The best smart home security alarm systems

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

The best smart home security alarm systems

Home security systems used to involve getting a specialist company in, wiring up 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 home alarm systems.

Smart home security systems: Considerations before buying

For our picks of the best home security alarm systems below, 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.

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.

Also consider: The best smart security cameras

If you do want to go down the traditional home security route, from the usual suspects that have been in the business of protecting homes for decades, then the good news is most of these companies are embracing the age of the smart home and adding smart devices to their armories.


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. Be sure to check back for updates as we're currently testing some other systems, such as those from ADT, Frontpoint, Scout, Xfinity and more.


Google Nest Secure

The best smart home security alarm system

Buy now: Amazon | From $399.99

Installing the Google Nest Secure system is so easy that if you've plugged anything electronic into the wall you can probably handle it. 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 customise 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. The app will make you open and close your window and door just to make sure the contact sensor is good.

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 is the full system activated.

Home and Guarding is where things get clever. When they system is set to Home, the motion detection on the Detects will be off, so if you walk by nothing will happen, apart from they'll light up to make sure you can see in the dark – that's the same Pathlight feature that's popular on Nest Protect smoke alarms. The Detects will kick in when anyone opens a window or a door, but if you just need to pop out for a minute, or you want to open a window, you just press the button on the Detect and the alarm will temporarily turn off. 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 there's no need to fumble with a passcode or anything like that. You can just press the Guard button, or use your Tag, or even just activate it in the Nest app. Deactivating is done from the base station, either by entering the code or by tapping a Tag down on it. Guest access is largely tied to these Tags, and they work really well. It's simple to customise your Tag to give guests access, and when they can get that access, so it's great for cleaners and the like.

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.

the ambient verdict
Google Nest Secure
Google Nest has clearly thought through the many pain points of home security systems and has developed a solution that gets rid of nearly all of them. There's more affordable kit from rivals but for now, this is the system to beat. And with Google Assistant built in to the hub, and tight integration with Google Nest products, the Secure system is only going to get better.
PROS
  • Easy installation
  • Google Assistant built in
  • Great guest modes
CONS
  • Expensive
  • No Alexa skill
  • Cellular backup available – but costs extra


SimpliSafe

The best smart home security alarm system

Buy now: Amazon | From $249

If the Nest Secure is simple to install, SimpliSafe makes it look complex by comparison. The company has long attempted to make smart home security absurdly simple yet versatile. The company is called SimpliSafe for a reason, after all.

The process lives up to the name – easily. Each piece of the system, including the base station, keypad, motion sensors and door and window sensors all have pull tabs. You simply pull on the tab to activate the device.

You do have to activate everything systematically. The base station goes first, then the keypad, then you just pull the tab to activate the device, press the test button on each device and things just sync. You don't even need a companion app to set everything up. You're essentially turning on a bunch of devices and letting them do the rest. Once that's done, you just head to SimpliSafe's website to activate your service.

All of the individual parts come with adhesive pads on them, so you're going to be sticking a lot of things to your wall, and you can put that drill down. They all work on batteries that are supposed to last five years too.

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.

Off turns off monitoring. Home is good for when you're sleeping or it's late at night, when you know you don't want anyone coming or leaving. If you open the door, someone will have to enter the pin on the keypad, for instance, or take a look at the companion app or key fob. Away will activate things like motion sensors.

The basic SimpliSafe system we used came with a single motion sensor and four window and door sensors. There's also that base station and keypad. However, one thing that makes Simplify so popular is how you can expand it. You can add on things like water leak sensors, glass breaking sensors, CO2 detectors, and fire alarms. You can cover your entire home in whatever way you want.

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. We tried this with the key fob coming home one day. We de-activated the alarm with the fob and the system shut down as it should, but in the app it still said it was armed.

If the response is too slow, it makes using the app a lesser experience. Why not just rely on the key fob or use it as a traditional security system and enter the pin every time you walk in? There are a number of good options and settings in the app, 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, but there are a number of things that also feel hidden.

For one, compatible services. There is no quick way to set up Alexa or Google Assistant support in the companion app. To do that, you'll have to go to those apps and do it there. It's inconvenient and, for a lot of people turning to Simplify for simplicity, they might not even realise that connection is available.

