Smart alarms: The best home security system

Buying guide: Beef up your security with these top connected systems

The best smart home security alarm systems
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Home security systems used to involve getting a specialist company in, wiring up smart sensors on all your windows and doors and having a ugly-as-heck flashing box stuck on the outside of your house. A box that also annoyed your neighbors when it went off, accidentally, in the middle of the night.

While there is still a need for some people to choose a professionally-installed setup, the smart home revolution has brought with it a plethora of DIY systems that are great for home security.

Not only do these systems look better (in most cases, at least) and come easier to install, they also do the "smart" part: smartphone notifications when sensors get triggered, integrations with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, and so on.

Whether you want to build a system piece by piece or buy a comprehensive package to turn your humble abode into your personal Fort Knox, there's something out there for you.


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Smart home security systems: Reviewed

Testing smart home alarm systems obviously takes a fair bit of time and effort. However, we've been living with these top systems detailed below, so we're confident that we can deliver a comprehensive verdict and make our recommendations.


The best smart home security alarm system

Best smart security system: SimpliSafe

Buy now: Amazon, simplisafe.com | From $249

SimpliSafe prides itself on being, well, absurdly simple – and absolutely delivers. Not only in use, but installation: each piece of the system, including the base station, keypad, motion sensors and door and window sensors, has a pull tab. Simply pull it out to activate the device.

You do have to activate everything systematically, but there's no companion app to worry about. And once everything's alive, you just head to SimpliSafe's website to activate your service.

All of the individual parts run off batteries (with five years worth of power) and come with adhesive pads on them, so you're going to be sticking a lot of things to your wall.

For $24.99 a month you'll get 24/7 live monitoring, a cellular connection for your Simplify devices to keep them connected, environmental monitoring, the ability to arm the system from anywhere, smartphone alerts, secret alerts, video alarm verification, unlimited camera recording and smart home integrations. There's also a $14.99-per-month plan that just has 24/7 live monitoring, cellular connection, and environmental monitoring.

Like other monitoring services they keep an eye out and if an alarm does go off your local first responders will be dispatched immediately. Actually using the system is pretty straightforward. There's a keypad, which you can take off the mount that you stick to the wall, to use the system in three modes: Off, Home and Away.

The most basic SimpliSafe system comes with a single motion detector and an entry sensor on top of the base station and keypad. However, there are several other packages, which get more comprehensive with price – or just build a custom package from scratch. You can add on things like water leak sensors, glass breaking sensors, CO2 detectors, and fire alarms.

There's also a downside, though. The app isn't the best; there seems to be a definite lag between actions in the app and how your security system works. But the app has beneficial features too, like specifying the time limit for how long you have to leave your home when the system is activated, or how long you have to enter the pin when you get home.

There are a lot of options when it comes to buying SimpliSafe. The bundles start at $229, but quickly rise as you add sensors and cameras. More recently, SimpliSafe has added a smart lock and a video doorbell.

What we love

  • Simple to set up
  • Extensive features
  • Versatile

What we don't love

  • Slow app
  • Integrations easy to miss
  • Can get pricey

Read our full SimpliSafe security system review.


The best smart home security alarm system

Best value system: Abode

Buy now: Amazon, goabode.com | From $199

Abode has two versions: the Essentials Gateway (2nd gen), which costs $249 but can be found for as little as $199; and the Iota, which is an all-in-one system that includes a camera for $269.

Abode also doubles as a decent smart home hub. It not only integrates with Alexa, Google Assistant, Nest, Philips Hue, Ecobee and Lifx, but you can connect up to 160 Zigbee and Z-Wave devices to it – including locks, lights and sensors. Abode's automation engine lets you sync up your security system to other smart home devices and easily create smart home routines.

Whichever hub you choose – Essentials or Iota – you'll use the same app, and setup and installation is also the same. Plug the hub into power, connect the Ethernet cable to your router, and download the Abode app. Once you’ve signed up, enter the activation key that comes with the device and pair the included sensors to the system. Both the Gateway and Iota come with a key fob and one door/window contact sensor.

The Gateway also includes a standalone motion sensor (Iota has one built in). There’s no camera with the Gateway, but you can purchase one separately.

Mounting the devices was easy in our testing. The door/window sensor is pre-fitted with double-sided tape velcro mounts, making it easy to remove the device without taking the paint off (great for renters), while the motion sensor has double-sided tape that makes it easy to put it in a corner without hardware.

