Intruders, burglars and thieves, oh my! After a decade or so of app-enabled upheaval, the home security category is booming. Along with the standard professional monitoring systems and alarm system options that have been around for decades, there’s a newly established bumper crop of less-expensive DIY systems that you can install yourself, along with smart locks, cameras and video doorbells that are also worth considering. Big names like Google and Amazon want a piece of the action, too.
It’s admittedly quite a bit to take in — and today’s home security providers don’t necessarily always make it easy to comparison shop, to say the least.
That’s where we come in, though — not only by putting these systems to the test at the CNET Smart Home but by evaluating the whole buying process and taking a close look at features like two-way audio, motion detection, smart thermostats, night vision, contact sensors and even carbon monoxide detectors. We look at other important factors, too — including the privacy concerns that come with filling your house with cloud-connected cameras and outdoor cameras.
Keep reading for our breakdown of the best home security systems that we’ve tested to date, including DIY home security systems you can install yourself, professionally installed systems that promise to automate your whole home, and standalone gadgets like video doorbells, too.
Best home security system we’ve tested
|Best DIY system||SimpliSafe||$230 upfront||Monitoring starts at $15 per month, $25 per month to include mobile app controls and integration with Alexa.||See it online|
|Best professional installation system||Comcast Xfinity Home||$99 upfront||Monitoring costs $40 per month during the first year, $50 per month after that; bundling discounts available with TV and internet.||See it online|
|Best video doorbell||Nest Hello||$230 upfront||Continuous recording starting at $5 per month.||See it online|
|Best for part-time monitoring||Abode||$299 upfront||Monitoring available for $20 per month.||See it online|
If a professionally installed system from alarm companies or Brinks Home Security sound like overkill, then you can save a lot of money by buying a system that you install yourself. For my money, systems like these offer some of the best value for your home security dollar.
You’re not missing out on much in terms of functionality. Though professionally installed systems might offer a fancier touchscreen control panel/keypad or monitoring center to work the security cameras, sensors, alarm system and monitors, the rest of the hardware is largely the same as what you’ll get if you go the DIY installation route, relying mostly on wireless, battery-powered sensors that you stick up around your house.
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When DIY alarm systems first started popping up as a low-cost alternative to going with the pros, few, if any, came with an option for professional monitoring or customer service. That’s no longer the case. Most DIY systems now offer the option of professional monitoring — and most of them charge less for professional monitoring than the professional installation security providers do, too. Automation and smart home devices have helped lower the overhead cost for third-party professional monitoring, which results in savings passed on to you. And the fact that most DIY systems don’t require any sort of service contract or monthly fee — just a Wi-Fi network — is another nice part of the pitch.
SimpliSafe’s easy-to-install, easy-to-use system is well-positioned as the best home security system when it comes to value. It offers a comprehensive set of features, security cameras, and a very good mix of battery-powered sensors, all of which performed reliably well in our tests. Starter kits begin at about $230, or you can build your own custom system with the exact mix of devices you’re interested in.
Professional monitoring starts at $15 per month, but you’ll almost certainly want to spring for the $25-per-month plan, which adds in things like mobile app controls and voice support via Alexa and the Google Assistant. That also means that you should go with another pick like Abode or Ring if you don’t want professional monitoring via a monitoring station but still want to control your system from a smartphone app. Overall CNET score: 8.5
Something else to keep an eye out for: All-in-one DIY security devices designed for smaller homes and living spaces. Basically, just single-point, tabletop cameras packed with extra motion detectors and sensors for things like temperature and ambient light, these devices can be a good fit for something like a studio apartment that doesn’t have a garage door or many street windows to protect.
Names to look at include Canary, Honeywell, and the Abode Iota — though our favorite of the bunch, Piper, is no longer on the market after Alarm.com purchased its parent company in 2016. If we find another alternative that we like as much as we liked that one, I’ll update this space.
