The Best Smart Home Security Systems
Until a few years ago, purchasing a monitored home security system meant an expensive professional installation and a hefty monthly fee. Now, there are a lot more options. These include self-installed systems that also offer full-time professional monitoring, as well as some that skip the monthly fee but leave you to do your own monitoring. And continuing advances in Internet-connected devices mean that rolling your own system is getting easier. We’ve rounded up some of the top alternatives for you.
SimpliSafe is a perennial favorite for a flexible, midrange home security solution. The components are reasonably priced, and monitoring services start at $15/month. However, if you want remote access and full control, you’ll need the $25/month plan, as the $15/month plan mimics a traditional local alarm system and doesn’t include cloud storage for video. SimpliSafe offers an impressive array of sensors, including entry, motion, water, and smoke detectors, and a satellite siren. Like many security vendors, SimpliSafe doesn’t have a full suite of camera offerings, at least not yet. They do have a video doorbell and a 1080p indoor camera. They’re only cloud-accessible, which always rubs me the wrong way, but seems to be an unfortunate trend. The system is pretty easy to install because it’s almost entirely wire-free, and the company can connect you with a professional installer if you prefer. (Read PCMag’s full review, or see it on SimpliSafe.)
Before IoT became a reality, a quality home security system meant having a professional installer from ADT or Brinks wire sensors all over your house, and then connect them via a dedicated phone line to a call center. While ADT has moved from requiring wires everywhere, its mostly wireless ADT Pulse system still requires professional installation. Component costs are also on the high-end for a residential system, and monitoring fees are higher than competitors like SimpliSafe. But ADT does have a solid brand name and reputation for service, including offering 24/7 customer support.
Like SimpliSafe, ADT Pulse is weak on cameras. In fact, it basically just resells Ring models. In my book, unless you love Ring for some reason, you’re better off keeping your video surveillance separate as it gives you more options that we’ll cover below. (Read PCMag’s full review, or check prices now.)
Blue by ADT
Perhaps as a direct response to SimpliSafe, ADT has come up with a similar offering under its Blue sub-brand. In fact, you could probably copy and paste most of our section on SimpliSafe here and be pretty close. [Please don’t do that, though. -Ed.] Unlike ADT Pulse, there are no contracts and no need for a professional installer. One nice differentiator is that you can do your own monitoring without any monthly subscription. (Read PCMag’s full review, or see it on ADT.)
If you’re looking at ADT Pulse or another professionally installed and monitored alternative, you might also want to consider Vivint. System pricing is similar to ADT, and monitoring is $39.99/month. The company offers a broad product line that optionally includes home automation and even vehicle security. (Read PCMag’s full review, or see it on Vivint.)
Ring Alarm by Amazon
Given Ring’s awful history on privacy, I’m personally not willing to have any of their devices around the house. But now that they are part of Amazon, they’ve cleaned things up at least a little, even if you’re still sharing your personal life with Amazon. That said, Ring gets high marks for its video doorbells, although its cameras generate a fair number of complaints about quality issues.
The company is now offering full self-installable security systems that build on its doorbells and cameras. It offers quite a wide range of sensors and components, including an announced semi-spooky security drone that can check out your house when you’re not home. It also features a very attractive $10/month professional monitoring subscription that includes cloud storage. Of course, Ring also integrates tightly with Amazon Alexa. So if you’re tied into either the Ring or Amazon ecosystem, this is a solid offering. (Read PCMag’s full review, or see it on Amazon.)
Video Surveillance Possibilities
There’s an unfortunate tension between proprietary security systems that keep your video locked up in their cloud — often without even storing full 24/7 recordings — and the wide variety of powerful, inexpensive cameras you can hook up to a NAS, PC, or even a DIY device based around a Raspberry Pi or Jetson Nano. So, while the security system cameras are ideal for chronicling specific events, and for the professional monitoring service to look through, they aren’t the best for giving you a long-term record of what has happened (or hasn’t happened) in and around your house. We give you some ideas on how to do that in our how-to article on the topic.
If you want to keep it really simple, you can get standalone, remotely viewable, cameras from companies like Wyze and Reolink. I haven’t used the Wyze units, but they look identical to ones I own from iSmartAlarm, which have worked well. You get some free cloud monitoring, although for longer videos you’ll either need to pay $1.25/month or use a microSD card. Wyze now also offers a security system. (Read PCMag’s full review, or see it on Amazon.)
We’ve covered Reolink’s Argus and Argus 2 before, as they are cost-effective, truly wireless, outdoor cameras that you can view remotely from their app. They neither need nor support the cloud, but for a simple peer-to-peer solution, they’re an excellent option. I tend to use them for temporary setups where I want to monitor a specific area for a period of time. (Read PCMag’s full review of the Argus 2, or see it on Amazon.)
The new Argus 3 adds a spotlight for color night video and of course for event-based lighting — putting it in competition with the similar, but much more expensive, Arlo product and service offering. We were hoping to have hands-on results from testing the Argus 3, but units aren’t available yet. We’ll update the article once we have one to test. And speaking of Arlo, the company previewed an impressive-looking suite of security system components at CES two years ago, but so far hasn’t brought it to market.