From smart light bulbs and thermostats that think for themselves to smart door locks, wireless security cameras, and all manner of sensors, today’s home automation technology can sound awfully sophisticated while actually being a messy hodgepodge of gizmos and apps. Installing all this stuff in your house is only half the battle. Getting it to work together smoothly and with a single user interface can be something entirely different.
Here’s the essential gear to get you there, which we’ve separated into two categories: all-around smart home systems, which are designed to coordinate a wide variety of smart home products, and security-focused systems, which are built around sensors and sirens.
You should also note that some of our picks are starter kits, consisting of a smart-home hub and a handful of devices, while others are just the hub. You’ll need to add the components you want to the latter, choosing from products certified by the hub manufacturer.
Updated April 6, 2023 to add a link to our SwitchBot Hub 2 review.
Best smart home systems
Aeotec Smart Home Hub
- Works with Zigbee (including Philips Hue), Z-Wave, and Wi-Fi devices
- Easy-to-use software
- Connects to your router via ethernet or Wi-Fi
- Not compatible with Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem
- Won’t work without a broadband connection
Price When Reviewed:
Samsung suspended its own SmartThings hub several years ago, incorporating the technology into its Bespoke line of smart refrigerators, instead. That changed at CES 2023 with the announcement of the Samsung SmartThings Station, which dropped Z-Wave from the collection of support smart home protocols, but added Thread and Matter support. The smart-home stalwarts at Aeotec continue to offer their own SmartThings hub, which supports Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi and every product claiming “Works with SmartThings” compatibility. Every major category is covered, including the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, numerous smart lighting products (including Philips and Sylvania gear), the Ring Video Doorbell, smart door locks, and more.
We’ll review the new SmartThings Station as soon as it becomes available; for now, the Aeotec Smart Home Hub remains our top pick in this category.
Read our full
Aeotec Smart Home Hub review
Ring Alarm Pro (8-piece kit) — Best DIY home security system
- Very easy to set up
- An integrated Wi-Fi 6 router renders it a fantastic value
- Good Wi-Fi performance, and its range can be expanded with Eero mesh nodes
- Expandable battery and broadband backup features
- Underwhelming as an all-purpose smart home hub
- Subscription required for local video processing and storage
- Zigbee radio is still dormant, and there’s no Thread radio
- Poor integration with other smart home devices
Price When Reviewed:
You simply won’t find a better value in DIY home security, or one that offers the important option of professional monitoring for so little cash: $20 per month, including cloud storage for video clips from an unlimited number of Ring video doorbells and security cameras. If you don’t need a router update, take a look at our previous top pick in this category, the slightly less-expensive Ring Alarm (2nd Gen), which doesn’t have an integrated router. Given that the Ring Alarm Pro also has a Z-Wave radio on board, it could also be a kick-ass smart home hub if Ring would just would take a couple of extra steps to either support more third-party smart home products or build its own. On the other hand, the Works with Ring program does include several third-party smart locks, garage-door controllers, in-wall light switches, and smart thermostats.
Read our full
Ring Alarm Pro (8-piece kit) review
Abode Iota — Best DIY home security system, runner-up
- Setup is as streamlined as it gets, and its all-in-one design makes it even more foolproof
- Pricing is solid, at least for a smaller home
- Plenty of thoughtful extras, including wireless connectivity and battery backup
- Apple HomeKit compatible
- Integrated camera’s 1080p resolution is no longer impressive
- Integrated siren isn’t as loud as we’d like
Price When Reviewed:
Abode continues to impress us with its security-focused smart home hub. The Abode Iota incorporates a 1080p security camera into an enclosure that’s more compact than the original, yet retains all the features we like, including support for Zigbee and Z-Wave smart home devices and sensors, optional cellular backup for added security, and optional, very affordable professional monitoring.
Read our full
Abode Iota review
Minut Smart Home Alarm — Best DIY home security for vacation rentals
- Unobtrusive and sophisticated design
- Doesn’t rely on cameras or microphones to monitor what’s happening in the home
- Extremely effective infrared motion sensor
- Noise sensor lets you know if guests are getting out of hand
- Bonus capabilities give you an in-depth look at your home’s environmental conditions
- Pets can easily set off its alarm
- Can’t control smart home devices such as lights and smart locks
Price When Reviewed:
$50, plus cost of monitoring plan ($120 or $180 per year)
The Minut Smart Home Security system is actually pretty limited in terms of its ability to control the other smart devices in your home, but if you’re particularly sensitive about privacy, this system can protect your home without relying on on cameras, microphones, or similar technology that some consider invasive.
Read our full
Minut Smart Home Alarm review
As we mentioned earlier, smart home systems come in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes, from brain-dead simple to vastly complex. Features vary just as widely, so you’ll need to pay more attention than usual when you’re narrowing down the field to find the product that’s right for you. Here’s a look at some of those key decision factors. To see how each system on the market measures up to those promises, drill down into the reviews at the end of the buyers’ guide.
Device support: Some smart hubs support only a small number of devices made by the manufacturer of the hub. Others offer certification programs for third-party devices and/or offer hooks into systems developed by third parties: Amazon (Alexa), Nest (thermostats, cameras, and smoke/CO detectors), and Google (Google Assistant) are the biggies here, but Apple’s HomeKit could become important later. It’s critical to consider all the devices you already have in your home, and whether the hub will support them. If the hub doesn’t support them, you might be looking at a massive upgrade later. As well, you need to think about what devices you plan to add to your network down the line.
