What is a smart speaker?
A smart speaker is a voice-activated assistant that can control smart devices and do other helpful things, like schedule diary appointments or tell you the weather forecast for the day.
Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod are all smart speakers – and they all use their own personal assistant, like Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri respectively.
What is a smart hub?
A centralised “master control” for all your smart devices, which lets you control them directly, as well as perform coordinated routines – like boiling the kettle 10 minutes after your heating comes on automatically. Popular smart hubs include the Wink 2 and Samsung SmartThings.
What are the main differences when comparing smart speakers to smart hubs?
Smart speakers are voice-activated and smart hubs use an app
To use a smart speaker, you voice-activate it and follow up with a question or command. For example, using a Google Home, you might say, “OK, Google, turn on the lights”.
As for each smart speaker’s respective app, it can usually only change settings and connect devices, not control them.
To use a smart hub – that is, to control the smart home devices connected to it – you use its own app, which has dedicated controls for each type of device. For example, if you go into the app and select a smart light, you’ll be shown all the available controls, like scheduling and colour temperature
Generally, this is the only way to use a smart hub, but some hubs can be integrated with one of the voice-activated personal assistants mentioned above.
Both can control smart devices, but smart hubs provide fuller home automation
Smart hubs specialise in translating all the different protocols smart devices use (like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee.) to make them speak the same “language”.
This enables your devices to communicate and perform “routines” – like turning the radio on when your smart lights come on in the kitchen automatically at dinner time.
Additionally, because smart hubs use their own app, they can go into more detail and offer more customisation – like setting specific dimming levels for each light.
Due to their voice-activated functionality, smart speakers generally only allow for comparatively basic control over your smart devices – like simple on/off commands.
Smart hubs are likely to be compatible with more smart devices
Not every smart device will work with your chosen smart speaker. This could be for a number of reasons, like the protocol it uses, or whether the speaker manufacturer owns the rights to that particular product.
On the other hand, you can connect almost any smart device to a smart hub.
Should I get a smart speaker or smart hub?
It all depends how smart you want your home to be. If you only have a few smart devices, and all you’d like is basic control using easy voice commands, then a smart speaker will meet your needs.
If you’d like to wake up to a fully automated home – where one automatic function can set off an entire series of synchronised, more controllable tasks – you’ll need to invest in a smart hub.
Of course, you might want the experience of a fully automated home with the convenience of voice commands. If so, buying both a smart speaker and a smart hub is a great option.