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Sunday, April 18, 2021

The best smart home hubs for 2021

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No longer a niche investment, smart home devices are now on the shelves of every major in-store and online retailer. This is everything from home security hardware such as Ring and Arlo cameras, to lighting packages from the likes of Philips Hue and Wyze. Whether you’re adding a single smart thermostat to your home or outfitting your whole residence with web-connected gear, a smart home hub is something you’re going to want to have at your fingertips (or within earshot).

The best smart home hubs connect to devices from multiple brands, keeping all your tech under one easy-to-navigate roof. Touchscreen hubs like the Google Nest Hub Max and Amazon Echo Show are fully interactive tablets that link you up with all of your preferred devices, streaming services, news and weather, and more. Speaker hubs like the Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod use voice commands (and app-based controls) to control your smart ecosystem while connecting you to premiere streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and more.

There are a plethora of hubs out there, so we’ve taken the liberty of breaking down the best of the best. Read on to see which smart hubs get the two thumbs up from us.

Google Nest Hub Max

Nest Hub Max
John Velasco/Digital Trends

The Nest Hub Max is a smart display packed full of features, thanks to Google’s experience with previous smart hubs like the Google Home. The touchscreen display on its own is a great way to read the news, watch videos, play interactive games, or show a rotating gallery of your favorite photos. But that’s only a tiny part of what the Nest Hub Max can do. With the help of the built-in Google Assistant, it can connect to compatible smart devices around your home and form scenes that involve adjusting lights, playing music, reporting the news, checking your calendar, and many other things. You can control all of this with Google Assistant voice commands.

The display includes a camera that can recognize faces and switch profiles based on who in the house is using the hub. That camera can also handle video calls and intelligently frame you as you move around in front of the display while having a conversation. The Nest Hub Max also doubles as a security camera wherever you place it in your home, and you can log on with your mobile device and look through the cam whenever you need to (as well as receive certain alerts). The impressive speakers in the back can play music on demand, too.

Read our full Google Nest Hub Max review

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

Amazon’s latest Echo speaker is packed with new features to make your Alexa experience that much greater. For starters, a radical redesign ditches the old cylindrical Echo design for a more spherical speaker. Adaptive audio means your Echo will instantly calibrate sound based on the room it’s placed in, so you’ll always get the best sound no matter what.

With Alexa, you can use voice commands or touchscreen prompts to check your smart lights, cameras, and thermostats, or log into Netflix and binge your favorite shows. The Echo even has a built-in Zigbee hub. That means you won’t have to invest in any standalone hardware to control and monitor any Zigbee-enabled devices, like lighting, smart plugs, and cameras. Amazon Sidewalk, a new community networking feature rolling out later this year, is also built into the latest Echo speaker, allowing your Echo to function as a Sidewalk transmitter for the whole street (if you so choose).

Echo Show (2nd generation)

Amazon Echo Show 2
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

The Echo Show is the Alexa version of a smart display that can access and control smart devices throughout your home. The second-gen Show greatly improves on-screen quality and sound, making it a useful entertainment device. However, it also adds Zigbee compatibility for connecting to smart devices, an excellent option that makes it easier to control more unique or older smart devices that may not work on other channels.

The Echo Show also is compatible with modern smart devices, including lights, cameras, thermostats, smart outlets, and much more. You can search for and link these devices using the Alexa app on your mobile device.

Read our full Echo Show review

Logitech Harmony Home Hub

Harmony Hub

Logitech’s Harmony Hub can do a lot (it works with over 270,000 possible devices), but you’ll especially appreciate this slim hub if you have a lot of entertainment devices. 

Smart televisions, cable boxes, Apple TV, Blu-Ray players, and a variety of consoles can all work alongside the Harmony Hub. The back of the hub includes IR mini blasters that help extend the coverage area of the device. It uses Bluetooth connectivity to link with your devices, but it also comes with a USB port in case your phone doesn’t offer Bluetooth. (Hey, it’s possible.)

The Harmony App connects with iOS or Android smartphones and tablets, supports Alexa, giving you access to channels, movies, and more. Couples would enjoy this device as it can create a perfect home movie environment, dimming lights — or smart lamps —  and connecting with stereo systems for your TV-watching purposes. The Harmony Hub is very portable, making it easy to set the device up in closed cabinets. 

Securifi Almond 3 Smart Home Wi-Fi system

Securifi Almond 3

While the bulk of hubs often have the general aesthetic appeal of a low-profile brick, the Securifi Almond 3 Smart Home Wi-Fi System is one of the most handsome hubs we’ve seen. But this unit is more than a pretty face — the Almond 3 flat-out performs.

Get direct access to all of your hub’s settings through the Almond 3’s one-of-a-kind three-inch color display. It’s an aesthetically-interesting touchscreen that simplifies and streamlines the management of your home hub. This device lengthens the Wi-Fi signal by connecting with several nearby access points. As a result, multiple gadgets also automatically shift to the strongest signal. The 5GHz system was highly compatible with our devices, while the 2.4GHz system did the opposite.

The Almond 3 can connect to any Wi-Fi device in your home, all through an IFTTT applet. Even if you only have a few devices, this hub’s ability to organize and support your home is unmatched. It also supports Alexa, and that digital assistant can help relay signals. For example, if someone said the words “date night” to Alexa, the technology would produce an ambiance of dim lights and customized thermostat settings to match your specifications.

While we think this is a largely superior device, there are a few red flags to consider. The Almond 3 delivered subpar Wi-Fi signals while we tested it on multi-floor and grander homes. However, we were able to remedy that issue by incorporating another hub on the main floor. This situation is similar to households that require two Ethernet connections, and those connections don’t wind up being sufficient.

Read our full Securifi Almond 3 Smart Home Wi-Fi system review

Editors’ Recommendations

This srticle was first published on Digital Trends

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