ProsOffers nearly unlimited automation options; very responsive; runs entirely on the user's local network
ConsEnormously complex to set up; no smartphone app
We're very lucky here at The Tech Buyer's Guru that after six years of writing about and reviewing tech, we occasionally get a sneak peak at something really special - not just new, but different, and potentially better than anything that's come before it. So we were very excited at the opportunity to try out the second-generation Elevation Hub from Smart Home startup Hubitat, which launched in early 2018 and has already fielded a very successful first-gen product. The new version of the Elevation Hub, which has yet to hit retail stores but is available direct from Hubitat as of this writing, takes all that Hubitat learned in its first hub and shrinks it down to a very small size, while infusing it with enhanced second-generation software as well.
But before we go into specifics of how the Elevation Hub performs, first we need to talk a bit about the market it's competing in, and how Hubitat intends to distinguish itself from its more established competitors. Broadly speaking, the Elevation is a Smart Home hub, but it's a bit of a hybrid in the sense that its roots are really in the home automation market, which has been around much longer than the Smart Home market, as in decades before anyone ever dreamt of using a smartphone to control their home. So in that sense, it's a bit different than the major players in the market, like Wink and Samsung SmartThings, which may in fact be a very good thing. Based on our informed opinion regarding the Smart Home market, we're pretty sure that Wink will be out of business within the next six months, and while SmartThings probably isn't going to disappear, thanks to Samsung's purchase of the company in 2014, we doubt Samsung is actually making any money off of product sales. Samsung was really more interested in the potential market for a connected home, which means refrigerators, TVs, and washing machines that come with much higher margins.
Hubitat is going after a very different market: the DIY technology enthusiast who values power, flexibility, and privacy above all else. The core components of Hubitat's software suite were originally developed as user-generated applications to run in the SmartThings ecosystem, which itself once catered to a very DIY crowd, although that certainly isn't Samsung's focus today. Ironically, while we're reviewing a slick piece of hardware here, Hubitat considers itself a software company first and foremost, and while the company is proud of its accomplishments on the hardware side, it wasn't the heavy lift. What all this means is that this review is really going to be more of a software review. We're intimately familiar with both of Hubitat's main competitors, having reviewed the Wink Hub 2 and the SmartThings Hub 3rd Gen, but trust us when we say that reviewing the Elevation was more complicated, in part because it can do so much more, and in part because it requires a lot more work on the part of the user to set up.
So, with that somewhat complicated backstory behind us, let's jump into our review of the Hubitat. Special thanks to Hubitat for providing us a sample before the Elevation became available on its website.
Description and Features
The Elevation measures a svelte 3" x 3" x 0.75", making it far, far smaller than any other Smart Home hub. For reference, we've photographed the Elevation sitting on top of Samsung's latest and smallest hub. The two don't even look like they belong in the same product class. Thus, the Elevation could be placed practically anywhere, but there's one big caveat: to save on both space requirements and the bill of materials, the Elevation has no WiFi capability. That means it's going to be on a short leash, within spitting distance of a network router or switch. While that does limit flexibility somewhat, we think it's a step in the right direction, as a well-designed Smart Home hub really shouldn't require WiFi to work - it just introduces another failure point. What a hub needs to get right is its low-power radios, and in this case, the 2nd-gen Elevation integrates both a Zigbee radio, as its predecessor did, along with a Z-Wave radio, which previously required an external USB stick. Because both of these technologies rely on mesh networking, all that really matters is that at least one device of each type is within range of the Elevation, and then the rest can piggyback off of the first link in the chain. Note that the Elevation does not have a Lutron ClearConnect radio, but can be linked to a Lutron bridge to enable use of Lutron's fantastic lineup of Caseta devices (Lutron makes the best light switches, remotes, and fan controls available on retail shelves). This is actually not unlike the SmartThings Hub; only Wink included Lutron's proprietary radio in its Smart Home hub.
Given all the news over the past few years about data privacy and security, the fact that Hubitat stores precisely zero user data should come as a relief (and perhaps a shock) to the average consumer. Hubitat's servers only act as relays for commands when operating the system remotely, and thus there's no cloud processing operating on the data. It's all happening on the Elevation. Note that if you're incorporating WiFi-based devices into your Smart Home network, you'll need to connect the Elevation to your online account, and this will of course rely on cloud servers to operate the devices. That means Alexa, obviously (as the voice processing is all done up in the cloud), but also control of thermostats, security cameras, and the like.
On the bottom of the Elevation you just see the venting required to keep the circuitry cool, along with the label. The rear of the device has the Ethernet port and micro-USB port for power. There's no reset button, nor even a USB port (the previous-gen model required USB for its external Z-Wave transmitter, but of course that's been integrated here). By the way, retail versions of the Elevation will in fact have a serial number; our pre-release model simply had a MAC address.
With that broad context out of the way, let's get into the experience of actually using the Elevation.