Best Home Smart Hub 2018 – Buyers Guide

Smart hubs are devices which connect multiple smart home appliances and help you to control them from one app. They can also allow these separate appliances to communicate with each other (so your lights can come on when a motion sensor is activated etc.)

Before we dive in, it is important to know that there are two broad types; bridges and smart hubs.

The former will only control products from one manufacturer and are usually vital to give them an internet connection, but the latter will usually control any compatible Internet of Things product no matter the brand, as long as they work on the same communication frequency.

If you already have a few independent Wi-Fi connected products in your home which you can control from your phone or smart speaker, you may not see the need for a hub.

But if you are looking at expanding your collection then it could make overall control easier (and possibly lessen the pressure on your broadband).

Or, maybe you’re deliberating over whether to kit out your home with Philips or Hive light bulbs and need to know which bridge performs best.

To help you out, we have reviewed the best smart home hubs and best smart bridges available:

The Best Home Smart Hubs – Our Top Picks

Best Overall: All-New Echo Show (2nd Gen)
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All-New Echo Show (2nd Gen)
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  • Frequencies: Zigbee, ‘Works With Alexa’
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android
Top Rated Smart Home Hub: Echo Plus
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All-New Echo Plus (2nd Gen)
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  • Frequencies: Zigbee, ‘Works With Alexa’
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android
Best Smart Home Bridge: Hive Hub 360
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Hive Hub 360
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  • Frequencies: Hive Zigbee
  • Compatible With: iOS, Android
  • In The Range: Heating, Cameras, Sensors, Lighting, Plugs

Best Smart Home Hub

All-New Echo Show (2nd Gen)

The Echo Show takes all of the things we love about the Echo Plus, including the vital Zigbee frequency communication, but adds a screen which opens up your possibilities and smart home set up.

Music is no longer limited to sound, with the possibility to watch videos and see lyrics or even just have the album art adding to the atmosphere on the 10.1” screen. Preparing recipes is no longer a case of constantly pausing to read what the next step is. Instead, you can follow videos and guides. Or, you can have Prime Video content on in the background while you’re mixing all your ingredients.

Now for the whole smart hub aspect. You can control compatible items and gadgets with your voice, from bulbs to doorbells and thermostats. There is also technology which will allow you to see the stream of your front door footage if you have a smart camera doorbell, so you can always keep an eye on the comings and goings without rushing to the door.

Or, why not make a video call? You can contact anyone with the Alexa App, an Echo Spot or Echo Show. The sound is also improved compared to the older version.

Migrating over your existing Internet of Things items from their original bridges is easy enough, as Alexa will automatically detect all of your compatible gadgets and connect everything up on your behalf.

There is quite a price jump from the Echo Plus for the addition of a screen, but it does open up the possibilities, especially if you have visual security gadgets in place or love visual accompaniments. There a few limitations in terms of the apps available and devices you can connect to the hub, but it is still ahead of a lot of the others available.

We like

  • Larger screen than 1st Generation
  • Great sound

We disike

  • Only has Zigbee or Works With Alexa connections so far

Final Verdict

The amazing Echo Plus, but taken up a notch in terms of controllability and usability. Perfect if you're security-conscious.

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: Zigbee, ‘Works With Alexa’
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android

+ Downloads

Echo Show (2nd Generation) User Guide

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All-New Echo Plus (2nd Gen)

Amazon Alexa has long led the way in smart speaker and voice assistant technology. But to control items, they usually still have to go through a dedicated hub.

However, the new Echo Plus has taken away the need for two different products thanks to built-in Zigbee. All you need to do is ask it to control your lighting, thermostats and security items, and it can do it all by itself.

Setting it up is hassle-free. Just say “Alexa, discover my devices”, and it will automatically find all compatible additions and add them to the network immediately. As long as they have Zigbee communication or work with Alexa, there will be a pairing.

There are still all of the classic specifications there which have made the Echo’s so popular. New premium speakers powered by Dolby play 360° audio offer even crisper vocals and dynamic bass response compared to earlier models, and you can also ask it to play music, read the news, check weather forecasts, set alarms and timers and Drop-In on anyone with an Echo or the Alexa app.

We also liked the little addition of an internal thermometer, so you can ask it to tell you the temperature in the current room, and it’ll give pretty exact results. Not an essential touch, but something which could come in handy if you have a smart thermometer or similar.