Other options we’ve tested
Our top SimpliSafe alternative, Abode’s well-thought-out system supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave, it works with Alexa, IFTTT and Nest, and it recently spruced up its integration with the Google Assistant, too. The real point of appeal, though, is that Abode offers lots of flexibility with regard to professional monitoring — including the option of only paying for temporary monitoring during the times when you’re actually out of town. No long-term contract required. Overall CNET score: 8.3
This DIY installation option from Google-owned Nest works great, but the upfront cost of $399 is much higher than the competition. It’s a decent system, but really only worth it if you’re looking to lock yourself into a Google smart home ecosystem. Overall CNET score: 7.2
A subsidiary of Amazon, Ring’s Alarm security kit is quick to install and easy to use. Aside from a new “Works with Ring” program to bring compatible smart locks and other third-party gadgets into the fold, there’s nothing all that innovative about it, though Amazon Alexa users will appreciate the two-way voice feature, that they can arm and disarm the system using voice commands and that they can use Ring’s sensors to trigger Amazon Alexa routines.
With a buy-in cost of $199 and professional monitoring available for just $10 per month, Ring Alarm stands out as a value pick — but consistent privacy concerns about Ring’s failure to protect user data and its controversial collaboration with police organizations stop us well short of recommending it. Overall CNET score: 7.5
Professionally installed systems
These are the mainstays of home security — security monitoring company names like ADT and Brinks that you’ve probably been familiar with for years, along with home security systems offered by major telecom providers like Comcast and AT&T.
The pitch is pretty similar across the board. In addition to basics like motion sensors, window sensors, and door sensors, these kinds of professional installations will also promise to cut back on false alarms to the monitoring center and seamlessly integrate things like door locks, cameras, keypads, thermostats, carbon monoxide detectors and touchscreens. And they’ll often support voice controls via Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant, too. Most charge an upfront equipment or installation fee and most require multiyear service contracts. As for the monthly fee for professional monitoring, those are mandatory, and will typically range from $30 to $50 per month.
It isn’t available in all regions (check for local availability), but Comcast Xfinity Home left us impressed when CNET Senior Editor Josh Goldman tested the system out at his home in northern New Jersey. It’s a robust, well-thought-out system that plays nicely with your smart home gear, including longtime favorites like Lutron Caseta light switches and the Nest thermostat. “What Xfinity Home showed me,” Josh wrote, “was how smart home devices make much more sense when fully integrated with the sensors and cameras of a home security system.”
You’ll get the best value if you’re willing to bundle Xfinity Home with Comcast’s internet and TV service, but you can use it as a standalone service, too. I also appreciated that the sales approach was less pushy and more helpful than the competition when I gave them a test call (I was able to get a quote for my home in about 10 minutes, and the only piece of personal info I gave was a zip code). Overall CNET score: 8.5
High-end systems like these will sometimes make it tough to comparison shop between companies. For instance, head to ADT’s website and you’ll find plenty of marketing copy touting the value of the security company’s various home security offerings and customer service — but you won’t find much by way of pricing specifics. Instead, the site directs you to request a “free quote,” either by calling the security company’s sales team or by submitting your name, zip code, phone number and email address. Doing the latter ensures that an ADT customer service specialist “will call you, from time to time, about ADT offers.” Read the fine print, and you’ll see that these calls are “provided” using “automated dialing technology.”
Mind you, the alarm company is hardly alone here. Some are less egregious about it than others, but you’ll find similar tactics — and similar fine print — on just about every website for professionally installed alarm systems like these. If the website is unclear about what a system built for your home would cost you, then your best bet is just to call the security company directly, tell them what kind of setup you’d like, and ask for a quote.
Your experience might vary based on the salesperson you’re speaking with. For instance, when I first tried calling ADT, the salesperson told me that he couldn’t give me a quote without running a credit check first. I politely ended the conversation and called back another day, and had a much better experience with a salesperson who priced a core system for me within 10 minutes, no credit check or other exchange of personal info needed.
