This was going to be a post about the smart home options to buy after you ditch the Wink hub that has been down for the last few weeks, but it has since turned into a realization that there are no smart home hubs available on the market from established and reliable vendors. What the heck is going on? Has COVID caused disruptions in the supply chain? Many of them have been unavailable for the last few weeks, so I suspect that’s the case, but it’s hard out there for a home automation lover who needs Z-wave radios and decent software.
I’ve had some sort of smart home hub in my life since 2013 when I received one of the first Kickstarter-backed SmartThings hubs. After that, I ended up with a first-generation Wink hub and a device from Staples that was later discontinued. Up until last week, when I wanted to control my Z-wave or ZigBee sensors I used a second-generation Wink hub, paying $4.99 a month for the privilege.
However, after moving in 2019 from Austin, renting for a year, and then dealing with the pressures of the pandemic, I stopped using the Wink hub because I only had a single lock, and a few Z-wave outdoor outlets left. So after the weeklong Wink outage, I finally was able to say goodbye to my Wink hub without feeling a sense of loss. I may even decide I no longer need my beloved Z-wave outdoor outlets since the Wi-Fi options available have gotten so good.
But for those of y’all who still have Z-wave or ZigBee gear on hand, and who are frustrated with Wink’s downtime and general unreliability (it was out for a few days during the summer) I have some hub options that offer a compelling switch. We’ll rank them in terms of the most user-friendly to the most complicated. But the easiest options aren’t actually available, so if you want to switch today, you’re going to have to build your own. This admittedly sucks for most people.
SmartThings: This is the granddaddy of the generation of DIY home hubs that added a user-friendly mobile app, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth radios to the established home automation companies that included Vera, Insteon, and others. But last year SmartThings made significant changes to its platform that limited the customization that some of its users had cherished. The company also started pulling back from manufacturing its own hardware, which means that the current SmartThings hub can be tough to find. For those wanting a ZigBee and Z-wave hub that works well with SmartThings, look for a SmartThings WASH (Work as a SmartThings Hub) option such as this one from Aeotec. Update: It’s not available now, but a SmartThings representative emailed to say it should be available in a few weeks.
Ezlo: Ezlo is the combination of three smart home brands including the older Vera platform. At CES the company announced two new smart home hubs that will ship later this month. There’s a $69.95 option for casual users that includes the necessary Z-Wave and ZigBee radios and a fancier $199.95 Ezlo Secure hub that includes backup LTE connectivity. That cellular feature could be really important for those who want to use their home automation hub as a security system. I haven’t tried the Ezlo software, but it offers the basic radios as well as integrations with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. If you want to control devices that aren’t on Ezlo’s list, you’ll have to do it using the smart speaker integrations. I plan to test it when the products ship.
Hubitat Elevation: Hubitat bridges the divide between some of the more hardcore maker-type platforms and those with easier user interface and established integrations. Hubitat’s claim to fame is that you can keep a lot of your devices communicating on your local network thanks to the internal radios and computing power on the $129.95 box. Obviously, if you have a cloud camera or want to use Google or Alexa the cloud will have to come into play. Kevin tried a Hubitat device two years ago and found it good for home automations that you can set and forget, but bad for folks who want a simple app interface to manually tweak things in their home. However, Hubitat is constantly updating the software, adding new devices, and fixing issues, so I expect a richer feature set now. For example, the latest hub supports Lutron if you have a Lutron hub already and it has an integration with Life360 software so it can tell where occupants of the home are. The bad news is that for U.S. and North American users, the Hubitat device is currently sold out.
Home Assistant and Home Assistant Blue: Now we’re getting to a class of automation software that you can download on your own computing device and tweak to your heart’s content. But if you want to add Z-wave and Zigbee compatibility you’re going to have to buy additional dongles or HATs for a Raspberry Pi. Home Assistant is probably the most popular of these products. It’s open-source home automation software that has a huge variety of supported drivers for popular (and random) devices. There’s also a Home Assistant device that comes with the software pre-loaded, but you’ll need to add your radios.
