2021’s Best Smart Home Automation Systems

We studied user reviews and compared products in hands-on tests to bring you the best smart home hubs.
Best overall
Amazon Echo (4th gen)
Amazon Echo
(4th Gen)
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Alexa skills
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Good sound quality
Best budget Alexa hub
Best budget Google hub
Google Nest Mini Smart Speaker
Google Nest Mini
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Broad compatibility
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Better voice recognition

One of the most important questions when you’re shopping for a smart home hub is “Will it work with my devices?” The 4th generation Amazon Echo earned our top pick because more often than not, the answer to that question was “yes” with this hub.

The Amazon Echo is also very compatible with smart home automation devices and security systems. It works with Alexa, Arlo, August, Ecobee, GE, Honeywell, Kwikset, LIFX, Lutron, Nest, Philips Hue, Schlage, SmartThings, Sylvania, TP-Link, Wemo, and Yale.

Find out how it compares to the competition in our full breakdown of the best smart hubs.



Compare the best smart home hubs

Product
Price*
Connection type
Smart home compatibilityIcon Tooltip  Dark
Learn more
Best voice controls
Amazon Echo (4th gen)Amazon Echo
(4th Gen)
Bluetooth,
Wi-Fi,
Zigbee
Alexa, Arlo, August, Ecobee, GE, Honeywell, Kwikset, LIFX, Lutron, Nest, Philips Hue, Schlage, SmartThings, Sylvania, TP-Link, Wemo, Yale
Budget Alexa hub
Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)Amazon Echo Dot
(4th Gen)
Bluetooth,
Wi-Fi
Alexa, Arlo, August, Ecobee, GE, Honeywell, Kwikset, LIFX, Lutron, Nest, Philips Hue, Schlage, SmartThings, Sylvania, TP-Link, Wemo, Yale
Budget Google hub
Google Nest Mini Smart SpeakerGoogle Nest Mini
Bluetooth,
Wi-Fi
Arlo, August, Cree, Ecobee, GE, Google Home, Honeywell, Leviton, LG, LIFX, Nest, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Sylvania, TP-Link, Wemo

*Amazon.com list price as of 09/23/2021 at 1:40 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

Best smart hubs reviews

1. Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Best overall

Best overall
Amazon Echo (4th gen)

Amazon.com list price as of 09/23/2021 at 1:40 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) takes the Echo family further into smart home integration by adding a Zigbee-enabled smart home hub. It supports Zigbee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth smart home devices. Use it to call people hands-free or ask Alexa to read the news, answer questions, and play music.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Voice control
Pro Bullet Alexa skills
Pro Bullet Different finishes
Pro Bullet IFTTT compatibility
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Incompatible with some devices
Con Bullet Disappointing sound quality

It can also work like a home intercom system with other Amazon Echo devices in your house. If you’re like me and you don’t want your smart home hub to look like an alien spaceship that landed in the middle of your home, you’ll appreciate the variety of Echo finishes to choose from.

The fourth generation Echo is touted as having better sound quality than its predecessor, with front-firing speakers and a mini woofer for better bass performance. Many users who have upgraded say that the sound quality is better when compared to the previous Echo, but not by much.

Check out some of our favorite Alexa-compatible devices.

Bell
The end of the Echo Plus

The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) now includes a built-in Zigbee hub and replaces both the Echo (3rd Gen) and the Echo Plus (2nd Gen). It's a good thing too, since it's about $50 cheaper than the Echo Plus was.

2. Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen): Budget Alexa hub

Budget Alexa hub
Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)

Amazon.com list price as of 09/23/2021 at 1:40 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

The Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) is a lot less expensive than traditional hubs and still performs many of the same functions, like giving you Alexa integration and voice control for your smart home devices.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Voice control
Pro Bullet Thousands of skills
Pro Bullet Three color choices
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Incompatible with some devices
Con Bullet Lower sound quality
Con Bullet No built-in Zigbee controls

It costs half as much as the Echo, so you can expect lower sound quality and no built-in Zigbee controls, but the Alexa voice assistant still answers your questions, plays your music, and gives you access to thousands of other skills.

3. Google Nest Mini: Budget Google hub

Budget Google hub
Google Nest Mini Smart Speaker

Info current as of 09/23/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Like the Echo Dot, the Google Nest Mini isn’t much of a hub, but the smart speaker offers hub-like features like controlling your smart home devices using your voice. It’s compatible with a wide variety of smart lights, plugs, appliances, and home security products.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Voice control
Pro Bullet Four different finishes
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Incompatible with some devices
Con Bullet Less than stellar sound

We found that Google Assistant is a little bit better at recognizing a voice command than Alexa, and we like the option for using less specific follow-up questions, like asking, “When does it open?” after asking where the nearest bakery is.

