The 5 Best Home Security Systems
- December 1, 2017 -
We checked in with our home security testers eight months after they installed their systems to gauge their continued satisfaction. Most testers were happy with their providers and unanimously reported increased peace of mind. If you’re interested in professional home security monitoring, we still think you’ll be happiest with ADT, Frontpoint, and Vivint. One important update: We learned it’s important not to skimp on video cameras, which are essential for assessing false alarms and avoiding expensive fees. We’ve updated our review throughout to discuss these findings. You can also jump straight to our discussion on home security cameras.
Most Popular Provider: ADT
If you only know one name from our top picks, chances are it’s ADT – the company has been around since the late 1800s, and boasts several million more subscribers than any other home security provider. When it comes to deterring potential break-ins, we think brand recognition has significant value. If you want to know that you’re protected (and you want other people to know it too), an ADT sign in your front yard is a good bet. It came as no surprise that, eight months in, our tester reported resting easier knowing that his ADT system was on at night. The technology ADT offers is roughly equivalent to our other top picks, including a variety of video cameras with remote control features that can help you assess alerts and decide whether you need to notify police — an ability that virtually all of our testers stressed was important when we followed up with them.
Best Customer Support: Frontpoint
Frontpoint impressed us with its customer service. We felt like it had our back every step of the way. When we needed help choosing our equipment, the sales rep listened to our safety concerns and recommended specific items for each room. Even the DIY installation experience was designed with care. Instead of calling the company or scouring through a manual, we received a box with a link to a personalized mobile website. This interactive site walks you through each step of the simple, 15-minute process. If you have any trouble along the way, Frontpoint’s online resource center is full of FAQs, equipment guides, and video tutorials. When we had questions about our system, its customer service reps were nothing but patient and reassuring. The company offers three service tiers. Based on tester feedback, we’d suggest either the Ultimate plan — which lets you choose from a variety of security camera options so that you can keep tabs on what’s happening if your alarm goes off — or else supplementing one of the lower tier plans with a separate video camera.
Best for Home Automation: Vivint
Vivint wins top marks for ease of use and home automation. It offers some of the most advanced home security technology, and makes things simple — fun, even — for you to control. The mobile app allows you to arm and disarm its systems, view and record camera footage, and everything in between. You can also adjust any of your home automation: change the temperature on your thermostat, turn your lights on or off, and even have two-way conversations through your security cameras. Our tester praised Vivint’s convenience when we checked in with him, telling us that he relied so heavily on the mobile app that he barely needed to use the base station. The company’s equipment is also sleeker than most of the competition; it looks high-tech. To unlock a month-to-month contract, just be aware that you’ll need to purchase all of your equipment upfront. Otherwise, Vivint requires a five-year contract — with a mere three-day trial period.
Two runners-up are also worth considering. SimpliSafe is the cheapest of our providers, with professional monitoring plans starting at $15 per month (versus the $35-40 of our top picks). The tradeoff is limited tech: no outdoor cameras, no ability to save images from your video feed, and no home automation features. Professional monitoring from GetSafe starts at $35, comparable to ADT and Frontpoint. It doesn’t have the name recognition of a giant like ADT, but GetSafe stands out for having the most transparent pricing: Everything is listed on their website, which means there’s no need to go through a sales rep just to get a quote.
How We Found the Best Home Security Systems
First, we made sure they all had the same critical features.
We started with the eight most popular home security systems that offered professional monitoring. These are the names you probably already know: ADT, Vivint, Frontpoint, GetSafe, SimpliSafe, Link Interactive, Protect America, and LiveWatch. They all cover the four fundamental levels of protection:
- Intrusion (door, window, and glass-break sensors)
- Environmental (carbon monoxide, fire, and flood sensors)
- Surveillance (indoor, outdoor, and doorbell cameras)
- Life safety (life alert and panic buttons)
Smoke alarms, flood detectors, and carbon monoxide detectors are pretty common, but not always standard — even among our top picks. For example, GetSafe doesn’t offer a carbon monoxide detector. And the type of surveillance equipment does vary: Some systems rely on lo-fi motion detectors (SimpliSafe); others offer HD doorbell cameras and activity-triggered video (ADT, Vivint).
