Aqara Hub E1 review: a small but powerful hub for the smart home

Looking like a plug-in USB Wi-Fi adapter for a laptop, the Aqara Hub E1 packs a lot of smart home features into its little casing. At just 4.3 x 1.2 x 0.3 inches (LxWxH), it’s about one-tenth the size of the Aeotec Smart Home Hub. One of the smallest smart home hubs ever, it’s super easy to hide too.

Unlike other hubs that are square and have an AC adapter cable, the E1 is dominated by its integrated USB-A connector. Just plug it directly into a USB port or USB AC adapter and the hub will power up; there is no on / off switch. The E1 hub can rotate more than 180 degrees to point its internal antennas, but it does not come with a stand to sit upright or, as is the increasingly common case with smartphones, with its own AC adapter.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart home systems, where you will find reviews of competing offerings, as well as a buyer’s guide on the features to consider when purchasing this type of product.

It may be small, but the Hub E1 is powerful enough to consolidate the various devices of a smart home, but with a twist. An island of compatibility unto itself, the E1 works directly with dozens of Aqara Zigbee-based devices such as lights, switches, cameras, locks, and a variety of sensors. There are even devices for rolling and unrolling window curtains.

Aqara Hub E1 connected to a USB AC adapter Brian Nadel / IDG

On the downside, the hub doesn’t connect with generic smart home items. Instead, you need to set up an action with third-party software, like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple HomeKit, and then use the E1 hub to trigger that event. You can also create IFTTT applets. It’s a bit awkward but it works. The company is working with the Connectivity Standards Alliance’s Matter initiative to reinvent smart home hardware and software as something more universal.

The E1 relies on Wi-Fi to connect to the internet and lacks the wired Ethernet option provided by Aeotec Smart Home Hub. This allows it to be installed in the middle of a house or apartment for the best coverage, but the E1 works only with 2.4GHz networks and having a dual-band router can cause problems. It also lacks a battery backup and an LTE radio that would keep it going during a broadband outage.

When everything is connected and working, the E1’s small LED light is solid blue, but blinks when you don’t have a live internet connection. When it is ready to be configured, it flashes yellow.

Aqara Hub E1 Dimensions Aqara

Yes, the Aqara Hub E1 really is that small.

Inside the Aqara Hub E1

Manufactured by Lumi United Technologies in Shenzhen, China, it would be difficult to find a smaller smart home hub, but it can control up to 128 Zigbee devices.

Tip: If you have a dual-band router, turn off the 5 GHz band before doing anything else. The Hub E1 only works with 2.4 GHz signals and is sensitive to lost 5 GHz transmissions. When you have finished configuring the hub, you can turn the other radio on the router back on.

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