I turned my iPad into a Smart Home Hub and don’t regret a thing

I turned my iPad into a Smart Home Hub and don’t regret a thing

For a long time I’ve been aiming for smart home perfection (within the constraints of being a renter). I have Nanoleaf tiles, smart bulbs, Google Assistant speakers and an Android TV, but the piece that brings it all together is… the 10th generation iPad.

Yes, I’ve turned a tablet into a glorified light switch. At $750, while not terribly expensive compared to some other tablets, the 10th generation iPad is a fantastic smart home display.

It pretty much just sits there, next to my desk, to control lights, check the weather, respond to voice commands, and receive video calls. But it has the added benefit of portability and the entire app storeincluding social media apps, games and so many other things not available on smart home screens.

Smart home displays in particular were something I considered a novelty for a long time…until I saw it done right.

Tablets make the best smart home screens

Let’s run through the competition: the $349 Google Nest Hub Max, or the $399 Echo Show 15, for example.

At under $400, these displays offer basic of a smart home. Calendars, time, weather, temperature, everything you can put on a tablet home screen with widgets.

Of course, these are all useful things and it’s nice to have them connected in your smart home as they add visual elements to your smart home, but these devices are no masters. They’re not terribly fast, they’re limited in terms of portability (as they’re rarely battery dependent), and they’re locked into the small suite of apps available on their platforms (usually streaming apps like Netflix and Disney+).

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Meanwhile, at Apple, the closest thing to a smart home screen is the iPad, which you can buy on Amazon for $449, or from Apple for $549.

smart home for tablets
The ability to change the screen/home screen is also a big plus. (Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia)

It’s more expensive, sure, but for the added benefits, it’s well worth it (though you should factor in the price of a stand, too). Not only is this the choice for users who prefer Apple’s iOS (or in the case of the iPad, iPad OS), but its features are functionally much, much deeper than any of the smart displays mentioned earlier.

I can do literally anything I can do on a smart screen on an iPad with much greater freedom, with full access to the Apple App Store (provided the apps are iPad compatible). Apple’s Homekit app also has deep functionality for your lights and connected systems.

And it’s no surprise that the benefits of using a tablet as a smart home screen have come to Google. The Pixel tablet, which is expected to ship next year, has been shown to have an attachment that allows it to become a smart home screen.

But let’s pull that back. Where do these units come face to face? With voice assistant.

smart home for tablets
Photo: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Siri vs Google

In my testing between Siri on iPhone 13 Mini and 10th generation iPad against Google Assistant on Nest and Google Pixel 7 Pro, Siri was often faster, but Google Assistant is still good at following instructions.

Much of this is because Siri processes requests locally on the iPhone and iPad, resulting in naturally faster speeds, while Google has support for this if you have a Google Nest on your home network. Having this also means you don’t have to unlock your phone to turn the lights on and off.

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Google deserves some leeway here. Google Assistant often gives much deeper answers than Siri, especially when you ask for information from the internet.

For this reason I am excited about the Pixel tablet and I think the smart home screen problem can be solved by most tablets. So this begs the question…

Which tablet is the best smart home screen?

Depending on how much use you want to get out of the tablet, your prices vary.

To me, the 9th generation iPad makes the most sense at $549, a pretty good price point for a powerful tablet still supported and sold by Apple. If you want this year’s model, the 10th generation (what I use), it will set you back $749.

And of course there are cheaper iPads than these. Currently, the 5th generation to 10th generation of the standard iPad is supported by iOS 16, along with the iPad Mini 5th generation and 6th generation. You can pick up these units used and they have been perfectly capable of what I am describing.

Additionally, there are Android tablets worth checking out, including the Oppo Pad Air ($379) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite ($549). For the most part, it all comes back to what you’re trying to achieve with your smart home and your budget.

But I hope I’ve convinced you to maybe not consider a smart home screen and just get a tablet instead.

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