Ultimate Guide: How to Choose a Z-Wave Smart Home Hub

Smart Home Automation Comparison

Ultimate Guide: How to Choose a Z-Wave Smart Home Hub

Z-Wave smart home control controllers have burst onto the home automation scene in a frenzy that can only be described as, well, overwhelming. There are thousands of Z-Wave products on the market, and new hubs are released every few months by large and small companies alike. Here’s the Home Controls guide to what Z-Wave is and which hub fits you the best.

What is Z-Wave?

Z-WaveAt its core, Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol that allows devices in your home to “speak” to each other through radio frequency waves. All the different Z-Wave hubs traditionally provide remote access to your Z-Wave network (via smartphone, tablet, or computer) through an Internet connection.

With Z-Wave, long gone are the days of having to hardwire your house to experience home automation. Instead, Z-Wave enables the Do-It-Yourselfers to have a complete automated experience with little to no wires – and certainly no headaches. With these systems, anyone can “plug and play”, but before you do, here are a couple of things everyone should know.

Getting Started

There are a lot of available Z-Wave systems that can be accessed remotely, but each item may require a different app to operate. The key is to have one central device — what we call a “hub” – that manages and controls all sorts of individual Z-Wave devices.

All Z-wave systems are relatively similar when it comes to their remote accessibility, their wireless range (approx. 50-100 feet indoors), and the number of devices that can be synced to any given hub (around 230). However, these specs reflect only the few commonalities among different Z-Wave systems. In helping you choose which Z-Wave hub is best for you, you need to go over what you can expect the differences to be.

This is the criteria we used to distinguish between the various Z-Wave hubs:

  • Price: This one is pretty self-explanatory; how much money will you to have to spend to get the home automation system you want? Certain hubs only require that you purchase the product itself, while others may require a monthly “subscription” fee. (NOTE: The prices are for the hub only, and do not include the variety of individual controlled devices.)
  • Languages: How many different protocols can your hub “speak”? In other words, what kinds of devices are compatible with it? Certain devices not only speak Z-Wave, but also ZigBee, UPB, Wi-Fi, and more!
  • Access: Can you access the hub when you’re away from home? Is it accessible through your smartphone and computer, or just your smartphone?
  • Scenes: With any Z-Wave hub, you will be able to automate your controlled devices to perform actions based on various criteria. Where hubs differ, however, is in how complex your automations can get. Different hubs can create automations based on time of day, what other devices are doing, or even what you are doing. The level of complexity you desire in your automations make a difference in which hub you ultimately choose.
  • Local vs. Cloud: Certain hubs communicate directly with paired Z-Wave devices through a local network created within the home. Other hubs communicate indirectly through a cloud server. This becomes important if and when the Internet in your home goes out. Those systems using cloud communication will only be able to connect to the cloud server if you have a cellular backup. If you don’t have a backup and your connection goes out, you’re out of luck and won’t be able to control the system. On the other hand, if your hub uses a local network and the Internet goes out, the system will still be able to communicate and your local remote controllers will function normally even without a cell backup. You just won’t be able to access the system over the Internet until your connection returns.
  • Additional Features: Each hub may have features that we find unique or important to point out. Some of these additional features may even prove to be the deciding factor in selecting your Z-Wave hub!

Now that we’ve developed an understanding of the criteria needed to compare Z-Wave systems, let’s take a look at a few of the most popular hubs to find which one is the best fit for you.

HomeTroller Zee S2 (HomeSeer)

  • Price: $199.95 (hub only, no subscription required)
  • Languages: Z-Wave, WiFi, IFTTT, Insteon, X10, UPB (supports choice of 5)
  • Access: Smartphone (iOS/Android), tablet (iOS/Android), or computer
  • Scenes: Create unlimited “event groups” with unlimited events in each group, and apply group conditions and group actions. Can properly use full boolean logic.
  • Local vs. Cloud: Local Control with Free Cloud Access
  • Additional:

Pros: While the price is on the higher end, you can’t beat it for the options you get with a HomeTroller Zee S2. The compact hub has powerful hardware and offers advanced programming capabilities for highly customized automations. It’s great for Z-Wave, Insteon, UPB and X10 enthusiasts who want a simple entry-level Z-Wave controller that supports complex configurations. HomeSeer’s IFTTT channel allows IOT integration with more than 200 IFTTT channel partners. HomeSeer also offers an optional “Designer” to fully customize their HSTouch mobile app.

