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The Best Smart Home Hubs in 2021

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Jan 4, 2021

Why turn off the lights, lock the door, or close the blinds when smart home technology can do all this (and so much more) for you? New smart home technologies are hitting the market virtually every month, and are transforming how North American homeowners interact with their houses. One estimate finds that the growth of the smart home technology market is forecast to reach a value of more than 53 billion U.S. dollars by 2022. Homeownership in the United States stood around 64.8 percent in 2018. Over 90 percent of consumers admitted to purchasing a smart home device, indicating that the adoption of smart home technology outpaces homeownership.

What is Smart Home Automation?

Smart home automation refers to either hardware or software that can connect and integrate different smart home devices used by homeowners. Today, smart home technologies commonly used by homeowners can be used for:

The problem, unfortunately, is that not all of these smart home technologies are mutually compatible and can have issues connecting and communicating. 

What is a Smart Home Hub?

A smart home hub is a single device that will connect a wide range of smart home gadgets on a home automation network and control the pathways of communication. Also known as a smart home bridge, these hubs collect and translate protocol communications that come from different devices and allow smart home technologies to "talk" to one another. Many tech-challenged homeowners might have difficulties in understanding the differences between cloud connection, Z-Wave protocols, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity. In simple terms, while some smart home technologies are configured to work with your home Wi-Fi system, others will be programmed to used Zigbee or Bluetooth. Without a smart home hub, homeowners will have to carefully consider purchasing only smart home technologies that are compatible with one another.

Apple HomePod mini
Apple HomePod mini. Photo Credit: Apple

How Many People Have Voice Controlled Smart Systems?

At least one-quarter of all U.S. households already owns and uses a voice-controlled system such as an Amazon Alexa or Google Home. With such widespread application of smart home technology, smart home hubs offer an important element of smart home infrastructure for seamless integration of different types of devices. Below, we look at the benefits of a smart home hub and review the top four home automation hubs on the market today. 

Let's say that an individual homeowner recently purchased a set of smart home blinds that will help them improve the thermal performance and energy efficiency of their house. The smart window shades that they bought, however, only uses Zigbee to communicate. While at work on a hot afternoon, they wanted to tell their window shades to close and stop the summer sun from heating their home. Their smartphone, which only uses Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to communicate, would not be able to communicate with the smart home shades. A smart home hub would essentially act as a "translator" between the smart home blinds and the homeowner's smartphone, allowing for a streamlined communication experience. 

Can Smart Homes Devices Increase Electricity Usage?

Smart home technologies are promoted as having the ability to drastically improve the energy efficiency of the homes and buildings we inhabit. One recent report by the U.S. Energy Star Program bluntly states that smart home technologies will "revolutionize the energy efficiency game." However, it is worth recognizing that smart home technologies also add to the total energy requirements of a home. With a smart speaker system or smart home security cameras, for example, there are not any energy savings involved, but rather an increase in overall home energy usage. While smart home devices generally use a small amount of energy to function, one analysis believes we may have 50 billion smart home devices in our homes by 2020.  

To offset the energy demand of increasingly popular smart home devices, accurate and appropriate usage of smart home technologies is essential. Making sure that you can effectively communicate with your smart home gadgets, by voice or remotely, are basic prerequisites to take advantage of potential energy savings. In our example of the homeowner who purchased smart home blinds. Without a smart home hub that would allow them to remotely communicate with the blinds, the energy used by the automated shades might outpace any potential energy efficiency gains. In this sense, smart home hubs can play an important role in maximizing the potential energy efficiency savings that smart home technologies promise.