Shopping for a pro system
||Base upfront cost||Monthly cost||Contract length||How long it took me to get that info when I called||What personal data I had to give to get it|
|ADT||$129 ($229 for a system with a doorbell camera)||$47 ($67 for a system with a doorbell camera)||3-year||First attempt wouldn’t give a quote without a credit check, second attempt took 10 minutes||None|
|AT&T Digital Life||$550 installation fee||$40||2-year||Easily available on the website||None|
|Brinks||$399 installation fee||$29||3-year||Easily available on the website||None|
|Comcast Xfinity Home||$99 installation fee (waived if bundled with TV and internet)||$40 for first year, then $50 ($175 if bundled with TV and internet)||2-year||10 minutes||Zipcode|
|Vivint||$99 installation fee||$40 plus financed cost of devices (for a bare-bones setup, about $10 per month for 60 months)||None||17 minutes||None|
Whoever you end up calling, don’t be afraid to put your foot down over your own privacy. Companies that use robocalls and junk mail as a sales tactic don’t have a right to your address or other personal info until they’ve earned your business, full stop.
That caveat aside, the advantage with alarm systems like these is that professionals will come to your place to install everything for you, and you can typically expect a higher level of hands-on tech support and customer service if you ever want to make changes to your setup, too. Pick a professional system from a telecom provider, and you’ll likely be able to bundle your home security with your TV or internet service. That’s a convenience that can also help you score a discount.
Other options we’ve tested
Vivint is a solid system that worked well when we tested it out, but the equipment is a bit expensive. A basic starter kit with the mandatory touchscreen control panel, a motion sensor, and two entry sensors retails for $599, which you can pay upfront or spread out over 60 months. Want to add cameras to help eliminate false alarms? Each one will add an extra $5 to your bill each month, in addition to the extra equipment cost. One nice thing with Vivint: No contracts. Overall CNET score: 7.6
It isn’t cheap, but we liked this sleek system and the fact that straightforward pricing specifics were available online. Our service professionals made sure to optimize the strength of signal for each device in our setup during the installation — a nice touch that helped make the pro approach feel worthwhile. Overall CNET score: 8.3
If you don’t need an entire security system, and instead just want to keep an eye on activity at your front door, then you might consider installing a video doorbell to keep watch.
You’ve got lots of options right now, and thanks to automation, all will send real-time alerts via a Wi-Fi connection or cellular connection to your cell phone or smart device whenever someone rings to show you who’s at the door. Some also track for unexpected motion or allow for two-way audio — and we’re seeing lots of new options that are capable of recognizing faces, too. That includes our top pick:
Nest’s stylish video doorbell is a smart, sleek pick that aced our tests. Features like person detection and geofencing are helpful and easy-to-use, and you can also upgrade to the Nest Aware cloud subscription service to enable facial recognition and access to saved recordings.
It’s obviously best for households that have already committed to Google and Nest’s smart home ecosystem, but Nest’s doorbell also works with both Alexa and IFTTT, which helps make it a very solid choice for just about anyone. Overall CNET score: 8.5
Prices for doorbells like these typically range from about $100 to $250 and most also charge an optional fee for viewing saved video clips. To pick one, first, figure out if your front door has a hardwired doorbell connection or if you’ll need something battery-powered. Then, consider features — for instance, do you keep a porch light on at night, or will you need something with night vision?
From there, think about which smart home platforms you want your doorbell to work with. On that front, you’ll find lots of options that work with Alexa and plenty that work with IFTTT, and with Google and/or Nest, too. Siri is still playing catch-up, though — the only HomeKit-compatible video doorbell we’ve gotten our fingers on thus far is the Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell, which debuted at CES this past January.
