New Smart Home Hubs Are Emerging
Smart homes aren’t some futuristic fantasy—they’re here. Right now, you can build an awesome smart home with lights that come on with a voice command, smart security cameras that beam footage to your smartphone, smart locks that tell you when your door is open and so much more. At the center of this smart ecosystem are smart home hubs. Let’s look at what they are, why you need one, how to stay up to date and how to know which is the best smart home hub for you.
What is a smart home hub?
A smart home hub (sometimes called a smart home gateway) is a centralized device that allows you to control and automate all the smart lights, smart locks, smart thermostats and all the other smart or Internet of Things devices in your home—regardless of what protocol they use to communicate.
You see, while your smartphone connects to your home internet over Wi-Fi and your headphones over Bluetooth, many smart devices rely on different wireless protocols. The biggest names are Zigbee, Z-Wave and Matter—the latter of which is a newer standard that aims to make almost all smart home devices work together—and most good smart home hubs now support all of them.
Without a smart home hub, your smartphone won’t be able to control certain kinds of smart lights, or if it can, you might only be able to control them while you’re at home, instead of being able to turn your lights on and off from anywhere in the world over the internet. This is why smart home hubs are sometimes referred to as smart home bridges: They bridge the gap between your smart home devices and your Wi-Fi network.
Crucially, most smart home hubs can control devices from different companies even if they use different protocols. For example, if you use an Amazon Echo device as a smart home hub, it can control Phillips Hue light bulbs and IKEA smart plugs at the same time.
Smart home hubs generally allow you to automate your different devices as well. If you want all of your smart lights and your heating to come on at sunset, you can do it with a smart home hub. You don’t have to automate all your lights and your heating individually through smartphone apps.
Finally, many smart home hubs are built into smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod, or even smart screens, like the Google Nest Hub Max. This means you can also control your smart home using voice commands, as well as do all the other great things you can do with a smart speaker.
Why you need a smart home hub
If you only have one or two smart home devices and you’re happy to control them from your smart phone using their individual apps, then you might be able to get by without a smart home hub. However, if you want to control your smart home from afar, use lots of different devices from different manufacturers, automate when different devices turn on or off and generally just make your smart home as smart as it can be, then a smart home hub is a really good investment.
If you already have an old smart home hub, it might be worth upgrading to a newer model that supports Matter, the latest smart home standard. This will allow you to include more of the latest smart devices in your smart home, and it will future-proof it going forward. You shouldn’t need to upgrade your smart home hub very often, so upgrading now should set you up for the next five or more years.
The best smart home hubs you can buy right now
If you’re looking for a new smart home hub, it’s easy to find a great one. Some of the best smart home hubs you can get right now are:
- The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers
- The Amazon Echo Show smart display
- The Apple HomePod and HomePod Mini smart speakers
- The Google Nest Audio and Nest Mini smart speakers
- The Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max smart displays
- The IKEA Dirigera smart home hub
- The Aeotec Smart Home Hub
All of these are great smart home hubs that support Matter as well as at least one of the other smart home standards. Some modern Wi-Fi routers can also double as a Matter smart home hub. These include the Google Nest Wi-Fi and Amazon Eero 6 mesh Wi-Fi systems.
Choose the right smart home hub
What smart home hub is right for you depends on what smart home devices you already have and those you plan to add.
If you already have an Amazon, Apple or Google smart speaker in your home, then upgrading to a newer model that doubles as a smart home hub is a great idea. Otherwise, if you have smart home devices from one brand, for example IKEA’s smart home line, then getting the matching hub will make setup nice and easy.
While Matter is still rolling out, it does look like it will be the smart home protocol of the future. If you’re buying a smart home hub now, it’s a good idea to get one that supports Matter—like any of the great smart home hubs on the list above.
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Product features and availability may have changed and are subject to change.