Our Top Picks
Abode Connected Home Security
The DIY system that hit all the right notes.
In the Starter Kit: One Gateway (hub), two door contacts, one motion camera, and one key fob.
Abode was created by a former ADT employee, and it hits all the right notes. We’re talking about stylish black and white hardware, Amazon Alexa and IFTTT integration, third-party home automation device support, and a few unique twists on traditional security hardware. Think of it as the Bentley of DIY home security systems.
We were especially excited about Abode’s smart key fob. Each fob can be paired to specific person and has three controls: an away button, a standby/disarm button, and a home button. (There’s also a fourth inactive button, but Abode hasn’t decided what to do with it yet.) That makes Abode the only DIY home security system that you can disarm before you go inside. Scout Alarm and the Lowe’s Iris require you to enter your home before disarming, and it was surprisingly pleasant not to feel like we had to rush to hit that 30-second window.
We were also impressed with Abode’s unique take on motion detection. Their detector includes a camera module that snaps photos to help you identify what triggered the sensor. Instead of getting a basic push notification that reads “motion detected,” you also get a snapshot on your phone’s lock screen.
Abode Paid Monitoring Plans
$10 per month
14-day timeline and media storage
Connect + Secure
$30 per month
24/7 professional monitoring
90-day timeline and media storage
Of all the DIY systems we looked at, Abode’s free self-monitoring plan also packs the most punch. With no subscription whatsoever, you can use every feature available on the mobile app (which includes options like push notifications, a live surveillance feed, and system controls — features that Scout requires you to pay for) and you get access to three days’ worth of system activity, like when a particular door was opened or a particular motion sensor was triggered. If you want to bump that history up to two weeks, the Connect plan costs $10 per month. And for $20 per month, you get a three-month timeline plus professional monitoring. (It’s also worth noting that only paid plans include media storage for streaming video.)
But if video surveillance is important to you, a slight word of caution: Abode’s 720p streaming bookshelf camera was the only piece of hardware that left us wanting. It can be placed on a flat surface or attached flush to a wall with an adhesive sticker, but that’s the extent of its flexibility. In other words, you can’t mount it in a corner, or adjust the angle without turning the entire device. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, though. Abode is “works with Nest” certified, which means you can invest in the more flexible and 1080p-streaming Nest Cam if necessary.
Abode sells a lot of its own devices (which are competitively priced), but it also supports a great variety of third-party Z-Wave and ZigBee devices, which Scout, our other top pick, does not. The list is smaller than that of the Lowe’s Iris, but it does cover all the home automation basics: smart lights, deadbolts, outlets, and wall switches. As a note, any variety of Kwikset and Schlage Z-Wave door locks will work with Abode except for Kwikset’s line of Bluetooth KEVO locks.
Glass break and vibration sensor ($36)
Door and window access sensor ($30)
Acoustic glass break sensor ($60)
Indoor motion sensor ($54)
Indoor streaming camera ($150)
Motion sensor with wide angle camera ($115)
Occupancy sensor ($60)
Key fob ($27)
System status indicator ($36)
Wireless keypad ($80)
Home Automation Power Outlet & ZigBee Extender ($50)
Indoor add-on siren ($60)
Temperature, humidity, and light sensor ($50)
Water leak sensor ($40)
All the essentials, plus integration with the Samsung SmartThings ecosystem.
In the Starter Kit: One Scout Hub, one Door Panel, two access sensors, and one motion detector.
Scout covers all the essentials, plus a little more. It offers integration with a number of popular ecosystems (Next, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, LIFX, and Amazon Alexa), is incredibly easy to setup, and has incredibly compact, contemporary hardware. But there’s one drawback we feel is worth mentioning right off the bat: You have to pay $10 a month to use Scout’s mobile app and mobile alerts. Unless you subscribe, the only way to know that your alarm has gone off is to hear it.
That being said, if you’re likely to want professional monitoring at some point, Scout’s $20 “Always On+” subscription tied with Lowe’s Iris for the cheapest professional monitoring service available. (Abode charges $30 per month, and the price range basically goes up from there.) There’s no contract, and the Scout Hub has a 4G LTE chip that serves as a backup for system alerts — as long as you’re a subscriber, of course.
Scout Paid Monitoring Plans
$10 per month
Push, Email, and SMS notifications
4G LTE Backup
$20 per month
Push, Email, and SMS notifications
4G LTE Backup
24/7 professional monitoring
The first thing we noticed about Scout is that instead of slapping the same access sensor you’d use for windows on your door (like the rest of the industry), Scout built the Door Panel. It’s a bit larger than the average access sensor because it includes a built-in speaker. This meant that the “beep” for Scout’s door activity was noticeably louder, which turned out to be an interesting perk: Given that the Door Panel made its own sound, we were able to gauge which door was opened using only our ears.
The Door Panel also functions as an access point for Scout’s RFID key fobs and stickers. This allows you to waltz through the door and flash your keys in front of the panel to disarm the system. No typing. No buttons. Scout also lets you use your phone’s location services to automatically disarm your system when you enter your home. (You can see all of Scout’s recipes on its IFTTT channel.)
