New Amazon Echo Hub hands-on review

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Erin Lawrence

Amazon Echo Hub

Usually Amazon Echo products are a smash hit. So when the company’s newest device is earning only three star reviews… What’s going on? If you ask me, people don’t know what to make of the new Echo Hub, and may not understand its place in the larger Alexa ecosystem. This is not simply a new smart home speaker, it’s something else. In this review I’ll dig in on what makes Echo Hub different from my hands-on personal experience, who it’s actually geared for, what it’s best for and not as good at. I’ll wrap things up by going over the pros and the cons and letting you know if I think I can recommend this home hub to you.

Amazon Echo Hub
3

Summary

As an Alexa ecosystem smart home management device, the Amazon Echo Hub does that job well, but lacks versatility like other similar smart speakers.

Pros

  • Easy to set up
  • Nice streamlined design
  • Perfect for wall mounting.
  • Geared at controlling smart home devices
  • Uses presence sensing determine smart home device access without a camera for privacy
  • Interface is simple and uncluttered

Cons

  • Audio quality not the best
  • Screen can sometimes be slow to react
  • Options presented on screen are limited with some linked devices

What is Echo Hub?

Amazon Echo Hub layout

As Amazon tells it, the Echo Hub is an “easy-to-use Alexa-enabled control panel for your smart home devices”, but that doesn’t help us very much since it sounds a lot like every other Alexa speaker device with screen.

You could say that while many Echo devices are speaker-first, the 8-inch Echo Hub is smart home-first. It integrates with all of Amazon and Ring’s smart home devices like alarm systems, cameras, thermostats, smart locks, and lighting, and gives you a central place to manage control of all of them a little easier than on a typical Echo screen device.

Some of the key innovations here are that it’s flat, and designed to be wall mounted (though a $30 stand is available) and you can more easily customize the controls and widgets displayed on the screen, and adjust which devices you see, or which cameras you can pull up quickly.

This small flat panel also uses presence sensing, which Amazon calls ‘adaptive content’ to detect when someone is nearby so the screen will switch automatically from a clock or photo display to the customizable smart home control screen.

In my opinion, I would say this device is designed to be your smart home at a glance. Whereas other Alexa devices like the Echo Show 15 or Echo Show 10 are designed to be more information focused and will display things like news, weather, interesting stories, jokes, or other Alexa how to information, the default viewing on Echo Hub’s screen is your smart home and its gadgets.

Power options (& battery life)

If you choose to wall mount this device you will still need to manage the cable. Amazon recommends mounting it near a plug, but right out of the gate I think I would find that a little messy. You can get a wall rated conduit to hide the power cable inside your wall, but this is a little more trouble than I think it’s worth.

Another option is to use the Power over Ethernet option with a compatible USB-C converter. I opted to use the counter stand and simply have it plugged into the wall.

What can Echo Hub do?

After spending several weeks with this device in my home, I’d say Amazon Echo Hub has four key features.

1. Smart Home security hub

Anyone who had a home alarm system more than 10 years ago likely remembers you needed a hard-wired central panel to arm and disarm the alarm. It looks like we’re back to the future with this concept meant to be placed in a central location in your home.

Echo Hub is an ideal alarm system control panel. I have had a Ring Alarm system for many years, and one of the things I was looking forward to doing with this, is setting up my Ring Alarm 2 system.

I connected my Echo Hub with the Ring Alarm 2 (and you can see the full review of that here). When I call up the alarm system I can see at a glance if my home is disarmed or armed.

Initially, while I was able to arm the system with a tap, when I tried to disarm it from the hub, I got an error message saying “access code required to disarm. Go to security system device settings in the Alexa app to set up an access code”.

I wasn’t able to find the settings anywhere so I reached out to a contact at Amazon for a little assistance…

I was able to get better instructions for how to set a pin code for Echo Hub with Ring Alarm 2. Full details are here but the steps are:

To set Echo Hub to manage your Ring Alarm, load and activate the Ring skill in the Alexa app.