For the little jump in price compared to the original Echo’s, you get so much more for your money, and the improvements are clear and beneficial. If you were set on buying a voice assistant but didn’t know whether this newest Echo was worth it, we can clarify it most definitely is.

We like

  • Looks stylish and modern
  • Microphone and sound are clear

We disike

  • Only has Zigbee communication

Final Verdict

Amazon are currently leading the way in most areas of the smart home, and this speaker shows why. For the absolute latest model, this is the best choice.

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: Zigbee, ‘Works With Alexa’
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android

+ Downloads

Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Gen Starter Guide

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SAMSUNG SmartThings Hub v3

The Samsung smart hub works with a generous range of frequencies, meaning there is more chance that all of your smart home products will connect to it.

It is the heart of any SmartThings home and can connect to hundreds of items around your house, such as Bose, Philips, Yale, Honeywell and many, many more. Samsung also has a great range of their own products which would be great additions, such as motion sensors, moisture sensors and power outlets.

The hub can connect to your internet via an Ethernet connection, which is often a lot more powerful than your Wi-Fi and will ensure you aren’t let down by weak connections and interference when it matters the most. This newest version can also connect wirelessly though if you want to go for a hassle-free set-up.

There is also a powerful processor which will further keep everything going, so you can add as many gadgets as you’d like without worrying it will not be able to cope.

This newer version does not have the battery backup which the previous models did, which seems like a bit of a step back, but there are so many improvements which make it forgivable. Plus, it was a bit unnecessary unless all your other items were also backed up.

Also, if you’re migrating some gadgets across from their own individual bridges, there isn’t much support there. The instructions are a bit wordy. You have to disconnect it all before moving it over and wait for it all to communicate. But good things come to those who wait.

A few flaws do exist, but there isn’t actually an absolutely perfect hub as of yet. It is still all relatively new technology. However the Samsung does seem like one of the most rounded and advanced at the moment, and the range has increased greatly since they released their first hub.

We like

  • Great choice of connectable products
  • Can create automation between gadgets and appliances
  • SmartThings Routines creates timings

We disike

  • Doesn’t connect to some of Samsung’s own products such as their TV
  • Doesn’t work with Nest

Final Verdict

Not the most rounded of all the hubs out there, but does work with one of the largest selections of other items which is great if your home is full of third-party appliances.

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: ZigBee, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, USB
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android

+ Downloads

Samsung SmartThings Hub User Guides

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GOOGLE Home Hub

GOOGLE Home Hub

The updated version of the Google Home Smart Speaker, which didn’t support frequency communication, this is Google’s first central hub.

You still have the voice commands and Google Assistant, so all your questions can be answered with pretty accurate results. You can control and play music thanks to the integrated speaker.

However, the addition of the frequencies for the home hub aspect makes it the perfect central organ to any smart home. It is compatible with over 200 products from 50 brands, including Nest (which is a significant missing aspect with a lot of the other smart hubs).

You can also use it with IFTTT to set up relationships between several gadgets, such as your lights with your thermostat or motion sensors.

The screen is also welcome. It is a 7” touchscreen, which allows you to see all of the information as well as hear it. Great if you need to check an appointment, or see what is on your shopping list. All of the apps are there in one place so you can select them and make any changes there and then.

There is also voice match technology, so it can tell whether it is you asking for a check on your schedule or your housemate.

It is cheaper than the Echo Show, has more frequency connection platforms, and Google is seen as a more helpful platform than Amazon (thanks to their superior search engine knowledge). But there is a smaller screen, weaker audio and the interface isn’t quite as clear-cut and easy to navigate. There is no video camera, which will disappoint anyone who loves video calling but it is something you can get around.

Overall though, they’re pretty equal (especially when considering smart hubs are still a new technology). Your decision will just depend on whether you’re allegiances lie with Google or Amazon.

We like

  • Easy to set up
  • Good price
  • Sleek, simple design
  • Good support for multiple products

We disike

  • No video camera
  • Screen is small in comparison to other tablets

Final Verdict

For the Google lovers out there - it can answer your questions well and control pretty much any smart device, making it a real top choice

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: ZigBee, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, USB
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android

Logitech Harmony Elite Advanced Remote Control, Hub and App

If smart home entertainment is your primary set-up and you want to connect them all up together, then this is a great affordable choice.

A main aim of the Harmony is to reduce the need for multiple remotes clogging up your living room and coffee table drawers. It will connect up to 15 devices so you can control them all from one place, either your smartphone or the dedicated remote which comes with the package.