IFTTT support: Many top smart home systems support IFTTT (If This Then That), the simple scripting system that lets you connect devices that otherwise wouldn’t be. For example, you could use IFTTT to turn all the lights in the house blue if a water leak is detected by your smart hub—even if it can’t speak directly to the lighting system itself. Stringify is a similar—and perhaps more sophisticated—service, but it has not yet gained as much traction as IFTTT.
Wired vs. wireless hub connection: Many smart hubs must connect to your wireless router via an ethernet cable, which limits your placement and, of course, requires a free ethernet port on your router. That can be an issue with the new generation of puck-like mesh routers that have just two ethernet ports (Eero, Google Wifi, TP-Link Deco M5, et al). A smaller number of hubs are wireless and can be placed anywhere in range of the router, increasing your flexibility.
Sensor range: If your home is large or spread out, you’ll need to pay attention to the range that the hub’s sensors support. Hubs may support a wide array of connection protocols, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, and Zigbee, all of which have very different ranges. As with a wireless router, smart hub range can also be impacted by interference and device placement, and smart home devices themselves have different specs, as well. Take the time to look into the detailed specs to be sure sensors and third-party devices will actually work with your home’s infrastructure.
Battery backup: If the power goes out, your smart lights might not be useful, but other smart home features, like security sensors, rely on a hub that’s always on. Many smart hubs, even those that aren’t built around security, feature battery backups (either through rechargeable cells or standard AAs). Even a short power outage can cause a significant delay while the hub reconnects, so a battery backup makes sense in many home environments. If you like everything else about a particular hub that lacks a battery backup option, consider investing in an uninterruptible power supply to plug it into.
Mobile app usability: You’ll probably be interacting with your hub primarily through its mobile app, so you’ll want one that’s intuitive and powerful, with all the key features you use front and center. App-store screen shots and, of course, our reviews can help you get a sense of what you’re dealing with on the app side of things.
Overall complexity: This is a companion consideration to the mobile app, relating primarily to the audience for whom the smart home system was developed. Is the system geared at everyday users with limited customization needs? Or is it built with extreme flexibility in mind, to the point where the configuration decisions might overwhelm a novice user? Again, close attention to our reviews can help you gauge how comfortable you’re likely to feel with any system.
In addition to the above, the following considerations are primarily geared at systems with a security focus.
Sensor support: A companion consideration to the device support issue above, if you’re in the market for a security-focused smart hub, you’ll want one that has support for all the sensors you need. Most security hubs only work with the sensors made by the same manufacturer, so you can’t mix and match as you would with a general-use smart hub. Some security systems offer only a very narrow range of sensor types, while others have a wide variety to choose from.
Cellular radio backup: If you could simply cut the broadband connection to defeat a security system, it wouldn’t be much good, would it? Any good security system will include a 3G cellular backup that can be used in case your broadband connection drops. You should also carefully consider the battery backup consideration above, which is essential for dealing with power outages and is a standard feature on most security hubs.
Professional monitoring: If you don’t want to monitor your own security system 24/7, you’ll at least want the option to engage with a professional security company that can keep tabs on it for you when you’re out on walkabout. These invariably cost extra, which leads to our final consideration….
Service plan costs: Service plan costs vary widely from system to system, and many vendors offer a range of plans to choose from. Some systems will work without a service plan, allowing you to self-monitor. Some require a plan to function at all. Also note that lower-tier service plans might not include professional monitoring (Ring Alarm has one of the least-expensive plans: $10 per month with no long-term commitment). Price out service plans carefully before you pull the trigger.
Smart home hubs that didn’t make the cut
We’ve evaluated nearly all the other smart home systems that are worth talking about. Some of these have great features to recommend them, but none currently pose a threat to our top picks. Abode’s home security starter kit is virtually the same as the Abode Iota, with the key difference being the security camera integrated into the latter system’s hub. Both packages use the same accessories and sensors. Ecobee takes an interesting approach to home security, integrating its smart home hub into the company’s top-shelf smart thermostat. Ecobee also has a great home security camera, and the entire system is HomeKit compatible. The Hubitat Elevation smart home hub is favored by many hardcore smart home enthusiasts, and unlike the Aeotec Smart Home Hub, it doesn’t depend on a connection to the internet. But less-experience users will encounter a steep learning curve.
The Notion Starter Kit is an affordable security-focused smart home system that revolves around the company’s unique single-piece sensors, and Notion’s professional monitoring option is one of the least-expensive that you’ll encounter. But this system doesn’t support convenience-oriented smart home components such as smart bulbs or smart switches. A manufacturer’s TV commercials all too often oversell a crappy product, but that’s not the case with the SimpliSafe home security system. While it doesn’t support third-party accessories, SimpliSafe is an effective and affordable DIY home security system with affordable professional monitoring options. Budget smart home king Wyze Labs has a compelling home security offering that revolves around its low-cost components, and you can get the Wyze Sense Hub for free by signing up for a $99 one-year subscription that includes professional monitoring.
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