Advertisement
UK markets closed
  • FTSE 100

    8,146.86
    -16.81 (-0.21%)
     
  • FTSE 250

    20,120.36
    -75.59 (-0.37%)
     
  • AIM

    776.04
    -4.39 (-0.56%)
     
  • GBP/EUR

    1.1845
    -0.0034 (-0.29%)
     
  • GBP/USD

    1.2686
    -0.0075 (-0.59%)
     
  • Bitcoin GBP

    52,216.68
    -608.54 (-1.15%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    1,402.54
    -15.33 (-1.08%)
     
  • S&P 500

    5,431.60
    -2.14 (-0.04%)
     
  • DOW

    38,589.16
    -57.94 (-0.15%)
     
  • CRUDE OIL

    78.49
    -0.13 (-0.17%)
     
  • GOLD FUTURES

    2,348.40
    +30.40 (+1.31%)
     
  • NIKKEI 225

    38,814.56
    +94.09 (+0.24%)
     
  • HANG SENG

    17,941.78
    -170.85 (-0.94%)
     
  • DAX

    18,002.02
    -263.66 (-1.44%)
     
  • CAC 40

    7,503.27
    -204.75 (-2.66%)
     

Amazon Echo Hub review: Alexa’s affordable smart-home dashboard

<span>The Echo Hub is a photo frame when idle, but transforms into your home’s command centre as you approach it.</span><span>Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian</span>
The Echo Hub is a photo frame when idle, but transforms into your home’s command centre as you approach it.Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Amazon’s latest Alexa device feels like the missing piece in making a home fully smart and acts as a hub for controlling lights, doors, cameras, timers and heating.

The Echo Hub arrives ready to be the touchscreen controller for your smart home, and is a cut-price option for a device that usually has to be either professionally installed, costing thousands, or a DIY job that requires more than a little expertise.

Able to be wall-mounted or placed on a stand, the Echo Hub costs £170 (€200/$180) and acts as a clock and digital photo frame when idle, displaying a range of stock shots or pulling snaps from your prerequisite Amazon account or Facebook on its 8in LCD screen.

ADVERTISEMENT

When woken up, it is filled with buttons and widgets for controlling things around the home. A list of rooms on the left lets you see every device connected to Alexa, while a row of buttons at the bottom gives you quick access to categories of things, such as security devices, cameras, thermostats and lights.

Routines can be programmed and turned on, such as dimming the lights in the evening or opening the curtains in the morning. Widgets can be added to your home screen showing the weather, a to-do list and other small bits – though I found the simpler the home screen, the better.

What makes the new device unique is the price and ease of setup. Until now, putting in place a similar hub would have to have been part of a system from the likes of Control4, costing thousands. It is also possible to do a DIY project with a tablet but that brings its own problems and getting it to work as slickly as the new Echo Hub is tricky.

Thankfully absent are the adverts that have become frequent of late on Amazon’s equivalent Echo Show smart displays, although Amazon would not commit to that being the case in the future.

Replacing reliance on phone apps

As a way to group controls for multiple things together in one place that anyone in the home can access, the Echo Hub works well. I particularly liked the ability to glance at recent camera activity and the heating temperature, and to quickly turn on groups of lights, reducing reliance on disparate phone apps or hit-and-miss voice commands.

Button taps are responsive but swipes to other parts can be sluggish, particularly when loading rooms with lots of devices. The Echo Hub may look like a tablet, but it is not as fast as one.

The home screen comes fairly well laid out and starts with a widget panel for the room you place the Hub in. Each room has a master light switch with a dimmer slider, but only seven other buttons are shown in the smart panel and they’re locked into alphabetical order, with the remainder of devices hidden behind a “show all” button. If you have lots of individual lights or other devices, it can mean many more taps and swipes than desired. You can get around it by being creative with named groups of devices within rooms, such as “A Kitchen Spotlights” so they show higher up the alphabetical order but that feels like an unnecessary hack.

You can switch between room panels via voice, but it is hit and miss at best, frequently resulting in a light being switched on instead. The Echo Hub contains Zigbee, Thread, Matter and Bluetooth so it can connect directly to a range of smart home devices if you don’t already have them set up with a different hub or gateway. It comes with a standard USB-C power plug, but can be hooked up to Power over Ethernet with an adaptor, if you have advanced home networking, for a neater finish.

Other than controlling your smart home, the Hub can do most of what a smart display typically does, including playing music and video. It has stereo speakers that fire out of the top, but they are akin to smartphone sound quality rather than that of a real speaker – fine for Alexa’s voice but I wouldn’t want to listen to music for long on it. The Hub can be grouped with other Echo speakers, showing handy playback controls, or stream to a Bluetooth speaker. I found the Hub struggled to hear me more than the equivalent Echo Show over ambient noise, requiring me to speak directly at it more often as a result.

Sustainability

The Echo Hub is generally repairable and will receive security updates for at least four years after the device is discontinued. It contains 27% recycled materials. The company offers trade-in and recycling schemes.

Price

The Amazon Echo Hub costs £169.99 (€199.99/$179.99) and includes a wall mount. The stand costs £29.99 ($29.99).

For comparison, the Echo Show 8 costs £150, the Echo Show 15 costs £280, the Google Nest Hub costs £90 and Brilliant’s plug-in Smart Home Control costs $299 (US/Canada-only).

Verdict

For many, the Echo Hub will be the off-the-shelf smart home controller they’ve been looking for. It requires your smart home devices to all be connected to the Alexa ecosystem, and works best with Amazon’s own gear, such as Ring devices or Alexa speakers. But it provides a better central place for all members of your house to have control without having to have specialist knowledge, reach for apps or resort to hit-and-miss voice commands than anything else out there.

It has many caveats and small niggles, such as certain actions being sluggish, limited customisation options, and weaker speakers and mics than the equivalent Echo Show 8. Despite being cheaper than some competing smart home controllers, the Hub is still a touch expensive to tempt everyone, particularly when it costs more than the equivalent Echo Show.

The Hub is therefore not for everyone, but it feels like the missing bit of Amazon’s smart-home ambitions, which could help rejuvenate Alexa as a platform even if people have cooled on actually talking to voice assistants.

Pros: good smart-home controller that’s relatively novice-friendly, wide smart-device support, excellent with Ring/Amazon devices, presence sensing without a camera, good photo-frame mode, Alexa, speakers, can be wall- or stand-mounted, multiple power options, cheap for a smart home controller.

Cons: expensive for an Amazon smart display, sluggish scrolling and loading, weaker speakers and mics than equivalent Echo Show, limited customisation options, requires Amazon account and full adoption of Alexa platform, stand costs extra.