What is a smart home hub (and do you need one)?

Remember the inscription that was engraved on Sauron’s ring in The Lord of the Rings? It went something like this: "one ring to rule them all, One ring to find them… and bind them." What does this quote signify? Singular control and unlimited power for the bearer, right? Coincidentally, a smart home hub works like this as well. It detects the presence of multiple smart devices in a house, forms a connection with them, and acts as a central point of command for you to easily manage everything at once.

Whether it is the automated lighting in the other room, the smart sprinklers in the garden, the AI-enabled audio system in the entertainment unit, the self-heating kitchen kettle or the smart bed mattress, a hub rules over it all. Mostly, via a smartphone app that offers a universal remote control to the user, and is easily installable.

Now, with so many smart home hubs out there, each with its own unique configuration, how can you possibly know which one to purchase and make a part of your home life in 2020? This is where this post will come in handy. We'll take a look at smart hubs available in the market ranging from purely dedicated ones to the speaker-assistant ones.

For battery life

Samsung SmartThings is an all-in-one appliance that comes equipped with a hub and a special Connect router that is really easy to set up. It is Z-Wave and Zigbee friendly, Alexa and Google Assistant compatible, and has a broad device support functionality.

The most exciting feature of SmartThings is that it has a backup battery which keeps it running even during a power outage. Other than this, it enables you to group smart devices by room for easier management and categorization.

You can purchase it from Amazon for only $75.

For compatibility

Wink Hub 2 stands out as the best contender when it comes to supporting a wide range of home automation. Whether it’s protocols such as IFTTT, Zigbee, Lutron’s Clear Connect, Bluetooth LE, Z-Wave and Google’s Threat interface, or devices made by Nest, Phillip Hue, Sonos, and Honeywell, or virtual AI like Alexa and Google Assistant -- Wink is compatible with it all.

Design-wise, it is slender, smooth and neutrally colored. You can fit it in a bookshelf and no one will even know it’s there. To connect it with the home network ensure a steady cable and internet set up, you can either use the Ethernet (recommended) or the wireless Wi-Fi option (which can get a bit tricky). The thing is, your internet speed and stability plays the most important role here (and why wouldn’t it) and when it comes to internet speed, I personally look for spectrum deals which are being offered in my area.

Wink Hub 2 doesn’t have a battery back-up, so you have to keep it constantly plugged in. But what’s innovative about this hub is that it treats home automation as multichannel "robots" (For instance, the Hue bulbs automatically turn on if the Nest outdoor camera detects something threatening), and through its Wink app, tracks their progress.

You can get it from Amazon for just under $100.

For the best of both worlds

If you are looking for a two-in-one smart home solution, then Google Home and Amazon Echo are good options for you. These are more like virtual voice-controlled assistants than dedicated smart home hubs.

Google Home works well with more than 5000 smart home devices, including the ones made by Lifx, August, Belkin, and Lutron, etc. Due to its integration with Google Assistant, it can power up your routine activities and sync the smart devices with it. For instance, Google Home hub would check the weather updates and automatically adjust the home thermostat to suit your body temp. Cool, right?

Amazon Echo on the other hand takes advantage of Alexa’s wide-ranging capabilities and compatibilities and its smart home functions still needs a bit of development.

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