic, get-the-job-done smart hub, then your search is over. What really sets Samsung's SmartThings Hub apart from the competition is how easy it is to use, even from setup: After plugging your SmartThings Hub into ethernet and power sources, it’ll tell you to wait five to 30 minutes for configuration (ours only took 10). From there, syncing devices is a breeze. Unlike the Wink Hub or Amazon Echo, which make you log into individual accounts for each device, Samsung’s technology automatically detects and adds nearby smart things; it had our devices up and running faster than any other hub.
Thoughtful home automation
Samsung’s home automation is incredibly intuitive and was designed with the user in mind. Its app suggests sequences like “Good Morning” or “Good Night,” and has a custom option, making it easy to set programs that fit your daily routine. You could, for instance, create a morning sequence that flips on the bedroom lights, turns the thermostat up a notch, and starts the radio playing automatically at 8 a.m.; all that’s left to you is actually getting out of bed. Most of the smart hubs we tested offer some version of this service, but not all of them were as useful as Samsung’s.
Supports several home automation products and brands
The reason we like Samsung best for an all-out smart home is that it connects seamlessly to more devices than either Amazon Echo or Google Home. It’s specifically built to support smart home-focused wireless protocols including ZigBee, Z-Wave, Cloud-to-Cloud and LAN. Devices that run on these networks will connect directly to the SmartThings Hub, whereas the other two may require an external bridge or an additional hub. Samsung cuts those intermediaries out, making it simpler (and less equipment-heavy) to keep all your devices in sync.
Points to consider
No voice assistant
One major drawback is that the SmartThings Hub doesn’t come with the same built-in perks as the Amazon Echo or Google Home. There’s no speaker included, and you’ll have to purchase a second device if you want to use voice control. The SmartThings hub will get everything in your home connected, but doesn’t go above and beyond the call of duty. That said, Samsung’s hub is the cheapest of the group and a great starter hub for those testing out the smart tech waters.
Amazon Echo Plus
Why we chose it
Leading-edge voice technology
Amazon's Echo Plus has a few perks that neither the Samsung SmartThings nor the Google Home can match. Namely: Alexa. Amazon cornered the market for voice control technology early on and remains at its leading edge. As of September 2018, Alexa has an arsenal of more than 50,000 "skills," from maintaining your grocery list, to tracking packages, to booking a vacation (and most anything in between). While not all of these skills are necessarily worthwhile, Alexa’s list unquestionably trounces Google’s — which was resting at just under 2,000 skills at last count.
Automation features similar to Samsung’s allow you to say “Alexa, start my day,” and she’ll run through a customized sequence (turn on lights, announce the weather, check traffic, etc.). In addition, Alexa can integrate with third-party apps. That means you can, for example, ask her to “Request an Uber ride from home to Safeway,” and a car will be on its way to take you to the store.
ZigBee hub integration
Amazon upped the ante with its smart speakers by integrating a ZigBee hub into the Echo Plus. This makes linking compatible devices as effortless as it is with the Samsung Hub — just plug them in and you’re good to go. Echo Plus users can immediately connect to the full range of ZigBee-enabled products — including Philips Hue lighting, Kwikset locks, ADT home security hubs, and more. By comparison, the original Echo and its offspring make you weed through multiple steps and sign-ins before you can start using any device.
New design and features
We originally tested the first generation Echo Plus, but in September 2018 Amazon announced a second-generation Echo Plus with an all-new design. Like the first-gen Echo Plus, the second-gen has a built-in Zigbee hub that makes syncing smart devices quick and easy. Rather than the plastic exterior, the second-gen is enveloped in a fabric, which we found more aesthetically pleasing. It also has a more powerful speaker and a temperature sensor. The temperature sensor is a new feature for the second-generation Echo Plus and allows for more control over the smart devices in your home. For example, if the Echo Plus senses a rise in temperature, you can set it to automatically lower the smart thermostat.
Points to consider
Weaker bass and limited music options
While the second-generation Echo Plus has a stronger speaker, it’s not as powerful as it could be — particularly when it comes to lower frequencies. In addition, you can’t have two speakers playing unless you’re streaming music — which means you can’t use the stereo pairing feature if you’re not connected to an internet connection. Customers note in Amazon reviews that, if you want a smart hub that also doubles as a high-quality stereo system for music, you might be better off with the Google Home.
Google Home Max
Why we chose it
The Google Home Max is built for deep, rich, big sound. It houses two 4.5 inch woofers, two 0.7 inch custom tweeters and six class D amplifiers. If that sounds like gibberish, think of it in CNet’s terms: “the Google speaker exhibited a huge sound… All of the elements are treated equally, and none of them jut out awkwardly.” To get comparable sound from another smart hub, you’d have to pair it with something like the Sonos Play:5 — which performs similarly, but costs a lot more.
