The best home security systems of 2020: Live monitoring, DIY kits, video doorbells and more

17 Sep, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


ring-security-3

Chris Monroe/CNET

The home security industry is booming after a decade or so of app-enabled upheaval. There’s a new wave of less expensive DIY systems, cameras, smart locks and video doorbells to consider alongside the professional alarm and monitoring system options that have been around for decades. Big names in tech like Amazon and Google want a part of the action, too.

It’s admittedly quite a bit to take in — and today’s home security providers don’t necessarily always make it easy to comparison shop, to say the least. 

That’s where we come in, though — not only by putting these systems and their best features to the test at the CNET Smart Home, but by evaluating the whole buying process, as well. We look at other important factors, too — including the privacy concerns that come with filling your house with cloud-connected cameras. 

So, are you ready to set up a base station, install that window sensor and door sensor, and connect your doorbell camera to an alarm monitoring service or home security company? Keep reading for our breakdown of the best home security systems that we’ve tested to date, including DIY home security systems you can install yourself, professionally installed systems that promise to automate your whole home, and standalone gadgets like video doorbells, too.

Best home security system we’ve tested

Best DIY system SimpliSafe $230 upfront Monitoring starts at $15 per month, $25 per month to include mobile app controls and integration with Alexa. See it online
Best professional installation system Comcast Xfinity Home $99 upfront Monitoring costs $40 per month during the first year, $50 per month after that; bundling discounts available with TV and internet. See it online
Best video doorbell Nest Hello $230 upfront Continuous recording starting at $5 per month. See it online
Best for part-time monitoring Abode $299 upfront Monitoring available for $20 per month. See it online

Install-it-yourself systems

If a professionally installed security system from alarm companies or Brinks Home Security sounds like overkill, then you can save a lot of money by buying a system that you install yourself. For my money, systems like these offer some of the best value for your home security dollar.

You’re not missing out on much in terms of functionality. Though professionally installed security systems might offer a fancier keypad or touchscreen control panel, the rest of the hardware is largely the same as what you’ll get if you go the DIY installation route, relying mostly on wireless, battery-powered sensors that you stick up around your house. Just keep in mind that while DIY home security systems will deter intruders, they typically won’t offer as many integrations with things like carbon monoxide detectors, smart lights or your smart thermostat.

When DIY alarm systems first started popping up as a low-cost alternative to going with the pros, few, if any, came with an option for professional monitoring or customer service. That’s no longer the case. Most DIY security systems now offer the option of professional monitoring — and most of them charge less for professional monitoring than the professional installation security providers do, too. Automation and smart home devices have helped lower the overhead cost for monitoring services like those, and some of those savings get passed on to you. And the fact that most DIY systems don’t require any sort of service contract — just a Wi-Fi network and maybe some cloud storage — is another nice part of the pitch.

Chris Monroe/CNET

SimpliSafe’s easy-to-install, easy-to-use security system is well-positioned as the best home security system when it comes to value. It offers a comprehensive set of features, security cameras and a very good mix of battery-powered sensors, all of which performed reliably well in our tests. Starter kits begin at about $230, or you can build your own custom system with the exact mix of devices you’re interested in.

Professional monitoring starts at $15 per month, but you’ll almost certainly want to spring for the $25-per-month plan, which adds in things like mobile app controls and voice support via Alexa and the Google Assistant. That also means that you should go with another pick like Abode or Ring if you don’t want professional monitoring via a monitoring station but still want to control your system from a smartphone app. Overall CNET score: 8.5

Read full review.

Something else to keep an eye out for: All-in-one DIY security devices designed for smaller homes and living spaces. Basically, just single-point, tabletop cameras packed with extra motion detectors and sensors for things like temperature and ambient light, these devices can be a good fit for something like a studio apartment that doesn’t have a garage door or many street windows to protect.

Names to look at include Canary, Honeywell and the Abode Iota — though our favorite of the bunch, Piper, is no longer on the market after Alarm.com purchased its parent company in 2016. If we find another alternative that we like as much as we liked that one, I’ll update this space.