  1. Open the Alexa app .
  2. Open More , then select Skills & Games.
  3. Use Search Alexa Skills to find the Ring skill. Select it and then select Enable.
  4. In setting up the skill, sign in to your Ring account, to link it to your Alexa account.
  5. After you sign in, Alexa looks for Ring devices and connects with them automatically. If you don’t want a particular device to connect, select Forget. Your alarm system appears in your Devices list in the Alexa app.

Next, set an access code for your system, to use with Alexa and the Echo Hub.

  1. Open the Alexa app .
  2. Select your Ring Alarm system, then select Settings .
  3. Under Disarm by Voice and Echo Hub, turn on Enable/disarm.
  4. Enter and confirm a 4-digit access code.
  5. To disarm your Ring Alarm when you return home, enter the access code on your Echo Hub, by voice or by touch.

Following the instructions worked for me and I was able to use the Hub to arm and disarm easily.

2. Security camera feed

Amazon Echo Hub security

One of the other interesting things I found the Echo Hub can do is show a longer-term feed of any of your cameras. Just choose which camera you want to keep an eye on, and open it up on the screen of the Echo Hub and you can see and hear everything that’s going on for up to about 7 minutes. This seems to be a bit of a newer feature as some other Echo Show devices I’ve tried let you drop in on a camera for a short time but then always return to the Alexa main screen after a few seconds.

This is something many Ring customers have been asking for since it lets you use one of your cameras like a de facto baby or pet monitor. Even so, 7 minutes isn’t a very long time, and it’s annoying to have to re-load the camera constantly. I’d love it if I could simply choose a camera to keep up on the screen for an hour or more.

3. Smart home control

You can also use this device to manage all of the lights in your home; turning each one on or off with a virtual tap. While I generally find it far more convenient just to use voice control for this, it’s good to know this home hub can become a de facto remote control also. It also works to control thermostats and door locks, so it can be a good way to put your home to bed all from one location.

I also found the echo hub makes an ideal secondary control panel to keep in the primary bedroom. This lets you see your home at a glance and secure everything if you’ve already gotten into bed.

4. Plays Music

This Hub wouldn’t be an Echo device without some audio capabilities. You can absolutely use it to play music, news, and podcasts, though with that said the audio quality is not as good as some other more music-focussed Echo devices.

The only speakers for this one live in the top of the device and they are quite small. Amazon doesn’t give any information about their wattage or power; so I can best describe them as adequate. While they’re not high fidelity and they’re not going to fill a room, they’re more than fine for issuing and confirming smart home demands and listening to audio if you’re nearby.

Set up

Amazon Echo Hub

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the set up because pretty much every Echo device I’ve configured in the last five years has been a breeze, and the Hub was the same. Plug it in and it will automatically put itself in set up mode. You just need to follow a few prompts either on the Hub or in the Alexa app depending on your device. I had it online and connected to my smart home in just a few minutes.

Amazon might be one of the few smart home corporations that get this better than right. In my opinion, every one of its gadgets is super easy whether you’re a novice or an experienced smart home guru.

Managing your Hub dashboard

On the hub screen you’ll have a series of boxes or “widgets” you can adjust the order in which these display and choose to show or hide any of them. Along the left-hand side is a list that shows a shortcut for Home and your Routines, then a list of your rooms.

Taking up the most real estate on the screen are the larger widgets; things like your cameras, weather, an area for your favourites and more. Along the bottom there’s a list of buttons which you can tap on to open up more options for each.

While Amazon describes the screen as “customizable” there’s not a whole lot more you can do, other than change the order in which they display. For example I had been hoping to get the security widget to display in a large box on the screen so I could see it and all my devices at all times, but if it is possible it was not intuitive how to do it.

And even once I have tapped the Alarm widget to open it up, the only thing I can do is view the arming status; I can’t see which sensors may be open or closed or which cameras may be online or not. The limited viewing options here are actually quite disappointing.

The toughest part about managing your home screen is ensuring your smart home is up-to-date.

