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

Best Dedicated Smart Hub
Samsung SmartThings Hub
Samsung
A capable smart hub that’ll get your smart devices working together in no time
Pros
Easy setup
Thoughtful home automation
Supports several home automation products and brands
Cons
No voice assistant

Why we chose it

Easy setup

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.

Best voice-assisted smart hub
Amazon Echo Plus
Amazon
A sleek hub that brings both smart technology and Alexa’s voice assistance to the table
Pros
Leading-edge voice technology
ZigBee hub integration
Cons
No individual voice recognition

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 mid-2018, Alexa has an arsenal of over 30,000 “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 — unlike the Google Home — 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.

Points to consider

No voice recognition

It’s worth mentioning that while Alexa has a bigger skill repertoire, Google’s Assistant tops her for voice recognition. Alexa can’t yet pick up on different voices, so she’ll react the same way whether it’s you or your roommate asking her to “put on a chill playlist.” She’s also not as good at taking free-form commands, so you’ll have to stick to the recognized formulas when controlling your devices by voice.

Best smart hub speaker combo
Google Home Max
Google
A great centerpiece for any media-lover’s smart home
Pros
Powerful speaker
Voice assistant
Voice recognition
Cons
Limited connectivity

Why we chose it

Powerful speaker

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.

Voice assistant

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.

Voice recognition

In terms of voice control, the Max has one leg up on the Echo Plus: 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, in comparison to our other top picks.

Points to consider

Limited connectivity

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.

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 use it to play music — 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 choice. 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.

Smart home hub FAQ

Do I need a home automation hub?

It depends on what devices you plan to use, and how many. A versatile smart home hub like the Samsung SmartThings is a must if you plan on getting the whole house connected. Without it, you’ll end up controlling everything from separate apps — which isn’t much “smarter” than just getting up and flipping a switch. But there are a few situations where it makes sense to skip the hub entirely. If you only want to automate one component of the house — say, lighting — then you can stick with a single brand like Philips Hue and just use the manufacturer’s app.

What are wireless protocols?

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 — but it simplifies device connection quite a bit.

What’s the difference between a voice assistant and a smart home hub?

A voice assistant is a software that lives within a device and lets you perform tasks like setting an alarm or looking up a recipe via voice commands. Most smartphones now come equipped with voice assistants. Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant are two of the most popular voice assistants. Smart hubs connect devices under one home automation system and let you control these smart home devices through a single app. Smart hubs can include a voice assistant, but don’t have to.

The Best Smart Home Hubs: Summed Up

Samsung SmartThings Hub
Amazon Echo Plus
Google Home Max
Best Dedicated Smart Hub
Best Voice-Assisted Smart Hub
Best Smart Hub Speaker Combo
Voice assistant
Additional wireless protocols (e.g. ZigBee)
Speaker included
Individual voice recognition
Automatically detects smart devices