Back in the day, the average family would have approximately a bucketful of remotes spread across the living room. Finding the right one was a chore, so many people purchased a universal remote to control all electronic devices with a single remote. Now, we’re quickly entering the age when the average family will have a myriad of smart home devices from various manufacturers, each control from its own smartphone app.
|SAMSUNG||Samsung SmartThings Smart Home Hub||Check Price on Amazon|
|Wink||Wink WNKHUB-2US 2 Smart home hub White||Check Price on Amazon|
Those who are already living the smart life know how frustrating it can be to constantly jump back and forth between multiple apps just to turn on and off the lights or disarm the alarm. Fortunately, smart home hubs offer similar functionality to universal remotes. They let you control all your smart devices from one app, and they can even make your smart home smarter with automatic routines that make multiple smart home gadgets sing in unison.
With a smart home hub, you can configure the lights in your home to turn on when you unlock your smart lock or have the blinds automatically close when the ambient light sensor outside your home senses that it’s getting dark.
In 2017, your choice of smart home hubs essentially boils down to the second-generation Samsung SmartThings and the Wink Hub 2.
On the official website of SmartThings, Samsung lists almost 150 products that work with the hub. These products cover everything from lights to sensors to door locks to speakers to cameras to voice assistants. They also span several smart home communication protocols, including Z-Wave and Zigbee.
The Samsung SmartThings Hub itself is a compact box that resembles the Apple TV. It has a single LED status light on the front side and a power port, a reset button, two USB ports for charging or powering various devices, and an Ethernet port on the back. The bottom lid hides a battery compartment with slots for four AA batteries, which are used to power the hub during power outages.
Even though the SmartThings Hub can at times be slightly more technical than we would like, connecting new smart devices is still quick and easy. Usually, the whole process is fully automated, excluding the occasional press of a pairing button.
The SmartThings platform is open source and protocol-agnostic, making it very easy for anyone to make any existing or new smart device work with the SmartThings Hub. Even though the Nest thermostat isn’t officially supported by the hub, the community around SmartThings has created a SmartApp and Device handlers to integrate Nest devices with the SmartThings ecosystem using Nest’s published API. That’s the power of open source in practice, and Samsung was smart to embrace it.
The SmartThings Hub can be easily turned into a full-fledged home security system with the Home Monitoring Kit from Samsung. Like any reliable security system, the hub has a backup power source (the four AA batteries hidden under the bottom lid), and it also supports USB cellular modems.
The SmartThings app offers extensive customization options, with multiple pre-configured scenarios that you can easily fine-tune to fit your needs. The app’s functionality can be infinitely extended with SmartApps, such as the one for the Nest thermostat. SmartApps provide much deeper integration with smart devices, allowing users to access all features right from the SmartThings app.
Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher is the absence of Wi-Fi. While you don’t need Wi-Fi to easily connect smart home devices to the hub because the hub is designed to connect directly to your home router, Wi-Fi would be useful for backup Internet access. Many businesses pay two Internet providers to eliminate downtime, and, sadly, the SmartThings hub can’t automatically switch to a backup Wi-Fi network when the main network goes down.
Even though the hub is very capable, it’s still not smart enough in places. For example, Samsung makes it easy for you to configure your smart lights to turn on at night automatically, but there’s no way how to account for the fact that the sun goes down at a different time during summer and winter.
The Wink Hub 2 supports Z-Wave, Zigbee, Lutron Clear Connect, Alexa, Google Home, and Kidde devices, has built-in support for Google’s Thread interface, and will also connect to Bluetooth LE. You can see exactly which smart home devices work with the hub by visiting the official website. There are lights, dimmers, switches, detectors, sensors, locks, thermostats, appliances, and motorized window treatments.
The Wink Hub 2 is a stylish device designed to stand upright, preferably somewhere where you can admire its sexy curves. The front side features a tall LED status light. The backside is where you find an Ethernet port and a power connector. There’s no on/off switch because the Wink Hub 2 turns on automatically as soon as it’s connected to power.
The Wink Hub 2 is meant to be as easy to use as it possibly can be. When connecting a smart home device, the hub shows helpful step-by-step instructions with pictures and animations. Usually, you just scan the barcode of the device you want to connect and go through one or two additional steps before everything is ready for use.
Creating complex home automation routines is similarly straightforward. Routines are called Robots, and their setup is very similar to IFTTT. First, you define the trigger condition; then you select what you want to happen when the condition is met. With a few taps on the screen, you can have the Wink Hub 2 to turn on the lights when you come home automatically, or you can set up your smart lock to automatically lock when all family members are at home, and it’s after 8 pm. It’s simple, and it just works.
Wink’s smartphone app is beautiful, intuitive, and functional. It allows you to receive alerts directly to your smartphone, trigger your lights with a tap on the screen, and configure handy shortcuts to control multiple smart products with one action.
The two main things that the Wink Hub 2 lacks is backup battery power and support for more smart devices. If you see a smart home device that’s not explicitly advertised as Wink-compatible, it most likely won’t work with the hub. There is a handful of workarounds for some devices, but we don’t see the average user consulting Google for help and following complicated multi-step instructions just to connect an unsupported bulb to the hub.
The lack of backup battery power can be solved by plugging the Wink Hub 2 into a UPS battery backup, but that seems like overkill considering that a few AA batteries would keep the hub running during a power outage just as well.
Neither hub is without small kinks, but Samsung has convinced us that the SmartThings ecosystem is the more future-proof solution. The community around it is already huge and very active, and we expect it only to grow as smart home devices become more popular. The Wink Hub 2 is a good, simple solution for someone who isn’t ready to go all-in on home automation but still wants to control all smart devices from a single app and easily create useful automation routines.