Automation Hub Reviews - Top 8 Home Controller Systems

The home automation industry is like the Wild West right now. If you thought that Blu Ray vs HD-DVD was a terrible format war, imagine if there were ten different companies with ten different approaches all vying for your money.

That’s the sort of situation that we find ourselves in here. These home automation hubs represent visions from several different companies who are all hoping that one day their technology will be the default everyone uses. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good, because the competition is likely to lead to a better product that we will all eventually use. It’s bad because no one knows which system is going to be the overall winner and being an early adopter is often a painful experience. Just ask anyone with an HD-DVD collection.

Still, we can make do with our mishmash of automation devices that, although they can’t always talk to each other, can live alongside one another.

For those devices that CAN understand each other, albeit with a little help, there are these home automation hubs. I’ve pulled together some of what seem to be the most popular ones and had a look at what they can do to figure out which I would be willing to buy.

I have put my best choices at the top, and the rest of the reviews are below in no particular order.

Top Pick: Wink Connected Home Hub

Wink has made quite a name for itself with its integration technology and I have heard a lot of people speak quite favorably of the company’s products.

Reading through the feature list I can see why they might feel this way. Wink seems to have thought of everything. First of all, they support a ton of protocols: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, Z-wave, ZigBee, Lutron, ClearConnect, and Kidde. I’ll freely admit that I only recognized half of those before looking it up.

The apps really are simple and nice to look at. It really gives you a simple, yet futuristic, vibe. The interface design of the SmartThings app is much more utilitarian and unattractive.

The Wink hub allows for an amazing amount of flexibility and customization. You can specify that certain devices trigger in certain ways together. For example, you can tell your Nest to switch on the heating when you unlock the front door.

What Wink promises is the dream that everyone has in their head when thinking of home automation. Where everything works together and that sophisticated interaction is what makes your home a smart home.

There are a few downsides. At the moment the Wink will only work properly with devices that bear a Wink seal, but the good news is that it seems more and more brands are getting on board. Chances are that if you started your automation with some Wifi devices many of them already have Wink compatibility. At the moment it will only work on 2.4 Ghz routers; if you are already on the newer 5ghz technology then you should wait for a newer model.

Other than that, I personally think the Wink hub is the most future-proof choice, and when people are throwing their SmartThings hubs in the trash these guys will still be relevant. Of course, on the other hand, these things are ridiculously cheap, so even if you have to replace it that’s not such a big deal. The bottom line is that if I were to buy a hub today with my own hard-earned cash then this would be it.

Small Business Choice: VeraEdge Home Controller

Oh look, it’s a 56Kbps modem from the late 90s. No wait, that’s from now? Yeah, this is a pretty yucky looking device. Still, hubs are meant to be hidden and maybe it looks this way so that no one will steal it. It also doesn’t help that it is one of the more expensive products in this market.

Anyway, it works with some of the better-known home automation brands such a Nest, Schlage, Yale, and so on. Unlike the Insteon that can barely handle 10 devices, the VeraEdge will manage as many as 220 devices. I doubt that too many people will have anything near that. I think I get why the VeraEdge costs a bit more, since they specifically mention home and small business applications.

You can also view multiple cameras on a single dashboard screen, control lights, locks. The whole shebang. There is one big issue and it is not apparent from the marketing material. This only works with WiFi or Z-wave devices. If you have devices that do not use either of these protocols then you’ll have to look elsewhere, if you are already locked in the Z-wave ecosystem then you’ll most likely be very pleased with the Insteon.

Third Best Hub: Mi Casa Verde VeraLite Home Controller

This is a hub that is also at the more expensive end of the spectrum, but unlike the VeraEdge, this VeraLite actually looks like something you don’t want to hide away in a closet, with its pleasant shape and colors.

Being a more home-oriented product they have put extra effort into making the interface easy to use. They are also marketing the energy consumption monitoring abilities of this hub quite hard, so if that is a selling point to you then you should take note of the Mi Casa.

The manufacturer says that this product is “universal compatibility”, which sounds awesome. They only mention Z-wave by name though.

The main failure of the Mi Casa is the fact that users say it is not exactly easy or basic to operate if you want to do anything mildly interesting with it. As soon as you need to have conditional options for switching on a light, as an example, you have to start diving into code or using a third-party app.

Still if you are into Z-wave, have fewer than 70 devices, and only need basic home automation functions, the Mi Casa is actually a pretty solid choice.

The Awesome Pick: NuBryte Touchpoint All-in-One Smart Automation Console

When I think “home automation” I don’t think of a little box hidden somewhere that I control using my smartphone or tablet. Sure, I expect to have remote access, but a lifelong diet of Sci-Fi movies has trained me to expect some built in controls as well, dammit. If the Starship Enterprise had touch control panels on the wall in the 24th century then by gosh I want them now.

