Comparing Hubs For Smart Home SecurityBy - 07/12/2018
The journey to a smarter home security system often starts by choosing a hub. Unfortunately, there’s no certain and straightforward answer to the question, “Which hub should I choose?” Each household is unique, which is why you must consider factors such as your needs, lifestyle, and preferences when selecting the best hub for you. With that in mind, I handpicked a few of the best smart home hubs available today and have compared them in detail below.
SmartThings vs. Wink vs. Insteon vs. Iris vs. Vera vs. Harmony Hub
SmartThings, Wink, Vera, Insteon, Iris, and Harmony Hub are all strong options. All six of them have the same goals: to connect with your smart home devices and offer ways to control and automate your home. However, they differ in how they attempt to reach such goals.
Connecting With Smart Home Devices
|SmartThings||Wink Hub 2||VeraSecure||Insteon Hub||Lowe’s Iris Hub||Logitech Harmony Hub|
|Z-Wave||Yes (Requires Harmony Hub Extender)|
|Zigbee||Yes (Requires Harmony Hub Extender)|
|HomeKit||Requires HomeKit-enabled Insteon Hub|
|IFTTT||Yes (via Stringify)|
|Works With Nest|
|Professional Monitoring||Scout, ADT (ADT Security Hub Required)||VeraProtect||Iris Professional Monitoring|
|Security Camera Support|
Knowing what smart home and security devices you’ll connect to your hub can help you narrow down your options.
Most sensors use either Zigbee or Z-Wave. Fortunately, all six hubs support both standards except for the Harmony Hub which requires a Harmony Home Hub Extender ($99.99) to connect. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are also necessary. Infrared, on the other hand, is just a plus. It allows the hub to control appliances that use IR remotes; even those that aren’t smart. The only hub of the six options that can do that is Harmony Hub.
It’s also important to consider the smart home platforms you’re interested in using. For example, if you want voice control, you must choose a hub that works with either Alexa, Google Assistant, or both. As another example, if you’re a fan of Nest’s Works with Nest program, it would be beneficial for you to choose a hub that works with the Nest products you own. And if you plan on building an automated home powered by IFTTT Applets, you need to choose a hub that works with IFTTT.
Finally, you must take into account the hub’s ability to protect your home including integrations with security cameras and access to professional monitoring.
How Hubs Enhance Your Home Security With Automation
Connecting with as many smart home and security devices as possible is only the first part of a hub’s job. The second part is providing you, the user, a variety of means to control and automate your home.
Controlling Devices Individually
Let’s start with the most basic way to control your devices: using a smartphone, tablet, computer, or even a smart remote to control connected devices individually. The concept is simple; instead of getting up and flipping a switch to turn off your bedroom light, you can use software to turn it off from the comfort of your bed. In most cases, this means using
mobile or web app.
To kick things up a notch, most hubs offer “remote control,” which means you can control your devices using the app from anywhere so long as the hub and your smartphone or computer are both online.
|SmartThings||Wink Hub 2||VeraSecure||Insteon Hub||Lowe’s Iris Hub||Logitech Harmony Hub|
|Individual Device Control|
|Windows App||Yes (Unofficial)|
|Apple Watch App||Discontinued||Yes (Unofficial)|
|Android Wear App||Yes (Unofficial)|
|Web App||Beta||Desktop App Only|
The second automation feature is often called Scenes or Routines because they enable you to set up scenes or perform tasks you routinely do with just one tap or click. For example, instead of turning each of your porch lights on one-by-one, you can create a scene that turns on all of them at once.
Except for Wink, all hubs on our list support scenes/routines. SmartThings, VeraSecure, Insteon, and Iris all call this feature “Scenes,” while Harmony Hub calls it “Activities.”
Scheduling & Geofencing
Scheduling lets you automate your smart home devices based on the time and date. Geofencing also lets you automate your home, but based on your phone’s geographic location. Another difference between scheduling and geofencing is how common they are as automation features. All six hubs on our list support schedules, but only SmartThings, Wink, and VeraSecure support geofencing.
The last automation feature is rule-based automation. We’ve mentioned IFTTT multiple times in this article, which is an example of an automation program that relies on rules.
With rule-based automation, there’s a trigger and an action. The trigger can be an event (e.g., when motion is detected, when the temperature falls below XX℉, etc.) or a device action (e.g., when certain lights turn on, when a smart lock unlocks, etc.). The action is what your hub should do if the trigger event takes place. For example, you can create a rule that triggers your smart lock to lock your door when a certain smart light turns off.
Over the years, rule-based automation has become more and more common. In fact, of the six hubs we’re comparing, only Insteon lacks this feature. Of course, you can always use Stringify or IFTTT to create rules for your Insteon hub, but native support of the feature is still preferred over achieving it through third-party integrations.
|SmartThings||Wink Hub 2||VeraSecure||Insteon Hub||Iris by Lowe’s||Logitech Harmony|
Pros & Cons Of Each Smart Home Hub
SmartThings (H.A. Report Tested)
SmartThings is one of the most popular smart home hubs on the market today. It has a healthy community of users and an online forum where you can find insightful answers to a wide variety of questions.
The hub is also one of the most open to integrations. There are direct official integrations with other well-known smart home brands, and there are unofficial integrations made possible by developers and DIYers who contribute to the growth of the SmartThings community, like this Fibaro integration we tested recently.
Another advantage of the SmartThings hub is the availability of a professional monitoring option. If you want to convert your SmartThings system into a security system, you can do so with the help of Scout Alarms or ADT. With Scout Alarms’ professional monitoring, you won’t need extra equipment. With ADT, you’ll need the ADT Security Hub.