Though often branded as a speaker, the Google Home Max makes a pretty strong case as a smart hub. Like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant lets you control your smart home devices with voice commands. You can toggle switches on and off, control home security devices, set automated routines, and so on. If your house is set up with Chromecast, Google Home also makes it easy to control what’s streaming on the TV or through connected speakers — making it an attractive media center.
Google Assistant is able to recognize different voices and tailor its responses accordingly. That means that if you say “Hey Google, let’s go to work,” the Home will check traffic on your commute, read out your calendar, adjust the smart devices you programmed — but if your roommate gives the same command, it will check traffic on their commute and so on. This makes Google Home uniquely fit for multi-user smart homes.
Points to consider
There is a tradeoff in connectivity when you choose Google Home over the Samsung Hub or the Echo. With Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, the Max is compatible with a fair number of smart home gadgets right off the bat. However, Google hasn’t yet added a ZigBee or Z-Wave hub like Amazon did with the Echo Plus — which means connecting devices on these newer protocols will be a bit of a hassle. You may have to purchase additional bridges or even pair the Home Max with another hub (like the Samsung SmartThings) for more options.
How We Chose the Best Smart Home Hubs
We started with a list of 17 trending smart hub models, making sure all the big players were present — household names like Samsung, Amazon and Google — as well as lesser-known brands like Insteon or Vera. In the interest of comparing features, we tested multiple models from a couple brands, including Amazon’s Echo line and Google’s Home products.
Wide appeal and user-friendly design
We wanted the home automation hubs we tested to be approachable enough for smart home beginners, without a super high-cost entry point. That meant nixing companies that were expensive or inconvenient to get started with. Some, like Vivint, require professional installation or a monthly subscription. We didn’t include smart hub/router combos either (like the Securifi Almond) since most users already have Wi-Fi set up at home. Systems like those aren’t ideal for beginners or DIY-ers.
Compatible smart home devices
If your ultimate goal is to have the whole house connected, then compatibility should be your first priority. First, we looked at device pairing options, scouring the web to see how many smart brands and smart home products each hub can be paired with. Sheer numbers were a factor, of course: Samsung’s 45-plus brand list is preferable to the Insteon Hub, which only connects to Insteon devices. But we also considered the quality of each hub’s partnering ability. We give preference to hubs that work with the most popular smart brands like Nest, Sonos, Philips Hue, Honeywell, etc.
In addition to individual devices, we took wireless protocols into consideration. A “protocol” is the network that lets your devices communicate with one another. The most common are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but new ones like ZigBee and Z-Wave have been developed specifically for smart home use. Having a hub that supports smart protocols isn’t strictly necessary — there are workarounds we’ll touch on later — but it simplifies device connection quite a bit.
The 10 smart hubs we tested
- Amazon Echo
- Amazon Echo Plus
- Google Home
- Google Home Max
- Apple HomePod
- Samsung SmartThings Hub
- Lowe’s Iris
- Wink Hub 2
- Logitech Harmony Hub
- VeraPlus Hub
Ease of setup
We ranked each device on both initial setup and the device connection process. Most were fairly effortless to get up and running — only the Lowe’s Iris Hub felt cumbersome, asking for excessive information like a full name, home address, phone number, secure PIN and three different security questions. But the real difference came down to device setup. You’ll want a hub that links to new devices easily, so that building out your smart home won’t be a headache.
App control and automation
If a smart hub is the brains of your smart home, then its app is the muscle. It should connect all your devices seamlessly and help them work together as one. While testing our smart hubs, we paid close attention to app design, device organization, menu options and automation features, looking for the ones that were most intuitive to use.
Guide to the Best Smart Home Hubs
Research smart home devices
A good way to figure out which smart home hub will work for your home is by exploring which smart home products and brands you’re most interested in. If you envision a simpler home automation system — only wanting to pair your smart home hub with your Chromecast and a Nest thermostat or using it to play music and check your daily schedule — then a Google Home Max is a good choice. However, if you’re dreaming of outfitting your system with everything from smart light bulbs to smart locks, the Samsung SmartThings hub is a better option. Before purchasing, look at the brands and products you have and the ones you want to make sure they will pair easily with the hub.
Consider whether you need a voice assistant
Many people like voice assistants for their convenience — they make managing your home automation system simple and handsfree. However, they aren’t for everyone. If you don’t mind using an app to control your smart home, or don’t see yourself asking a voice assistant to perform tasks or check the weather, you’ll probably be fine with a basic smart home hub. Think about your smart home needs and if a voice assistant is a necessity.
Look for deals
Smart home hubs are increasing in popularity and, because of that, they often go on sale. Amazon, for example, will often discount the Echo Plus and its other hubs on big shopping days like Prime Day and Black Friday. Always look for deals on smart hubs before buying full price and consider waiting until Prime Day or the holidays before making your purchase.