Amazon Echo Hub review

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8.3Expert Score
Plenty of potential

The Amazon Echo Hub is a state of the art smart home control hub for the masses, bringing sophisticated tech to the average homeowner. But it still needs some work.

Design
8.5
Performance
8
Pros
  • New UI designed for smart home control
  • Controls all your smart home gadgets
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • You need to have a lot of smart devices
  • Software is a little slow
  • Only a wall mount in the box – stands cost extra

About 20 years ago, the lawyer for the company I worked for was getting his home renovated with state-of-the-art technology. There were some deals done behind closed doors, but I ended up writing about his setup for the tech mag I was working for.

That’s a weird way to start a review, but stick with me. One of the things that blew me away as I covered his setup (which included an LCD TV that rose from a fireplace, FWIW), was the home automation that ran everything.

This was probably 15 years before Google Home and Alexa were even a thing. But this guy could use a series of touchscreens placed at locations around his mansion to control lights, security music – everything.

Anyway, fast-forward to 2018 when Amazon launched its first Echo speaker in Australia, and I thought it was going to be the democratisation of that smart home technology.

Except it never came. Because no matter how good the Echo speakers were, the Echo Show devices weren’t built to act as a central hub for controlling a smart home.

But Amazon was just biding its time. The Echo Hub is an 8-inch tablet that’s sole purpose is controlling your smart home. It doesn’t have a camera, it has its own unique user interface, and it lets you control your home’s lighting, home security and music playback easily.

It works with Matter, Thread, Zigbee, and Bluetooth to give you comprehensive control of your smart home tech. I’m going to be honest – I have no idea what protocol I connected all my devices through, so while the versatility is great, for most people it won’t actually matter.

It does require a significant amount of smart devices around your home for it to be really worthwhile, but if you’ve been thinking about trying to make your smart home properly smart, this is an affordable device to run the show.

Echo Hub showing routines

Amazon Echo Hub review: Design

The Amazon Echo Hub hardware is simply designed. At a distance, it looks like an old-school tablet. With an 8-inch screen and surrounded by a pretty thick 14 mm bezel on all fours sides, the front of the Echo Hub doesn’t really reveal its purpose.

Flip it over though and you get your first indication. This is designed to be wall mounted out of the box, though Amazon does offer stands that let you pop it on a coffee table or bench (for an extra cost, of course).

For the purposes of this review, I opted for the stand, but I do think it would be better wall-mounted.

There’s no battery inside the Echo Hub, so you’ll need to mount it somewhere near a power point. Hidden in the back of the tablet is an intelligent cable management for the USB-C cable, though the device also accepts power over ethernet via an external adapter, apparently.

If you don’t like cables dangling down in front of your walls, you may want to consider some more in-depth professional installation than I was prepared to do for the review. I think it would definitely be worth investing in if you have plenty of smart devices.

Close up of the Echo Hub's microphones

Still an Alexa speaker

The right-hand side of the tablet looks more familiar to those with other Echo speakers. You get volume up and down controls, as well as a big red mute button that deactivates the integrated microphone.

That means that the Echo Hub can be used to control any of your smart devices, just like you would with an ordinary smart speaker. It answers to “Alexa” and gives you almost all the same functionality as a standard Echo device.

What’s more, it doesn’t interfere with other devices. I set up the Hub in my loungeroom, about three metres from my Sonos Beam. When I say the Alexa keyword, the Echo Hub takes over and lets me control all my devices, including the Beam, effortlessly.

Despite the fact the Hub looks like a tablet, or an Echo Show device, it’s notable that it does not have an integrated camera.

Instead, it features an IR sensor in the front, just above the display. This sensor detects when someone is getting close to the tablet, and seamlessly transitions from standby mode (which was a big digital clock), to activating the smart home dashboard.

As you might expect, you can set rules around it, so it doesn’t come to life in the middle of the night, for example.

Close up of the echo hub's IR sensor

Amazon Echo Hub review: Performance

Amazon has stripped back the user interface on the Echo Hub to optimise it for controlling the smart home, and compared to the default Echo Show experience, it’s fantastic.

But as a standalone platform for managing your home from a central hub? It still needs work.

First and foremost, I feel like the hardware might be under-specced. Animations can skip frames, and I had a huge amount of trouble trying to customise widgets. I could select options, but I couldn’t drag them around to rearrange probably half of the time I tried it.

It reminded me a lot of trying to run more premium apps on budget smartphones that didn’t quite have the processor or RAM to manage it gracefully.

With the Echo Hub, it’s not too bad, though. Sure, animations jump around a bit while you scroll or select options, but it still does what you need it to do. Mostly.

I had problems connecting to certain apps, for example. While the Ring integration is seamless, with periodic captures displayed on the Hub’s screen with no intervention, I was repeatedly told the Eufy app couldn’t connect, even though it worked fine on my phone.

I had similar challenges trying to control my Hitachi air conditioner from the Hub. It would turn on fine, but would never turn the air con off.

But I can’t say with any confidence that these are faults with the Hub, or the Hub’s platform, or errors in the manufacturer’s apps.

Echo Hub showing video from a Ring video doorbell

You’re going to need more devices

Key to the success of the Amazon Echo Hub is its ability to control devices, groups of devices and manage routines across the entire home within a few taps of the screen.

The amount of benefit you can get from this will largely depend on just how many devices you have connected to your home network.

My home has Philips Hue lights in lamps in all three bedrooms, plus on the front of my house. I have a Ring Video Doorbell 4 installed and the Eufy Solocam S340 out the back. I have Sonos speakers in each room of the home, plus a robot vacuum, a connected dishwasher and washing machine and an automated garage door opener.

In other words, I have a fair amount.

But, the benefit of the hub is limited in many ways because I can’t use it to turn off all the lights in my living room, for instance because my downlight aren’t smart lights.

The other side of that coin is that you will want to make sure that everything is set up properly for your home. And unfortunately, there are limitations on what you can do via the Hub itself.

For example, I couldn’t work out how to assign a smart product to a different room from the Hub. I needed to go into the Alexa app on my phone to rearrange my smart devices.

If you wanted to create a new Routine, say, to turn off all the lights for a movie, for example, again you would have to create it in the Alexa app.

On a positive note, it syncs across pretty quickly, but it’s a little frustrating to not be able to use the hub to set up and control all the devices from the Hub.

The Echo Hub set up on a stand (option extra)

Amazon Echo Hub review: Verdict

The Amazon Echo Hub is the next level for anyone who has invested in turning their house into a smart home.

It’s a significant step forward for mass market adoption… You can still get advanced smart home solutions that will set you back thousands of dollars that are custom programmed to your exact needs and specifications.

The Echo Hub is a version for those of us who aren’t living in multi-million dollar mansions with TVs that rise out of a fireplace.

And with that in mind, it’s a solid product.

But it feels underripe. I think Amazon can do a bit of work to make it easier to customise the Home Screen, and manage all your smart devices from the Hub itself.

Version 2 could also use a bit more grunt under the hood. Not so much it jacks the price too high, but just enough that the animations don’t jump across the screen when you’re controlling a smart device.

Best prices for the Amazon Echo Hub from our partners

AU $329.00
Free delivery
as of 27 May 2024 6:07 am
Amazon.com.au
AU $377.09
+ Delivery *
Mydeal.com.au
* Delivery cost shown at checkout.
Product disclosure

Amazon supplied this product for review.

Author

  • Nick Broughall

    Nick is the founder and editor of BTTR. He is an award winning product reviewer, who has spent the last 20 years writing, editing and publishing technology and consumer content for brands like Finder, Gizmodo and TechRadar.

    View all posts
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