HomeBridge and or (HOOBs): Homebridge is open-source software that consumers can run on their own server to tie their non-HomeKit devices into their HomeKit system. It’s especially popular with folks who have Ring doorbells and HomeKit homes. You can download the Homebridge software yourself or you can buy a device called HOOBS, which stands for Homebridge out of the box. The device has all the software you need pre-loaded and ready to go. Kevin tested HOOBs recently and found that although expensive, it works well with supported non-HomeKit devices. However, you should see if your devices are actually supported before making the purchase.
OpenHAB: I tried OpenHAB years ago and felt that it was incredibly difficult to load onto my board (part of that was because I was being difficult and chose a Pine 64 board and a Z-wave dongle as opposed to a Raspberry Pi, which has a lot more documentation). However, once the hardware was working and I had my devices loaded, the power of this platform was unbelievable. I could have spent weeks calibrating and fine-tuning my home. But I didn’t have time for that, so I felt a little miffed at being lured down a rabbit hole when I just wanted to create some basic routines and flick my lights on and off with a button. OpenHAB is still working and version 3.0 just came out in December, but I do think the community around it is smaller than the Home Assistant or Homebridge world.
These are the primary platforms that support both Z-Wave and ZigBee, which are relevant for those who want to deploy a lot of sensors in their smart homes. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Amazon also includes a ZigBee radio in its Echo Plus and fourth-generation Echo devices. If you have some ZigBee sensors, locks, or bulbs lying around they may work with the Echo devices (there’s a list of compatible devices here), and creating automations involves using the routines function in the Alexa app. I hate the Alexa app with an unholy passion because mine is so unresponsive, but for those who don’t have this issue, it can be a nice entry-level platform.
You can also find some Wi-Fi routers with built-in automation options, but I felt like we should stick with the main options here.
Dan Turner says
Hey Stacey, would have been great if you’d also looked at the software hubs like Conrad Connect and Apilio!
Edward Horton says
I have not seen the HomeSeer home automation system listed in your hub collection articles for quite some time. I have been using HomeSeer on a Windows platform for close to 20 years. I started with X10 devices and now use Z-Wave. I have Homeseer integrated with Alexa for voice control. It does take some work to set it up, and it is not free, but I found it quite reliable. I am not a fan of devices that can stop working at the whim of a service company. HomeSeer is completely self contained and works fine without any internet connection (with the exception of the Alexa functions). If you do connect it to the internet, it has an optional phone app or web service for control from remote locations.
Jon Smirl says
Check out the hass.io version of Home Assistant. Simply copy image to a SD Card and boot on a Rasp Pi.
You can do Alexa/Google voice integration for free with Home Assistant but it took me a day to get it working. Alternatively there is a hassle free version for $5/mth. This is especially useful since you can selectively expose entities to Alexa. Instead of exposing all of my devices, I expose scripts that get parameters. I then use the groups feature to limit the scripts to working via an Echo in that specific room. Now I don’t have the problem of a global voice name space containing 200+ devices.
It seems you may have overlooked Indigo software running on OS x. Not exactly a “hub” but an extremely flexible and well supported system. The only downside is that Zigbee support is far from easy! I have installed three systems, all of which run on older (secondhand) headless Mac minis.
Homeseer is old enough to drink (21yrs) and is always forgotten.
HS4 comes on a linux appliance for $130 (HometrollerPi), or x86 Win10 devices (HometrollerPlus/S6) or you can just install the software on your own host.
They have mobile apps for Android, iOS and FireOS and custom wall tablet software and integrate with Alexa, Google, and IFTTT
They also make their own devices (z-wave switches/sensors/etc and cameras)
Byron S. says
I’m glad I use Control4 systems.
