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Smart homes are on the up and up. For a while, people thought of the idea as nothing more than a gimmick – some people still think that way – but recent product releases have shown that smart home automation Battle of the Smart Home Hubs: What's Out There and What's Coming? Battle of the Smart Home Hubs: What's Out There and What's Coming? Read More is starting to live up to its promises.

There are smart devices that can reduce electricity usage 5 Smart Hacks To Save Electricity In Your Smart Home 5 Smart Hacks To Save Electricity In Your Smart Home he trick to saving electricity is in knowing where most of your energy is consumed. Read More , increase home security Safe and Sound: 4 Great Smart Home Security Devices Safe and Sound: 4 Great Smart Home Security Devices Read More , automate home lighting Light Your Home the Smart Way With Philips Hue Light Your Home the Smart Way With Philips Hue If you can afford the initial expenditure, you won't find a better-supported and more user-friendly smart lighting system on the market. Read More , replace your doorbell What Is A Smart Doorbell, And Which Should You Buy? What Is A Smart Doorbell, And Which Should You Buy? There was a time not long ago when we saw things like a door that unlocked without keys or a thermostat that could be controlled remotely as science fiction. Read More , manage your garden 5 Smart Devices To Help Manage Your Garden 5 Smart Devices To Help Manage Your Garden Turns out, a smart garden is completely possible, thanks to the devices we are going to take a look at today. Read More , and even feed pets while you’re away 5 Smart Home Gadgets You Probably Haven’t Heard Of 5 Smart Home Gadgets You Probably Haven’t Heard Of Read More .

And as it turns out, smart home automation is cheap How Much Does a Smart Home Really Cost? How Much Does a Smart Home Really Cost? A smart home could change your life – freeing up time in your day and regulating your routine so you don't have to remember what needs to be done. But how expensive is it, really? Read More when compared to the cost of other home renovation projects. While there are several easy smart home ideas Kickstart Your Smart Home With 4 Easy Projects Kickstart Your Smart Home With 4 Easy Projects Creating a smart home might sound like a huge undertaking, and it can be difficult to know where to start. But it's not as hard as you might think! Read More for newbies, one of the best ways to get started is by purchasing a smart hub.

SmartThings Hub ($99)

Any discussion about smart hub eventually lands on SmartThings, so let’s cover this one right from the start. The SmartThings Hub requires an Ethernet connection to operate properly, but can connect to devices using WiFi, Z-Wave, and ZigBee.

What does it do? Basically, the SmartThings Hub is a central controller that can be configured and programmed to operate multiple devices. How does it control these devices? Through an Android or iOS app that you need to install on your smartphone. No web interface is available right now.

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SmartThings offers a variety of products that seamlessly integrate with the hub: Moisture Sensor (alerts when moisture is detected), Motion Sensor (alerts when motion is sensed), Open/Closed Sensor (alerts when windows or doors or drawers are opened or closed), among others.

But the best thing about SmartThings is that they are constantly expanding support for non-SmartThings products. For example, the hub can control Belkin WeMo switches 3 Ways The Belkin WeMo Can "Smarten" Your Regular Household Lamps 3 Ways The Belkin WeMo Can "Smarten" Your Regular Household Lamps We took the time to look at the possibilities for turning your regular household lamps into smart lamps. Read More . If you want an all-in-one hub, SmartThings is probably your best bet.

Insteon Hub ($115)

The Insteon Hub is a great starter product for newbies who are interested in basic home automation without going to the extreme. The hub connects to all kinds of Insteon products, which can be controlled through your smartphone or your computer.

Devices can be scheduled to turn on or off according to time of day. Email and push notifications are available for event triggers, such as when a device needs repairs. For deeper functionality, the Insteon Hub can be hacked (but we don’t recommend it unless you know what you’re doing).

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The Insteon Hub has actually been around for a while. It started off on rocky ground so it has a reputation for being crappy, but their products have made big improvements over the past few years. Are they the best? Maybe, maybe not. Are they bad? Not at all.

Insteon products include thermostats, wall outlets and switches, door locks, energy monitors, motion sensors, leak sensors, wireless cameras, and more. Worth checking out if you want a simple hub with a wide network of available products.

VeraLite ($99)

The VeraLite is an affordable home automation system that won’t confuse you with complexity. It’s built using Z-Wave compatibility and can interface with hundreds of products even if they aren’t Vera branded. One hub can control up to 70 devices at a time.