We also considered home automation options, which allow you to remotely control features of your home such as lights and door locks. Vivint really impressed us with its seamless automation integration. Our tester loved being able to see who was at the front door directly from his app. The more barebones SimpliSafe doesn’t offer home automation at all. But we wanted to figure out what these differences meant on a day-to-day basis: Which features were necessary for improved peace of mind? Which would be easiest to integrate into our daily routines?
We put each security system to the test.
Your security system is more than a list of features. You want to trust the company you’re choosing to protect your home. We know that personal experiences vary, but the only way we could truly compare these providers was to experience them ourselves.
It started with a sales call.
The majority of these companies recommend or require you to call when ordering your service. We recommend this too, as you can often get a lower price by discussing your quote with a salesperson. Sometimes home security systems require an installation fee, equipment fees, or an activation fee. It’s quite common that special deals can waive or lower those. In fact, sales reps from all eight providers offered us a discount over the phone — we didn’t even have to ask.
Most testers were pleasantly surprised with the sales reps they spoke to. The phone calls felt informative but casual — more of a conversation than a sales pitch. Our Vivint tester felt like the sales rep was a friend looking out for his needs.
Be upfront about your budget.All of our testers were offered “discounts” without even asking for them. Sales reps have a lot of control over your price, and will often come back with discounts that magically lower your price just below your budget.
We recommend you get a good idea of what features and packages you want before calling, but be open to the advice from the sales rep. Our Frontpoint tester called twice. The first time, she had a good idea of what she wanted system-wise but said she was still shopping around for a provider. The second time, she pretended to be an easy sell who just wanted a system but hadn’t done any research. Her initial call was much more informative and detailed. The sales rep walked her through each room in her house, asking her to describe where the windows and doors were in each room, recommending the right pieces of equipment for each space — likely because they knew she had done her research.
Then it was time to install.
ADT and Vivint are the only two providers that require professional installation. The others are all DIY. DIY systems are designed to be easy to install — all of our testers had their systems up and running in less than 15 minutes. Just peel and stick the sensors and then sync them to the control panel. Most of our DIY experiences went smoothly, but one had a missing camera (LiveWatch), and another had a faulty control panel (Frontpoint). Behind these big companies are humans and mistakes happen, but they handled those mistakes quite differently. The Frontpoint rep we spoke apologized quickly and shipped our tester a new control panel that arrived the next day. By comparison, when our tester told the LiveWatch rep walking her through the installation process that she was missing a camera, he sounded surprised, but never followed up to replace it.
If you prefer to leave installation to the experts, Vivint and ADT schedule professional installation. This method allows for home security experts to really evaluate your home’s security needs and educate you on how to best utilize it. During both installation appointments, the technicians determined that our testers had ordered more equipment than they needed, so they refunded the unused equipment.
The downside is that professional installation typically costs money (around $100) and can take much longer — ADT and Vivint each took a solid two and a half hours to set up. But once the technicians left, both testers felt like they fully understood how their systems worked.
And finally, we lived with them for eight months.
Installation is an important step, but if you’ve signed a years-long contract it’s only the start of your relationship with your home security provider. To see if our testers had any regrets after prolonged use of their systems, we checked back in with them at the eight-month mark.
Most had positive things to say, reporting that their systems improved their overall peace of mind. If you’re prone to fretting late at night or while away on vacation, home security systems deliver on their promise of reassurance. That’s not to say there weren’t annoyances — which can become major sore points if you’re interacting with your system every time you leave the house. LiveWatch’s piercing, impossible-to-mute beeps drew complaints from one tester, as did Link Interactive’s constantly inaccurate digital display. Others, like ADT, were easier to incorporate unobtrusively into our daily routines.
Our Top Picks
Most Popular Provider
ADTADT is the face of home security — a recognition they’ve earned after over 100 years in the business.
Monitoring fee: $37–$53/month
Contract term: 3 years
Trial period: 3 days
Founded in 1890, ADT has been around for decades longer than any other security company. With over 6 million subscribers, ADT is synonymous with home security — even its logo is a clear warning to would-be burglars. To get a quote, you build a customized package over the phone with a sales rep. You can also chat online, but we recommend calling, since this allows you to negotiate lower prices.
