As the quantity and variety of smart devices grow, smart hubs are becoming increasingly necessary. Traditionally, a hub was an additional piece of hardware, similar to a router. It allowed for control and communication with home devices, no matter what their frequency was—Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and IFTTT to name a few.
Then, came the rise of the smart speaker and the digital assistant. Now, voice services provided by digital assistants can communicate with and control almost any smart tech, not to mention the host of other features they provide. Many homeowners now prefer smart speakers instead of simple hubs. Knowing which is right for you is the first step.
Finding the Right Hub
Before buying, consider the smart devices you already have or which devices you want to set up your first smart home. Do you want a home automation hub that simply communicates with and connects your smart devices? Or would you prefer a smart speaker that offers extra features for convenience and automation?
The options are practically endless, so your priorities matter. That said, here are three well-rounded home automation hubs with impressive features and great reviews.
Amazon Echo Plus
The Echo Plus is both a hub and smart speaker. It communicates with devices through Zigbee and Wi-Fi, which means it communicates with tech like smart locks, smart thermostats, and other smart home devices. The Alexa app that pairs with the Amazon Echo Plus is Android, iOS, and Fire OS compatible, so you’ll have remote access to your home controls from most devices.
Using the Alexa app, you can program “skills” to control home devices and apps even beyond the Zigbee and Wi-Fi frequencies. You may need the manufacturer’s hub or app to get full functionality from other smart devices, but you can control basic functions through voice command. Ask Alexa to open the garage, create a workout routine for you, or queue up your favorite music. In addition, sound quality is one of the Echo’s strengths, despite its small size.
Google Nest Hub
The Nest Hub is a step away from the traditional hubs, offering Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections but not Zigbee or Z-Wave compatibility. However, the 7-inch touch screen and voice control, combined with the smarts of Google Assistant and the Google Home app, might make you overlook its faults.
It offers a host of smart home apps and partners, including Hue, Nest, Ring, Wink, Chromecast, and more. It’s especially geared toward use in the kitchen, showing instructional videos and walking you through recipes step by step.
With the Google Home app, use the touch screen or call out “Hey Google” to control your smart devices. Browse YouTube directly and stream music, but don’t expect exceptional sound quality. The Nest Hub has only two microphones and an average sound system. It’s very reasonably priced, however, offering a host of features for the lower price tag. As an extra bonus, many users love its double use as a digital picture frame, not to mention its smart uploads and slideshows.
Lenovo Smart Display
Similar to the Nest Hub, the Lenovo Smart Display connects to smart devices using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Its 10-inch screen is larger than the Nest Hub, but its platform and many other functions are the same. It pairs with Google Assistant and runs on the Google Home app, also offering the same smart home partners and brands.
There are a couple notable hardware differences that make the Lenovo Smart Display a tempting option. It has a built-in camera that allows free video calls through Google Duo. In addition, the sound system and speakers are better than the Nest Hub’s, which is a nice upgrade. It’s almost twice the price of the Nest Hub, however.
Choose What’s Right for You
If you’re looking for more robust compatibility and better sound quality, the Amazon Echo Plus is a great option. Google Nest Hub is affordable and efficient, offering touch-screen convenience and all the impressive features of the Google Home app. Lenovo Smart Display will pick up your voice commands better than the Nest, provide better visual display, and offer a few additional features if you’re willing to spend a little more money.
More than anything, choose a smart hub that excels in the areas that matter most to you. There are more traditional hubs that specialize in internal communication or compatibility, but they won’t give you the same diverse features as the ones listed here. For an average homeowner, these hubs are well-rounded, competitive options that function as a hub while also offering the extra conveniences of a smart speaker.
By Krystal Rogers-Nelson
Krystal Rogers-Nelson is a freelance writer with expertise in smart home tech, safety and security.