When it comes to smart home hubs, there are two very different audiences. There are mass-market consumers that mainly want a plug-and-play type system such as a SmartThings or Wink hub. Then there are the tinkerers who want more control over their smart home system: These folks generally install open source software such as OpenHAB or Home Assistant on a traditional computer or Raspberry Pi.
The Hubitat Elevation hub is more for the latter group although the software is already installed on this $99.95 device. And it has an outstanding benefit compared to any other hub that relies heavily on cloud services: All of the smart home data from devices, automations and such are locally stored and run on the hub. That’s actually something even the typical consumer wants, for understandable reasons. Still, this isn’t the hub for them.
Before explaining why I think that, here’s what you get for a nickel short of a Benjamin.
The Hubitat Elevation review unit I received is a small black box with an included power cord, an Ethernet jack, and a USB port. Internally, the hub has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios while Z-Wave and Zigbee are handled with a USB stick, also included. Note that last week, Hubitat launched a newer version that has all four radios inside the unit, but functionally, it’s the same.
Update: Only the Zigbee and Z-Wave radios are enabled. Wi-Fi devices speak to the hub through your home router and Bluetooth devices aren’t support.
Aside from the preinstalled software that runs the hub, there’s also a web server to manage it. Why? Because a web page served from the Hubitat Elevation over your home network is how you interact with it to set up devices and automation rules. There’s no native application to use on a phone with the Elevation.
In terms of smart home support, this hub works with a very broad range of devices across many brands. The full list is here where you’ll find recognizable names such as Fibaro, GE, HomeSeer, IKEA, Kwikset, Leviton, Lutron, Monoprice, Osram, Philips Hue, Samsung, Schlage, and Yale to name some of the more prominent companies.
The initial setup was easy: Just connect the Elevation to a network access point with an Ethernet cable and plug it in. I’m slightly disappointed that the hub can’t use its Wi-Fi radio to connect to a home network; my hubs typically aren’t close enough to a router or mesh access point to be hardwired. I spoke with the company about this and they understandably feel that wired access is far more dependable than wireless. I agree, but with the mesh router choices we have today, I’d rather have the convenience and flexibility to place a hub where I want to in my home.
Completing the setup just requires creating a Hubitat account (or signing in with Amazon, Google or Facebook credentials) and “home” name; after that, the hub software and local web server are running. Again, you manage this device through a browser, so it makes sense to bookmark the IP address of the hub for later use.
Sounds easy, right! So far, it is. But — and this is where I highlight the two different DIY crowds in the hub market — when you first view the hub software in a browser, this is what you get:
There’s not much guidance on this, or any of the other, configuration screens, so if you’re a smarthome noob, you’re likely going to wonder how to make this thing work. There is a small leaflet that comes with the Hubitat Elevation, but it generally explains the setup steps I’ve outlined above. Then it points you to the Hubitat support and community pages for the rest.
To be fair, there is a Documentation tile at the bottom of the home page. Regardless, from this point on, inexperienced smart home owners may be stymied. Even after a few years of setting up DIY hubs, I ran into a few issues that took various searches in the Hubitat Communities page, some downloads, a little editing of Groovy files and more time than it would have taken me to get devices configured if I were using SmartThings or Wink.
The whole process reminds me of using Linux instead of Windows or macOS on a computer: You can end up digging around through files, updating device drivers and tweaking for hours to get things “just right.”
Having said all that, once I had my test devices discovered — nearly all were discovered the first time — and after I set up some interactions and automations, the Hubitat Elevation generally worked well. Again, it’s a “set it and forget it” system that’s far more focused on home automation than day-to-day device controls. You can navigate in the web app to manually turn a device —say a light bulb or switch on or off — but that’s not the main selling point, nor is it visually appealing. Here’s the page to manually tap and control one of my Cree bulbs, for example.
There is a Dashboard tool that lets you create customized, interactive tiles for any or all of your devices, but even that felt a little clunky and definitely isn’t intuitive to use. Again: If you have the time and effort to use it, the Dashboard works great but this is something that generally comes with app-centric hubs.
With either Android or iOS, you can save the web dashboard to your phone’s home screen for fast access.
Since everything is running locally, device response times are the fastest I’ve seen from nearly any other hub. It also works with Amazon Alexa (via an installable “app” in the hub configuration) and Google Home through Google’s own app. And of course, all of the device usage data is safely within my home, not in the cloud, unless you do use a voice assistant: At that point, you’re defeating some of the purposes of a local, non-cloud-based hub.
You can also set your home location for geofencing types of automations, such as turning on lights or opening a garage door when you arrive home. That’s helpful since you don’t have remote access to your Hubitat when away from your home network, and Hubitat doesn’t plan to add this for security reasons. Remember, this is a hub really meant for automation, not for manually adjusting or powering up devices.
So if you understand what the hub is really meant to do there’s much to like here. In fact, over time, I’m sure I’d find even more to like since, like SmartThings, you can write or install custom device drivers. The Elevation is one of the most flexible and powerful smart home hubs you can buy, especially with pre-installed software. That means you can set up just about any rules, automations, or integrations you can think of. Short of the true DIY systems where you install software on a Pi, an off the shelf hub can’t compete with this for $99.95.
My advice? If you’re not technically savvy and or just want something works out the box, grab a SmartThings or Wink hub. Those are a great start because they’re akin to hubs with training wheels. When you’re ready and have time to take a more powerful hub for a ride, consider the Hubitat Elevation.
Updated on February 15, 2019, at 12:45 pm to reflect accurate device radio support.