ADT doesn’t have the strongest customer service reputation among the companies we considered, racking up more than three thousand complaints on its Better Business Bureau page (versus Frontpoint’s paltry one hundred). While we chalked most of this discrepancy up to the fact that ADT has several million more customers than its competitors, our tester began his call with low expectations. But he was pleasantly surprised. “My needs drove the conversation. And once I finally had the quote, he explained the purpose behind each device I was receiving and what the installation might entail. He took extra time to help me weigh whether I needed home automation or not — and I’m almost positive it wasn’t scripted.”
One of the company’s strengths is its range of equipment options. You can choose a tablet-like touchscreen control panel or a classic keypad command center (which comes in various styles). ADT also offers impressive video tech, from cameras that begin recording as soon as a door is opened, to live feeds that can be viewed remotely from your phone at any time. These features ensure that, if your alarm does go off, you can assess the situation remotely before deciding whether to call the police. When we checked back in with our testers, most of them stressed the importance this feature. One camera-less tester recalled receiving an alarm notification while traveling. But without a video feed, she told us, “I didn’t know if there was a false alarm or a real intruder.”
False alarms are a huge problem.A 2016 survey of Boulder residents found that 99.8% of home security alarms were false — and that stat is not unique to Colorado. To combat this drain on police department resources, some municipalities have begun charging fines for false alarms. (In Seattle, where one of our testers did have a false alarm, it’s $150.) A video camera can help you make an informed decision before deciding opting to call on police.
ADT’s monthly monitoring packages start at $37, and your rep can help customize your package with the specific equipment that you want (although you should expect this to affect your final price). Many of ADT’s higher-end home automation offerings are customizable. There’s a vacation mode you can activate that will arm the system, keep a steady temperature, and trigger random lights to suggest that someone’s home. You can also set up situational operations — for example if the sensor detects a fire, you can automate doors to unlock and the A/C to shut off (slowing the circulation of smoke). Once you decide on the features and equipment you want, ADT will send a professional to install them.
Activation and installation fees typically fall between $99 and $199 based on your package, and our experience was mixed. Our tester said the technician provided solid customer service: “He dropped a few unnecessary window sensors from my bill after deciding that the motion detector was sufficient for the entire front half of my home.” There was an additional personal touch with his experience too, with the installation tech writing up a cheat-sheet for the system and highlighting helpful sections of the manual. However, there were some issues with connecting the command hub to our tester’s network. The technician explained that ADT’s broadband systems have trouble connecting to Suddenlink routers, which our tester had, so he tried a different kind of command hub. After he left, our tester noticed he was charged $190 more than his original quote. As it turned out, the new equipment was significantly more expensive because it worked on cellular signals instead of WiFi. We wish we had known about that extra charge upfront.
But overall, we liked ADT’s customizability, and we appreciated the personal feel of the phone call and installation. And eight months in, our tester had settled into a routine, reporting that his system had little impact on his daily life — a positive in our minds. A good home security system shouldn’t upend your normal schedule. He noted that he had gotten into the habit of arming it every evening before bed and that he had “better ease of mind” as a result.
Best Customer Support
FrontpointFrom our conversations with sales and customer service reps to the detailed online resource center — we always felt like we were in good hands.
Monitoring fee: $35–$50/month
Contract term: 1 or 3 years
Trial period: 30 days
If you’re not sure what you need, or even where to start, Frontpoint is there to help. Its commitment to customer satisfaction was clear at every stage, starting with our initial phone call. We were impressed with the sales rep’s attention to detail. She asked our tester to describe the layout of each room in her home, listened to her safety concerns, and answered questions about all kinds of package options. When our tester told her she needed more time to shop around, she completely understood.
To install the system, Frontpoint directs you to its mobile site to complete your initial setup. The site walks you through step by step — how to get the control panel connected and online, how and where to place your door sensors, and more. Because it’s a personalized mobile experience, if you stop halfway through installation and come back to it later, the site remembers where you were. If you’re stalled at a particular stage for longer than you should be, a help window pops up on your device with a phone number to call.
When you’re ready to activate the system, you call the customer service line, and a rep confirms that your system is online and fully functional. The entire process takes about 30 minutes. If you run into any issues and don’t want to call Customer Service, the Frontpoint website features visual guides on every piece of equipment, plus tutorial videos and an extensive FAQ section.
