If you are trying to automate your entire home, with motion sensing lights, a smart thermostat or smart security that adjusts automatically based on your habits, there’s a good chance you will need a smart home hub to connect everything seamlessly.
Smart home hubs can act as a central point of control for all of your smart home devices. Many also function as smart speakers, answer voice commands, play music and more. In our experience, most people do not need a smart home hub because they can control all their smart devices using a smartphone plus an app like Amazon Alexa or Google Home.
If you have more advanced smart devices, like home security systems, window sensors or temperature sensors, you may need one. To find the right smart home hub for your space, we spoke with experts to better understand what these hubs do. We also share Select staff-favorite options to shop.
What is a smart home hub?
A smart home hub is a device that can connect and communicate with the smart devices in your home. Think of it like an air traffic controller, fielding communications and requests from all your devices to keep everything functioning smoothly. They can connect to your phone via Bluetooth and the rest of your home via Wi-Fi or a specialized sub-network like Thread, Zigbee or Z-Wave. Some smart home hubs can also play music, stream video and more, making them more similar to smart speakers or tablets.
How we picked our favorite smart home hubs
Our team tried different smart hub models and kept the following expert-guided criteria in mind while using them:
- Compatibility: Smart home hubs are controlled with an app or voice assistant — typically either Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Google Assistant, or Apple Home and Apple Siri. We tried and included hubs across all three of these brands.
- Connectivity: We only included hubs that are compatible with at least one advanced connectivity network outside of Wi-Fi, such as Thread, Zigbee or Z-Wave. These are often needed to connect gadgets like motion and temperature sensors. (More on those later).
- Price: Smart home hubs generally cost between $40 and $230. We focused on products around $100 — they provide similar functionality to more expensive hubs, in our experience.
Our favorite smart home hubs of 2023
Our top picks come from established brands in the smart home and voice assistant space: Amazon, Google and Apple. We included important details about each hub, like compatibility, connectivity and physical size as well as our team’s personal experience using them.
For Google users: Google Nest Hub
This is one of our favorite smart home hubs because you can control it using the seven-inch touchscreen display, in addition to voice commands. After connecting to Wi-Fi and signing in with a Google account, you can control smart gadgets like lights, plugs and doorbells. Because there is a screen, you can view the video feed for compatible smart doorbells and security systems, according to the brand. With it, you can also do the same basic tasks you might do on a tablet: check your calendar, view photo galleries, watch YouTube videos and listen to music.
NBC Select editorial projects manager Rebecca Rodriguez has this hub on her kitchen island and uses it as the control center for all of her smart home devices, namely her Kasa and Cync smart bulbs. She likes that the screen always shows her useful information like the weather and the latest news stories. When cooking, she uses it to watch her favorite TV shows or pull up a recipe — either way, her hands are free for messy kitchen tasks.
Works with: Android, Apple | Size: 4.7 x 7 x 2.7 inch | Voice Assistant: Yes, Google Assistant | Display: Yes, 7-inch touchscreen | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Thread, Matter | Weight: 19.7 oz (558g)
For Amazon Alexa users: Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
Amazon Echo hubs are a favorite of NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin because they are easy to use, especially with other Amazon devices. She has used them for years to set kitchen timers, hear news briefings, listen to music and control her smart lights and Amazon smart plugs, all with voice controls through the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. You can also use the Amazon Alexa app to control the speaker (and connected smart home devices). To set up the device, use the Amazon Alexa app to pair the hub with your phone, connect it to Wi-Fi and sign-in with your Amazon account.
This model, while slightly older than other Echo devices, makes for the best smart home hub. That’s because Amazon added additional connectivity options to this model in May of 2023, but did not add the same options to its newer Echo Dot (5th Gen).
Works with: Android, Apple | Size: 5.7 x 5.7 x 5.2 in | Voice Assistant: Yes, Amazon Alexa | Display: No | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Thread, Zigbee, Sidewalk, Matter | Weight: 34.2 oz (970g)
For Apple users: Apple Homepod Mini
Anyone who uses a lot of Apple products and the Siri voice assistant should consider the brand’s Homepod Mini smart home hub. Unlike our other top picks, it is only compatible with the iPhone. Setup is similar to other smart home hubs, however, you will have to use the Apple Home app to pair with the Homepod Mini, then connect it to Wi-Fi and sync to your iCloud account.
I use this hub in my kitchen to ask Siri questions, play music and control my Kasa smart plugs and Nanoleaf smart bulbs. Smart devices are easy to sync with the Apple Home app — it never took me more than five minutes to set up a device.
I often play music when I cook and the spherical shape of the Homepod Mini fires audio in all directions, easily filling the whole kitchen with sound. I also like how the touch panel on the top of the Homepod lights up when I ask Siri a question — a good visual cue that lets me know the Homepod Mini is listening to my request.
Many smart home gadgets aren’t compatible with the Apple Homepod and Apple Home — be sure to check the compatibility of your smart devices prior to purchase.
Works with: Apple | Size: 3.9 x 3.9 x 3.3 inch | Voice Assistant: Yes, Apple Siri | Display: No | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Thread, Matter | Weight: 12.1 oz (345g)
How to shop for a smart home hub
In my experience, most smart home hubs let you do the same things — control your smart gadgets, play music and ask questions, all with voice controls. Some hubs, like the Google Nest Hub, have a screen, which lets you stream shows, watch Youtube videos, display videos and more, making it more versatile than screenless options like the Homepod Mini. Regardless, there are a few things to keep in mind as you shop for a smart home hub.
Consider your smartphone
Some hubs, like Apple’s Homepod Mini, can only be controlled with an iPhone. Others, like the Amazon Echo and Google Nest Hub, can be used with both Apple and Android devices. On our list, we indicated which smart home hubs work with Apple and Android.
Compatibility is everything
Picking the right smart home hub is less about the hubs themselves and more about the smart gadgets you own and use. Check product pages and device packaging for information on smart home compatibility, says Chris DeCenzo, senior principal software engineer at Amazon smart home. Because Amazon makes smart devices, we only spoke with DeCenzo about technical shopping guidance, not specific product recommendations.
Take a look at the smart devices you already own and note which platform they are compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple Home. Amazon Alexa and Google Home are compatible with most smart gadgets, while Apple Home is compatible with fewer devices, in my experience.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Chris DeCenzo is the senior principal software engineer at Amazon Smart Home. Since Amazon sells smart home hubs, we only spoke with DeCenzo about technical smart home guidance and did not ask for specific product recommendations.
- Patrick Miltner is the vice president of software product management at Savant, a smart home and home automation company. Since Savant sells smart home products, we only spoke with Miltner about technical smart home guidance and did not ask for specific product recommendations.
Why trust Select?
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter at NBC Select who has written about consumer technology for years, including guides to keyboards, tablets and more. For this piece, he leveraged his personal experience and the experience of the NBC Select team using smart home hubs in their daily lives. He also spoke with smart home industry experts to better understand the technical aspects of smart home connectivity and conducted thorough research of other top-rated models.