I’ve been using Vera to control automations in two homes for the last 10 years. In the early years, there was a steep learning curve and not all devices played well together. But through the years, Vera has steadily improved. I was looking forward to Ezlo building on the success of Vera, but that remains to be seen. The new Ezlo Plus and Ezlo Protect include the latest Z-wave and Zigbee hardware improvements, but the new software is entirely different and incompatible with Vera. I look forward to your review of the new Ezlo controllers and the promise they hold for the future.
Mark Colegrove says
Hi Stacey – No love for HomeSeer? We’ve been around since 1999 (22 years now) and offer 3 different hubs at a moment. The little guy (HomeTroller Pi) is only $130 and offers a lot of free integrations. All hubs feature HS4 software… completely redone UI released last year.
Stacey Higginbotham says
Does HomeSeer offer integrated ZigBee? I didn’t see it. Also, with the smallest version it seemed limited in the number of integrations it supports? Did I not understand that correctly?
Mark Colegrove says
You just need to add the Nortek USB Zigbee/Z-Wave stick and enable the free plugin. The stick is available in our store or on amazon. The plugin is installed from within the hub.
The HomeTroller Pi limits to 5 plugins running concurrently but… a lot of folks use Z-Wave for most of their home so that’s just 1 plugin. If you use Zigbee, that’s another…. still 3 left. The HomeTroller Plus and PRO hubs don’t have that limitation.
Mark Colegrove says
Hi Stacey – Just a quick update for you… HomeTroller Pi G2 was released in July. The new unit now features support for unlimited integrations (no plugin limit). More info here: https://shop.homeseer.com/collections/smart-home-hubs/products/homeseer-hometroller-pi-g2-smart-home-hub
The current lack of hubs has been very frustrating. I closed on a house in late December, moving into it in mid January. It’s equipped with multiple z-wave sensors and door locks. But it doesn’t have a hub. So can’t use any of them. To replace them would probably cost $1k. Yours is the first article I’ve read that points out that nothing is available. I keep seeing all of these “best hubs for 2020/1” articles that don’t mention this.
JD Roberts says
Abode supports both Zigbee and Zwave, although it has more limits than some of the systems aimed at hard-core hobbyists. Nice app, though. It also has a HomeKit integration, no homebridge required. But you will need to pay a monthly subscription fee to use the Home Automation features. Still, if the target audience is former wink users, it should definitely be on the candidate list.
JD Roberts says
Hoobs doesn’t have a zwave or a Zigbee radio. It’s not really a hub at all. It’s a bridge device between multiple systems, such as between a hub like smartthings and HomeKit. Or Nest and HomeKit. You still have to have a hub to run your devices, hoobs just lets devices on different platforms appear in Homekit so you can control them all there.
If all you buy is Hoobs, you won’t be able to use any of your devices with it. You need to first set them up on their own platform, then use hoobs to tie them together.
That should be “you still have to have a hub to run your Zigbee or Z wave devices.”
I went with hubitat because Samsung went to a crappy app. Destroyed my automations and routines. And shut down my first gen hub. So far I’m extremely happy with it. I run homebridge ao the presence is off of our iPhones and the wife has a pretty app. To do this I had to load it onto a pi and buy a HomePod mini. But it’s rock solid, flexible, and I don’t feel that Apple or hubitat is in the data harvesting game. Every automation is fast since it’s local. I do wish it would tie wifi devices and Bluetooth devices into the mix. I’m not downloading a hundred stupid apps to control anything. I also don’t care for voice assistants. With them your still the remote. You still have to remember to do things. Hubitat does it solidly unlike the flaky SmartThings hub. I do feel that companies that are using the cloud will start to dwindle. It’s a stupid business model for anything that doesn’t require it. There is no reason my hub can’t turn on a light without calling the cloud. Looking from the lack of zigbee and z wave devices it looks like the whole HA game is going out of business. There should be 1000’s of sensors to choose from yet there are hardly any anymore. Wink charging is great for the second hand market though as everyone off loads all their gear.
John Falter says
Habitat has an extremely strong user community you can get an awful lot of code from the user community