A few minutes into the DIY installation, our tester got stuck getting her control panel up and online — it just wouldn’t connect. A help window popped up with a number to call, and a Frontpoint rep helped troubleshoot. After about 10 minutes, he could tell there was an issue with the circuit board. Certainly not ideal — but the rep apologized and shipped her replacement control panel overnight. When the piece arrived the next day, her system was up and running in just 15 minutes.
All plans come with professional monitoring, but there are different package tiers: Protection, Interactive, and Ultimate. Protection offers basic monitoring, while Interactive unlocks home automation features and remote access from the Frontpoint app. For extra surveillance options like live video streaming, motion-triggered photos, and night vision, spring for the Ultimate plan. Our tester opted for the Interactive plan, but ended up dissatisfied with its lack of video surveillance. When she received an alarm notification while on vacation, she had no way of gauging whether her home had been broken into, or if her cat had simply managed to trip the sensor. (It turned out to be a false alarm — one she paid $150 for.) Our takeaway? If you opt for a package that doesn’t include video surveillance, consider supplementing it with a standalone security camera. There are some great options on the market for about $200.
Despite this snag, our tester reported that her household felt greater peace of mind thanks to the system. “I like that I can arm and disarm it remotely, and the beep every time a door opens, while piercingly loud if you’re in the room as the console, is oddly reassuring — I know my door sensors are working!” she told us.
Best for Home Automation
VivintIts cutting-edge technology and user-friendly mobile app makes controlling and monitoring your home a breeze.
Monitoring fee: $40–$50/month
Contract term: Monthly, if equipment purchased upfront
Trial period: 3 days
Vivint has been around since 1999 and is known for its best-in-class technology. We like its mobile app interface and automation features in particular. All the systems we looked at offer some basic features, but Vivint’s were the easiest to use. We’re not the only ones who think so: Vivint’s mobile app earned 4.5 out of 5 stars in Apple’s App Store. By comparison, ADT and Frontpoint’s apps are rated 2 and 2.5, respectively.
If you’re worried about the potential eyesore of a clunky keypad or base station, all of Vivint’s standard equipment is totally modern. Every plan includes a touchscreen keypad — a white, wall-mounted tablet. This control panel is the hub of your system, and you can control it through the mobile app.
Vivint does require a professional installation. The appointment is scheduled within a four-hour window, but our tester’s technician had the system up and running in just over two hours, and he had nothing but good feedback to report. He felt like the technician was a guest in his home — he even came prepared with protective shoe covers and asked to borrow the vacuum to clean up the drill debris.
Professional installation costs extra.Vivint’s professional installation is free unless you purchase the outdoor camera, which has an extra $99 installation fee. To compare, ADT charges between $99 and $199 for installation, depending on the plan you choose.
The Vivint tech was also up front after he noticed our tester had ordered more equipment than he needed. As our tester explained, “I originally asked for an outdoor camera, but after reviewing the house, the tech felt the doorbell camera was sufficient. Turns out, he was right.” There’s only one outdoor entry point and the doorbell camera had range enough to cover his entire driveway. That ended up lowering our tester’s expected price too. Vivint’s customer service is also reflected in its J.D. Power score of 5 out of 5 in the 2017 Home Security Satisfaction Report. (ADT, by contrast, scored 3 out of 5.)
Eight months in, our tester was happy with his system, reporting that all of his equipment functioned beautifully, and that he used the doorbell camera on a daily basis. He also praised Vivint’s mobile alerts, noting that they come in handy for anyone prone to absent-mindedness: “The notifications for the door sensors are nice in case I open my basement sliding door and leave it open,” he told us. “It continues to check-in and provide a notification that the “sliding door is still open.’”
If you opt for Vivint, be aware that you’ll need to purchase all your equipment upfront to open up the option of a month-to-month contract. If you don’t buy the equipment outright, the company requires a five-year contract — a really long time to commit, especially given that you only have three days from the date of install to cancel. Vivint will waive any cancellation fees for extenuating circumstances like death, bankruptcy, or a move to assisted living. Still, it’s best to be intentional if you decide on Vivint. If you’re on the fence about security systems as a whole, we recommend a provider like GetSafe or Frontpoint — both have 30-day trials.
SimpliSafe features the lowest professional monitoring prices at $15–$25 per month, although you’ll pay more for text alerts and app-based remote control. A pretty big bonus with SimpliSafe is that it doesn’t charge for self-monitoring like GetSafe does. But SimpliSafe doesn’t offer home automation of any kind.
