Best smart home hub with Z-Wave? Which one is the easiest to use with the most features?
Z-Wave hubs are awesome. So many options to build a smart home and a large growing list of compatible z-wave devices which allow you to make your home a smart home of the future. Lights, locks, switches, thermostats, doors and more. But to run all these devices you need to make a good choice on the foundation, which is the Z-Wave hub which will help control all these things.
We’ve already talked about the types of smart home solutions there are available. If you haven’t read that article start there if you’re not sure about where to start but this article will focus on our preferred choice of smart home hubs, and that is z-wave.
If you have decided, and you’re looking for the best z-wave hub then you’re in the right place. In addition to listing the best smart home controllers, we’ll highlight the ones that are easiest to use because let’s face it, it can be hard work and not for the faint-hearted.
For ourselves, we combined the best of home security with a z-wave hub with the Abode Security System. Our abode z-wave hub review is here and we’ll also mention it below as we have a high opinion of it.
For some, the idea of blending security and home automation hub is not something they want to do – leaving their security system to focus on security and their z-wave hub to focus on their smart home – ideally, they’ll still talk to each other.
- Best smart home hub with Z-Wave? Which one is the easiest to use with the most features?
- About Z-Wave hubs
- How does a Z-Wave Hub network work?
- Why choose a Z-Wave Hub?
- Important considerations about Z-Wave frequencies and what to buy
- 1: Samsung SmartThings Hub
- 2: abode Security System Hub
- 3: Wink Z-Wave Hub
- 4: Vera Control VeraPlus Z-Wave Hub
- 5: Hubitat Elevation Z-Wave Hub
- 6: Aeotec Z-Stick Z-Wave Hub
About Z-Wave hubs
If you have never heard of Z-Wave before, the easiest way to explain it would be to say that Z-Wave is like a mini, closed Wifi network.
As a point of interest, it is used in smart energy meters around the world (smart energy meters measure your electricity/power/hydro usage and are attached to your house by your electric company) and many other applications (point being it is used in many commercial applications).
Z-Wave operates as a mesh network which means that if you have a z-wave hub and other devices in the house they pass information between each other like a game of soccer, rugby or cricket (I’m trying to give you enough sporting options so you can relate to the analogy – American football doesn’t work in this example).
How does a Z-Wave Hub network work?
Let’s imagine this is one of the above sports mentioned. Let’s say there is Person 1 on one side of the field and Person 4 on the other side of the field. Person 1 needs to get the ball to Person 4 but it’s too far to kick/throw/pass the ball that far. So what does Person 1 do? Fortunately, there are other players on the field to help. We also have Person 2 and 3 in the middle of the field.
So Person 1 passes it to Person 2 who passes it to Person 3 who passes it to Person 4. If person 4 needs to get it back to Person 1, the same thing happens.
This is exactly like a Z-Wave Mesh Network.
The Z-Wave Hub is Person 1. If Person 4 was a Light in your Living Room that you want to turn on you would go to your Z-Wave Hub app, or ask your smart speaker to turn on the Living Room Light.
Because the signal of your Z-Wave Hub is not strong enough to reach the Living Room Light it passes the request to a Smart Switch you have in your hallway socket. The Smart Switch then passes the request to the next closest device which is a Motion Sensor you have near the front door. The Motion Sensor is the closest device to the Living Room Light, and it can reach to it passes the signal to the Living Room Light to turn on.
The Living Room Light turns on and then it passes that signal back down the chain of devices to the Hub. The Hub then updates your Z-Wave Hub app to show the light is on, or your smart speaker says ‘OK’ and the light is on.
This obviously happens in a matter of a second or two.
Hopefully, that helps explain how a Z-Wave Hub works. It’s important to know when buying a Z-Wave Hub.
Our video that explains how a Z-Wave range extender works but also helps to explain how a Z-Wave network works. You can watch that below from about 1:25 seconds in for the best bits.
Why choose a Z-Wave Hub?
- Can operate without internet connectivity – local control
- Is a mesh network for intelligent reach and fast action times
- Is ‘free’ and affordable – no licenses to operate it
- Low power usage
- Can connect a huge number of devices
Important considerations about Z-Wave frequencies and what to buy
This post is focused on North American Z-Wave Hubs. That is Z-Wave hubs that work in USA and Canada as the Z-Wave frequency differs between Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America.
