I Turned My iPad Into a Smart Home Hub and Don’t Regret a Thing

I’ve long strived for smart home perfection (within a renter’s constraints). I’ve got Nanoleaf tiles, smart lightbulbs, Google Assistant speakers, and an Android TV, but the piece that ties it all together is… the 10th-gen iPad.

Yes, I turned a tablet into a glorified light switch. At $750, the iPad 10th gen, while not massively expensive compared to some other tablets, is an excellent smart home screen.

It mostly just sits next to my desk to control lights, check the weather, answer voice commands, and take 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 screens in particular were something I considered novel for a long time… until I saw it done right.

Tablets are the best smart home screens

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

For under $400, these screens offer the basics of a smart home. Calendar, time, weather, temperature, all the things you could cram into a tablet home screen with widgets.

These are all useful things, of course, and it’s nice to have them connected in your smart home as they’ve added visuals to your smart home, but these devices aren’t masters. They’re not particularly fast, they’re limited in their portability (as they’re rarely battery dependent), and they’re tied to the small suite of apps available on their platforms (usually streaming apps like Netflix and Disney+).

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

smart home tablet
The ability to change your display/home screen is also a considerable plus. (Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia)

It’s absolutely more expensive, but it’s worth it for the added benefits (although you should also consider the cost of a stand). Not only is this the top choice for users who prefer Apple’s iOS (or iPad OS in the case of the iPad), but its features are functionally much, much more comprehensive than the smart screens mentioned earlier.

I can literally do anything I can do on a smart screen on an iPad with much more freedom, with full access to the Apple App Store (assuming the apps are iPad compatible). Apple’s Homekit app also offers extensive functions for your lamps and connected systems.

And it’s no surprise that Google has recognized the benefits of using a tablet as a smart home display. The Pixel tablet, due to ship next year, has been shown to have an attachment that turns it into a smart home screen.

But let’s retract it. Where do these devices meet? With voice assistant.

smart home tablet
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Siri vs Google

In my tests between Siri on the iPhone 13 Mini and 10th-gen iPad against Google Assistant on the Nest and Google Pixel 7 Pro, Siri was often faster, but Google Assistant is still good at following directions.

Much of this is because Siri handles prompts locally on the iPhone and iPad, resulting in naturally faster speeds, while Google supports that if you have a Google Nest in your home internet. This means you don’t have to unlock your phone to turn the light on and off.

Google deserves some leeway here. Google Assistant often generates much deeper responses than Siri, especially when asking for information from around the web.

For this reason, I’m looking forward to the Pixel tablet and think that my problem with the smart home screen could be solved by most tablets. So that begs the question…

Which tablet makes the best smart home screen?

Depending on how much use you would get from your tablet, your price point will vary.

To me, the 9th-gen iPad makes the most sense at $549, a pretty decent price for a powerful tablet that’s still backed and sold by Apple. If you want this year’s 10th Gen model (which I’m using), it’s $749.

And of course there are cheaper iPads than these. Currently, the 5th through 10th generations of the standard iPad are supported by iOS 16, along with the 5th and 6th generation iPad mini. You could buy these devices second hand and they are perfectly capable of doing 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 comes down to what you want 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 buy a tablet instead.