There’s no option to install electronic door locks, garage door operations, outdoor cameras, or temperature-control features. It does offer one indoor surveillance camera, but it’s not as advanced as other security providers: its camera doesn’t take snapshots of activity and cannot pan or move. Our testers unanimously agreed that home automation was the best part of their respective security systems, which knocked SimpliSafe from our top picks.
If you like the DIY monitoring aspect of Simplisafe but want a system that offers home automation features, consider GetSafe. Self-monitoring is $25 per month; professional monitoring is another $10 more. Still, we liked that you can add garage doors openers, lights, and a thermostat that are all controlled directly through the GetSafe app.
We especially like how easy it is to build your plan and purchase directly from the website. Most other providers require you to call to see pricing details. No matter which plan you choose, installation is totally DIY and it only took our tester 15 minutes total.
Other Home Security Systems to Consider
We also tested three other home security systems: Link Interactive, Protect America, and LiveWatch. Each are solid options for home security, but couldn’t stand up against our top picks.
Link Interactive’s system is easy to customize and order online, and it offers all the standard features for security, surveillance, and home automation. However, the range of available equipment wasn’t quite as robust as our top picks, and we had to do jump through a few hoops during installation.
When you order online, you assign each sensor to a door or window in your home, and that name assignment (Front Door, Bedroom Window) is synced to your control panel so you’ll know which sensor was set off. But when the equipment arrived, the sensors were numbered instead of labeled with the names you decided on during setup, and our tester had to intentionally set off each sensor one by one to see where they were supposed to go.
Protect America advertises a lowest price guarantee, and our tester only paid $50 to sign up and install. That was cheaper than Frontpoint’s pretty average startup cost of $250, and significantly cheaper than the $1,200 that our ADT tester paid. But to get prices that low, you have to be willing to sacrifice quality in others areas.
During the initial sales call, our tester asked why the sales rep had recommended this particular package. The rep simply answered, “Because of the number of windows and doors.” Not the most helpful response. When it came time for our tester to activate her system, she spent more than two hours on the live chat (which Protect America had recommended) because of two faulty sensors. Our tester, in frustration, wanted to move on and come back to resolve those. But Protect America never followed up to guarantee those sensors worked.
Overall, LiveWatch is a pretty average security system provider; nothing about its products or service stands out as exceptional. When the equipment arrived at our tester’s home, it was missing a surveillance camera. The reps we informed were surprised by the absent equipment, but never resolved the issue. The overall experience left us wondering how dependable LiveWatch would be in a real emergency.
LiveWatch is the only company that doesn’t offer medical alert options; you have to contact police yourself if there’s a medical emergency. Its video cameras can’t be triggered by activity to record or take a snapshot. Also, it doesn’t offer any temperature sensor features.
Did You Know?
False alarms can be expensive, but are preventable if you have the right equipment.
The false-alarm rate on home security systems is incredibly high, with estimates ranging from 98% to 99.8%. The problem has cost police departments so much time and money that some cities are starting to move home security alarms down the priority list for first responders, and to charge fines for false alerts.
Joe Liu, president of Home8alarm, suggests getting video cameras if you’re serious about preventing false alarms, seconding our own testers’ observations. “With video verification you can verify every alarm and reduce false alarm rates to zero. You also get more priority with first responders if you have video evidence,” he told us.
You can get a camera through your provider or purchase one separately.
All of our top picks offer security cameras, but none monitor the video feed for you. From a personal privacy standpoint, this is good. But since you’re just paying for the equipment, there’s nothing to stop you from buying your own camera separately. Maybe you don’t want to upgrade to a more expensive subscription tier (the camp into which our Frontpoint tester fell), maybe you don’t like the idea of having a stranger install cameras inside your home (a concern voiced by several testers), or maybe you just want more choice on camera technology than a provider offers.
Do-it-yourself options often fall in the $150 to $200 range. When we reviewed DIY Home Security Cameras, our favorite was the Withings Home Security Camera ($140) because of its fast setup and high-quality video. The Canary Flex is a good outdoor option at a similar price point (currently $144 on Amazon), and the Nest Cam ($170) is compatible with some ADT packages, letting you control everything from the same app.
