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The 3 best smart home bridges: Make opposites attract

What is the best smart home bridge? HOOBS is ZDNet's top choice because it offers smart home users a plug-and-play approach to bridging the gap between compatibility battles.
maria-diaz
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Elyse Betters Picaro

Let's start with the basics: What is a smart home bridge? A bridge can be two things. Much like the name implies, a bridge can be a device or platform that connects a smart device to the internet. However, many smart home enthusiasts consider a bridge to be software that connects a smart device to an incompatible home hub or home automation system.

As for the biggest difference between a home bridge and a home hub, we'll refer to the hub as the device that connects your smart gadgets to your automation system, while the bridge is the software that bridges the gap between incompatible devices and hubs.

If you're looking to learn about the best hubs, read: The 4 best smart home hubs.

An example of how a bridge can be used is when a home runs on Apple HomeKit and the homeowner buys a smart light bulb that only works with Alexa or Google Home. The homeowner could use a smart home bridge to connect that bulb to HomeKit. 

The drawback? It takes extra work and extra steps to connect something and sometimes a Raspberry Pi or other computer. The advantage is, though, you can cast your compatibility net a lot wider and add your preferred devices to your home regardless of brand. 

Must read:

HOOBS
HOOBS

HOOBS features a small device that works as a true smart home bridge. It connects over 2,000 accessories with either Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or Apple HomeKit. This bridge successfully closes the gaps between brands and compatibility, which is music to the hears of home automation fans.

The best part of getting the HOOBS box is that it works as a plug-and-play starter kit; it has everything you need to truly harmonize all your incompatible smart devices. Once you get it installed and connected to a network, you can start adding your smart devices and searching for plugins.

HOOBS actually stands for Homebridge out of the box. It's a more user-friendly option for users that prefer a turnkey solution to a smart home bridge.

Users can use plugins available for HOOBS and can install, update, or remove plugins from their library. Developers can create plugins that work with HOOBS to connect different devices, which means there are thousands of plugins to search among. 

HOOBS also runs locally on your network, keeping your information more secure. 

You also can buy a HOOBS microSD to use with your Raspberry Pi, or simply download the image for a donation.

Pros

  • Plug-and-play solution
  • No tinkering (unless you want to)

Cons

  • Higher start-up cost
Homebridge
Homebridge

Homebridge delivers compatibility support for HomeKit, which is notoriously incompatible with most smart devices on the market.The beauty of Homebridge is the versatility of being able to run it in a computer in your home without buying a device for it. 

The Apple HomeKit ecosystem is a great option for smart home enthusiasts with a concern for data privacy or simply for Apple fans. It is the one with the least amount of support due to how stringent Apple is with its customers' data security and privacy.

Homebridge is a NodeJS server that emulates the iOS HomeKit API to natively connect any unsupported smart devices to HomeKit. 

To get Homebridge, you can set up a Raspberry Pi and simply download its image. It's a free, low-energy consumption option is running in many smart homes right now.

Think of Homebridge like HOOBS' free but more complicated cousin. Plugins are created by the community and, though the platform has [evolved instead of navigated?] navigated to be more user-friendly over time, it still may require some tinkering and basic programming knowledge to get it set up just right.

Pros

  • Free
  • Thousands of available plugins

Cons

  • Needs to run on a computer
  • Requires some tinkering
IFTTT
IFTTT

IFTTT (if this, then that) is an automation system, not necessarily a bridge, but it definitely can work as one. If you have a device that is not natively compatible with your home system, you may just find an applet or an automation already available on IFTTT that marries the two.

So, if you have been trying to set up a smart home and have fallen victim to compatibility woes, IFTTT may just fix those for you. With it, you can combine brands like MyQ to Alexa and control your Philips Hue lights along with your Wyze ones.

The drawback of IFTTT is that a subscription is required if you use more than five applets, which are their automations. This is what IFTTT's plans look like:

  • Free: Up to five applets
  • Pro ($2.50/month): Up to 20 applets, faster speeds, multi-action applets
  • Pro+ ($5/month): Unlimited applets, faster speeds, multiple accounts, developer tools

One of the best features of IFTTT is that it's not limited to smart home devices. If you search through its applets and end up choosing to use IFTTT for your smart home, you may find yourself automating your Twitter or how your Instagram photos are shared or your Google Drive. 

The extreme automation power that IFTTT offers can have you applying automations so quickly you may run out of things to automate.

Pros:

  • No hub required
  • User-created applets
  • No code solution

Cons:

  • Subscription required for more than 5 applets

What is the best smart home bridge?

The best smart home bridge right now is the HOOBS box. It offers all kinds of users a turnkey solution to low compatibility among brands. Though it is the most expensive option, you won't have to worry about application updates or having to do much tinkering (unless you want to).

Smart home bridgeZDNet's takeUser-friendlyApple HomeKitGoogle HomeAmazon Alexa
HOOBSBest overall
IFTTTBest for a budget
HomebridgeBest for Homekit---

Which is the right smart home bridge for you?

The right bridge for you likely will be determined by how much time and effort you want to put into your smart home. If you enjoy a lot of customizations, creating your own layouts and plugins, enjoy HomeKit, know at least a little bit about programming, Homebridge is the perfect option for you -- plus it's free.

If you just want a simple, turnkey solution, HOOBS can help with HomeKit, Google Home, and Alexa. And if you don't have many incompatible devices to add and are in search of a simple, potentially free solution, IFTTT is where it's at.

Choose this smart home bridge...If you...
HOOBSwant a plug-and-play solution to easily bridge the gaps in support
IFTTTdon't want to buy a separate hub and don't mind paying for a subscription
Homebridgehave a HomeKit setup and want to buy smart devices regardless of support

How did we choose these smart home bridges?

When researching smart homes, you'll see terms like "bridge," "hub," and even "gateway" used interchangeably. This can be a problem when you're setting up and choosing devices for your home, but with so many brands of all sizes trying to get into the smart home market, the terminology is still taking shape and hasn't been standardized.

We focused on best smart hubs here, and you can find best home automation systems here. But to discuss bridges, I felt it was important to showcase the best options in software for consumers that can help them add almost any device to their smart home, regardless of the system they're using.

To determine what the best smart home bridges are right now, we combined personal experience, knowledge, and research, while keeping in mind that the right smart home bridge can change how you enjoy your home.

What about Matter?

Matter has undoubtedly gotten a lot of attention in the Internet of Things since its announcement in late 2019. Developed by the Connectivity Standards Alliance, Matter is taking a crack at getting rid of support gaps altogether, as well as the tinkering involved with connecting incompatible devices to an automation system. 

Previously known as CHIP (Connected Home over Internet Protocol), Matter is a new open-source IP-based connectivity standard for smart home technology. It was announced as a joint project by Apple, Google, Amazon, and Zigbee Alliance; the smart home tech giants.

Matter will let you add a Blink camera natively into your Apple HomeKit ecosystem, with vast support between technologies and manufacturers. So instead of a device having a list of all the supported home assistants it can work with, most will simply fall under the Matter umbrella.

Originally set to launch in late 2021, Matter 1.0 is currently undergoing testing and is scheduled to launch in the fall of 2022, then opening the formal certification program to all companies that want to certify Matter devices. 

Do I need a smart home bridge?

That is going to depend on whether or not you have any smart devices that are incompatible with your smart home system and how much that matters to you. If you don't mind opening three different apps on your phone to control different light bulbs, then you probably don't need a home bridge.

If you do find it inconvenient to not be able to control all your smart devices from one place , then it's probably a good time to look into getting a bridge to close that gap.

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