Best Smart Hubs & Speakers in 2017

Product Features / Benefits Price / ROI Buying Options
Echo image Echo

Alexa-enabled

Third-party skills

$180

Amazon

Best Buy

Home image Home

Google Assistant

Chromecast control

$129

Best Buy

SmartThings image SmartThings

Device grouping by room

Third-party support

$100

Best Buy

Hub 2 image Hub 2

No ethernet required

Internal battery backup

$99

Home Depot

Smart Hubs & Speakers Buyer's Guide

What is a smart home speaker or hub?

The concept of a “smart home” has become widespread amongst people looking to have more control and flexibility in their lives. “Smart home” has come to represent the interconnectedness of the appliances, devices, and systems in a home, and the power and ease of control that comes with wireless connectivity. 

A smart home device makes managing your home easier and more accessible by connecting you wirelessly to the objects in your home that make your life run seamlessly. Smart home devices can help save energy and money while connecting your home to the internet and giving you access to many of its functions. In a way, smart home devices are turning our homes into pieces of tech themselves.

Smart home speakers

Smart home speakers take voice commands to control smart devices in your home, which have been wirelessly linked to your speaker. Additionally, smart speakers have native features that can also be accessed through simple voice commands, like weather reports, list-building, and news reports. A common implementation of a smart speaker is to link it to a compatible smart hub, which gives you voice control over every device linked to your smart hub.

Smart home hubs

Smart home hubs take your connected devices and centralize their operation and management. Smart home devices communicate on several different frequencies depending on the brand and device (ZigBee, Z-Wave, WeMo, Wi-Fi), and smart hubs and speakers can translate those differing frequencies of communication, enabling non-compatible devices to communicate with each other and with you, the homeowner. For example, if you want to turn off several smart outlets in the same room, a smart home hub can help those smart outlets, devices that may not normally be able to link, “talk” to one another and coordinate an activity (in this case, turning several outlets off at once). 

Why buy a smart speaker or hub?

Smart home speakers and hubs tie all of your smart home devices together into one smart network, to be controlled through one unifying mobile app or voice commands. Smart hubs allow for different types of devices from different brands to be accessed through the same interface while even letting those normally incompatible devices communicate and coordinate actions.

A smart home speaker can’t unify all of your smart devices (yet), but smart speakers come with access to powerful software that can play music, tell you the weather, and make lists, among other handy actions to help make your day run. Smart speakers have a growing compatibility with many smart home devices, all through hands free voice commands. Currently, the main smart speakers on the market are compatible with a range of smart thermostats, light bulbs, and media devices, among several others. Until smart speakers become standalone hubs, however, a smart speaker paired with a hub can create a powerful, voice-controlled device network.

What smart speaker/hub features are important to consider? 

There are three main characteristics to evaluate as you compare your smart home speaker and hub options: compatibility, ease of use, and aesthetics.

Compatibility

The most important feature to look for in a smart home hub or speaker is how compatible it is with the wide range of smart home products on the market. A smart home hub’s intelligence is limited by the connections it can make with other smart devices, so always make sure that you are buying the hub or speaker that has compatibility with the products you already own, or plan to buy in the future. 

Importantly, smart hubs and speakers can come with “future-proof” compatibility capabilities. Some products have a lively developer community that will produce third-party applications to link up non-compatible products, while others have built-in, unactivated protocol capabilities for future smart home devices. This means that as new smart home devices become available, you won’t need to worry about those new devices being incompatible with your old hub or speaker.

Mobile app/ease of use

For smart home hubs, how well the mobile app works and allows home control is critical. Smart hub mobile apps are where all of your customization happens, including IFTTT programs (chains of conditional commands that can be triggered by a number of cues from smart home devices), alerts, scheduling, and anything unique to your home setup. Mobile apps also allow you to connect and control other smart home devices. The interface for that control is an important part of how a smart home hub functions.

In the case of smart speakers, a mobile app or web page is usually used to facilitate set up, and not much else due to the voice control aspect of smart speakers. More importantly, a speaker needs to be responsive to voice commands and easy to communicate with.

