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I had the Aqara M3 Hub ($129.99) has been running for several months as it was a prerequisite for the new Aqara ceiling light I wrote a review last month. Aqara is positioning the M3 as part of a new class of brand-specific hubs that can function as multi-hubs—that is, they could be the only hub in your home and the only smart home app on your phone. Competing with giant multi-hubs like Google, Alexa, SmartThings, and Apple HomeKit is a lofty goal, especially because the integrations don’t yet support that goal like other brand-specific hubs. You can add almost anything to Google or Alexa, either through those apps themselves or through an integration like IFTTT or Zapier.

However, M3 is currently intended for Aqara products and can support any other Matter-enabled device. While many devices come with Matter these days, there are still some weaknesses in relying on Matter rather than a device’s native application, so leaving the other apps out may not be ideal. It probably doesn’t matter whether I recommend M3 or not—for some Aqara devices, it’s practically required. However, I would suggest you hold off on trying to make it your multi-hub.

Aqara M3 Hub

All wireless protocols included in the M3

The M3 does its best to be everything to everything, including every wireless protocol: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Matter, Thread (as a border router), infrared, and Power over Ethernet under the hood. (The only standard I didn’t see was Z-Wave, an older standard on par with Zigbee.) The hub is powered via USB-C or PoE, which gives you a bit more flexibility than most hubs that are only powered by USB. The hub is a simple 5-inch by 5-inch square puck that can be wall-mounted or hidden with all the other hubs you already own. (I can’t be the only person who has a hub for hubs hidden somewhere.) Since I own an Aqara G3 hub, the puck was a bit of a disappointment, as it was just a hub with no extra features. I’m really charmed by brands that figure out how to make hubs so useful that you’d rather leave them outside than hide them. By comparison, the G3 ($109.99) is a clever pan-and-tilt indoor security camera (with a design that some may think of as a cat), and SwitchBot has turned its Hub 2 ($69.99) into a clock, thermometer, and hygrometer. Also, the G3 and Hub 2 were both cheaper than the single-focus M3. The only thing that comes close is the M3’s ability to act as an alarm or push notifications through a speaker.

One aspect of all the protocols supported here is the built-in IR transceiver. This means the M3 can support heat pumps, air conditioners, and more. The app for the hub, which walks you through setup using this feature, already has this support built in. I was impressed that I could control most aspects of my air conditioner or heater through the app. I would keep the native app for fine-tuning, but I would make do with the Aqara M3 functionality, and that meant I could include these devices in automations. I haven’t seen any other hub with this feature.

Connect Matter devices to other ecosystems

Like other branded hubs, you can connect the Aqara hub to your Google Home, Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and any other major ecosystem. You’re limited to four additional ecosystems, which probably won’t limit anyone anytime soon, and it won’t connect devices connected via IR, only via Matter. This way, you can access the connected devices from the other ecosystem like Google or Alexa. So if you pair a sensor with the M3 hub via Matter, you can connect the M3 to Google Home and see that sensor in Google Home. It’s like creating a solar system and the Aqara hub and all the devices on it are one planet. The predictable problem is this: If you’ve had issues with devices going offline occasionally in your hub, you know you’ll have to go to the native app to fix the problem. So now you’ve added another step because you’ll have to go through Google Home, Aqara, and the native app, which you’ll probably have to keep handy on your phone for such cases. Also keep in mind that you get limited functionality for devices linked through Matter, and Matter doesn’t support all platforms yet. You can turn lights on and off, but you can’t do nuanced configurations of those lights that might be available in the native app. I have a number of these hubs around the house: a Brilliant wall hub, SmartThings itself, and SwitchBot, all of which can link to devices through Matter, but what’s the point if you have Google Home or Apple HomeKit? If you happen to have a large number of Aqara devices, that might make sense – or if you’re a Home Assistant user, where Matter brings everything to your Home Assistant interface.

The M3 supports hub clustering

If this concept is new to you, it was to me too. If you already have hubs for Aqara products, this new M3 hub will merge them all into one network and take the lead on that network. It will try to inherit all the automations and actions assigned to the previous hubs, and by keeping those previous hubs, you’ll create a stronger network, so you don’t necessarily need to keep your hub near the Aqara product – they’d be spread out. It’s an interesting concept, because I want to get rid of hubs, not keep them. I’d normally replace a previous hub with an upgraded one. Again, if you could get by with Aqara as your only multi-hub, this would be a nice feature that works a little like mesh WiFi. Even more impressive, the support offered through the app when setting this up really helped me by explaining each step and what would happen specifically to my devices. This process migrates data from the original hubs and then resets them so they become part of the network.

Conclusion: The hardware is promising

To be completely honest, I don’t like brand-specific hubs because they tend to be best suited for that brand’s devices, and I’m not a huge loyalist (my devices are from a hundred different brands). It makes sense to build a hub with a voice assistant and tons of integrations with my main multi-hub. Still, I was impressed with the M3, not just in itself, but for what it says about Aqara’s future—they’re trying to be a competitive player in the smart space. While Aqara makes a lot of devices, the heart of the operation are all of their sensors, which ultimately underpin all of the products they make. If you use a lot of their sensors as triggers for automations, it certainly makes sense to use an Aqara hub for those automations. While Aqara has packed a lot into its little hardware puck, I’d still like to see additional features to make it worth keeping open rather than hidden—and at a more competitive price. However, if you need to buy the hub to get an Aqara device to work, I wouldn’t worry about the price. I think the future looks bright for hardware like the M3 hub.

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