There are a lot of options when it comes to buying SimpliSafe. The bundles start at $259, but quickly rise as you add sensors and cameras. You can also just build your own bundle and customise what you need for your own home, which is helpful as each home is different.

the ambient verdict
SimpliSafe
There is no smart home security system easier to set up than SimpliSafe. It's as close to actual plug-and-play as you can get – to the point you don't even need the companion app. It's generally good at its job too, with strong connections and long-lasting batteries. The app experience isn't the best, and it's easy to miss out on syncing in Alexa or Google Assistant, but SimpliSafe's general ease of use and versatility make it one of the best systems you can own.
PROS
  • Simple to set up
  • Looks good
  • Versatile
CONS
  • Slow, buggy app
  • Integrations easy to miss
  • Can get pricy


Abode

The best smart home security alarm system

Buy now: Amazon | From $199

One of the best value smart home security systems is Abode. It 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.

Both the Iota and Gateway come bundled in a starter kit with one key fob and one door/window sensor, plus a motion sensor for the Gateway. The two hubs are identical under the hood. Both have 4G cellular radios for backup, Z-Wave 500 series chips and a Zigbee radio, plus 6-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.

Whichever hub you choose, you'll use the same app, and set-up 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. 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.

Abode offers professional monitoring for as little as $8 a month (if you bundle it with your purchase of the hub). This is rock bottom pricing, and 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.

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 monitoring 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.

Abode's main security functions are Home, Away and Standby modes. 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 – which is a little under-powered and you have to go the website for a fair number of settings – has a log of activity (when doors or windows were opened or closed, when the system was armed, stills from any cameras etc), so you can monitor your home's status wherever you are. We particularly like that if you have professional monitoring, a link is sent to them when the system is triggered letting them access your timeline and a live feed of any video. This "visual verification" can help in getting emergency services dispatched more quickly.

If you are looking for security with some real smarts, and the option to extend those smarts into whole home automation, Abode is a great option.

the ambient verdict
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, and Zigbee and Z-wave compatibility make for a great combination. Plus, the ability to throw in short-term monitoring for vacations 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.
PROS
  • No required monthly payments
  • Easy installation
  • Lots of compatible devices
CONS
  • Starter kit is bare bones
  • Components are expensive
  • App is too simple


Ring AlarmThe best smart home security alarm systems

Buy now: Amazon | From $199

Ring is one of the most recognisable fixtures in the smart security system market – its doorbells were some of the first to become widely visible on doorsteps and in offices.

Now, it's stepped up its game to go wider than just doorbells, with the Alarm security system an affordable security blanket for your home. With tight Alexa integration and a good app experience, it's a serious 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 sensor, contact sensor and Z-Wave extender, all of which we found to be a little bulky when installing. Beyond that, though, installation was 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 especially key if you plan to self-monitor. Oddly, although the app integrates immediately with any of Ring's cameras that you already have, these cannot trigger alarms or feed into the alarm system, making them slightly adjacent to your monitoring.

Ring have a monitoring plan you can subscribe to, if you'd like to hand over the stress of watching all your sensors to someone else, and it represents more superb value. For $10 a month, without any grabby contracts, or $100 a year, you'll get 24/7 professional monitoring, which will even continue 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.

The Alarm has a fairly ugly keypad that is central to arming if you're not using Alexa, which we preferred to avoid, and doesn't use any fobs, making it more of a hassle to grant access to people when you're away.

That said, the value and simplicity of Ring's Alarm system is very much its raison d'etre, and it succeeds on those terms, making it a worthy option if you're looking for a straightforward home security setup.

the ambient verdict
Ring Alarm
Inexpensive hardware and a cheap monitoring plan make Ring Alarm the one to beat on price, but not on features. There’s little innovation here beyond basic security – but that will be fine for most. Alexa integration is good and Ring Alarm and Alexa are a great pairing for a fully-featured smart home. However, the lack of direct camera integration and other key features missing from the security side make Ring Alarm only a good option, not a great one – for now.
PROS
  • Super easy install
  • Fully-featured app
  • Cheap monitoring
  • Works with Alexa Guard/Routines
  • Z-Wave allows for expansion
CONS
  • No geofencing or scheduling
  • No key fob or duress code
  • No camera integration
  • Huge door sensors
  • Only works with Alexa


Yale Smart Home Alarm Kit

The best smart home security alarm system

Buy now: Amazon | From £249.99

While many new smart home security alarm systems hook themselves off Alexa or Google Assistant – or face recognition cameras to work out who’s coming and going – the Yale Smart Home Alarm kit is something of an old-school alarm system given a connected home twist.