Aesthetics

Smart speakers in particular are visible pieces of tech in your home. Having an aesthetically pleasing smart home device can be an important factor as you decide on a hub or speaker. Some devices come with interchangeable colored parts, while others have unique, modern shapes that fit in today’s modern home. Many hubs and speakers will also have some lighting aspect, indicating power or recognition of a voice command.

EnergySage Smart Hubs & Speakers Reviews
  • Review: Echo by Amazon

    Echo image

    The Amazon Echo is a cylindrical smart speaker with good sound quality – but its physical characteristics are not the Echo’s selling point. Underneath the hood is Amazon’s Alexa software, which can be activated by saying “Hey Alexa”, “Alexa” or even “Amazon.” From there, you can direct Alexa to do just about anything for you, all through voice. 

    What can it do for you? Alexa has capabilities for weather, music, news reports, smart device control, and much, much more. You can even make free voice calls to anyone with an Echo device or the Alexa app. Amazon has also released a software development kit for third-party developers to make “Skills”, of which there are thousands (like calling an Uber or ordering a pizza).

    With support for several smart home devices, the Amazon Echo has smart speaker capabilities as well as smart hub intelligence. For homeowners who want to have access to powerful voice control capabilities, as well as an ever-evolving network of third-party support, the Amazon Echo is a great smart home solution.

    Buying Options: Amazon | Best Buy
  • Review: Home by Google

    Home image


    As an answer to the Amazon Echo, Google released their Home smart speaker. The biggest advantage to a Google Home is the wealth of data available through Google. Google Home can pull information from all aspects of your Google account (such as web browsing, emails, GPS records) to customize your experience. 

    For example, Google Home can use your Google Calendar to proactively give you reminders and alert you to traffic on your commute. Additionally, Google Home can recognize different voices in your family, which gives it the capability to customize responses for different users. Integration with Google’s Chromecast media streaming device is an additional advantage.

    Google Home can control many types of smart home devices, and more are constantly being added to its capabilities. A unique feature to the Google Home is its ability to communicate especially well with televisions and Chromecast. Through your Google Home linked to a Chromecast device in your house, you can simply tell your system vocally to cue up the next episode of your favorite show. 

    As an added bonus, you can swap out the colorful base to your Google Home, allowing you to match it to the aesthetic of whatever room it happens to reside in. The Google Home is a great option for anyone looking for a high quality speaker with a wealth of information at the ready, all activated by your voice.

    Buying Options: Best Buy
  • Review: SmartThings by Samsung

    SmartThings image

    A powerful smart home hub option, the Samsung SmartThings offers many robust features. Most notably, SmartThings can connect to over 200 products, and several “SmartApps” are available to help facilitate device communication. SmartThings also supports IFTTT programming, a unique way of making several events occur at once across several kinds of smart devices. Aside from IFTTT, SmartThings employs SmartApps to help you create customizable functions that allow fine tuning of countless connected device actions.

    A great feature of the Samsung SmartThings is its partner mobile app, which you can use on iOS, Android, and Windows devices. SmartApps are easily accessible within the SmartThings app. The mobile app offers intuitive ways to group devices into rooms and find new devices in your home network, making the SmartThings a powerful tool. 

    As an added bonus, Samsung SmartThings has a backup battery attached – if your power goes out, your smart home can operate as usual. The Samsung SmartThings hub is right for someone who wants highly customizable home automation, built around your rooms and routines.

    Buying Options: Best Buy
  • Review: Hub 2 by Wink

    Hub 2 image

    The Wink Hub 2 has a sleek, modern design, and can connect to most smart home devices. Instead of being tethered to an ethernet connection, the Hub 2 can be set up over 2.4 or 5GHz Wi-Fi, and placed anywhere in your house. Automation is done through built-in “Robots”, which are basically IFTTT commands – they can be customized and set to be triggered by certain events. They are highly functional, while still making automation and triggering home actions easy to grasp. 

    The Hub 2 is remarkably easy to set up and begin using, and is great for users who want a straightforward, user-friendly interface and want to keep their home automation simple and efficient.

    Buying Options: Home Depot
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