Check out some of our favorite Google Assistant-compatible devices.

More hubs we considered

Broadlink

The Broadlink RM4 Pro (about $45) is a cheaper universal remote alternative to recently discontinued Logitech Harmony. Its IR/RF technology allows you to control a wide variety of smart gadgets using your mobile device.

While Harmony had a focus on home theater devices like TVs and stereo systems, Broadlink expands beyond that to also control appliances like air conditioners and fans, provided they already use some sort of remote control.

Hubitat

The Hubitat Elevation (about $140) is a powerhouse of a smart hub, easily beating SmartThings in user privacy and customization options. But it's mostly for hardcore smart home technology enthusiasts since it's more difficult to set up. Plus, it's one of the more expensive hubs on the market.

Wink

The Wink Hub 2 (about $200) was one of the earliest smart home hubs to hit the market, and it remains a compelling alternative to SmartThings. We like its native support for Nest and Lutron smart devices, both of which don't work with SmartThings.

Unfortunately, Wink's products have become less reliable and harder to find in stock. Plus, its recent move to a monthly fee makes it a poor choice for folks on a budget.

Final word

The Amazon Echo is our top smart hub pick thanks to its compatibility with an overwhelming number of smart devices. We especially like how you can just press Discover Devices in the Alexa app, and Alexa hub does the rest for you. 

Smart home hub FAQ

Always look at the compatibility, mobile app, and setup when choosing a smart home hub:

  • Compatibility: Make sure the devices are compatible with each other to avoid buying additional hubs or new devices. If you already have connected devices in your home, choose a hub that connects with them as well as future devices on your wishlist. The hub's website should have a full list of compatible devices.
  • Mobile app: As you shop for a hub, read app reviews from users, and if you can, test drive different automation hubs. You want a user-friendly app that’s easy to navigate while interacting with your smart home device.
  • Setup: Most smart home hubs walk you through setup using tutorials and guides. It’s nice to have help setting up your hub and other devices in this growing market with lots of unknowns.

Technically, no, and it can be tempting to rely on Wi-Fi-enabled smart gadgets and apps to avoid a hub setup altogether. Wi-Fi is fine for wired smart devices like smart light bulbs, smart plugs, a smart thermostat, and video doorbells, but it quickly drains the batteries of your wireless devices like a security sensor or smart lock.

Having too many can also drag down your network speed. If you want to avoid frequent battery replacement and keep your Wi-Fi network running smoothly, it’s worth it to look into wireless home automation devices that use radio frequencies like Z-Wave and Zigbee.

Yes. You may have some hubs that speak one language and some that speak another, and that’s okay. As you learn more about how home automation works and get more comfortable with your system, you may discover more gadgets that don’t work with your current hub.

In that case, you can use another hub or a bridge to loop them into your smart home system.

Yes, the “brains” of some of the best smart home security systems also operate as smart home hubs and give you control of your smart home gadgets (like a security camera) through your security system app.

If you want voice control, look for a system that’s compatible with a voice assistant, and you’ll be able to access devices like your Ring Video Doorbell with your voice. Security system hubs can also offer you the added bonus of cellular and battery backups in case of power outages.

How we reviewed the best smart home automation systems

To select the best smart home hubs, we dug for hubs that were compatible with the most brands and easy to use. We studied real user reviews and compared product features side by side in hands-on tests. Read our full methodology to find out more.

Contributing writer: John Carlsen

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Disclaimers

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.

†Google, Google Nest, Google Assistant, and other related marks are trademarks of Google LLC.

Kasey Tross
Written by
Kasey Tross
Kasey is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and a freelance writer with expertise in emergency preparedness and security. As the mother of four kids, including two teens, Kasey knows the safety concerns parents face as they raise tech-savvy kids in a connected world, and she loves to research the latest security options for her own family and for SafeWise readers.

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  • Were these products actually tested for this review, or solely specs-based and what can be found on the Internet?

    The three of these are not even close to apples to apples. They meet different needs and have different purposes. Google Home and Alexa devices are in the same category (voice assistants with write-only control and camera support). Logitech is in the category with device-specific hubs, such as Hue and others. SmartThings is a true home automation hub comparable to Hubitat Elevation, Wink, Home Assistant, and many others. The “true” hubs all require a Voice Assistant such as an Alexa-enabled device, Google Home, and possibly others. These hubs can also take inputs from water leak sensors, motion sensors, and other sensors that provide data to the hub rather than being told what to do (like a light switch).

    1. Hi there!

      Thanks for your comment—we test as much as possible before writing our reviews. We also acknowledge that for a lot of consumers, a smart speaker with a voice assistant is all they’ll need to get going with a smart home system. So while these aren’t apples-to-apples, we feel that they fit the needs of most folks just dipping their toes into home automation.

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