​Abode Iota and Essentials Gateway Security System review

An excellent integrated and affordable DIY smart home security system

​Abode Security System
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Over the last 18 months or so we've seen a trend of the smart home converging with home security.

With Nest, Ring, SimpliSafe and others releasing home security systems that integrate with their smart home products, and traditional home security companies such as ADT bringing smart home capabilities to their wares, it’s clear that the future of the connected home is one also centred around security. Abode, however, has been taking this all-in-one approach for a while.

As a DIY security system, Abode stands out from the pack for three main reasons: no required monthly fees; the ability to add professional monitoring for as little as three days with no contracts; and a hub jam-packed with smart home protocols including both Z-Wave Plus and Zigbee.

Read this: The best smart home security alarm system

Abode has two versions of its security system, the Essentials Gateway (2nd gen) and the Iota. Both come bundled in a starter kit, and the two hubs are identical under the hood. Both have 4G cellular radios, Z-wave 500 series chips and a Zigbee radio, plus six-hour battery backup and a microSD card. The main distinction is that Iota has a smaller, slimmer form factor and features a built-in camera and motion sensor.

This makes it a good, compact solution for small homes and apartments, whereas the Gateway is designed for larger homes. The Iota can also work on Wi-Fi, while the Gateway needs to be connected to a router via an ethernet cable. We tested out both the Iota and Gateway starter kits for this review. Read on to find out how this smarter home security system performs.

Abode Iota review

Abode Security System: Design, installation and setup

Abode’s design aesthetic is sleek, shiny black and white boxes. The Gateway, which is more likely to end up in a cupboard as it doesn’t have a camera, is quite large and angular, but a nice change from your basic white box. The Iota, which includes a camera and is therefore more likely to be placed somewhere you’ll see it, has a more modern look, dispensing with all plastic in favour of that trendy fabric mesh on its bottom half. The top half is shiny black plastic, however, and the device is about half the size of the Gateway.

Installation and setup are super simple. Plug the main hub (Gateway or Iota) 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 and one door/window contact sensor. The Gateway also includes a stand alone 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. 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 mount it in a corner without hardware.

The Abode app includes tips on where to install motion sensors to best catch motion and avoid pets triggering them. The only difference when installing the Iota hub is that you can choose to switch it over to Wi-Fi so you can place it anywhere you want in the home, while the Gateway has to be connected to a router. In all it took about 10 minutes to set up and install each system.

During setup you are prompted to invite other members of your household by email. You’ll want do this to take advantage of Adobe's automatic arming and disarming feature (but you can do this later too). You’re also prompted to choose a monitoring plan.

Abode Iota review

Abode Security System: Monitoring plans

The basic mode is free and gets you three days of timeline and media storage (stills from your cameras). You self-monitor the system from the phone app or web app and receive any and all notifications with no charge. You can also add on-demand monitoring for three days ($8) or seven days ($15). Nicely, these plans don’t auto-renew, they just expire when the time is up.

Upgrade to the Connect plan ($8 a month or $80 a year) and you get 4G cellular backup, meaning if your Wi-Fi goes down you can still monitor your home, plus you get 14 days of timeline storage. Add professional monitoring on a monthly or annual basis on the Secure plan ($20 a month or $200 annually) and you get cellular backup, 24/7 monitoring, and 90 days of timeline and media storage for up to six cameras (on the annual plan you also get an unlimited warranty on Abode devices).

If you know you are going to want professional monitoring, you can get the best deal by purchasing your starter kit directly from Abode and bundling in monitoring for the first year, bringing the price for the Secure plan to a little over $8 a month for the first year.

Most notable here compared to a lot of the competition is that if you choose the free plan you don’t lose any features. You can see three days' worth of activity in your timeline and can use all the features of the app, including receiving notifications and alerts.

Abode Security System: Features

Abode has most of the the features you’d expect from a DIY home security system. Home, Away, and Standby modes are your main functions: Home activates all the perimeter sensors, Away every sensor, and Standby turns the system off. To change the mode manually you can use the key fob, the app, or voice control (Alexa and Google, HomeKit is coming, says Abode). A keypad is also an option, with a new one coming this summer that includes a motion sensor. The app has a log of activity (when doors or windows were opened or closed, when the system was armed, clips from any cameras etc) so you can monitor your home's status wherever you are.

If any sensor is triggered while the system is armed, the hub emits an ear piercing siren (93 dB) and sends you an alert (mobile and email). If you have professional monitoring the alert will have an option for notifying the police or disabling the alarm. It will also send a link to the professional monitoring service, allowing them to access your timeline and a live feed of any video. This "visual verification" can help in getting emergency services dispatched more quickly.

Read this: The best smart home sensors

Beyond security, Abode is also a decent smart home hub. It integrates with Nest, Philips Hue, Ecobee and Lifx and you can connect up to 160 Zigbee and Z-Wave devices to it – including locks, lights and sensors from companies including Aeon, Enerwave, Fibaro, GE, Kwikset, Leviton and Schlage. Additionally, the proprietary abodeRF radio in the Abode hubs has a range of 1,000 feet, much further than most systems we’ve tested, so even in larger houses you should be able to get a reliable connection between sensors and hub without needing a mesh network or extenders.

Abode Iota review

Abode Security System: Everyday use

We quickly realised that to secure our whole 2,500 square foot home, with three exterior doors and two floors, we were going to need more sensors. The starter pack only comes with one contact and one motion sensor. Unless you live in a one-bedroom apartment you’re going to need more gadgets.