Once VeraLite plugs into your home network using the accompanied cable, it will automatically configure itself. In fact, VeraLite can function as an Internet router, though this functionality will disable itself if VeraLite is plugged into a router (rather than a modem).

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At that point, VeraLite will connect to the Z-Wave devices in your home and you will be able to control them through your smartphone. Like Insteon, VeraLite can be set up to send text and email notifications for certain event triggers.

The Vera Store sells Z-Wave-compatible devices ranging from thermostats to energy meters, lamp modules to dimmer switches, motion sensors to door locks.

openHAB (Free)

A lot of the pushback against smart home automation involves issues of privacy, security, and the proprietary nature of home automation protocols. What if you stand against all of that? Is there an option for you? Yes, there is!

openHAB is an open source home automation system that’s both hardware-agnostic and protocol-agnostic. It can run on any device that’s capable of running a Java Virtual Machine and can interface with all kinds of home automation technologies with more support always being added.

Control over smart devices is possible through Android and iOS apps as well as a web-interface on computers. The downside – or upside, depending on how you look at it – is that openHAB is incredibly heavy on the DIY side of things.

If you like to tinker and experiment and learn through failure, you’ll love it. If you’re a big proponent of open source philosophy What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] "Open source" is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. You may know that certain things are open source, like Linux and Android, but do you know what it entails? What is open... Read More , this one’s for you. If you just want a plug-and-play solution without much thought, the involvement and learning curve may be too steep.

Lutron Smart Bridge ($120)

The Lutron Smart Bridge, which is part of the Caseta Wireless system, is one of the less-popular hub solutions because it’s nowhere near as mature or flexible as its competitors. Not that it’s bad, but the limited support for connected devices is a real damper when looking to buy a hub.

But depending on your circumstances, it may still be worth buying. Lutron’s forte is in the areas of lighting control, shading, and energy savings, which is why the Smart Bridge only connects to Lutron devices that control lights, shades, and temperature.

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Everything is controlled through a smartphone using Lutron’s app. The Smart Bridge must be connected to a WiFi router using an Ethernet cable. Setup is incredibly straightforward.

So, really, the price tag is only justifiable if you really like Lutron’s product line. They have some pretty cool offerings though, like dimmer switches, timers, fan controls, automated shades, and several sensor types. If energy and lighting are your main concerns, Lutron may be the way to go.

Staples Connect Hub ($45)

Of all the hubs on this list, Staples Connect Hub is certainly the one that’ll put the smallest dent in your wallet if you don’t include openHAB. At this price level, it’s not even an investment — cheap enough that there’s almost no risk in trying it out.

If you don’t want to buy it online, you should be able to find it in your local home improvement chain, such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. Local electronics chains may carry it as well, such as Best Buy.

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The Staples Connect Hub supports devices that use Z-Wave, Clear Connect, ZigBee, and WiFi protocols. This gives you great freedom in choosing smart devices that are affordable and not having to be pigeonholed into a particular brand.

All you have to do is connect the Staples Connect Hub to your WiFi router and you’ll be given a walkthrough on how to set it up.

And the Final Verdict Is…

If you want the freedom to mix-and-match different devices, go with SmartThings Hub (the most popular choice) or Staples Connect Hub (the cheapest choice). For those who support open source and don’t mind the struggles of DIY, go with openHAB. If simple and straightforward is your priority, Insteon Hub won’t let you down.

Smart homes are just getting started What Is A Smart Home? What Is A Smart Home? We recently launched a Smart Home category at MakeUseOf, but what is a smart home? Read More . People mocked smartphones when they first debuted, and now people can’t live without them. These hubs are just the beginning. Not sure which devices to start with? Try these smart home gift ideas 7 Gifts for the Smart Home Enthusiast in Your Life 7 Gifts for the Smart Home Enthusiast in Your Life Whether you already know a smart home enthusiast, or you just think that one of your techie friends or relatives would appreciate a little more connectedness in their life, these seven gifts will be appreciated! Read More .

