Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings and more ecosystems explained
So, you are starting to build up a collection of smart home devices. Between your Amazon Echo (4th Generation) smart speaker, your Samsung smart TV and your Philips Hue Smart Lighting, you’re creating quite the smart home. When used correctly together, these (and other) smart devices could create a calm ambience or the ultimate party atmosphere depending on your mood. But do you have a connected home, or are you having to turn on each of these devices separately and adjust them all the time to achieve your desired setting?
Your smart home gadgets do not need to create the headache that’s happening in your home office for instance. You know that ball of tangled cords lurking in your study whether it’s the charger for your laptop intertwined with the HDMI cord for your second screen or the USB cord for your smartphone caught on the power cord for your printer? Yeah, the one that you promised yourself you would sort out three years ago. Tech is meant to simplify our lives but sometimes when there are multiple devices at play (even worse, multiple power cords for each of those devices) it can feel like tech is bringing more disorder to our lives than simplicity. But the same doesn’t have to be said for smart home entertainment devices, which are meant to be fun!
Luckily, a solution exists in the form of a smart home ecosystem. In order to create a truly automated home, you are going to need one. A smart home ecosystem is a network of smart devices working together to set the mood you desire and make your home the most comfortable and enjoyable place to be for you and your family.
The ecosystem of connected devices operates through a central portal that’s controlled by you. That portal can be a smart home hub or a smartphone app. Either way, you set your preferences and your smart home takes care of the rest.
But what’s the best smart home ecosystem?
Amazon, Apple and Google are undoubtedly the major players in the smart home space right now, with their smart speakers, voice assistants and ecosystems making your smart home entertainment devices easier than ever to control and ensuring home automation is actually achievable. However, when it comes to smart home hubs, Samsung’s SmartThings platform is the cream of the crop.
Where to start?
When you are working out which smart home ecosystem is best for you, have a think about some of your favourite voice assistants: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Each of these digital assistants can be used as the centre of a smart home system, so that’s one place to start.
Alternatively, look at some of the smart home devices that are on your wish-list, and check which smart home hubs they are compatible with. Whether you’re an iOS fiend or an Android enthusiast, the age-old debate of Mac versus PC does not come into the picture when choosing a smart home system. Smart home devices from all kinds of brands work well with multiple smart home hubs, so you are not committing to one brand or system for life. Just keep an eye out for the “works with…” in the Amazon description of the smart home gadgets you’re considering.
Top smart home ecosystems
Here are some of the best smart home ecosystems you can get your hands on right now, whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to build out you’re existing system.
The Samsung SmartThings ecosystem consists of a hub and an accompanying free app. The Samsung SmartThings has an incredible number of smart home products that it is compatible with, including the suite of Google Nest products, Philips Hue smart lighting and many more. Of course if you already own a bunch of Samsung devices such as the Samsung smart TV or Samsung Galaxy, this ecosystem is the obvious choice. Samsung is constantly adding new products to its range, including smart bulbs, so you can keep adding devices to your ecosystem over time.
The Samsung SmartThings hub can be controlled using the usual suspects – Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Samsung has also introduced its own voice assistant – Bixby that the SmartThings hub works well with. Bixby is getting smarter all the time, so while it may not be classed in the same category as Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, it works well for controlling devices around the home and is only getting better at doing so.
Another drawcard of this ecosystem is the SmartThings app for your phone. The interface and layout is clean making it easy to control individual smart gadgets as well as group them together in rooms. Samsung SmartThings can link devices (and their respective apps) together, and can for example, arrange for a smart speaker to play calming music as soon as your smart lights are set to a dimmer and warmer tone.
Samsung SmartThings automation capabilities are what really sets them apart from others. The likes of Google Home’s Routines are limited to scheduled times or triggered by a voice command. With Samsung’s SmartThings you can do both of those things but you can also create automations based on a family member’s location or the status of a device (such as a door sensor opening).
Amazon Alexa Ecosystem
Amazon’s Alexa has come a long way since 2014 when it was a simple smart speaker that could turn lights on and off. Since then, Amazon has an abundance of smart speakers, including its most notable Amazon Echo (4th Generation) smart speaker. With this speaker, you’ll undoubtedly get the best Alexa experience, but there is now a range of third party manufactured smart gadgets that are Alexa-friendly as well. The range of compatible kit is truly staggering (and growing). You’ll need at least one device with Alexa built-in (like the 4th-gen Echo) to act as a smart home hub to control all those gadgets!
This development of opening the Alexa ecosystem to a wider range of devices also extends to its app and control interface availability. Amazon has ensured that its Alexa app operates on a range of platforms including just about any smartphone, tablet, or computer. The Alexa app is available for both iOS and Android devices and the app can even be accessed from a simple web-interface on any modern browser.
Another benefit that Alexa offers is its ease of use. Alexa can identify and control compatible devices on your home network. To add a device you simply tap ‘Add Device’ inside the Alexa app or ask Alexa with a voice command to scan for new devices. Alexa can also give you access to your smart home controls via your voice, allowing you to utilise Alexa’s infamous ‘Skills’.
Alexa also allows you to create groups of devices, for example, you turn off all devices in the kitchen with a single spoken command to Alexa. If you want to get extra savvy, you can automate such commands with the Routines feature at a certain time of day e.g. after dinner.
Google Assistant Ecosystem
Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are on a pretty level playing field as both offer similar ranges of compatible devices. If you already have Google Nest products, you may be swayed towards Google Assistant, as it certainly is easier to pair Google products together. But if your ownership of smart devices is more varied, Google Assistant will support speakers and displays from third party manufacturers including Sonos, Panasonic and LG.
A clear benefit of owning a Google Assistant is its ability to accept voice commands from any tablet or phone with Google Assistant installed. Another advantage that Google offers is its familiarity with underlying Android smart technology. After all, Google developed the operating system that power Android smartphones. If you’re already an Android smartphone or tablet user, you’ll be comfortable using the Google Assistant ecosystem’s Google Home app.
If you’re not an Android user, your iOS device will work just as well with the Google Home app. The app is the control centre of the Google Assistant and will ensure your smart devices work in harmony. Once you’re devices are added (simply tap a button and scan your network), you can turn devices on and off, adjust settings, set up Routines and create Google Home Actions with the power of your voice.
If you’re hooked on Google Assistant as your ecosystem of choice, you are going to want to check out the Google Home Hub smart display. This clever device is powered by the Google Assistant and provides you with ‘Home View’, a top-down look at your entire smart home.
Logitech Harmony Hub
Like the brands above, Logitech has its own smart home products on the market, but arguably its greatest smart home device is its fully-fledged smart home platform, Harmony Hub. Logitech isn’t new to smart home automation either, before the Harmony Hub, they released the Harmony Remote.
The Harmony Hub delivers on a new scale though, bringing 270,000 smart home and entertainment devices from 6000 brands together (and this list is growing). The Harmony Hub is for you if you want to connect any speaker from the Sonos One, Apple TV, PlayStation 4 and a LG smart TV together, just to name a few. No matter how your home is set up, the Harmony Hub can probably control it.
If you want to up the ante, add the Pop Home Switch to your Harmony Hub, and it will scan for compatible devices it can control. So, if you have Philips Hue smart lighting or a Xbox Series S in your home, they’ll be picked up and integrated with your other smart devices. You can also integrate your Harmony Hub with Google Assistant and Alexa if either of those are your voice control of choice.