One of the system's best features is its flexible monitoring; you can self-monitor for free (without losing any functionality), or you can get on-demand professional monitoring security packages; for three days ($8) or seven days ($15). Nicely, these plans don’t auto-renew, they just expire when the time is up. There are also monthly and annual plans on offer, and you can just pay for cellular backup (so your system still works even if the Wi-Fi goes down), or get full professional monitoring.

This is rock bottom pricing – even the budget Ring Alarm isn't that cheap. However, it is only for the first year. And you will need to buy more devices to properly secure your home, unless you live in a one room, windowless apartment. Extra devices get expensive quickly – contact sensors cost $29 and motion sensors $55.

What we love

  • No required monthly payments
  • Easy installation
  • Three- and seven-day monitoring

What we don't love

  • Starter kit is bare bones
  • Components are expensive
  • App is too simple

Read our full Abode system review.


The best smart home security alarm system

Best for Google homes only: Google Nest Secure

Buy now: store.google.com | From $399.99

The Nest Secure is an impressive DIY system – but one we'd only recommend if you're happy living in Google's ecosystem.

Installing the Google Nest Secure system is incredibly easy. There are little QR codes on each part of the system, and the Nest app scans them to get them registered. Once you've done that, it'll test to make sure the device works, and then you'll get to customize a couple of settings. For example, do you want your Tag fob to have full access to your security system, or Guest access for a limited time period?

Once you find your Tags are working, the app will show you how to install the Detect sensors on your windows or doors. These devices are packed with sensors including motion, light, temperature and contact. They have an adhesive back, so you just have to peel off the protective layer and put them where you want them – generally on doors and windows.

Once you have all those set up, your home can now be secured in three ways: Home and Guarding; Guarding; and Off. Off is obviously the system's deactivated mode and – you guessed it – Guarding activates the full system.

Nest offers 'Home' and 'Guarding' modes, but it's the combined 'Home and Guarding' mode where things get clever. Motion sensors won't go off when they detect movement, but doors and windows will, unless you temporarily deactivate them with a push of a button. There's no need to deactivate the entire alarm system – this Quiet Open feature is a really neat idea that actually works in real life.

To set the alarm you can just press the Guard button, use your Tag, or even just activate it in the Nest app. Guest access is largely tied to these Tags, and it's simple to customize them so that access is limited to certain hours of the day.

The Google Nest Secure also, of course, plays nicely with your other Google Nest products, plus it has Google Assistant built in. You can link it up to your Nest Cam to start recording whenever Secure detects motion at a window or door, or the Nest x Yale lock can automatically disable the whole security system when you unlock it.

What we love

  • Easy installation
  • Google Assistant built in
  • Great guest modes

What we don't love

  • Expensive
  • No Alexa skill
  • Cellular backup available but costs extra

Read our full Google Nest Secure review.

The best smart home security alarm systems

Best for Amazon Alexa homes: Ring Alarm

Buy now: Amazon | From $199

Ring is one of the most recognizable fixtures in the smart security system market – its doorbells were some of the first to become widely visible on doorsteps and in offices. With tight Alexa integration and a good app experience, its Alarm security system is also a great option if you're looking to step up your home security.

The five-piece starter kit that most people will begin with includes a motion detector, contact sensor and Z-Wave extender. We found installation to be simple once the Ring app paired with the base station, with all the other devices pairing automatically.

Placing the sensors on your chosen doors or windows is easy enough, whether using the tape or drilled options, and then you're away – a simple setup process. Adding new sensors is easily done through the app, too, if you ever need to expand your network. From there, you've got a range of settings to tweak as you like.

You can choose which sensors are used to trigger the alarm, and whether you want to hear a tone when a sensor is triggered (handy if you like to know if the door is opened when you’re home). You can also adjust which alerts you receive, which is key if you plan to self-monitor. There are some integrations between devices; if the Ring Alarm is triggered, you can have it start recording from your Stick Up Cam. However, you can't have the camera trigger the alarm.

Ring has a monitoring plan you can subscribe to for $10 a month (or $100 a year) without any grabby contracts, which bags you 24/7 professional monitoring that will keep going even if your internet crashes. This is the best value we've found in the space, and includes 60 days of cloud video storage as a further incentive.

At present the Ring Alarm system integrates with Alexa, but not with any other smart home systems, which is a limitation. However, that integration is solid, including the option to arm or disarm the system using a spoken pin. It can also work with Alexa Guard to prime your Echo devices to listen out for alarms.