The Harmony Elite can connect to your speakers, game systems, televisions and set-top boxes as long as they are compatible. Plus, if your lights, window blinds and Thermostat are compatible, it can control those too. Overall, there are 270,000 entertainment and smart home devices on offer, and brands such as SmartThings, Nest and Hue.

The hub will pick up your commands, and send them to the relevant item. This is done in the form of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and infrared signals (IR), and even though it can be set up to command items directly with IR, the former option is the default setting. It connects to your wireless network using your phone’s Bluetooth to connect to the Wi-Fi, scans the network for compatible devices (such as your Sonos, Hue and smart TV’s) and then you’ll be guided through how to control it all.

The price isn’t bad for what you get when considering individual speaker hubs are not much less. Plus, the affordability of a product is in how much you use it, and this is a hub which will no doubt be used every day for multiple items.

It is best for entertainment-based gadgets and home cinemas though, so if you want the most reliable hub for your smart security, then it would be best going with a more rounded option above. There is no reason why you can’t purchase it separately to control items which others can’t though, such as your Sky box and Roku media player.

We like

  • Set up is fast (if done right)
  • Compatible with Alexa
  • Separate buttons on remotes for lights/plugs

We disike

  • Communication between remote and devices can be glitchy

Final Verdict

Best for anyone with a million and one gadgets to control as opposed to a smart home for security reasons, but still worth considering for flexibility and the combination of items which are compatible

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: IR, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • Compatible With: iOS, Android

+ Downloads

Logitech Harmony Elite Advanced Remote Control, Hub and App User Manual

Download

Best Smart Home Bridge

Hive Hub 360

If you have your eye on the Hive thermostat or security system, then you’ll need some form of hub to connect them up to the internet. The recommended bridge is Hive’s own offering, which keeps things simple for the average home user.

This model is an updated version of Hive’s popular original Hub, which has been re-launched to boost security and design. It is no longer a little white box which sits on your side table, but a round speaker-style more in match with the design of their Hive View cameras.

Part of the reason behind the styling is that it can connect to your router via Wi-Fi so can sit wherever is best for communication in your home, rather than being tucked behind a plant pot near your phone line and the signal barely reaching your connected gadgets.

Hive is primarily a security-based company, with a lot of emphasis on cameras and sensors. So the fact that the 360 can listen out for the sound of your dog barking, glass breaking, or the smoke alarm going off and then alert you to the noise is welcome, and the fact it can be placed anywhere suddenly becomes even more understandable.

You can listen in and decide on the action to take, whether you need to intervene or Patch is just barking at the postman. For when you’re at home and are conscious about it listening in, simply mute the microphone through the app.

There is an internal memory, so if your broadband goes down, it can remember all of the queued commands and connections to keep everything going.

As with all hubs and bridges, a few things are missing. It works with the Zigbee frequency, but only supports Hive products. Annoying as the base is there, but it just needs building on. The fact that there is a microphone to listen out for security issues, but no voice control is also strange, especially with the rise in smart speakers.

Of course, this could all come later, but it wouldn’t be a unique market. Still, the fact it keeps everything basic and within its own ecosystem means that it does its job very well indeed. Arguably better to excel at a few niche things than be mediocre at a range, of course.

We like

  • Security aspects
  • Stylish design
  • Matches other products in the Hive range

We disike

  • Takes a while to set up

Final Verdict

If you have a lot of Hive products then this is the perfect addition to make the whole set up a lot more secure, and it looks pretty great too

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: Hive Zigbee
  • Compatible With: iOS, Android
  • In The Range: Heating, Cameras, Sensors, Lighting, Plugs

+ Downloads

Hive Hub 360 User Guide

Download

Panasonic Smart Home KX-HNB600EW Smart Hub

The Panasonic Smart Home will give you peace of mind and boost the security of your home, as it concentrates on surveillance. Therefore, the hub is an essential part of your set-up.

Connect your additional items, such as cameras, sensors and smart plugs, and allow them all to not only be controlled from one place but communicate with one another.

Pairing them all up to the hub is simple with one-touch; just press a button on each item and one on the hub, and the signals will pick each other up. If you decide to add any more at a later date, just repeat the process.

It uses a DECT Ultra Low Energy low-frequency wireless connection to communicate with the grouped products, which is safer than sharing everything through Wi-Fi. Communication between them all is invisible to most consumer products, and it’s less likely to be hacked (if all of that is a concern to you).