Do you have a smart home hub yet? If so, how has your experience been? If not, what would tip you over the edge and convince you to get one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Image Credits: Smart Home Phone Via Shutterstock

  1. Arturo Shaw
    October 25, 2016 at 8:23 am

    You have not considered the fact that the Samsung SmartTHings Hub only works in some countries and you cannot move it to another country even if it is one of the short list (four) of countries where it should be working. If you bu it in the USA but move to UK or Japan, you will need to buy another one, and it doesn't work in any other country (outside the list) so no Europe either. That may not be a problem for most but it is a BIG issue for others.

  2. Nick
    February 19, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    I am leaning towards a VeraLite. I have a smarthings hub and it worked great for a while but then the problems started. First mode changes stopped working then I was not able to control some devices. I worked with support but they were unable to help. Their only advice was to exclude and run network repairs which I did many many times. No Luck.

    • Mark B
      April 4, 2016 at 1:27 am

      VeraLite is not a good choice unless you are only looking to control a few, simple devices and they will be in relative close physical proximity to the controller. When mine was set up with just a few light switches and a door lock, I could almost always get the functions I needed from it. After adding a couple of plug-in "sockets", a garage door control unit, and another light switch, everything is severely impaired. I'm basically giving it "one more chance" by completely wiping everything out, re-adding all of my devices, and starting all over again. The next hiccup will be its demise and I will be going with a SmartThings hub.

      Vera simply does not keep up with things with the firmware development and relies far too heavily on its user community to debug things and put together fixes.

  3. Joe.C
    February 6, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    +1 for X10. Been using it for basic light and appliance control for 15 years. I read that it's compatible for insteon so if I ever want to expand to a wireless system, I can try their hub.

  4. Bill Lintner
    November 19, 2015 at 5:20 am

    The available X-10 system. It probably the most different kinds of gadgets of any home automation system.

  5. Ab Cde
    June 10, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    I have used the wink hub for approximately 6 months now. I am satisfied with the unit and how it operates. It does has its flaws, but I do recommend it. It does need access to your wi-fi [2.4]. If you are looking for automated lights, look no further. The price is really inexpensive compared to all others [GE Link bulbs or Cree connected bulbs A19 are $15.00 each]. Customer support is open 24/7 and items are available at Home Depot.

  6. bben
    May 1, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Since 1975. It can be as simple as plugging in a single module to control a lamp, or as complex as using a computer interface to control your entire house - lights, hot water heater, fans, burglar alarm, Heating, & Air , or anything else that can be used with a switch, dim lights, set timers, even holidays and vacations can be automatically set up. It knows when sunrise & sunset are and can be set to do something like turn on a security light 10 minutes before sunset, then off at a random time within 15 minutes of 11:30PM or at sunrise. It can do macros, multiple presets and a lot more. There are several 3rd party apps available to control the entire thing over your cell phone. You can add a new module at any time, so you can build your system one thing at a time. And, it's cheaper that any of the others. Just google x10 to get an idea of what is available.

    • TB
      November 27, 2015 at 11:56 pm

      I have been using X10 devices for over 20 years now and nearly all the lights / devices in my downstairs are connected via X10. X10 has challenges in modern households and is getting less & less reliable -- some of the components are cheaper, but if you purchase the paddle type controls rather than the push-button wall switches, the new round of ZWave based switches are about the same price.

      Regarding X10's reliability, X10 transmits its signals over the power lines, which I expect you (bben) know. Many of today's modern devices impair the transmission of X10 signals. Any device with a transformer (i.e., nearly all electronics such as computers, TV's, stereos, etc.) and many other large appliances (e.g., refrigerators) 'absorb' the X10 signals. The X10 devices themselves absorb/block signals as well, which degrades X10's ability to reliable communicate between devices, especially when you have a large network of X10 devices.

      I have attempted to use blocks that prevent the absorption of the X10 signals, but they only help so much. A bridge between different legs / phases on your power lines helps as well, but it can only go so far.

      I have just started looking at zwave, and its ability to communicate via wireless is very nice. The primary downside I have found is that you cannot have local control, which is provided by most 10 devices. Also, using multiple controllers to 'control' a single device is challenging and require much more work to setup.

  7. bJ
    April 30, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Why is the Wink Hub left out of this circle? From what I have read and experienced, it seems to be one of the most versatile as well as affordable. I'm not sure if you could beat their customer service either. Were they left out intentionally? $50, or free if you make a couple purchase for the smart devices on their website.