Just check that if you buy one of these units from North America you will also need to buy z-wave products from the same market.
If you buy a ZWave hub locally you will also need to buy your devices locally.
We’ve included some other tips and videos about z-wave range extenders on this post, because you might need one. And our Aeotec smart switch review includes some other tips about Z-Wave you might want to know.
Final Note: Z-Wave Plus is important. If you run a Z-Wave device with a Z-Wave Plus Hub, the Hub will dumb down to a Z-Wave network and not leverage the Z-Wave Plus benefits.
So here are all the Z-Wave hubs on our list and what makes each special or worthy of your dollars and time. While we wanted to include the Homey Hub it’s only available in Europe – Germany/Italy and Australasia
It’s likely you have heard of the Samsung SmartThings smart home controller. Samsung was quick to come to market with the SmartThings hub. They had real foresight regarding the future of smart homes and even more foresight into the hardware options they built into their hub. Over time they have improved it with endless updates and additions.
Why we chose the SmartThings Hub?
One of the things that stands out about the SmartThings Hub is the number of communication options it comes with. Not only is it a Z-Wave hub but it makes sure you have other options too. It also includes Zigbee, WiFi options and also works with voice assistant speakers like Alexa. It doesn’t yet work with Apple Homekit, but not a lot does, so that’s still not a big criterion for us.
- One of the most popular, if not the more popular, z-wave hub / smart home hub
- Samsung backed – big company so you can expect updates and good support
- Lots of other communication options included like Zigbee, Bluetooth etc
- Very affordable
- Wireless set up (no ethernet needed)
- No Apple Homekit Support (yet)
- Relies on cloud connectivity quite a bit
Summary: If we only said one thing about the Samsung SmartThings Z-Wave Hub it would be popularity. It has so many users globally and is a best seller for good reasons.
Samsung SmartThings – Ease of use rating: 8/10
Read the latest reviews for the Samsung SmartThings Z-Wave Hub
As we’ve mentioned already we are huge fans of the abode security system but let’s be clear – Abode focus on being a smart home security system first, and then a great z-wave hub for your home automation.
They do such a great job of the smart home hub bit I think they compete very well with SmartThings. They don’t offer as many integrations with external z-wave hardware options, devices like the aeotec smart sensor being an example, but they offer an extensive array of hardware integrations.
Like the Samsung SmartThings it offers much more than just being a z-wave hub.
Why we chose the Abode Security System Z-Wave Hub?
The abode security z-wave hub gives you the best of both worlds. It gives you a z-wave hub with all the automation features you need AND you get a smart home security system. It incredibly features rich and well thought out which is why we do recommend you read our longer abode security system review. There is just too much to cover on this one here.
We’ve owned an early generation abode unit for over 3 years and still find it to be fantastic.
A stand out feature of the abode is the CUE automation engine. This is something abode have built in-house and is so easy to use it quite wonderful. The developers really thought out how it would work for end-users so the result is an easy to use automation app that not only allows for IF this THEN that but also IF this THEN that BUT ONLY IF this.
e.g 1: IF it’s Sunset THEN turn on the Lounge Light BUT ONLY IF the alarm is set to Stand-by (meaning we’re home).
e.g 2: IF motion is detected in the Hallway THEN turn on the Hallway Light to 20% Brightness BUT ONLY IF it’s Dark in the hallway. (this would use the motion/light/humidity sensor Abode offer)
We’ve given two examples here as while SmartThings can do the same, it doesn’t have the security system features that Abode offer which makes it more powerful. If you don’t have need of a DIY Z-Wave security system, because you already have a security system, then the SmartThings Z-Wave Hub is a cheaper option.
- A security hub and a z-wave smart home hub = double the fun
- Well thought out security services that offer affordable back-to-base monitoring
- Not only z-wave but Zigbee, wifi and abodeRF (their own proprietary radio frequency)
- Great app and one of the best and easy to use automation engines out there.
- Apple HomeKit integrates with it.
- 2 models available – the Abode iota Z-Wave Hub and the Abode Starter Kit Z-Wave Hub. Both are Z-Wave hubs.