As it will form part of the security kit, it is also important to review the individual aspects broadly. The cameras could be better quality, but there is an incredibly broad offering of Panasonic items which can make up your system, which is great. From sirens to sensors and plugs, it will be one of the best across the board. Simply custom build it how you want.

It isn’t compatible with things like Alexa, Google Home, or even IFTTT, which puts it under the other bridges and hubs in terms of control and usability, but it is understandable because of the maximum security aspect. Still, the idea of a smart home is frequently relying on voice activation and pairing everything up, so it may be a bit of an annoyance if you’re already using this technology.

We like

  • Push pairing set up
  • Wide choice of security additions
  • No monthly fees for security system

We disike

  • Communication limitations

Final Verdict

Reasonably easy to configure and there is a really decent selection of add-ons you can choose from and create your own home system with

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: DECT
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android
  • In The Range: Baby Monitor, Indoor and Outdoor Cameras, Cordless Handset, Smart Plug, Window/Door Sensor, Motion Sensor, Indoor Siren, Glass Break Sensor, Water Leak Sensor, Keypad And Keychain

Philips Hue Home Automation Smart Bridge 2.0

Primarily a lighting range, it is one of the cheapest bridges available, so perfect if illumination is the only thing you want to make smart in your home.

The bridge is the heart of your system, connecting up to 50 Hue lights and accessories together. Plenty to get your whole home covered in smart lighting. All you need to do is plug it in and connect it to the router via an Ethernet cable.

Even though the Philips Hue Bridge will “only work with Philips Hue items”, it can work as part of a system to also communicate with Nest, Samsung SmartThings, Logitech Harmony and Yale thanks to IFTTT. A hub (whether it be the Philip’s one or a general name) is required.

Even though the Hue Bridge only controls the lighting range, which seems very limited when compared with a lot of the other bridges on the market, it does this very well. Focusing has meant they have created the best smart lighting range on the market, with bulbs, strip lighting, outdoor spotlights and table lamps on the market. You can also choose white or coloured.

We like

  • Extensive choice
  • Can add it as part of a security system
  • Works with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant

We disike

  • Extra lighting is all expensive - will soon build up

Final Verdict

Despite being limited to lights, it is one of the most advanced ranges on the market and a much for anyone who wants the best-quality smart lighting available.

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: Zigbee
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android
  • In The Range: Lighting, Motion Sensor

+ Downloads

Philips Hue Home Automation Smart Bridge 2.0 User Guide

Download

Energenie MiHome Gateway Starter Kit

If you want an affordable way to start your smart home journey, then the MiHome range is a good place to start and covers most of the basics.

It has built itself on offering powerpoints, plug adaptors and light switches rather than actual light bulbs and electricals, so you can transfer your existing home appliances over to smart devices rather than buying a whole new house-worth of items.

The range is generous, from single plug sockets to multi plugs and energy monitors. Just buy what you need and what works for your home.

This starter pack has everything you need to get going, with the gateway and three adaptors plus the remote control. Additional items can be purchased as and when you need and connected easily as pairing only requires a few clicks through the app.

It works with Amazon Echo and Google Home so that you can voice control everything for ease. It is also compatible with the Nest Learning Thermostat, and if you have the radiator valves in place, you can control every heater individually. Sockets can also be used with IFTTT to create pairings.

We also loved the geofencing, so it can make alterations depending on your location and see where you are.

As it is only a bridge, it will only work with Energenie smart plugs and radiator valves, but as you can plug any brand or item into them, it is as flexible as they come.

It is a new company and idea, so there are some flaws in connection reliability, but if you’re entirely new to smart home technology and the possible cost is putting you off, this can ease you in gently.

We like

  • Price
  • Good choice of adaptors

We disike

  • Reliability issues (hopefully will improve)

Final Verdict

A good way to ease anyone in to the smart home world easily, and you get a generous amount of kit to get you going

+ Specifications

  • Frequencies: 433MHz Radio Band
  • Compatible With: iOS/Android
  • In The Range: Light Switches, Plug Sockets, Radiator Valves, Thermostat, Sensors

+ Downloads

Energenie MiHome Hub and Smart Plugs 3-pack User Manual

Download

Help and Resources

Smart Home Hub Buying Guide

Why You Need A Smart Home Hub / Bridge

As smart home gadgets and appliances become more common and start to take over your home, it will make even more sense to have a hub in place. Some gadgets actually require one to work.

Rather than independently connecting dozens of items to your Wi-Fi and having an individual app for every single brand (hello slow internet and phone), you can control them all from one app and connect only the hub or bridge to the router, and power the items wirelessly through this thanks to the creation of an independent mesh network.

