If you've been thinking about adding some smarts to your home, you may have already researched light and dimmers, door locks and thermostats — all of the various bits and pieces that go into creating a connected home experience. But how do you get all of this stuff to talk to each other and create a completely integrated smart home system? Do you need a hub, gateway, or controller?
The simple answer to that question is, "yes." Because these terms all refer to essentially the same thing: a central router-like device that not only communicates with and controls all of your smart devices, but also acts as the point of contact between you and your smart home Think SmartThings or Nexia Home Intelligence. Did you know a hub or gateway can also mean your smart home security panel? Yup – panels from Vivint and ADT Pulse also have the "brains" of a Z-Wave hub baked in. The hub and its corresponding app allow you to manage and monitor it even when you're not home. These devices not only allow you to control all of your devices from one interface (be it your smart home or a dedicated touch screen in the home); they also allow all of your Z-Wave devices to communicate with one another, so you can create automated scenes that give your tech a life of its own, giving you convenience and comfort without lifting a finger.
Just because these terms mean the same thing doesn't mean that all Z-Wave hubs (or controllers or gateways) are the same. And picking between them isn't always easy. It basically boils down to the unique needs of your family, and how much you want to be involved in the creation and setup of your smart home system.
For a more hands-off approach, you may opt for professionally installed security and monitoring systems from companies like Vivint or ADT Pulse, both of which allow you to enhance the security, comfort, and convenience of your home with the simply pairing of Z-Wave devices like doorbell cameras, smart locks, thermostats, and more.
For more dedicated do-it-yourselfers, there a number of standalone hubs, some of which are designed to support a dedicated Z-Wave smart home system, some of which support Z-Wave in addition to myriad other smart home technologies, and others that add Z-Wave capabilities to popular control systems that don't support it by default.
A perfect example of the latter is Logitech's Harmony Home Hub Extender, an add-on device that lets you use your Harmony remote or app to control Z-Wave and other smart home products. What's more, it can also pair with other smart home hubs, like Nexia, SmartThings, Wink, and even ADT Pulse, giving you more ways to interact with your smart home depending on where you are and which control device is closest to hand.
Speaking of which, SmartThings, Wink, and Nexia all support Z-Wave, and each has its own strengths and potential weaknesses if you're planning on creating a diverse home control system.
SmartThings, perhaps the best-known smart home hub on the market, is also arguably one of the most fully featured, given its support for so many different types of devices. It is geared towards DIY consumers, requires a hard-wired Ethernet connection to connect to your home network, and is entirely reliant on the cloud, so if your internet connection goes down, so does your home control system.
Wink, on the other hand, is designed for users looking for a more simple home control solution. It's simple to setup and simple to operate, but is a little limited by the fact that it requires a Wi-Fi connection, and won't let you connect directly to a wired home network.
Unlike Wink and SmartThings, Nexia relies exclusively on Z-Wave technology, which means you'll have fewer worries when it comes to the compatibility and interoperability of your connected smart home devices. The system does have a $9.99/month subscription fee, though, to cover remote access and 250GB of cloud video storage for your connected security cameras.
While you're probably familiar at least in passing with the above brands, there are also a few lesser-known hubs worth considering, depending on the sophistication and ease-of-use you're looking for in a home control system. The MiOS VeraLite, for example, is another control hub very similar to SmartThings in terms of price, but it, like Nexia, relies exclusively on Z-Wave technology. It lacks the monthly subscription fee of Nexia, though, and is targeted more at users looking for a simple, straightforward control solution.
Which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what Homeseer delivers. The strength of the company's HomeTroller Zee S2, HomeTroller-SEL, and flagship HomeTroller S6 home controllers come from their enhanced power, near-infinite potential for customization, and support for virtually every control technology under the sun. Homeseer hubs even go where few DIY home controllers do by allowing you to operate select surround sound home theater receivers via sold-separately plug-ins. Needless to say, though, installing and programming these hubs can get complicated quickly, and they are a good bit more expensive than the typical Z-Wave gateway.