Iris By Lowes hub with "No" symbol over it
Lowe’s

Hubs are often the backbone of the smarthome, and you can pick from an extensive list of hub manufacturers. But not all smarthomes are made equal, and not all are worth your consideration. Here’s a few to skip.

Smart Hubs Tie Together Your Devices

The first thing you should learn with smarthomes is that there is no single standard for communication between smarthome devices. Some smart devices use Z-Wave, some Zigbee, and others use either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. When you want a Z-Wave smart light to work with a Wi-Fi outlet, you need something to bridge the gap. Right now smart hubs are one way to fulfill that role.

Wink and SmartThings are well known smart hubs, but there are numerous other options with varying features. While some of these alternatives may be fine, others you shouldn’t put into your home. They may not stay around for the long haul, or they may not be compatible with enough smarthome devices.

RELATED: Google and Amazon Are Killing the Smarthome Hub, and That’s Great

Iris By Lowe’s is an Abandoned Hub

Iris by Lowe's Hub
Lowe’s

Even products by big companies fail, and Iris by Lowes is no exception. Iris may have been one of the earliest smart hubs available, first launching in 2012, but despite being competent enough and supported by Lowe’s it never took off. Mistakes were made, including a $10 a month subscription for functionality other hubs offered for free and lack of support for multiple users—eventually, the hardware store wanted out.

Lowe’s first announced it wanted to find a buyer to take over the Iris product line, but later did an about-face and decided on a full shut-down. Iris hubs will not work after March 31st, 2019. You won’t find them in Lowe’s stores anymore, but if you see them for aftermarket sale, you should pass.

Securifi is Radio Silent on Updates

Securifi Almond 3 Hub
Securifi

Securifi has been around for several years and has always made lofty promises. Its Almond 3S device will include both mesh router capabilities and smart hub capabilities, along with promised integration with Alexa, Google Home, IFTTT, Philips Hue and others. The problem is this has been the ongoing promise of an eventual project for years now.

Securifi’s last update on the product came via Twitter promising completion was near in April 2018. It does offer the Almond 3 but describes that as a router that moonlights as a smart hub. Users on Securifi’s forums have been complaining about a lack of firmware updates to address existing issues. Your smarthome setup might break, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So the best step you can take is to avoid a product that already has a dubious track record.

Insteon Uses a Protocol Separate from Z-Wave and ZigBee

Insteon Hub
Insteon

At $80, Insteon offers a competitively priced hub that boasts an impressive number of integrations. Insteon will work with your Nest thermostat, Google Home, Amazon Echo, and your Logitech Harmony hub. If your house is large, Insteon will still work well as Insteon devices create a mesh network to extend their range.

If you’re wondering at this point why Insteon made this list, the clue is in the wording “Insteon devices” above. Rather than using ZigBee or Z-Wave (or both as most smart hubs do), Insteon relies on its own proprietary protocol. While it has advantages like dual-band support, the downside is that you can only use devices made for the Insteon hub.

That list is smaller than either Zigbee or Z-Wave, so you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and limiting the eggs you can have at the same time. The better option is to choose a smart hub that supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave to expand your possibilities as much as possible.

Trådfri Gateway Is For IKEA Lighting Only

Trådfri Gateway device
IKEA

IKEA surprised the world when they announced a jump into the smarthome world. It quickly announced lights, followed by a light switch, a dimming unit, and a gateway for external control. Eventually, IKEA added a smart plug, Alexa, and Siri support.

In comparison, Trådfri pricing is similar or less expensive than other smart bulb products (especially compared to Philips Hue), but that remains their only advantage. In addition to only offering white light bulbs, the gateway only supports IKEA’s small set of devices and doesn’t play well with other systems. If you want to use a Z-Wave or Zigbee lock or sensor, you’ll still need another hub. So it’s better to skip Trådfri altogether.


Unfortunately, far too many hubs already exist and sometimes it seems like that list won’t stop growing. So if you’re considering starting a smart home, look closely at your choices, weigh the benefits and downsides to each device. If you are judicious in your choices, inexpensive smarthome items do exist. But be careful not to go down a path that will force you to backtrack and start over.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code.
Read Full Bio »