They can also allow them all to communicate with each other using a platform such as IFTTT, so if somebody enters a room and a motion sensor is activated, it can get the lights to turn on in response. Or, if the front door is unlocked, a smart thermostat can turn the heating on in response.

Bridges

There are some items and mini-ecosystems which require a hub to work, but some hubs will only work with products from their own range. These are bridges (or gateways).

For example, a Hive Hub will only allow your Hive items to operate, and not across brands. Most items or starter packs come with the one they need so you can get started straight away.

They connect locally or to the cloud, and usually give the connected appliances the power. This takes the strain off your home internet, as only the hub is connected (often via Ethernet for a stronger signal).

However, there are some more generalised hubs on the market now which remove the need for multiple proprietary bridges such as these and let you mix and match…

Hubs

A standalone hub can connect several Internet of Things items from various brands, thanks to built-in communication frequency support. They have emerged due to the ever-increasing demand and reliance on smart appliance items, often from multiple manufacturers.

For example, Samsung SmartThings doesn’t just control appliances from Samsung, and the Echo Plus will control any item which has a compatible Zigbee frequency connection.

So, while you may only be able to control your Philips Hue smart bulbs with the Philips Hue Bridge, you could manage these plus your new TP-Link or LIFX bulbs with one standalone hub, reducing the need for multiple bridges cluttering up the hallway.

It is great if you bought a Hive system a few years ago and now want to add some items from another brand to the mix, but are worried about the fact the Hive Hub will not control them, and the idea of multiple apps and commands is already overwhelming you.

They don’t always allow any two items to communicate or be controlled, though. Some hubs are only compatible with certain frequencies, for example, they’ll only work with Zigbee and not Z-Wave or WeMo. So if you bought an Amazon Echo Plus (Zigbee only), it couldn’t work with a WeMo smart plug, which is where the limitations can start.

There may also be restrictions in product types so it could work with a Zigbee motion sensor or light switch but not a smoke detector. Thorough lists are available from their websites.

Smart Speakers vs Hubs

The smart home hub market is controlled by companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple. This is because their products have recently combined with their smart speaker technology and voice assistants to make all-in-one controllers.

Standalone smart speakers usually still have to go through a hub or bridge to communicate with the items as they don’t have frequency communication connections, so a hub from one in the above list can take away the need for multiple products.

If you already have one or two hubs and bridges in place, and definitely don’t want to switch everything over to a new one but still want voice control, a smart speaker could be a great addition to your setup.

But it is easy to switch if everything feels a bit too cluttered at the moment, or if you want to expand your portfolio. Just make sure your existing items would be compatible first by taking a look at the frequency they use.

FAQ’s

Smart Hub Or Smart Bridge?

Smart bridges are more limiting than general hubs, as they will only work with specific brands. But they often come with starter packs and items, so there are no extra costs involved and setting up is usually quite straightforward.

Hubs will often connect various brands and items together, but may only work with certain frequencies so you could still have limitations over what is connected and controlled. However, a lot of them are voice controlled, so take away the need for separate smart speakers.

In general, a hub is best if you want an entirely smart home and want easy control over it all. But they do come as an extra purchase, so a bridge will be enough to get you started.

What Are ‘Internet of Things’ Appliances?

IoT items are those which aren’t standard internet-connected devices (such as laptops and smartphones). So, smart light bulbs, security cameras, thermostats, kitchen appliances and doorbells are all included on the IoT list.

They all contain frequency technology which allows them to communicate with their smart hubs and each other.

What Are Frequency Communication Connections?

They are wireless communication protocols used in smart appliances and hubs, allowing them to interact with each other.

Some of the biggest names are Zigbee, Z-Wave, WeMo and Thread, but there are bridges and hubs which will use their own or radio bands. It is what makes them so central.

For example, if your smart door lock only works on Z-Wave, and your phone only has Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, they need a bridge to communicate.

What Bridge Does Nest Use?

A question a lot of people who want smart heating and cameras faces is “Nest or Hive?”. You have seen the Hive Hub in the list, but where is Nest’s bridge?

Nest products all connect individually to the Wi-Fi (making them standalone items that don’t require a hub), but if you do want a hub for them, then they can work with the Philips Hue.

This includes Nest’s security cameras, thermostat, and their smoke alarm. They’ll connect together automatically, too, so the lights can turn off when you leave home without you having to set it all up.