The Top 5 Home Automation Hubs 

There are dozens of home automation hubs on the market today, and choosing the best option will depend on the type of smart home gadgets you use. Ideally, you will want to find a hub that connects several smart home communication protocols. This includes Bluetooth, Kidde, Lutron, ClearConnect, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, among others. Below, we briefly review five of the best home automation hubs currently available.

amazon echo show
Amazon Echo Show Photo Credit: Amazon

Amazon Echo Show

The Echo Show from Amazon is a smart home hub that also comes with a smart screen display, allowing it to double as an entertainment device. The Echo Show can control a wide array of smart devices used in your home. It comes with Zigbee compatibility for connecting to smart devices that are not Wi-Fi or Bluetooth compatible. While the Echo Show is commonly paired with the Amazon Alexa, the Show can also control first-generation smart devices. This helps homeowners avoid having to upgrade to new smart home technologies every couple of years. With the Echo Show, homeowners who use Alexa can instantaneously connect smart lights, cameras, thermostats, outlets, and more. A second-generation Echo Show is currently selling for $129.99 for an 8" display and $89.99 for a 5" display on Amazon.

google nest home hub
Photo Credit: Gizmodo

Google Nest Hub

For homeowners who use Google Assistant, the Google Home Hub is another ideal home control option. Their website states that the Home Hub is compatible with over 5,000 smart home devices, making it useful for virtually every smart home device you purchase. The Google Home Hub also offers several other functions. The touchscreen display can be paired with Google Assistant so that you can appoint specific tasks to your smart home devices through voice control. The Home Hub can also play videos and act as a digital photo frame when not being actively used. One of the few downsides of the Google Home Hub is that it has no connection to Amazon Alexa. This requires you to choose between Google and Amazon for your smart home needs. The Google Home Hub currently costs $79.99 at Bestbuy

Apple HomePod mini
Apple HomePod mini. Photo Credit: Apple

Apple HomePod mini

The Apple HomePod mini is a Siri-enabled intelligent assistant that allows you to control smart devices within your home through Apple HomeKit's framework. Multiple Apple HomePod mini speakers can be linked wirelessly to create a connected sound system or for music playback throughout the house. With Apple's HomePod mini, listen to music and news, ask questions, control your smart devices, and even hand off music or podcasts between devices to allow for seamless entertaining coming or going. Like other smart home systems, Apple HomePod mini can broadcast messages to other speakers to easily communicate with other family members. Apple's HomePod mini can also be configured to recognize up to 6 family member voices for a personalized experience.

samsung smartthings hub
Photo Credit: Engadget

Samsung SmartThings Hub

The Samsung SmartThings Hubs is one of the most powerful smart home hubs on the market. It helps you wirelessly connect a wide range of smart devices, monitor, and control these devices with a single app. You can even receive alerts from connected devices when there's unexpected activity in your home, and automate the connected devices in your home to follow specific commands. For example, with the SmartThings Hub, you can set up several smart home devices to activate or deactivate when doors are open, when movement is detected, or during certain times of the day. This hub can be connected with voice command systems offered by Samsung SmartThings, Amazon Alexa, or Google Home. At $69.99, the SmartThings Hub is also one of the least expensive options.

Smart home hubs are easy to install, set up, and generally only requires you to follow the simple set up steps included in the instructional guide. Most of the linking and connections to your smart home devices will occur automatically once you plug the device in and connect it to your home Wi-Fi system. For homeowners interested in making the most of their smart home devices, a smart home hub should be on your next Christmas wish list.

wink hub 2
Photo Credit: Cool Things

Wink Hub 2

The Wink Hub 2, unlike the Google and Amazon products mentioned above, is a smart home hub designed for the mainstream consumer. It can easily be used with Amazon Alexa, and also has its voice command options that can be activated via the Wink Hub app. With this app, homeowners can also monitor and control all of their smart devices, no matter what communication protocol they use. As another benefit, the Wink Hub 2 is designed to connect directly to your modem or router via an Ethernet connection. This creates a stronger internet connection and allows the Wink Hub to work extremely quickly and efficiently. The Wink Hub app enables homeowners to access and monitor all of their smart home devices on a single app. Managing ten different smart home devices that all run on their own apps can be demanding. The centralized Wink app allows for a more natural and more efficient administration of your different smart home technologies. The Wink Hub 2 currently is selling for $139.95 on Amazon

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2022-01-19T02:50:18+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.