Having a smart home, or β more accurately β a home with some smart products in it, can be extremely cool. You command the lights on and they turn on. You ask for the weather forecast and you hear it. You want to watch Stranger Things Season 2 on your TV, or sync music across all your rooms, or turn down the temperature β boom, it's done.
The rub? You've got to install all that stuff. Worse, a lot of that gear is expensive, so often it's a case of buying one thing at a time, gradually piecing a smart home together over the course of months β or years.
Read this: The best smart home hubs
Smart home company Vivint has a different proposal, and it's somewhat old school. Instead of offering a bunch of products you buy separately, the company offers big old packages for you to purchase.
The starter kit is $599.99, and comes with a touchscreen panel that acts as your hub, two window and door sensors, two Google Home Minis and a motion sensor. On top of that, you'll pay $39.99 per month for security monitoring. Plus, there are the add-ons.
You can choose to add in Vivint's outdoor and indoor security cameras, its video doorbell or its lock collaboration with Kwikset. Should you get those cameras or video doorbell, there's a $9.99 per month subscription for 30-day storage. Vivint also offers a local hard drive to back up your video should you lose internet connection for whatever reason.
Plus, there are carbon monoxide and window shattering sensors. Vivint doesn't make everything though, so you can also get some third-party products, like a Nest Thermostat or Google Wi-Fi added into your package. Vivint is vying to be a whole-home smart home solution, and it recently gave my own home the Vivint makeover. Here's how I got on.
Once we got my package sorted, Vivint put me on a call with Jonathan, the Vivint Pro who would be installing my system. Vivint Pros aren't local companies that acquire certification with Vivint, like a Nest Pro. They're Vivint employees and get Vivint training.
Normally, the Pro would come to your home and walk around. They'd scout what was possible to install in your home and walk you through all your options. On the call, he had me explain my home's layout, how many square feet it was and how many doors and windows I had. We also discussed larger issues, like my home owners' association.
We quickly figured out that I wouldn't be able to install everything because I'd need to get approval for some things from the association. Out goes the outdoor cam, door lock and video doorbell. I wanted the Nest Thermostat installed, but I wasn't sure if my system was compatible. Jonathan said when he arrived he'd be able to check.
Yeah, we got to know each other pretty well, which was great because the entire process took about five hours.
About a week later, Jonathan came to visit carrying a box filled with smart home goodies. As he opened each box, he walked me through what the device was and where he would install it. He explained to me that the way that Vivint works is that the hub, that touchscreen panel, would need to be placed centrally compared to the other devices, as they use Z-Wave and he wanted to make sure they talked to each other.
Jonathan methodically installed things piece by piece. First came the window and door sensors, then he mounted the motion sensor, then he mounted a glass-shatter sensor. He installed Vivint's indoor smart cam and the associated hard drive as local storage.
Then he went and took out my old thermostat, rewired a couple of things and got the Nest Thermostat up and running. All the while, he'd tell me exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it. He would even ask me for final say on where I wanted to place some things. He made it clear that if there was anything I was iffy about, he wouldn't do it.
Also, he was extremely personable. Jonathan turned out to be a hardcore techy and Google fan, thrilled that Vivint was giving out two Google Minis in their new packages. He was a pretty big Nintendo fan too, which he revealed on noticing my Switch. Yeah, we got to know each other pretty well, which was great because the entire process took about five hours.
That's right, five hours. Jonathan told me it can sometimes take six to eight hours, depending on how extensive an installation process a home needs. Naturally, Vivint wants to install everything in a day so that you have a full smart home experience ready to go, rather than a piecemeal system that's incomplete.
Living with Vivint
Once that was all installed, Jonathan walked me through every single feature of the Vivint ecosystem. I learned how to arm and disarm the system using the panel, my phone and a web browser. I connected my Google Home and learned how to use that with the Vivint system, and he even walked me through secret Vivint features β like the silent alarm. Yes, if you happen to be held up in your home and a burglar wants you to disarm the system fully, there's a way to secretly alert the police while pretending to disarm the alarm.
Because Vivint's system routes directly to 911 call centres, you may need some documentation in certain counties. I had no clue about this, but Jonathan explained that if some government bod came knocking, I should just call up Vivint and it would take care of it. When Vivint says it has a full-service smart home system, it seems to mean it.
Once the exhaustive setup process was done, I was living with Vivint, and that felt a lot more familiar. Individually, I had used devices like these before. The indoor cam functions like most other indoor cams, the sensors alert me to movement in my home and things like smart plugs and garage door openers allow me to control my home with the power of Google Assistant integration (there's also Alexa integration but I didn't connect it).
Where Vivint feels different is that it's pulling all these things together in a giant security blanket. There's something about having your entire home covered that feels right. I don't have to worry about adding sensors or buying another piece of smart home tech down the road because I already have everything I need.
Vivint's system is more than the sum of its parts.
I didn't have to think about anything, and a lot of that is down to Vivint's hub and companion app, which includes a smart assistant that keeps track of all your connected devices and will do things automatically. For instance, it started sensing when I leave home and automatically shifted the home into Away mode, which tells my thermostat to turn off and switches off the lights. It also lets me know, so I could arm the system if I wanted.
When I return home, my house comes alive again, getting the thermostat ready. It won't automatically disarm the system though, for security reasons β I have to do that myself.
The individual Vivint pieces aren't going to blow you away. They're actually kind of ugly and competitors have better products. For instance, other indoor security cameras have facial recognition and Vivint's doesn't. However, Vivint's system is more than the sum of its parts.
For people who want a smart home but don't want to go through buying individual pieces and putting them all together, there's a comfort here. It feels like someone is taking care of you, tucking you into bed with some warm milk and cookies. Sure, they're extremely expensive milk and cookies and a good amount of people are better off doing their own thing if they're on a budget, but if you've got the money, it's a really good way to build your smart home.