Abode’s excellent DIY system is well worth consideration.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Other options we’ve tested

Our top SimpliSafe alternative, Abode’s well-thought-out security system supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave, it works with Alexa, IFTTT and Nest, and it recently spruced up its integration with the Google Assistant, too. The real point of appeal, though, is that Abode offers lots of flexibility with regard to professional monitoring — including the option of only paying for temporary monitoring during the times when you’re actually out of town. No long-term contract required. Overall CNET score: 8.3

Read full review.

This DIY installation option from Google-owned Nest works great, but the upfront cost of $399 is much higher than the competition. It’s a decent security system, but really only worth it if you’re looking to lock yourself into a Google smart home ecosystem. Overall CNET score: 7.2

Read full review.

A subsidiary of Amazon, Ring’s Alarm security kit is quick to install and easy to use. Aside from a new “Works with Ring” program to bring compatible smart locks and other third-party gadgets into the fold, there’s nothing all that innovative about it, though Amazon Alexa users will appreciate the two-way voice feature, that they can arm and disarm the system using voice commands and that they can use Ring’s sensors to trigger Amazon Alexa routines.

With a buy-in cost of $199 and professional monitoring available for just $10 per month, Ring Alarm stands out as a value pick — but consistent privacy concerns about Ring’s failure to protect user data and its controversial collaboration with police organizations stop us well short of recommending it. Overall CNET score: 7.5

Read full review.

Professionally installed systems

These are the mainstays of home security — security monitoring company names like ADT and Brinks that you’ve probably been familiar with for years, along with home security systems offered by major telecom providers like Comcast and AT&T.

The pitch is pretty similar across the board. In addition to basics like motion sensors, window sensors and door sensors, these kinds of professional installations will also promise to cut back on false alarms to the monitoring center and seamlessly integrate things like door locks, cameras, keypads, thermostats, carbon monoxide detectors and touchscreens. And they’ll often support voice controls via Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant, too. Most charge an upfront equipment or installation fee and most require multiyear service contracts. As for the monthly fee for professional monitoring, those are mandatory and will typically range from $30 to $50 per month.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

It isn’t available in all regions (check for local availability), but Comcast Xfinity Home left us impressed when CNET Senior Editor Josh Goldman tested the system out at his home in northern New Jersey. It’s a robust, well-thought-out security system that plays nicely with your smart home gear, including longtime favorites like Lutron Caseta light switches and the Nest thermostat. “What Xfinity Home showed me,” Josh wrote, “was how smart home devices make much more sense when fully integrated with the sensors and cameras of a home security system.”

You’ll get the best value if you’re willing to bundle Xfinity Home with Comcast’s internet and TV service, but you can use it as a standalone service, too. I also appreciated that the sales approach was less pushy and more helpful than the competition when I gave them a test call (I was able to get a quote for my home in about 10 minutes, and the only piece of personal info I gave was a zip code). Overall CNET score: 8.5

Read full review.

High-end systems like these will sometimes make it tough to comparison shop between companies. For instance, head to ADT’s website and you’ll find plenty of marketing copy touting the value of the security company’s various home security offerings and customer service — but you won’t find much by way of pricing specifics. Instead, the site directs you to request a “free quote,” either by calling the security company’s sales team or by submitting your name, zip code, phone number and email address. Doing the latter ensures that an ADT customer service specialist “will call you, from time to time, about ADT offers.” Read the fine print, and you’ll see that these calls are “provided” using “automated dialing technology.”

Mind you, the alarm company is hardly alone here. Some are less egregious about it than others, but you’ll find similar tactics — and similar fine print — on just about every website for professionally installed alarm systems like these. If the website is unclear about what a system built for your home would cost you, then your best bet is just to call the security company directly, tell them what kind of setup you’d like and ask for a quote.

Your experience might vary based on the salesperson you’re speaking with. For instance, when I first tried calling ADT, the salesperson told me that he couldn’t give me a quote without running a credit check first. I politely ended the conversation and called back another day, and had a much better experience with a salesperson who priced a core system for me within 10 minutes, no credit check or other exchange of personal info needed.