    • Joel Lee
      May 16, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Please see my reply to jc! Are you a Wink user? If so, are you happy? I'd love to hear about your experiences with it because I've mostly heard bad things about Wink. Getting some anecdotes from the other side would be great.

  8. corb
    April 30, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    Excellent article!

    SmartThings requires an Internet connection for all activities. If you lose your connection to the internet, or if their servers have a problem, you can't even do simple things like turning on a light. There have been a lot of complaints about that on the SmartThing forum, particularly with their servers go down or are slow.

    I believe VERA has a larger installed base than SmartThings.

    OpenHAB software is free and open, but you need to add a server (typically something like a Raspberry Pi2 or ODROID C1) plus some I/O port (like Zwave). So the server HW cost ends up being around $80. You need a system that's always on, so a small system like Raspberry Pi2 is ideal.

    For all the systems, I think the cost you list is just the controller. You'd need to add about $40 for each sensor or switch to any of the systems. Those peripheral costs add up quickly.

    • Joel Lee
      May 16, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      Thanks for those clarifications, corb. And yes, the prices are ONLY for the hubs! Additional sensors and tools must be purchased separately, and they will be priced differently depending on brand.

  9. bben
    April 30, 2015 at 10:58 am

    You left out the original and still available X-10 system. It probably the most versatile and has the most different kinds of gadgets of any home automation system. The new ownership is beginning to improve on quality and has brought out a much needed improved version of their X-10 compatible burglar alarm. As yet no real integrated thermostat though. X-10 has been around since the 1970s and still works fine, there are several smart phone apps, a computer interface, Various kinds of switches, outlets, motion sensors, Euro & US versions, Internet connected & controlled cameras Light fixtures, and a few specialty gadgets such as the burglar alarm, integrated PTZ cameras, Both plug in and wired in light switches, High current 240VAC switches for things like hot water heaters, air conditioners, pumps or whatever else needs them. Noise filters for problem installations, And even a universal switch that can be connected to control things like garage door openers, garden fountains or whatever. It is very DIY friendly and there are even 3rd party gadgets and a large user base with a forum that allows asking how to questions.

    • Ryan Dube
      May 1, 2015 at 3:49 am

      Very interesting bben - it's really been around since the 70s?

    • BobC
      May 5, 2015 at 8:35 am

      X10 has *NO* security.

      The powerline data can leak right out of your home and into your neighbor's, adn vice-versa. Not good!

      The RF control is just an IR control chip that's connected to a simple radio instead of an IR tx/rx.

      In both cases, your and your neighbor need to set different "house codes" to avoid cross-control.

      But an attacker can simply try all possible house codes and take control of your entire X10 system.

      Because it's dirt cheap, I use X10 for prototyping and figuring things out, then once I know what I want to do, I replace it with more reliable gear that uses encryption.

  10. jc
    April 30, 2015 at 3:00 am

    What about Wink? It works with nearly every thing and it's only $50.

    • Joel Lee
      May 16, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      During my research, I found that many customers were not happy with the state of Wink. Also, Wink Hub is not available on Amazon, which is not a good sign to me. Do you use Wink? If so, are you happy with it? Would love to hear about your experiences!

      • armand
        October 2, 2015 at 6:10 pm

        I have Wink Hub and Staple Connect. The problem with Wink is it relies 100% on the internet, and it's REST service is slow, so if you have remotes controlling lights, it can take 2 to 5 seconds for the light to respond to the remote. Wink works best when your devices all directly control loads, and the home will operate just fine w/o the hub. Or to put it another way, if you only use the HUB as a remote control. I have a few ZigBee lights that are connected to an always on source. When I used the HUB to toggle the light state, I have had to wait as long as 20 seconds for the lights to respond. All of the Hubs on this list have the same dependency, except Staples Connect and Vera. The Staples connect Is just an all around great product, except that over the course of the last year, the only thing they have done to update the system is to add support for a limitted number of ZigBee devices. The whole 500 Series of Z-Wave devices are unsupported still, and dimmers don't work as remotes for lights. Even products listed as STaples Connect products have issues.

        My next hub is likely to be a Vera Plus when it comes out. It will be the first Vera hub to support ZigBee, and it integrates with Apple's HomeKit. For me, it is important that my ability to turn lights on and off, and for the motion sensors to turn off lights works even if I don't have internet. Wink and SmartThings cannot do this yet.

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