What we love

  • Super easy install
  • Cheap monitoring
  • Works with Alexa Guard / Routines
  • Z-Wave allows for expansion

What we don't love

  • No geofencing or scheduling
  • No key fob
  • Only works with Alexa

Read our full Ring Alarm security system review.


The best smart home security alarm system

Best pro-install system: Vivint Smart Home

Buy now: vivint.com | From $39.99 a month (plus installation and package)

Unlike the other security systems on offer here, Vivint is not one you can set up yourself. It's not a matter of complexity, but rather because Vivint wants to be a full-service smart home company; it'll walk you through the best options for your home, help you customize your smart home package, and then a professional will install everything and take you through the ropes.

For the most part, Vivint makes most of its own products. It's got window and door sensors, glass breaking sensors, CO2 sensors, motion sensors, garage door sensors and more.

And as the professional is installing things around the home, they'll work through hypothetical situations with you. Could a burglar make their way into your home through your balcony? If they could, Vivint will recommend sensors to protect that area. There are also indoor and outdoor security cameras, plus a video doorbell and a smart door lock.

While Vivint does have cloud storage – it's $9.99 a month for 30 days of storage – it also offers a local solution and will hook you up with hard drive that will store your footage.

There's Alexa and Google Assistant support should you want to use your voice; the companion app and website should you be away from home and want to check in; and a central hub that your entire family can use.

Like most other smart security systems, Vivint offers different modes. There's one for when you're home, one for when you're away and one when you're home and want protection (like when you're sleeping). Vivint's system also taps into your local police and fire dispatchers system. So if your alarm trips, Vivint will call the police or fire department for you. Plus, Vivint itself is monitoring your home.

The best feature of the Vivint smart security system is the silent alarm. Much like a bank, there's a secret way to sound the alarms if something goes wrong. Say you're being held up in your home and the burglar demands you disarm the system: you can feign disarming the system and instead alert Vivint that you need help.

The big drawback? All of this can get pretty pricey.

What we love

  • Excellent customer service
  • Installation is all done for you
  • Silent alarm

What we don't love

  • Long process to get set up
  • Expensive
  • Must use Vivint service

Read our full Vivint review.


The best smart home security alarm systems

Smart home security systems: Considerations before buying

For our picks of the best home security alarm systems above, we’ve mainly focused on setups that don’t require a professional installation (with one exception) and we’ve shied away from systems that require expensive monitoring plans.

We've also highlighted systems that work with other smart home devices in your home, so your home security system can double as your smart home hub.

Also consider: The best smart security cameras

The beauty of the smart alarm systems we’ve highlighted is that – while there are sometimes subscription extras available – they are all just good to go out of the box with no compulsory additional costs.

Professional installation vs DIY

Vivint is the only system on our list that absolutely requires a professional installation. Others, like Comcast's Xfinity system or the Nest Secure, give you the option of a pro-install but don't insist.

In these cases, it comes down to whatever you're most comfortable with. A professional installer will provide some peace of mind, and of course means you have to do less work yourself. They'll also be able to explain how everything works once they're done installing.

Of course, in cases where professional installation is not part of the package, you'll need to factor it in as an additional cost.

What devices do I need?

At their core, all security systems have the same goal: to protect your home from intruders. All security systems will start with a hub or base station that all of the various devices chat to. That part is obviously vital, as is the actual alarm, obviously.

But beyond that, these DIY systems allow you to choose the devices that are right for your home. Do you want door sensors? How about some for the windows? Then think about cameras. You may already have some smart cameras in your home – the good news is that some systems will allow you to integrate those cameras, so long as they're compatible.

You might also want to think about sensors for glass breaks, or a smarter smoke detector.

Our advice is to map out your home and identify all of the places that pose a security risk, rather than starting with the devices and working backwards.

Security package or a la carte?

Starter kits are usually a great way to lay the foundations of a smart security system – and tend to be better value than buying piece by piece.

But different homes have different needs, and some companies, like SimpliSafe, give you the option to build custom security packages, which will be a preferable for many.

Talk to me about professional monitoring

Professional monitoring means you get access to a service of security pros available 24/7, who will be able to alert the police if your systems detects a break-in, or notify emergency services if there's a fire.

These professionals will usually try to contact you first, and in some cases any emergency contacts you've given. But professional monitoring will almost always cost extra, and in a recurring fee.

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