Scout touts that fact that it lets customers pick and choose only the devices they want instead of selling fixed security packages. But you should be aware that you’ll need to spend at least $200 minimum on a hub ($130) and a door panel ($70) just to get your system up and running — every system requires at least one Door Panel. We’d argue that this still constitutes a package, but we’re not complaining since Scout’s hardware pricing is generally on par with competitors.
Scout is also a Samsung SmartThings-approved system, so if you’re invested in the SmartThings ecosystem, it’s a solid choice. In fact, if you’re using Scout with SmartThings, you won’t need to use the Scout app anymore. Instead, you can transition completely to the SmartThings app, which allows you to control everything — from fridges to hot water heaters to smart outlets — from one interface.
Another attractive feature was Scout’s detailed installation tutorial videos. We didn’t see this level of detail from any other company, and it made installing our system much easier.
Scout Hub ($130)
Door Panel ($70)
Motion Detector ($50)
Access Sensor ($30)
Key Fob ($5)
RFID Sticker ($3)
Yard Sign ($10)
Three Others You Should Consider
One of the biggest names in home security, but you’ll need to sign a three-year professional monitoring contract.
Strictly speaking, Frontpoint isn’t a DIY system. But it offers DIY installation and uber-cheap equipment that’s pretty competitive with our top picks, making it a good hybrid option. Professional monitoring costs $15 more than Abode each month, but the equipment costs as little as $100 upfront. That includes one control panel, one motion detector, and three access sensors. And we found setup and installation extremely easy: the control panel comes pre-configured, so all you have to do is plug it in and hang devices on the wall with built-in adhesive pads.
The downside, obviously, is that Frontpoint requires a professional monitoring subscription (starting at $35 per month) — plus a three-year contract. That’s obviously not as flexible as our top picks, but there are some perks. Frontpoint’s equipment comes with a three-year warranty, while the rest of the DIY industry caps at one year. And, of course, you get the added layer of protection that comes with professional monitoring.
Case in point: Frontpoint’s “Crash & Smash” protection. If a thief tries to disable your alarm by unplugging or smashing your control panel, an operator at the monitoring center will be alerted that your system went offline without being disarmed properly and will call the police if necessary. Self-monitored systems, on the other hand, are only effective when you’re paying attention to your phone.
A really affordable system with the largest selection of home automation devices available. The only problem: Lowe’s won’t help you if you run into any problems with your system.
Let’s talk about the good: The Lowe’s Iris supports the most third-party home automation devices of any DIY home security system. Anything from smart light bulbs, to more obscure products, like WiFi-connected garden sprinklers and doggy doors can be automated by Iris. Its proprietary devices aren’t quite as sleek as Abode or Scout (they’re just, well, white), but many of them are considerably cheaper. For instance, the Iris Smart Hub is only $60, while Scout’s runs $130. Iris contact sensors are also about $8 cheaper a pop than both Scout and Abode. Overall, this system had the cheapest DIY equipment of all the companies we reviewed.
So what’s the catch? Lowe’s had quite few logistical hiccups with Iris early on. These affected the release and availability of new hardware, and also resulted in the sporadic rollout of some home automation features. We started testing the Iris system over a year ago, and we can attest to the quirks — including a bug that kept the Iris from automatically going back online after losing connection for even a split second.
That being said, Lowe’s has been great about publicly addressing these issues and has followed through with plans to push more consistent software updates and offer a professional monitoring option: $20 month-to-month. The company also gave a much-needed facelift to the Iris mobile app in early 2017. However, Lowe’s still isn’t confident enough to give its product a warranty, so don’t expect any help from them if something breaks or doesn’t work correctly.
Once we feel comfortable that Lowe’s has a firm handle on its product, we’ll consider including the Iris in our top picks.
A high-quality video surveillance approach to home security that’s best for small homes and apartments — unless you pair multiple cameras.
Canary is an all-in-one security solution that’s most suitable for small homes and apartments. It’s a unassuming tower that’s roughly double the size of a can of soda, but it’s packed with a full security deployment: a motion sensor, a crazy loud 90-decibel siren, an air quality sensor, and of course, a 1080p streaming camera with high-quality night vision. (We had complete clarity at over 30 feet in pure blackness, which was the entire length of the room we used for testing.) Free users also get a 12-hour video history, but you can up that to 30 days for $10 a month.
Here’s how it works: when the Canary detects motion, you get a notification on your phone that leads to a live stream of your home so that you can assess the situation. There aren’t any door or window sensors, but if you’re living in an apartment, the camera’s 145-degree lens will cover the majority of your living space (depending on your layout, of course).
The Canary was one of our favorites to test. The video stream seemed a bit more stable than other DIY systems (and appeared to have less latency), and the app itself was really smooth. What’s more, you can link multiple Canary cameras to the same account and stream all of them from the same interface.
One small note: Canary doesn’t have a backup cellular connection like our other top picks do. But, if it goes offline, you will get a notification.