Cons: Like all of HomeSeer’s automation systems, the Zee S2 is geared toward tech-savvy people. Home automation beginners who are good with computers may find the Zee S2 fits their requirements. If you’re a smart home beginner looking for a super easy setup, then the HomeSeer might be too complicated for you. You will likely want to choose a more plug-and-play type of Z-Wave hub.

Updated with new Iris Hub, currently available.

Iris (Lowe’s)

  • Price: $59.99 (stand-alone)
    • $89.99 to $99.99 (kits)
    • Basic Plan is free
    • $9.99/mo. for Premium Plan (First two months free)
    • Iris Professional Monitoring is $19.99/mo.
    • Iris 4G Backup Cellular is $7.99/mo.
  • Languages: Z-Wave, ZigBee, & Bluetooth
  • Access: Smartphone (iOS/Android), or Tablet
  • Scenes: Only possible with Premium Plan
  • Local vs. Cloud: Cloud
  • Additional:
    • Monthly fee does not include central monitoring
    • Battery back-up available for hub
    • Weak security system
    • Reasonable accessory pricing

Pros: The new Iris platform gives users more customization options for their home systems. Iris works exclusively with “Works with Iris” products, and select devices are included in each kit. Additional “Works with Iris” devices can be purchased at reasonable prices, and previous generations of Iris products are compatible with the new platform. The new Iris hubs offer Basic and Premium services plans for its users, with the Premium plan giving users greater customization and notification options than the Basic plan. Owner’s of existing Iris smart hubs can upgrade to the newer model for free and can buy first gen devices for low prices. The brand new app interface is simple and user-friendly; great if you are just starting out in home automation.

Cons: Premium Service is required if you want to set-up scenes or have more customizable options. At $9.99/month, the fee can be hard to swallow, especially when you realize there are many Z-Wave hubs out there that do just as much, or more, while requiring no monthly fees. Even more concerning is that Iris only works with products donning a “works with Iris” label which, as of now, is only about 80 devices. Additionally, a number of users have reported connectivity and functionality issues, as well as missing features compared to the previous generation, which is currently being phased out to promote the newer generation despite these setbacks.

Nexia Bridge (Nexia)

  • Price: $79.99 (hub only)
    • $9.99 monthly fee (required)
  • Languages: Z-Wave
  • Access: Smartphone (iOS/Android/Windows), computer
  • Scenes: Easy scene setup. Can only be programmed on the computer.
  • Local vs. Cloud: Cloud
  • Additional:
    • Incredibly user-friendly interface
    • Uses SSL encryption for added security

Pros: The simplicity of the Nexia app and website interface makes working with the Nexia Bridge painless. The ability to terminate your subscription at anytime, penalty-free, is also a nice touch, although it shouldn’t be necessary due the system’s hassle-free, reliable nature. It is a perfect system for those of you who are committed to Z-Wave and want top-notch, reliable service all throughout the house.

Cons: The monthly fee is only worth it if you plan to use Z-Wave devices all throughout your home. Also of note, even with the monthly fee, central monitoring is not provided for the subscriber, leaving you on your own to set up security monitoring services. Finally, you can only create automations from your computer, limiting when and where you can customize your system.

Updated with new Iris Hub, currently available.

