The best smart home security alarm system

Buyers' guide: Beef up your security with these top connected smart systems

The best smart home security alarm system

Home security systems used to involve getting a firm in, wiring up sensors on all your windows and doors and having a fugly flashing box stuck on the outside of your house – a fugly box that annoyed your neighbours when it went off, accidentally, in the middle of the night.

And 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.

Home alarm security systems: Considerations before buying

From our picks of the best home security alarm systems below, we’ve focused on setups that don’t require a professional installation – i.e. systems that you can set up yourself – and we’ve shied away from systems that require expensive monitoring plans.

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 armouries.


Home alarm 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 in the midst of testing some other systems from the likes of Abode, Ring, Vivint, ADT, Wink and more.

Nest Secure

The best smart home security alarm system

From $399.99, nest.com | Amazon

Installing the 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. They have an adhesive back, so you just have to peel off the protective layer and put them where you want them. The app will make you open and close your window and door just to make sure everything 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. 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 also 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 Nest Secure also, of course, plays nicely with your other Nest products. 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
Nest Secure
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 integration recently added, as well as the power of the Works with Nest platform, the Secure system is only going to get better.
PROS
  • Easy installation
  • Works with Nest platform
  • Great guest modes
CONS
  • Expensive
  • No Alexa skill (yet)
  • Cellular backup available – but costs extra

SimpliSafe

The best smart home security alarm system

From $259, simplisafe.com | Amazon

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 simple 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 alerts.

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 up 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 a 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

Somfy Protect

The best smart home security alarm system

From £349, shop.somfy.co.uk | Amazon

First launched way back in 2015 (in its previous MyFox branding) with claims of being the "world’s first proactive smart home security system" – whatever that means – the Somfy Protect, teamed up with the Somfy One camera, is a superb entry-level home alarm system that is simple to set up and a doddle to activate.

Comprising a number of connected components – key fobs, window and door sensors (IntelliTAGs), motion sensors, and indoor (110dB) and outdoor (112dB) sirens – which all talk to the main Somfy Hub, the idea behind the Somfy system is that you can pick and choose what sort of protection you want and where. It's really easy to add a new accessory through the companion app – an app that can also be used to monitor live video footage, activate and deactivate the system, and tweak profiles and settings.

A key part of the system is the IntelliTAG sensors that you place on the most vulnerable windows and doors around your house. A two minute calibration process – i.e. opening and closing whatever you stick it on – is all it takes to get them synced up with the hub and the app, and from the latter you can tweak their sensitivity. This is key because these IntelliTAGs react to not only openings, but vibrations too – the idea being to deter a burglar before they even get inside.

The Bluetooth-connected keyfobs contain a one-click panic button that sends a silent alert via email or SMS, or triggers the alarm, alongside buttons to activate and deactivate the system. You can also assign these keyfobs to family members and get messages like, "The alarm has been disabled using Greg's key fob". These keyfobs, if passing through a door manned by an IntelliTAG, will also automatically disable the system – but there's no way of turning this feature off, which is a bit annoying.

As mentioned, everything is powered by the hub, which just plugs directly into the mains and sits on the wall socket. If the power does go down, there's a battery back-up on board and if, heaven forbid, your Wi-Fi goes kaput then the system itself will still work – you just won't get alerts on your smartphone. It's a also a nice looking system (with a couple of design awards in the bag), which is more than can be said for the 90s-esque Yale system.

Also in the mix is the Somfy One, which can be a standalone smart security camera, but can also act as an alarm system itself (essentially replacing the hub). It can be teamed up with the rest of your Somfy Protect setup too. If your Somfy system is activated and a window or door is opened, your One camera can raise the alarm. Likewise, if it spots motion itself when armed, it can fire off its siren too (90dB). If an intruder is detected by the camera, a still image is taken and a small video clip is recorded and that’s yours for free – no need for a cloud plan.

A nice touch on the Somfy One is the motorised shutter that effectively turns the camera off, but also gives peace of mind to people that you’re not spying on them. You can set the shutter to only be open when you’re away from home, or only when the alarm system is activated.

Somfy Protect can be armed using Alexa or Google Assistant (disarming requires a spoken pin) and it also carries the Works With Nest badge, with some neat home/away integrations available there too.

the ambient verdict
Somfy Protect
Somfy's plug-and-play security system – with or without the superb One camera – is a fantastic option for anyone looking for an easy, yet super reliable system. The accessories are straightforward to set up and the app is intuitive and simple to master. Somfy is a major player in the automated smart home game and the Protect platform is always evolving.
PROS
  • Great design
  • Very easy to use
  • Somfy One camera boosts the system
CONS
  • App is a tiny bit basic
  • No way of turning off auto-deactivation
  • No keypad accessory

Yale Smart Home Alarm Kit

The best smart home security alarm system

From £249.99, yale.co.uk | Amazon

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, and 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 the likes of the Somfy Protect.

The Yale Smart Home Alarm boasts some unique features, too. You can part-arm the system, which turns on the door and window sensors, but not the motion sensors, to provide protection while you’re sleeping – a really neat addition.

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

From $39.99 a month (plus installation and package), vivint.com

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.

Slightly similarly, you'll be able to 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 protecting (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



Recent stories

security systems Abode's home security system gets smarter with more specific routines
google Google Assistant guide: The missing manual to your Google Home
amazon Amazon Echo Show 2018 review

What do you think?

Reply to
Your comment