One of the hub’s greatest disadvantages is the app it uses. SmartThings is currently advertising the SmartThings (Samsung Connect) app, although you can still use the older SmartThings Classic app. The problem is that both apps are terrible. The old app holds a 3-star rating on iOS (which I feel is generous) and 3.5 stars on Android, while the new one holds a 2-star rating on iOS and 3.6 stars on Android.
Wink Hub 2
Wink, like SmartThings, is compatible with a wide range of third-party devices. Not only that, Wink offers self-branded security devices. For example, they launched Wink Lookout last year, which is a starter kit that includes a Wink Hub 2 and several security-focused products.
Wink also offers a decent way to automate your home using Robots. Robots are automation programs based on rules, and they are highly customizable. For example, you can set your smart lights to flash a certain color if your security sensors detect an intrusion.
Wink can also work locally. When you create Robots, they are stored on the hub itself so that even if the hub is offline, your rules will activate when triggered.
One downside to Wink is its lack of a professional monitoring option. You can use Wink as a smart home hub and even receive notifications from security sensors, but if you want to add professional monitoring, you’ll need a separate security system.
VeraSecure is the most expensive of the bunch, but it’s also one of the most versatile. For one, it has battery backup so it can continue to run even without power. It’s also not-so-dependent on the internet. Like Wink, VeraSecure stores your automation scenes and schedules locally so they can activate even when the hub is offline. Of course, when offline, the hub can’t send you notifications, and you can’t control it remotely. But if you subscribe to their professional monitoring service, cellular backup will activate (if you pay annually) and VeraSecure will remain online even when your internet is down.
The biggest downside of VeraSecure is the overall user experience it offers. It’s a powerful hub, but Vera’s apps are less than intuitive, and they don’t look as modern as most smart home apps. Also, the VeraSecure hub is expensive when compared to other hubs in this list.
Insteon (H.A. Report Visited at CES)
What sets Insteon apart from all the other hubs on this list is the fact that Insteon sells a wide variety of self-branded smart home products, from security sensors to smart switches and even Wi-Fi cameras. And as those products are made by Insteon, they are guaranteed to work optimally with the hub. Insteon is also friendly with third-party smart home platforms. It works with Alexa, Google Home, IFTTT, and Nest, just to name a few. They also sell a separate Homekit-ready hub.
However, the problem with Insteon is its lack of automation features. It supports remote smartphone control, scenes, and schedules, but it doesn’t support geofencing and rule-based automation. It also lacks a professional monitoring option.
Iris by Lowe’s (H.A. Report Visited at CES)
Iris is the least expensive of the six hubs we’re comparing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t put up a fight. Its best attribute is its sharp focus on security. In fact, Iris covers the whole nine yards when it comes to security equipment. They offer security sensors (contact, motion, glass break, etc.), smoke and CO detectors, water leak sensors, and even emergency pendants for medical emergencies. Plus, they offer professional monitoring that includes senior care services.
The downside of the Iris system is that it’s less than impressive if used without a subscription. It’s a decent hub, yes, but its greatest features are all hidden behind a paywall. If you want to use Iris, I highly recommend maintaining a subscription to their service.
Harmony Hub (H.A. Report Tested)
Logitech’s Harmony Hub is the odd one out for several reasons. For one, the Harmony line started as universal remotes for entertainment systems that eventually branched out into the smart home. Also, it’s the only hub on this list that can control non-smart devices thanks to its built-in IR blaster. It controls up to 8 IR remote controlled appliances. And finally, it’s the only one that doesn’t support Z-Wave and Zigbee natively. Instead, you need a second device, the Harmony Home Hub Extender to connect Z-Wave and Zigbee devices.
Our Top Pick
If you are looking for a smart home hub, we recommend SmartThings or Wink. If you like to tinker and want to customize your smart home, buy SmartThings. If you want a simplified smart home experience, buy Wink.
Other Hubs You Might Also Want To Consider
Amazon Echo Plus
If you’re a fan of Alexa, then you’re probably going to like the Amazon Echo Plus. It’s a smart speaker, just like Amazon Echo, but it comes with a built-in Zigbee hub that lets you connect Zigbee devices and control them using the Alexa app.
Do I recommend it? Yes and no. Using Alexa, you can already control hundreds of smart home devices with your voice. So if you want Alexa to become your primary means of controlling your smart home, then Echo Plus (or any Alexa device, for that matter) is a good fit for you. But if your only reason for buying Echo Plus is the Zigbee hub, I suggest looking into other options. It’s simply not worth it.
Where To Buy: $149.99 on Amazon.com
Samsung Connect Home Router
If you like devices that multitask, Samsung’s Connect Home mesh routers might be a good option. Connect Home is a mesh router, but besides powering your home Wi-Fi network, it also acts as a SmartThings hub. Initially, Connect Home used a different app than SmartThings. But now, it uses the same app (SmartThings Samsung Connect).
Where To Buy: $69.99 on Amazon.com
Mixtile (H.A. Report Tested)
I recently tested Mixtile, and overall it’s a good hub. What I like most about it is its ability to function offline thanks to its battery backup and built-in memory. It also offers voice control (though not nearly as smart as Alexa) which is a nice touch.
Unfortunately, Mixtile hasn’t hit the shelves yet. They are still shipping the hub to those who backed their crowdfunding campaign. Once it becomes available, you’ll be able to buy it here for $149.