SmartThings Hub (SmartThings)

  • Price: $99 (hub only, no subscription required)
  • Languages: Z-Wave, ZigBee, IFTTT, Wi-Fi, & Cloud-to-Cloud
  • Access: Smartphone (iOS/Android/Windows)
  • Scenes: Smart Apps (custom automations by developer community), and scene creation through IFTTT
  • Local vs. Cloud: Cloud
  • Additional:
    • Smart Sense (hub knows when you’re nearby via smartphone or sensor)
    • Hello Home (control the hub via SMS-like conversation)
    • SmartThings Labs (community of independent developers creating custom automations)

Pros: The next generation SmartThings Hub is loaded with new features. New features include Bluetooth and USB compatibility as well as integration with more products including Belkin WeMo, Hue Bulbs, and Amazon Echo. SmartThings’ strength comes from its compatibility with third party products, with more potential integrations to come. SmartThings companion app has also updated to work with Apple, Android, and Windows devices. Finally, SmartThings is battery backup for the platform to work locally. This keeps your system from completely deactivating if your electricity or home network fails.

Cons: Previously, if your Internet connection dropped and you didn’t have a cellular backup, your automation system would fail, but that problem can be avoided if you remember to use the battery back up. Some features will still suffer from a power or internet outage, but some working settings are better than none. If you wish to include video recording to your home system, storing video clips will cost you $4.99 a month. Setting up the SmartThings Hub takes a lot of time and can be confusing to set up. Additionally, the companion app is tough to navigate and takes time to learn how to use it effectively. Once setup is complete, the system works great, it just takes a lot of time and effort to get there.

VeraPlus (Vera)

  • Price: $149.95 (hub only, no subscription required)
  • Languages: Z-Wave, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE (1,200+ devices)
  • Access: Smartphone (iOS/Android), tablet (iOS/Android), or computer
  • Scenes: Create custom scenes on any device using time of day, motion, or other devices as the trigger.
  • Local vs. Cloud: Local
  • Additional:

Pros: The VeraPlus guarantees compatibility with any Z-Wave device, as well as hundreds of Zigbee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connected devices. Additionally, the manufacturer’s dedicated YouTube channel is a great tool for beginners.

Cons: With a price that’s on the higher end of the spectrum, VeraEdge may steer some of you away. People looking for highly complex automations also may need to look elsewhere.

Wink Hub (Wink)

  • Price: $50 (hub only, no subscription required)
  • Languages: Z-Wave, ZigBee, Clear Connect, Kidde Smoke, WiFi, Bluetooth
  • Access: Smartphone (iOS/Android) and Wink Relay Hub
  • Scenes: In-app “robots” tell devices how to interact
  • Local vs. Cloud: Cloud
  • Additional: IFTTT support coming

Pros: Your eyes are not deceiving you; $50 is all you pay for the Wink Hub. Add that to a simple interface and this is a no-brainer for someone who is looking to get their feet wet with home automation.

Cons: An April recall of the Wink hub highlights some troubling software issues. Additionally, a relatively simple automation creation protocol limits what can be achieved with the Wink, but for the price, it’s a good starting point.

ZipaBox (Zipato)

  • Price: $199.95 (hub only, no subscription required)
  • Languages: Z-Wave (with expansion capabilities: ZigBee, KNX, ONVIF, UPnP, DLNA)
  • Access: Smartphone (iOS/Android), computer
  • Scenes: Neat drag-and-drop block interface for creating complicated automations.
  • Local vs. Cloud: Local
  • Additional:
    • Helpful series of YouTube videos
    • Customization modules (battery backup, security, ZigBee, KNX, and more)

Pros: Zipato’s ability to support complex automations is perfect for people who want something a little more in depth than just turning a light on and off. Additionally, Zipato’s online videos can help you realize this machine’s full potential. Finally, the level of customization available makes the purchase price easier to swallow.

Cons: The price is hefty. Zipato is the most expensive hub on our list, but the high level automation and customization supported make it worthwhile. Consequently, this box may lend itself to be better utilized by tech-minded individuals.