Shopping for a pro system

Base upfront cost Monthly cost Contract length How long it took me to get that info when I called What personal data I had to give to get it
ADT $129 ($229 for a system with a doorbell camera) $47 ($67 for a system with a doorbell camera) 3-year First attempt wouldn’t give a quote without a credit check, second attempt took 10 minutes None
AT&T Digital Life $550 installation fee $40 2-year Easily available on the website None
Brinks $399 installation fee $29 3-year Easily available on the website None
Comcast Xfinity Home $99 installation fee (waived if bundled with TV and internet) $40 for first year, then $50 ($175 if bundled with TV and internet) 2-year 10 minutes ZIP code
Vivint $99 installation fee $40 plus financed cost of devices (for a bare-bones setup, about $10 per month for 60 months) None 17 minutes None

Whoever you end up calling, don’t be afraid to put your foot down over your own privacy. Companies that use robocalls and junk mail as a sales tactic don’t have a right to your address or other personal info until they’ve earned your business, full stop.

That caveat aside, the advantage with alarm systems like these is that professionals will come to your place to install everything for you, and you can typically expect a higher level of hands-on tech support and customer service if you ever want to make changes to your setup, too. Pick a professional system from a telecom provider and you’ll likely be able to bundle your home security with your TV or internet service. That’s a convenience that can also help you score a discount.

vivint-smart-home-2

Vivint’s system works well, but the equipment doesn’t come cheap.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Other options we’ve tested

Vivint is a solid security system that worked well when we tested it out, but the equipment is a bit expensive. A basic starter kit with the mandatory touchscreen control panel, a motion sensor and two entry sensors retails for $599, which you can pay upfront or spread out over 60 months. Want to add cameras to help eliminate false alarms? Each one will add an extra $5 to your bill each month, in addition to the extra equipment cost. One nice thing with Vivint: No contracts. Overall CNET score: 7.6

Read full review.

It isn’t cheap, but we liked this sleek security system and the fact that straightforward pricing specifics were available online. Our service professionals made sure to optimize the strength of signal for each device in our setup during the installation — a nice touch that helped make the pro approach feel worthwhile. Overall CNET score: 8.3

Read full review.

Video doorbells

If you don’t need an entire security system, and instead just want to keep an eye on activity at your front door, then you might consider installing a video doorbell to keep watch.

Read more: The best video doorbells of 2020

You’ve got lots of options right now, and thanks to automation, all will send real-time alerts via a Wi-Fi connection or cellular connection to your cell phone or smart device whenever someone rings to show you who’s at the door. Some also track for unexpected motion or allow for two-way audio — and we’re seeing lots of new options that are capable of recognizing faces, too. That includes our top pick:

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Nest’s stylish video doorbell is a smart, sleek pick that aced our tests. Features like person detection and geofencing are helpful and easy-to-use, and you can also upgrade to the Nest Aware cloud subscription service to enable facial recognition and access to saved recordings.

It’s obviously best for households that have already committed to Google and Nest’s smart home ecosystem, but Nest’s doorbell also works with both Alexa and IFTTT, which helps make it a very solid choice for just about anyone. Overall CNET score: 8.5

Read our Nest Hello review.

Prices for doorbells like these typically range from about $100 to $250 and most also charge an optional fee for viewing saved video clips. To pick one, first, figure out if your front door has a hardwired doorbell connection or if you’ll need something battery-powered. Then, consider features — for instance, do you keep a porch light on at night, or will you need something with night vision?

From there, think about which smart home platforms you want your doorbell to work with. On that front, you’ll find lots of options that work with Alexa and plenty that work with IFTTT, and with Google and Nest, too. Siri is still playing catch-up, though — the only HomeKit-compatible video doorbell we’ve gotten our fingers on thus far is the Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell, which debuted at CES this past January.