- Smart Speaker compatible – Google Home, Amazon Alexa and now Apple HomeKit
- IFTTT compatible
- Don’t need a Philips Hue Hub to manage Hue bulbs
- Can manage LIFX smart bulbs without internet connectivity
- Sometimes it would be nice to see the signal strength to each Z-Wave unit – but that’s quite typical for all z-wave hubs.
- Be nice to see more hardware devices added to the compatibility list
Summary: Are they the best z-wave hub? If you’re also wanting a home security DIY solution then in our opinion yes. Without a doubt. Over time they will add more integrations but as a z-wave hub the abode security system get’s our vote.
Abode Security System – Ease of use rating: 8/10
There is no doubt about it – the Wink Z-Wave Hub is beautiful. If you have a real desire to keep your Z-Wave hub set up looking as amazing as your minimalistic, modern designed house then the Wink is worth a look. The question is do looks carry over to features?
The Wink smart home hub is definitely rammed with all the protocols you can name. Some you probably don’t even need but it not only is it a Z-Wave hub it’s also packed in Zigbee, Bluetooth LE, WiFi, Kidde and Lutron Clear Connect. Like Abode and SmartThings it has Wifi or Ethernet connection options.
Why we chose the Wink Z-Wave Hub?
First, we have to choose Wink because it’s been one of the big players. Second, we chose the Wink because it’s the best-looking hub in our subjective opinion.
It has one of the most extensive integration and protocol lists of any Z-Wave hub and the App is not bad. Current estimated compatible devices are 530, quite a few.
Looks alone don’t a good Z-Wave Hub necessarily make though. Right?
Sadly, it’s hard to recommend Wink as they seem to be going through a rocky patch with customers. We never like to post unsubstantiated comments about companies as we like everyone to succeed, and we hope Wink continues to. Wink has built a good smart home product but definitely do more research before you purchase.
- Extensive list of integrations
- Extensive list of protocols
- Looks amazing.
- App works well enough
- Smart speaker integration for Alexa works well. Google Home unsure.
- Uncertain future.
Summary: Until we see Wink settle back down and move forward it’s a good one to watch but there are cheaper z-wave hubs avaliable on this list that will do more for less.
Wink Smart Home Hub – Ease of use rating: 7/10
Read more reviews on the Wink Hub
The differences between the VeraEdge and VeraPlus is that the VeraPlus includes Zigbee, Bluetooth connectivity and Wifi 802.11 ac – the Vera Edge only has b/g/n WiFi.
The VeraSecure includes some security features but as we’ve included the abode security system already, and it’s such a good security hub, we chose the VeraPlus for this list.
Why we chose the Vera Control VeraPlus Z-Wave Hub?
The VeraPlus makes this list as it’s a great and straight forward Z-Wave Hub. It’s not bloated and does all the things you need and a little bit more. The addition of Zigbee and Bluetooth is a bonus if you choose to add Zigbee devices in addition to Z-Wave accessories.
It comes with a nice an app UI interface but it’s not as easy to set up and manage as option 1 and 2 above.
It connects to all the major brands like Sonos, nest, Philips Hue and some smart lock companies like Kwikset. Of course there are always devices that will attach which won’t be on the officially supported hardware list so if you do take a chance on an unlisted unit, try to ensure you can return it.
You need to register it with the cloud services on set up but like all good Z-Wave hubs, it can operate even if the web is down. This is one of the best features of the technology.
- All you need to set up a functional Z-Wave smart home
- Less reliance on internet/cloud services to function (some limitations but that’s to be expected)
- Price point is good
- The ability to tinker with things exists if that interests you.
- Not as ‘out of the box’ as some mentioned above.
- The ability to play with/tinker with this via code is an option, which for some is a negative.
- UI is a little tricky
Summary: If you like to play with your smart home and need some hardware to get things going, this is a great option. There is an app but the user interface could use some fine tuning.
Vera Control VeraPlus – Ease of use rating: 6/10
Read more reviews and details for the VeraPlus
Hubitat are a rising indie star in Z-Wave Hubs. It has a huge fan base and the price point is good. Question is, is it easy to set up and operate? It reminds us of an old PVR unit called the Boxee with its black outer unit and green highlights – it kind of looks designed for the custom PC lovers market.