ZipaTile (Zipato)

  • Price: $379.00 (includes free access to Zipato web portal)
  • Languages: Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, & Bluetooth
  • Access: ZipaTile (Wall-mount Tablet), Smartphone (iOS/Android), or computer
  • Scenes: Use Zipato Rule Creator via the web portal to create “rules” for your connected devices.
  • Local vs. Cloud: Local
  • Additional:
    • Helpful series of YouTube videos
    • ZipaTile tablet can be wall-mounted or sit on a tabletop stand
      • Touchscreen functionality
      • Built-in sensors, speaker, microphone, and camera
      • Can be used as a stand-alone security device
      • Available in black or white

Pros: Zipato’s ZipaTile is ideal for those who are a bit more tech-savvy and prefer having complete control of their smart home from one central location but with the option of having control via a mobile device as well. The ZipaTile tablet is a very nice looking device that will enhance the look of any room’s decor, especially when mounted on a wall. The fact that it can serve as the main command center for all of your home automation devices and have touchscreen functionality with built-in sensors, including a camera, speaker, and microphone, means it will absolutely take your smart home automation to a whole new level.

Cons: The price is pretty steep and it’s the most expensive device on our list but with all of its features it well worth the investment. And even though the ZipaTile can serve as a complete starter system, it will best be appreciated by passionate do-it-yourselfers who aren’t afraid of technology. You’ll need to put time into it to enjoy all of its wonderful features.

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19 Comments on Ultimate Guide: How to Choose a Z-Wave Smart Home Hub

  1. Thank you for writing out a good review. This is the only page I have been able to find showing all the advantages and disadvantages of all the different hubs. Local vs cloud was very helpful. I about missed it before I bought. I’ll probably go with Vera.

  2. Where is the controller that was around before Z-Wave was even a “thing”? I don’t see HomeSeer, which you can run as a dedicated controller like these or on your own computer. It supports every Z-Wave device, has a remote control app (free) and charges no monthly fees.

  3. Curious. Why does the smartthings hub only show 116 compatible products? Are not most z wave components compatible with each hub?

  4. Many people are confused by the term ‘Interoperability’ – which Z-Wave is a leader at – and compatibility. Up to the application layer, all Z-Wave devices are fully compatible and interoperable, meaning that you can add (for example) a door lock to your Z-Wave network and it will work every time. Above that layer, however, is where it needs to be clarified. If your controller does not know about the Door Lock commands, then it cannot control the door lock, so it is not compatible. However, if the controller knows about Security, and the Door Lock commands, then it is required to support ALL door locks, regardless of their manufacturer. Furthermore, if the controller only knows version 1 of the door lock commands, and you add a door lock that was built using version 2, all previous versions are required to be supported and are designed to be backward compatible, so the controller and the door lock will both use version 1 commands. You may lose a feature or two if your controller or device do not go to the same version level of a particular class of commands, but they will at least work and be fully interoperable. So that is why they only list 116 compatible products – the other products have a command class that they have yet to add support for in their controller. When they do at it though, all brands of devices that use that command class will work with the controller.

  5. Could you comment on how you see Fibaro Home Center 2 fit into the above selections? Their claim is “Currently, the FIBARO system is the best building automation solution available on the market.” – or is it more dashing GUI than tech content?

    • We are constantly impressed with everything Fibaro does. However, this blog post focuses on do-it-yourself home automation solutions and the Home Center 2 is only available in the U.S. to professional installers.

  6. If you are able to add the Fibaro and also the new Telldus ZNet Lite, it would be a great benefit. In Europe (at least Sweden) the Fibaro system are available off the shelf in all the major electronics stores.

  7. Walter Devaney // July 16, 2016 at 7:12 am // Reply

    Staples Connect has now been discontinued.
    A shame, what else supports both Lutron and Z-Wave?
    They really shoud delete that video…

    • Thank you for pointing this out. I’ve taken Staples Connect out of the blog.

      As for a controller that supports both Lutron and Z-Wave, HomeSeer controllers offer a solution. You would install a Lutron plug-in to enable compatibility. The HomeSeer collection of controllers is shown here: http://www.homecontrols.com/Manufacturer/Homeseer

      • Walt Devaney // July 18, 2016 at 6:22 pm //

        One of my requirements is local operation when a net connection is not available. Staples Connect did this. HomeSeer/Lutron seems to use IFTTT, which as I understand it requires web access to process each individual command. I’m no expert, delete this if that is not correct.