A difficulty I have that is unlikely to affect most of the rest of you is that I have a ton of smart home devices across various brands. Many of them are compatible with Alexa and many of them still show up in my Alexa app even if I only use them for a short time to review them. So a piece of advice; if you have a good amount of smart home gadgets he will want to manage from the hub, spend a little time in the Alexa app deleting unused devices and organizing your devices into their correct rooms so that everything will be much easier to manage on this screen.

Accessing Content & Controlling Devices by Voice

This being an Alexa speaker you can of course ask Alexa to control devices with your voice or access music or other content.

Using commands like:

  • “Alexa, show me my cameras”
  • “Alexa, dim the lights”
  • “Alexa, turn off [living room] lights at [5pm]”
  • “Alexa, enable the start my day routine”
  • “Alexa, what’s on the calendar today?”
  • “Alexa, show me the weather”

I found the voice control works well whether I was asking for light adjustments or for the Alarm system to be set..

Who is Echo Hub for?

Amazon Echo Hub

I think there are some very specific use cases where this device will be helpful, and others where it will simply be frustrating. Let’s go over the best and worst use cases.

In my opinion, the new Echo Hub is a device for people looking for a slimmed down Alexa experience that can mainly be used to control smart home devices.

In my opinion this device is best for someone who wants to wire it in and wall mount it. Any other Alexa or Echo Show device with the exception of the Echo Show 15 is not really meant to be wall mounted. Yet conversely if you don’t have a need for a wall-mounted option, pretty much any other Echo Show device still works to control your smart home, albeit with additional taps on screen, and it likely gives you better audio to boot.

I would also say this device is not for people that already use their voice for most of their smart home control. Any other Alexa speaker or screen device will give you that same control. This device is more for someone that wants that tangible touchscreen option… Yet at the same time it’s not really a good remote control because it has to be plugged in and is designed to be mounted to a wall.

At its best it should work as a central alarm management hub for Ring Alarm 2, except at the moment the only thing it is able to do is arm and disarm the system. There’s no viewing of your alarm components.

Speed concerns

One of the things I did become a bit concerned about after using the Hub for a couple of weeks is its speed. Navigating with the touchscreen can be quite sluggish taking anywhere from a couple of seconds to up to 8 seconds in rarer occasions to accomplish some tasks. Also, I found frequently it required several taps on some apps before anything would happen.

Overall review: Amazon Echo Hub

Overall I have to say I’m incredibly conflicted about this device. It seems to be bobbing aimlessly on a sea of Amazon gadgets looking for just the right port to dock in. I think for the right user with the right use case this will be a very handy device. However if you are simply evaluating this alongside more traditional Amazon speaker gadget and you don’t already have a specific reason for choosing the Echo Hub, you can opt out.

Let’s go over the pros and cons.

On the pro side the Hub is easy to set up, it’s got a nice streamlined design, and is perfect for wall mounting. It’s geared primarily at controlling smart home devices and uses presence sensing to decide whether to show a clock and photo screensaver or your smart home devices, and accomplishing this with no camera built into the hub, you don’t have to worry about privacy. The on screen interface is simple and uncluttered and makes it easy to find what you need.

On the downside, the audio quality is not going to be top of the line, but you can find plenty of Echo speakers that are, such as the Amazon Echo Studio, or even Echo Show 10. I also found the screen can sometimes be slow to react, and with some products the settings and options presented on screen are extremely limited.

Like I said if you know exactly what you want this for it will probably do what you need, if you’re hoping for a whole new Echo experience this might not be enough for you. But that’s why I like to share all the info and let you make your own decision.

They all new Amazon Echo Hub sells for about $179USD with the additional countertop stand costing $30. You can get it of course from Amazon.

While Amazon did provide me with an Echo Hub at no cost the company did not request or receive any input or approvals over the content so you can consider these thoughts mine.

**A note about Affiliate Links: TechGadgetsCanada & TechGadgetsInternational is supported by our readers. Occasionally I will include affiliate links in my reviews. I do this partly for convenience of the reader (since I’ll almost always include a link to the company website or similar anyway) in case you want to read more or purchase, but I also may get a small commission from the click, which helps me keep the blog running. If you choose to use this link I thank you greatly for supporting the blog. There’s no obligation or cost to you for using these links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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