In the box you get a hub that connects to your router – along with an infra-red motion sensor, a PIR camera, door sensor and two outdoor sirens with a big, visible Yale logo – plus a keypad. They’re all wireless and are pre-programmed to the hub, so you don’t need to do any of the pairing yourself.

And it works well. Firing up the app involves a little faff, and you’ll need to type in serial numbers and arm the back-up battery (yes, the system will function if there’s no power), but then you’re good to go. The peripherals all connected first time – and importantly, stayed connected, even over long range.

The system can be armed and disarmed via your smartphone app, or by the supplied keypad using a four-digit pin, which again is a nice blend of old and new, and means you don’t need to go through the hassle of setting up the app on your cleaner or dog-walker’s phone. You can integrate some of Yale’s smart locks into the app as well.

If the alarm goes off, an alert will be triggered on your phone – which means you can check what’s happening back at home, and silence a false alarm, something you won’t get on a traditional system. Likewise, the presence of a big yellow Yale box outside your home actually acts as a deterrent, which can’t be said for some of the other options.

In use, you have the standard on and off modes, plus a home mode that turns on the door and window sensors, but not the motion sensors, to provide protection while you’re sleeping.

While its simplicity is refreshing, there are frustrations. To integrate cameras you’ll need to use Yale’s own CCTV, and there are no integrations with modern, better smart home cameras. The images from the included PIR image camera are prehistorically awful too – it all feels a bit 1991 at times.

In terms of price, the Yale Smart Home Alarm Kit will cost you – it’s £429 for the full pack, although you can bag a slightly reduced bundle with one siren for £250, which is enough for most. However, you’ll probably want to buy extra door and motion sensors, which cost around £20 a pop. It falls in line with getting a traditional system set up, but with the benefits of extra smart-stuff and no monthly fees on top.

the ambient verdict
Yale Smart Home Alarm Kit
A complete system which blends “proper” home alarm systems with connected home elements, the Yale system is easy to set up and offers top peace of mind. There are elements which lag behind the times and the system certainly won’t win any design awards, but it’s bullet-proof, reliable and doesn’t require everyone who enters your home to be equipped with an app. Expanding the system is cost effective and the lack of monthly fees makes it seriously worthy of consideration.
PROS
  • Back up battery
  • Smartphone and keypad control
  • All elements come pre-programmed
CONS
  • Doesn’t look great
  • Lacks smart integrations
  • IR camera is rubbish


Vivint Smart Home

The best smart home security alarm system

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, it's more a matter of it being Vivint's thing. It wants to be a full-service smart home company, so it'll walk you through the best options for your home, help you customise your smart home package and then a professional will install everything and take you through the ropes.

It's all worry off your back. Vivint has two primary goals: to be an all-in-one smart home solution and to protect your home. 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.

Your professional will walk through your home and will make it clear to you that Vivint wants to make sure your security system is set up in a way that makes you feel safe. So 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. Vivint also has 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. They'll hook up a hard drive that will store your footage. That way, you have both local footage in case something goes wrong with the internet or servers and a cloud backup in case the burglar steals the hard drive.

You can also control your system in a number of ways. 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 comes with a couple of 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, there's Vivint itself monitoring your home. The company did get its start as a home security company, so it understands how important having someone monitor your system is.

But the coolest 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 with Vivint is that it can get pretty pricey. You could be paying for a lot, as you're putting a whole series of smart home devices together and having them all installed at once instead of buying them piecemeal. You'll get two free Google Home Minis, and you have the option of adding in Google Wi-Fi, Nest Thermostat E, and other devices in addition to your security choices.

the ambient verdict
Vivint Smart Home
Vivint is a security company first and a smart home builder second, but it's found a great balance to both. It's also a full-service smart home company, so it will be with you all the way, from ordering to installation to checking in afterwards. While it can be expensive and the process is long, it's a more thorough way to secure your home.
PROS
  • Excellent customer service
  • Installation is all done for you
  • Silent alarm
CONS
  • Long process
  • Expensive
  • Must use Vivint service



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