  8. Thank you very much for the local vs cloud information. This is the hardest to find portion regarding zwave hubs out there, and is important for those of us who want a system that will work without internet connections.

  9. Hello, i have the vera edge. It is not local controlled as you state above. When my internet is down I cannot arm or disarm my system. A real problem since my internet is unreliable. If i am reading this correctly the homesteer would solve my issues because i can control it when the net is down, right?

    • Hi Kirk! Our Z-Wave expert, Joe, has offered this response:

      The Vera operates on a local basis and does not need the internet to operate or carry out scenes that you have set up. If you want to access it without an internet connection, you need to connect the Vera directly to a computer and log into it via its IP address. We have a handful of customers that are using automations on a regular basis and never have the hub connected to the internet.

      When logging in to the VeraEdge from a PC on the same local network, you will see that the IP address shows up in the address bar. If you log in, you can make a note of the IP address and in the future, when the internet goes down, you can simply connect the Vera directly to the Ethernet port on your PC and log into the Vera directly just like you would with logging into your router.

      Most people don’t know that while some of the controllers, such as SmartThings and Wink, route all of their commands through the cloud, the Vera, Zipabox and HomeSeer all have the capability of local control. The only reason the internet is involved is so that you can have remote access outside of your network. The important part to remember is that without an internet connection, NONE of the controllers are accessible remotely, not even HomeSeer.

      In summary, if you want to arm/disarm your system remotely, you will always need an internet connection, regardless of the controller you’re using. If you have a Vera or one of the other controllers mentioned above, you can access the controller locally on your PC by logging in directly from the PC.

      • Walt Devaney // October 31, 2016 at 9:24 am //

        I am puzzled by the requirement to connect the Vera hub directly to the computer. If both the computer and the VeraEdge both have Ethernet connections to the same router, shouldn’t that also work? What about if the VeraEdge connection is WiFi?

      • Hi Walt. Joe offered some clarification in response to your question:

        In the scenario described above, with the Vera connected directly to the computer rather than the router, that was ONLY for a situation where there is no internet available or you don’t want the controller accessible via the internet for security purposes. If there is an internet connection available, then yes, the Vera will be connected directly to the router or connected to the LAN via WiFi.

  10. Walt Devaney // November 2, 2016 at 9:49 am // Reply

    Sorry, Joe, I wasn’t clear. I was talking about the situation where there is no internet connection but both the Vera and the computer are still connected to the same local router. I can simulate the situation by disconnecting the phone line from my DSL modem/router. I could then still ping the Vera from the computer but not access the internet.
    I guess the issue hangs on what you mean by “log into it via its IP address”. Are you saying I would get a sign in screen with a direct connection to the computer, but not going through the router?
    Not have a Vera, I can’t test the above.

  11. I think the information on local Vs. cloud is confusing. I can understand it could be confusing.
    The Wink and iris are fully a cloud device. The Zipato controllers now have local processing capability but really need the cloud to be setup and to be fully functional. The ST Gen2 now also has some very limited local processing capability but really is a cloud device for all the automation. The vera and homeseer are the only ones which have full local processing and also can be setup without the cloud. They do benefit from internet access for everything which require communicating with the outer world and also offer some limited cloud capability but were not designed for the cloud. One should also not confuse cloud with internet.
    The vera for example requires to have internet access if you want to control it remotely. If you choose to go through the vera server then yes, you are going through a their cloud server but you don’t have to. You can access it directly by accessing your home network through DDNS or VPN.

    To summarize:
    Full Cloud: Wink and iris
    Cloud with some very limited local:ST
    Local but requires cloud: Zipato
    Fully local with cloud option: Vera and Homeseer

    The most preferred way to go is obviously to go all local both from a security and reliability standpoint.

  12. Excellent discussion and feedback. I knew nothing about Z-wave and have learned a lot. Thanks.

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