It’s a simple unit that fits in the palm of your hand. This makes it easy to fit into tight spots or hide in plain sight without it being an eyesore.
It connects via Ethernet and has a standard USB charging port but is designed to work in USA and Canada only – it’s not explicit why but likely the Z-Wave frequency is set to USA and Canada only.
Why we chose the Hubitat Elevation Z-Wave Hub?
Price alone makes this an easy choice in your home hub set up. In addition to an affordable price point, there is a lot packed into the unit software and hardware including Zigbee and Lutron compatibility.
Compatible with a load of third party devices and also works with your smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
Another reason we chose the Hubitat is they put a lot of effort into their customer support. This has been a challenge for Wink and sometimes Vera. Hubitat knows this as they boast about their support a lot but, it’s good they have realised using a Z-Wave Hub is not an easy thing even if the interface is good. Abode support has also reached a good level this year.
In addition to these above points, Hubitat is compatible with aeotec, Cree, Fibaro, First Alert, Innovelli, Iris, Jasco/GE, Kwikset, Levitron, Lutron, Nyce, Sonos, Sylvania, Zen, Zooz and more. Not an uncommon list for all of these hubs.
Not really in the easy category but they do have tutorials and things. Want to tinker and play? Hubitat might be the smart home hub for you.
- Price is good
- It has a growing fanbase
- IFTTT compatible
- Compatible with ~100 third party devices
- Good if you want to include some learning in your smart home set up experience
- Cloud dependant for best results but like all good Z-Wave hubs it’ll work without internet connectivity
- No Apple HomeKit (yet)
- Not for the novice.
- No iOS/Smartphone apps
Summary: Hubitat has kept it simple, this is a good thing. A small unit with some good software compatibility inside. Zigbee a bonus. Sadly, while it’s on our list of Z-Wave Hubs it’s not the easiest to manage and run. It’s one step up from Home Assistant but you’ll want to know a few basics around setting up ‘rules’ to action things.
Hubitat Elevation – Ease of use rating: 5/10
You can see more reviews and information for the Hubitat
We have one of these connected to a Rasberry Pi device and used it to run our Home Assistant network. On its own it’s not very smart and has to be connected in to a software system like openHAB (and openHAB2), Home Seer, Indigo 7 or Home Assistant to function at it’s best.
It is very effective at being just that, a Z-Wave hub in a USB stick. Can be connected into a Windows PC, Linux, Mac or Rasberry Pi computer to work.
Why we chose the Aeotec Z-Stick Z-Wave Hub?
It works. It’s not that easy to operate and it’s not a standalone system, but it does work well and offers a great solution for those of you keen to play around more – be more hands-on with your smart home set up.
aetoec provide great support for their devices and are always willing to help when it’s realistic to do so. They won’t help you set up your smart home network, but will help with device-specific issues.
- Price is good
- Works with many open source and other Z-Wave enabled systems.
- Z-Wave Plus
- Can control up to 232 different Z-Wave devices
- Great way to get a DIY smart home Z-Wave network going
- You need to be really into playing with hardware and software to love it
- Updates to existing hardware like the aeotec smart switch 6 take some effort.
Summary: The aeotec Z-Wave stick is really designed to make many of the software options out there able to support Z-Wave devices. It’s brilliant at doing just that – powering Home Assistant, openHAB software and more. Just expect you’ll want to commit to some RTFM.
Aeotec Z-Stick – Ease of use rating: 4/10
You can see reviews for the Aeotec Z-Wave Stick here
There are many reasons we are big fans of Z-Wave Hubs. As owners of the abode security hub and a Rasberry Pi + aeotec Z-Wave set up, it’s great when everything talks to each other and makes your home smart.
Check out our smart home category for more articles that include Z-Wave hardware you can add.
Out preference leans towards:
- Samsung SmartThings – if you just want an easy to use Z-Wave Hub
- abode security system – if you want a smart home hub and DIY security features, with all the hardware to match.
The Hubitat comes in strong, as do some of the Open Source free smart home solutions like Home Assistant and openHAB.
We’d be happy to answer any questions you have below. And if we’ve missed your favourite Z-Wave Hub, let us know.
This post was last updated on 2019-12-16 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.