You can custom build a system on Abode’s website, but contact sensors cost $29 and motion sensors $55, so it can quickly get expensive. On the plus side, Abode has a wide range of security devices, including cameras, motion sensors (even a motion sensor with a camera built in), water leak sensors, a smoke alarm monitor, extra sirens, glass break sensors (acoustic and vibration), occupancy sensors, plus a variety of different sizes and shapes of door/window sensors, so no ingress need be left unprotected.

The Abode app is a little tricky to navigate, hindered in large part by the fact that a lot of functionality isn’t in here – it’s in the web portal. When you open the app you see the status of your system at glance, starting with your timeline showing recent activity (including camera clips), and tabs to your cameras and other devices. You can toggle the alarm status from here, and a Settings tab lets you manage users and emergency contacts, upgrade your plan, add devices and access other features.

What makes this system “smart” is its CUE automations. These are found in the Actions tab and are If This Then That-style automations that let you tailor the system to your lifestyle. Have it automatically arm or disarm your system at a certain time, based on sunset or sunrise; or create multi-layered triggers for automations, or multiple actions to occur. You can also add conditions so the actions only happen based on specific events or statuses.

The most useful CUE automation we tested was to have the system arm when everyone had left the home. It does this by using geofencing to determine the location of each user’s smartphone, arming the alarm only when the house is empty, and disarming it when someone returns home. This is a feature no other system currently offers. Some will prompt you to arm the system when everyone’s out of the house but Abode is the only one that automatically does it for you, without you having to think about it.

Abode Essential and Iota security system review: A smarter home security system

These CUE automations can also be used to control smart home devices (a list of compatible devices can be found here). If you add lights, locks and other gadgets you can then create automations that turn off all the lights and lock the door when you leave the house. All of this makes Abode a decent smart home hub, although it’s first and foremost a security system.

The biggest issue we had when using Abode was that a lot of settings are only accessible through its web portal, which can be a bit confusing for the user. For example, the first time the system disarmed itself in the morning based on a CUE automation, the loud disarming beep beep beep went on for a full minute, waking up the whole household. There was no way to disable the sound in the app and it was only after reaching out to support that we discovered we had to go to the web portal to turn it off.

Abode Essentials Starter Kit
Abode Essentials Starter Kit

While the website on a desktop computer is a great interface for setting up more complicated automations, and managing multiple devices, basic functionality like this should be accessible in the app. Instead, a large portion of the app is dedicated to encouraging you to upgrade your plan.

We didn’t test a camera with the Gateway system; you can buy one of Abode’s own or integrate cameras from Wyze or Nest. We were impressed with the quality of the Iota system’s built-in 1080p camera. Its wide-angle field of view captured parts of four rooms in our open plan space and two-way talk was crisp and clear. The addition of a motion sensor makes the Iota a good all-in-one security system. However, we’d like to be able to set motion or activity zones, plus put that microphone to further use as a smoke alarm and glass-break detector to provide more all-in-one functionality.

Abode Essential and Iota security system review: A smarter home security system

Abode Security System: Smart home integrations

We’ve touched on Abode’s ability to act as a smart home hub, and while it’s only certified to work with a handful of devices, some of those integrations are very robust. Pair your Nest, Ecobee, LifeX bulbs and First Alert smoke alarms to the system and you can control them all through the Abode app, as well as add them to automations.

Unfortunately, you can’t view live feeds of non-Abode cameras in the app, but you can take still snapshots. We paired our Nest system to Abode and were able to control the thermostat and view camera snapshots. (Note: All existing Works With Nest integrations will continue to work in Abode, but if you integrate Nest with Abode after 31 August 2019 functionality may be limited).

By far the most useful integration we found in our testing was with Amazon’s Alexa. There are two Abode Alexa skills, the Smart Home Skill and the Security Skill. You will want to enable both, which needs to be done through the Abode web portal. Once connected, all your Abode sensors will appear in your Alexa app, and you can use them as triggers for Alexa Routines – an excellent integration.

You can also arm and disarm the system by voice (after you’ve set up a voice pin), and use voice to control any devices connected to your Abode system – such as light or locks. So if you have a Z-Wave lock paired to your system, you can lock it by voice, and set up a nighttime routine with Alexa that locks your doors, arms your system, dims your lights, and starts playing soothing music when your front door sensor is closed after 10pm.

Abode has an IFTTT channel and works with Google Assistant, although we couldn’t get Google to recognise the connection, despite repeated attempts.

While we’re excited about the convergence of home security and the smart home, Abode is really a home security system first, with smart home functions second. It hasn’t yet created the perfect assimilation of the two – but it’s one of the best attempts so far. Ultimately, while it’s a great security system it isn’t really a substitute for a full smart home setup. The integration with Alexa and being able to trigger Alexa Routines with Abode sensors is a big step in the right direction, but it’s not unique – Abode's competitors Scout, Ring, and Honeywell all do this too.

Abode Security System
For an integrated, affordable DIY smart home and security system, Abode is an excellent choice. Its Gateway (2nd gen) will suit most homeowners, whereas apartment dwellers might find the Iota all-in-one a better fit. With either option, no contracts, no required monthly fees, Alexa integration plus Zigbee and Z-wave compatibility make for a great combination. Also, the ability to throw in short-term monitoring for holidays or weekend trips is unique for a professionally monitored system. However, the smart home side is a little tricky to use and some of the settings you need to access are buried deep in a rather complicated web portal.
  • No required monthly payments
  • Easy installation
  • Three- and seven-day monitoring
  • Starter kit is bare bones
  • Components are expensive
  • App is too simple

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