Purchasing directly through your provider is more convenient, since the rep can make suggestions based on your home layout and you’ll typically be able to monitor all your alerts via a single app. But this route makes it difficult to comparison shop. Take ADT, which advertises wireless security cameras, dome security cameras, and indoor color security cameras on its website — but requires you to call for pricing and technical specs. When we called, the rep let us know only that camera prices could range “from $199 to $5000,” before pushing us to get a quote for a full security system.
That said, if you already have a provider, it’s worth at least getting a quote. We’d also suggest inquiring into the following specs:
Questions to Ask About Your Security Camera
- Does it offer 1080p streaming? 1080p is considered “full high-definition.” When we reviewed security cameras, we found anything lower resulted in grainy, poor-quality video — not ideal if you’re trying to collect evidence.
- Does it have a motion detector? Cameras with motion detection, like the Nest Cam or Withings, will record if they sense movement, saving the clip for later reference. (Continuous video streams are always on but save nothing.)
- Will storage cost extra? Most motion detecting cameras save their clips to the cloud. Some, like the Arlo Q, provide free storage. Others, like the Nest, charge a monthly $10 subscription. Make sure you know what you’re committing to.
- Does it rotate or pan? Unlike stationary cameras, these features let you adjust your camera’s view. In fact, cameras like the Zmodo Pivot are designed to automatically track motion, ensuring that you capture the images you need.
Make sure your cameras are positioned in high-traffic areas.
The best location for your cameras depends on the exact layout of your home, but we spoke with four industry professionals — a former FBI agent with experience testing home security systems, a criminal defense attorney, an ADT spokesman, and the president of a home security company — about video camera placement, and they offered a few general tips:
First priority: entry door | garage | driveway
All our experts agreed that having cameras record the space in front of your house or leading to your door is a smart option. Liu advised having a camera that can cover the entire approach to your home and told us “you want two cameras to cover a long driveway.”
Back doors are another common target. After all, the less attention an intruder draws, the better. Having a camera film any back entrances (or side doors and windows if you lack a backdoor) will help to verify whether someone has broken in. As for placement, somewhere up high where wires can’t be clipped — or by the doorbell, where burglars won’t want to do anything suspicious — is our experts’ advice.
Second priority: master bedroom
Glenn Kurtzrock, a criminal defense attorney and former homicide prosecutor, told us that based on his experience, most burglars “go for the master bedroom, and won’t waste time in rooms like a kid’s room.” He explained, “burglars don’t like to spend a lot of time in a house regardless of whether there’s a security system” so will prioritize the rooms most likely to have cash, jewelry, or small electronics. Having a video camera that films the entrance to your master bedroom can help provide video evidence for the police should a crime occur.
Third priority: other high-traffic areas
After that, the best areas for placement are any high traffic rooms, such as a living area or main hallway, that a burglar is likely to pass through multiple times on their way in or out. This helps you track where the intruder has been and increases your likelihood of capturing images that can be used as evidence for the authorities.
Some providers also offer DIY monitoring options.
All of the best home security companies offer professional monitoring — when your alarm goes off, the monitoring service contacts you within a couple of minutes to confirm the it’s a true emergency, and then dispatches the police or other services at your request. If you don’t pick up, most companies will call whoever you’ve designated as your emergency contact (usually a close friend or family member). If there’s still no response, they’ll typically dispatch the police.
But some providers, like our runners-up GetSafe or Simplisafe, also offer a DIY or self-monitoring option. Whenever a sensor is tripped, you receive an alert on your phone. Then, it’s up to you to determine if there’s a burglar or if your cat knocked a plant over. If it’s a true emergency, it’s your responsibility to contact the authorities. This could be potentially dangerous if you sleep through an alert that turns out to be a serious threat. It is a cheaper option though, with lower monthly fees (sometimes none). If you are interested in DIY home security, be sure to check out our favorite DIY home security systems.
Local Home Security Reviews
We reviewed home security providers in various cities and states around the country to see how they stack up against our nationwide picks.
Our Other Home Security Reviews
We’ve reviewed the entire home security market, we’ve looked at the popular security companies in local markets, and we also took a dive into even more reviews.
Check out our other reviews here if you’re interested in digging deeper into home security:
The Best Home Security Systems: Summed Up