This control panel and central controller fits into a standard double switch mounting and lets you control smart lighting, home security, and intercom services if you add more panels to other rooms. It has a built-in wide angle camera, so if you put these guys in each room you also have easy surveillance and communication. You can also access all of this via the app as well. The panels also have alarms built-in and you’ll get intrusion alerts on both iOS and Android.

Here is the issue though – this is not really a home automation hub. It doesn’t work with Z-wave, although the company plans to integrate ZigBee support later.

It is also very expensive, but if you can afford to put one of these in all your most important rooms you’ll get something damn close to what future visions of home automation should look like. Just be aware of what you are getting.

Lutron L-BDG2-WH Caseta Wireless Smart Bridge

The Lutron looks very Apple-like, so if that’s your design taste you already have a bit of a winner here. Unfortunately, it also has Apple-like pricing and costs about double what other units in this market go for.

This is a HomeKit enabled unit, which means that if you have an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch you can use Siri to control the stuff in your house. The Lutron app will also run on all three of these devices. I guess that Android users should look elsewhere.

You can control lights, shades, and temperatures with the Lutron. It will work with the Nest and a small number of Honeywell thermostats. Scheduling is a given and it also has a geofencing function so that as you approach home it can turn the heating and lights on.

While this smart bridge works well, it seems that the Lutron app itself is a little rough around the edges. Apparently there are third party apps that also work with it, but are much nicer to use.

If you are into Homekit then this a stylish, expensive and mostly functional system.

Samsung SmartThings Hub, 2nd Generation

Who would have thought that Samsung would have become the smart electronics juggernaut that it is today? I sure wish I’d bought some stock in the beginning of their market domination, but now I’ll just have to hope that my rare Pokemon cards will one day be worth a fortune.

This tiny little device is the second generation SmartThings hub. SmartThings is an open platform, which means it should play nice with a lot of devices.

This product can handle a number of communication protocols. Specifically it can handle ZigBee, Z-wave, and of course Internet Protocol. All of the devices that you have that make use of any of these protocols have the potential to work with the SmartThings Hub.

This new generation of hub from Samsung now has a backup battery, which means it will keep working for up to 10 hours. What about the internet router it has to be attached to? Good question – the hub can also keep doing parts of its job that do not specifically require internet connectivity, so all your battery powered sensors and such will still be on monitor.

This hub is compatible with products from a long list of manufacturers, and basically if something has the word “SmartThings” somewhere in its description it is likely to work with the app you use to tell the hub what to do.

Based just on the paper description this product has best pick potential, but when you read what owners of the hub are actually writing the image is far less rosy.

There are multiple accounts of wonky software devices, settings not being triggered, and just general dumbness, which is not what you want in something with “smart” in the name. It seems that it will take a few more generations before SmartThings becomes rock solid enough to recommend.

INSTEON 2245-222 Central Smart Controller Review

This looks so much like a fashionable little HTPC when you look at it the first time that it’s hard to remind yourself that it is, in fact, just a controller hub. Insteon have done a great job on the design front in my opinion.

This hub is mostly focused on lighting, but it will also work with thermostats from Insteon (duh) and from Nest. As such it has lots of lighting options to store, timers you can use, and even scheduled dimming. I assume you can also make Barry White come on at the same time.

Unfortunately, the reception of this hub has been pretty negative. It has trouble with anything but a small number of simultaneous devices. The software is very spotty and many customer reviews say that this product was not ready for release. So you know what to do – don’t buy it.

Nexia Home Intelligence Z-Wave Bridge

As you can probably tell from the name, this device is solely for the Z-wave faithful. This Nexia bridge unfortunately needs a $9 per month subscription in order to manage your home through it, which I think is not a outdated business model, but there you have it. With this bridge you can control 200 Z-wave devices, which is more than the average person will ever need.

The upside of the whole subscription thing is that the internet connection that lets you control your home remotely is encrypted, so it is unlikely that someone will hack your house and open the locks.

Not much more to say about it frankly. It works as advertised, but that subscription requirement is a real bummer.

Hub of Commotion

I was surprised by how small the selection of home automation hubs actually is at the moment. There are only a few people that make them and this is still a niche market. On top of this, many of these hubs seems like they have been pushed out before they were really ready for market. My honest opinion is that we should wait until these systems improve before trying to build unified home automation systems using a central controller like this, but if you are set on it you can make this stuff work well and reliably with a little technical know-how. Hopefully most of the rough spots will be sorted out by software updates and the Wink is definitely a good choice already. But for those who are on the fence, sticking to devices that are automated but not necessarily centralized may still be the best option.