Comparing smart doorbells

August View Doorbell Camera Ring Video Doorbell 2 Ring Video Doorbell Pro Nest Hello Video Doorbell
Price $230 $199 $249 $229
Color finish Black, red, white, blue, brass, satin nickel, midnight gray, bronze Satin nickel, venetian (both finishes included with purchase) Satin nickel, venetian, satin black, pearl white White and black
Power source Removable, rechargeable battery Hardwired or removable, rechargeable battery Hardwired Hardwired
Resolution 1,920×1,440p HD 1,920x1080p HD 1,920x1080p HD 1,600×1,200p HD
Field of view No information 160 degrees 160 degrees 160 degrees
Live streaming Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cloud storage Yes, free basic plan, plus 15-day storage for $3 per month and 30-day storage for $5 per month Yes, 60-day storage for $3 per month Yes, 60-day storage for $3 per month Yes, free 3-hour image history; continuous recording starting at $5 per month
Local storage No No No No
Mobile app Android and iPhone Android and iPhone Android and iPhone Android and iPhone
Web app No Yes Yes Yes
Night vision Yes Yes Yes Yes
Alerts Motion Motion Motion Motion, person, facial recognition (with Nest Aware)
Activity zones No Yes Yes Yes (with Nest Aware)
Dimensions (HxWxD) 5.2×1.8×1.3 inches 5.1×2.5×1.1 inches 4.5×1.9×0.8 inches 4.6×1.7×1.0 inches
Third-party integrations Alexa; Google Assistant; Nest Alexa; IFTTT; Wink Alexa; IFTTT; Wink Alexa; Google Assistant; Nest
Operating temperature range -4 to 122 degrees F -5 to 120 degrees F -5 to 120 degrees F 14 to 104 degrees F

Many of the major home security systems now offer video doorbells of their own, and some offer compatibility with standalone video doorbells and keypads like these, too. Keep that in mind if you think you might want to expand to a full system later on down the line.

Oh, and want more tips on picking out the right video doorbell? CNET’s Megan Wollerton has you covered.

ring-video-doorbell-two-2

Ring makes a variety of popular video doorbells, but the company faces nagging privacy concerns over its controversial data-sharing collaborations with police organizations. And, according to reports, thousands of Ring customers recently had their account information exposed. We don’t recommend any of the company’s products at this point.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Other options we’ve tested

One of your newer options, the August View looks great and the DIY installation was wonderfully easy, but the mobile app was annoyingly laggy whenever we’d try to view the live feed. That’s the last thing you want if someone’s in the process of nabbing a package off of your porch. Overall CNET score: 7.1

Read full review.

Smart outdoor lighting

Lots of us use motion-activated lights on our porch or outside our garage door — and though there’s plenty of debate as to whether or not exterior lighting can actually help deter a burglary, most experts agree that it can help play a role when used correctly. If you’re thinking about upgrading to something a little smarter than that cheap porch light, you’ve got a couple of options worth considering.

Chris Monroe/CNET

For the most part, I think that Philips Hue’s outdoor lights are overpriced and really only worth it if you’re willing to splurge. That said, I really liked the Philips Hue Outdoor Sensor, which you can get for less than $50. Stick it up anywhere you like outside, and it’ll track motion, temperature and ambient light conditions. You can use that info to trigger your Hue lights, and also to trigger any Apple HomeKit gadgets under your roof. 

I wish that the Hue team offered a better variety of practical outdoor lights that don’t break the bank, as well as lights with motion sensors of their own — but if you’ve already bought in, or if you’re using Apple HomeKit-compatible lights, then the Hue Outdoor Sensor is definitely worth a look.

Read more on CNET.

Ry Crist/CNET

If you use Alexa to control the smart lights in your home, then you should consider trying out Alexa Guard, a relatively new home security mode with a couple of neat tricks. After turning Guard Mode on in the Alexa app’s settings, just say, “Alexa, I’m leaving” as you walk out the door to activate it. From there, Alexa will cycle your lights on and off to make it look like you’re home — and you’ll also get a notification if your Echo speakers hear the sound of an alarm, or broken glass.

Don’t have an Alexa smart lighting setup yet? Right now, you can get a third-gen Echo Dot bundled with a two-bulb Sengled starter kit for just $67, which is a pretty good deal.

Read more on CNET.

More smart home recommendations 





Source link