Pro Tip 1: Get Yourself Connected
Ingenious as individual smart home products can be, try installing and syncing multiple devices throughout a home, and watch how dumb they are at working together. Most products will advise you to download and use a proprietary, single-gadget app, jamming your phone with an ever-expanding wall of smart home icons. But the most infuriating requirement for some gear is a dedicated hub, a separate piece of hardware that usually lives near your wifi router — making what’s likely already a cluttered, wire-snarled spot even moreso — and serves as a network gatekeeper, granting permission for your phone, tablet or other device to access specific products. Hubs are silly, inexplicable things that you sometimes have to pay money for, and that should have been replaced by software years ago. They’ve complicated the process of smart home setup from the start, with products often using different wireless communication protocols — not wifi, in other words, but more specific frequencies — and each new hub hogging more power outlets, and requiring their own troubleshooting steps when they inevitably need rebooting or reconnecting. More than cost or innovation, it’s fragmented control interfaces and those dumb, dumb hubs that are to blame for the slow adoption of smart home tech.
As of 2017, the control issue is just about moot, thanks to the sudden deployment and surprising utility of voice commands. In this age of Alexa (and contender platforms from Apple and Google) tapping your home into action is nearly obsolete. You can now install nearly any model or amount of smart home gear and safely assume that it will respond to your voice.
Hubs, though, haven’t quite shuffled into the tar pits. Philips’ Hue bulbs, for example, still require a bridge — a miniature hub by another name — a relic from the time before ubiquitous wifi that hooks up to your router via Ethernet cable. Philips’ bridges come in Hue starter kits, adding even more cost to an LED bulb family that’s already the most expensive on the consumer market. And for all the smart home gear that only needs a wifi network to work, other products, particularly the outlets, sensors and other devices sold by hardware giants as part of a sprawling system needs a full-size hub to operate.
Luckily, Samsung has signaled the beginning of the end of hubs, with a new router that folds the hub’s features directly into it. The Connect Home works with a wide array of smart home products, including — and this is important — Amazon’s Echo speakers. By marrying Alexa’s growing device-compatibility and killer interface with hardware that smartly incorporates both router and hub, the Connect Home is the first and, so far, best router for the smart home era.
In summary, when setting up your smart home:
Stop using smart home apps, and start using Alexa.
As of this writing, Amazon’s voice control platform works with more devices than the competition, and there are enough sizes and flavors of Echo speakers to suit any home or room.
If you can’t avoid hubs altogether, get Samsung’s Connect Home.
It’s a router-plus-hub, a hybrid device that shouldn’t have to exist, but we’re glad it does. It means skipping the cost and clutter of at least some additional hubs. And by the time you need your next router, smart home hubs will be a distant memory.