Deciding on the “brain”

Welcome to part 1 of our smart home series. If you’re looking to build your first smart home but are unsure of where to start, this series will help you through each step of the way.

For starters, you’ll need to decide on the ‘brain’ for your smart home. Most smart home devices come with their own ‘brains’ known as hubs. Unfortunately, each hub also comes with its own app so it can be frustrating to have to switch between multiple apps to get things done. That’s why you’ll need a unifying brain for your smart home to provide a single point of control. This article will give you some ideas on what to look out for when choosing your smart home hub.

How do smart devices talk to each other?

Smart devices are built to communicate using protocols. Protocols are simply a ‘language’ that devices use to transfer information to each other without the use of cables. You might already know of common protocols like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Smart devices also use newer protocols, like Zigbee and Z-wave. These newer protocols provide a dedicated means for your smart devices to talk to each other but require their own hubs with their own apps. This is why you’ll want a central smart hub so you can control each of these smaller hubs from one app. Smart devices that use Wi-Fi don’t need their own hub and can connect to any type of smart hub. The problem lies when you have multiple smart devices that use different protocols.

So when planning to build a smart home, you’ll have to decide early on whether you’re going to stick to only a small number of devices that run on one protocol (like Wi-Fi), or whether you’re interested in getting various smart devices that may potentially require a multiple protocol smart hub. As such, your first decision is to choose between a “dedicated smart home hub” and a “smart speaker”.

Dedicated smart home hubs

Dedicated smart home apps are usually built with all the protocols you need to run any device available in market and control them from a single app. This means they’re really good at translating the different ‘languages’ between devices to allow them to speak to each other and perform ‘groups’ and ‘scenes’ like dimming the lights and turning on some music for a romantic night. Also, because devices that use smart home hubs often have hubs of their own, they‘re equipped with fuller automation settings, like specific dimming levels for your lights, so you have more control over your devices. The downside is that you’ll have a lot of hubs lying around the house in order to run your ultimate smart device empire.

Pros: Control from one app, fuller automation, more control

Cons: A lot of smart devices still rely on individual Wi-Fi hubs that may clutter your house

Popular dedicated smart home hubs

Wink Hub 2

Wink Hub 2 allows you to connect with a large range of smart devices. Not only that, you’ll also get access to ‘Robots’ Wink Hub 2’s multi-step, multi-condition automations that give you the ability to set up rules compatible with devices to work together. Like having your security camera sense when you’re home and notify your smart bulbs so they light up the front hallway. And then having your smart TV turn on to your favourite news channel.

Samsung SmartThings

Samsung SmartThings supports a comprehensive number of protocols allowing you to link it up to a huge range of smart home devices from a variety of manufacturers. So if you plan on getting every hot new smart device that comes out without being limited by protocol, Samsung SmartThings is a great choice.

Smart speakers

Smart speakers are great if you only need a handful of smart devices connected at home. Smart speakers are simple and easy to set up so that you can get started right away. They use voice-activated controls that can help you connect to smart devices connected to your Wi-Fi network. However, their functionality are usually limited to simple on/off commands so don’t expect to be dimming lights or controlling your air conditioning. You also might run into compatibility issues with certain smart devices that don’t use the same communication protocol (ie. Wi-Fi). Some smart speakers, like Amazon Echo, can work around this issue by downloading software skills which allow them to communicate with smart devices that don’t use Wi-Fi.

Pros: Easy to set up, voice control is simple to use

Cons: Number of available smart devices might be limited by protocol compatibility and manufacturer rights

Popular smart speakers

Amazon Echo

If you’re looking to connect to as many smart devices as possible with the least amount of tinkering then you’ll want to look into the Amazon Echo. Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, can communicate with a huge variety of smart devices through the use of Alexa skill. Most current smart devices come with Alexa skill so you can create your own groups and scenes to match your lifestyle.

Google Home

Google Home is steadily building up its reputation as a smart home speaker and has a lot of potential. If you’re already a Google fan, then it’s really a no-brainer, Google makes it really quick and painless to connect their compatible devices. It also has a growing list of partner devices which are also really simple to set up. Plus, you get access to Google Assistant and the wealth of information they bring. All you need to do is ask.

Apple HomePod

Apple’s HomePod is the obvious choice for any die-hard Apple fan. Although it still has a limited amount of device partners, the Apple HomeKit is growing so if you already own your own suite of Apple products, the HomePod can offer new ways for you to interact with Siri.

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Jason Chen

Digital Copywriter and Content Producer

Jason Chen,
Digital Copywriter and Content Producer

Jason brings a wealth of knowledge in digital marketing and content creation to his role as a Digital Copywriter and Content Producer. His experience in freelance writing and Information Technology gives him insights into a wide range of topics and trends, making him a valued member of the Vodafone Digital Content Team. In his spare time, Jason enjoys fishing and leisurely strolls by the river.