Comparing smart doorbells
||August View Doorbell Camera||Ring Video Doorbell 2||Ring Video Doorbell Pro||Nest Hello Video Doorbell|
|Color finish||Black, red, white, blue, brass, satin nickel, midnight gray, bronze||Satin nickel, venetian (both finishes included with purchase)||Satin nickel, venetian, satin black, pearl white||White and black|
|Power source||Removable, rechargeable battery||Hardwired or removable, rechargeable battery||Hardwired||Hardwired|
|Resolution||1,920×1,440p HD||1,920x1080p HD||1,920x1080p HD||1,600×1,200p HD|
|Field of view||No information||160 degrees||160 degrees||160 degrees|
|Cloud storage||Yes, free basic plan, plus 15-day storage for $3 per month and 30-day storage for $5 per month||Yes, 60-day storage for $3 per month||Yes, 60-day storage for $3 per month||Yes, free 3-hour image history; continuous recording starting at $5 per month|
|Mobile app||Android and iPhone||Android and iPhone||Android and iPhone||Android and iPhone|
|Alerts||Motion||Motion||Motion||Motion, person, facial recognition (with Nest Aware)|
|Activity zones||No||Yes||Yes||Yes (with Nest Aware)|
|Dimensions (HxWxD)||5.2 x 1.8 x 1.3 inches||5.1 x 2.5 x 1.1 inches||4.5 x 1.9 x 0.8 inches||4.6 x 1.7 x 1.0 inches|
|Third-party integrations||Alexa; Google Assistant; Nest||Alexa; IFTTT; Wink||Alexa; IFTTT; Wink||Alexa; Google Assistant; Nest|
|Operating temperature range||-4 to 122 degrees F||-5 to 120 degrees F||-5 to 120 degrees F||14 to 104 degrees F|
Many of the major home security systems now offer video doorbells of their own, and some offer compatibility with standalone video doorbells and keypads like these, too. Keep that in mind if you think you might want to expand to a full system later on down the line.
Oh, and want more tips on picking out the right video doorbell? CNET’s Megan Wollerton has you covered.
Other options we’ve tested
One of your newer options, the August View looks great and the DIY installation was wonderfully easy, but the mobile app was annoyingly laggy whenever we’d try to view the live feed. That’s the last thing you want if someone’s in the process of nabbing a package off of your porch. Overall CNET score: 7.1
Smart outdoor lighting
Lots of us use motion-activated lights on our porch or outside our garage door — and though there’s plenty of debate as to whether or not exterior lighting can actually help deter a burglary, most experts agree that it can help play a role when used correctly. If you’re thinking about upgrading to something a little smarter than that cheap porch light, you’ve got a couple of options worth considering.
For the most part, I think that Philips Hue’s outdoor lights are overpriced and really only worth it if you’re willing to splurge. That said, I really liked the Philips Hue Outdoor Sensor, which you can get for less than $50. Stick it up anywhere you like outside, and it’ll track motion, temperature and ambient light conditions. You can use that info to trigger your Hue lights, and also to trigger any Apple HomeKit gadgets under your roof.
I wish that the Hue team offered a better variety of practical outdoor lights that don’t break the bank, as well as lights with motion sensors of their own — but if you’ve already bought in, or if you’re using Apple HomeKit-compatible lights, then the Hue Outdoor Sensor is definitely worth a look.
If you use Alexa to control the smart lights in your home, then you should consider trying out Alexa Guard, a relatively new home security mode with a couple of neat tricks. After turning Guard Mode on in the Alexa app’s settings, just say, “Alexa, I’m leaving” as you walk out the door to activate it. From there, Alexa will cycle your lights on and off to make it look like you’re home — and you’ll also get a notification if your Echo speakers hear the sound of an alarm, or broken glass.
Don’t have an Alexa smart lighting setup yet? Right now, you can get a third-gen Echo Dot bundled with a two-bulb Sengled starter kit for just $67, which is a pretty good deal.
Originally published last year. Regularly updated as we review new products, and also to make note of the privacy concerns surrounding the Ring product line.