The 7 Best Smart Hubs to Buy in 2017

Control all your smart gadgets from one simple place

Echo Dot
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Controlling digital locks, light systems, appliances or even the temperature can now be done directly on your smartphone or with the sound of your voice. And centralizing all of this technology is the smart hub. A smart hub offers users hundreds, if not thousands, of commands that are custom created for their exact needs. So whether you're looking to turn up the music in the living room, shut off the lights in the dining room or turn up the AC in the master bedroom, a smart hub allows you to do it all from one simple place (so you're not accessing tons of different apps). Need help finding the right one? Here’s our list of the best smart hubs on the market today.

Samsung’s SmartThings Hub is an intelligent system that's constantly receiving software updates, so the list of peripherals that can be used is well over 200 devices. Whether you want complex controls or simple commands, the available Android and iOS smartphone apps or the Amazon Echo allow the SmartThings Hub to control any device with radios for Wi-Fi, Z-Wave or ZigBee. Ultimately, this means control over connected Samsung Home appliances, the Ecobee thermostat, Philips Hue lightbulbs and so much more.

Setup is a snap, even if you’re not technically inclined, though it's worth noting the Hub does require an Ethernet cable to function. Samsung’s SmartThings Hub app is incredibly intuitive and allows direct control over individually connected devices, as well as “routines” for preset device configurations. Measuring 4.2 x 4.9 x 1.3 inches, the Hub is compact enough to fit just about anywhere. Samsung ups the ante with the inclusion of its own SmartApps that integrate into the existing Hub with extra features such as turning on a smart power outlet when a door sensor is activated.

The Amazon Echo Dot is priced far below most other Smart Hubs without lacking functionality. While it does not have a larger speaker like its older sibling, the on-board microphone is just as capable of picking up voices from across a room, thanks to the seven far-field microphones. The Dot’s capabilities go well beyond ordering pizza; it can set alarms, read news headlines, sports scores and weather reports and more. The addition of a 3.5mm audio input adds the functionality of being able to connect to speakers or headphones for listening to music. Measuring 1.3 x 3.3 x 3.3 inches, the Echo Dot is truly compact enough to fit just about anywhere in any room.

Setup with the Echo Dot is as easy as its use. Just plug it into a wall once it arrives, download the Android or iOS Alexa app and follow the on-screen directions. Once you’re online, the simplest of voice commands will put the Echo Dot to use, including changing the temperature on your Nest thermostat. Even with its capability to control televisions, lights, fans and even some coffee makers, Amazon takes things up a notch with Amazon “Skills” and third-party developer support where the sky's the limit for its different uses.

The best-known name in the Smart Hub game, the Amazon Echo, offers an excellent feature set that includes a 360-degree omnidirectional speaker for audio. That speaker comes in handy with support for all your favorite music services, including Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and more, which are all controlled with your voice. If you want to make a phone call, that’s also no problem. Just ask Alexa to make a call or send a message. Extras, such as reading the news and reporting traffic, weather or sports scores are on-board, too, but they pale in comparison to controlling lights, fans, switches, thermostats, garage doors or even door locks.

The addition of Amazon "Skills" offers widespread third-party developer support that allows the Echo to get both smarter and add new features created by the user community. Measuring 9.25 x 3.3 x 3.3 inches, the Echo takes up very little room, but does require AC power, so placement on a countertop, desk or shelf is ideal. With added extras such as a 2.5-inch subwoofer or two-inch tweeter, audio sounds fantastic. And the Wi-Fi connection is rock solid, thanks to dual-band, dual-antenna support with MU-MIMO technology for faster music streaming.

The Wink 2 is a second-generation smart hub that connects to an impressive number of gadgets, including Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Z-Wave, Zigbee, Lutron Clear Connect and Kidde devices. Inside the Wink and its sleekly designed 7.25 x 7.25 x 1.75-inch frame are powerful Wi-Fi radio and Ethernet ports for rock-solid Internet connection. Fortunately, the ease of setup matches the quality of its design, thanks to a straightforward smartphone app for both Android and iOS. In less than five minutes you’ll be connected to smart devices such as Philips Hue lighting, Ecobee thermostats or the Nest camera.

The four main features (control, automate, monitor and schedule) round out the Wink 2’s full spread of capabilities. All totaled, between those four functions, the Wink 2 can support up to 530 devices paired at once with seamless integration. Additionally, the separately purchased Wink Relay plugs directly into your wall allowing control of all Wink-ready devices without a smartphone.

Logitech’s Harmony Hub isn’t your typical smart hub, but it's compatible with more than 270,000 devices. With a simple setup that can have you online and connected to up to eight devices within minutes, the Harmony Hub works great with your TV, satellite, cable box, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, Roku, game consoles and more.

Creating customized activities is a breeze through the downloadable Harmony App for both Android and iOS. Tapping a pre-programmed button on the app can immediately turn down your Philips Hue smart lights, turn on your connected speaker and TV, launch Netflix and let date night begin instantaneously with one click. And the Harmony Hub adds Amazon Alexa support as well for voice control, so you can do this just by talking. Beyond voice control, the Logitech truly stands out with closed cabinet control, which allows it to send commands to connected devices through infrared commands that don’t require direct line-of-sight to function.

While it doesn’t offer the refined looks of its competitors, the VeraEdge Home Controller is an ideal solution for offices. With support for more than 220 devices at any given time, the VeraEdge connects to any device that works with Wi-Fi and Z-Wave technologies, including Nest, Kwikset, Philips Hue and more. Adding one-touch settings for home, away and evening allow for easy control over cameras or lighting, as well as adjusting temperatures. The free application is available on multiple platforms, including both Android and iOS, plus PC and Mac solutions for complete control anytime, anywhere. Adding connected cameras will provide easy peace of mind outside of office hours and it can send push notifications right to your smartphone if any unusual activity is detected. Measuring only 3.74 x 4.57 x 1.73 inches, the VeraEdge is easily hidden on a desktop or shelf and, with no monthly fees or contracts required, businesses will love its ease of use and huge array of device connectivity.

Pulling double duty as a router and smart home automation hub, the Securfi Almond 3 is a superb dual-purpose device. Functioning as a Wi-Fi router and Wi-Fi Extender, the Almond 3 can handle speeds up to 867 Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 300 Mbps on the 2.4GHz band, covering more than 1,300 square feet of space.

Beyond its functionality as a router, the Almond 3 starts off with its on-board display that promises to have you up and running within three minutes. The available Android or iOS smartphone apps work alongside the Web-based console for quickly integrating smart hub products utilizing Zigbee, Z-Wave (adapter sold separately) and Wi-Fi connectivity options. Smart products such as Philips Hue lightbulbs, Nest’s product lineup or Amazon’s Echo speakers work just as well as you could expect while allowing the full spread of functionality from both smart devices. The geo-targeting aspects of the Almond 3 are better than other smart hub models, thanks to the automatic tracking of your phone’s Wi-Fi signal, so it can immediately turn things on and off that you’ve already pre-selected.

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