Icontrol Networks Piper review: An attractive all-in-one home security solution

Piper claims to be able to manage a whopping 232 Z-Wave devices. Sadly, I didn't have that many Z-Wave gadgets laying around, so I was unable to test this claim. Right now, you can pair Piper with "plug-in modules, wall switches, motion sensors, freeze sensors, and open/close sensors" with plans for an expanded list in 2014. So in addition to the two Z-Wave gadgets Blacksumac sent, I also tried to link a GE Z-Wave wireless lighting control fluorescent light and appliance module we had in the lab. It worked without a hitch.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Design and Usability
Blacksumac did a fantastic job on this design -- it's modern and the construction feels solid. You can get Piper in either black or white and a matching black or white power cord will accompany it. Piper weighs 9.8 ounces, and it is 6.5 inches tall with the stand and 3.5 inches wide.

You have the option of mounting Piper on a wall or using the included stand to rest it on a flat surface. While it does offer battery backup, it relies mainly on a 7.5W AC/DC wall adapter for power, so consider outlet location when you're deciding where your Piper should go. That, and make sure you find a spot that will optimize Piper's potential to get great video footage.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Set-up couldn't be more straightforward, particularly if you're just putting it on a table or a countertop. Connect the power cord to Piper and then to the outlet and then press the small button on the back of Piper once. The LED on the front will immediately turn yellow. After a short time the light will turn blue and Piper will chime so you know it's ready for the next step.

Now you're ready to download the free Piper app on your Android or iOS device, create your login info, and then link it to your home Wi-Fi. That's it -- you can start using Piper. The whole thing should take 5 to 10 minutes from start to finish.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Z-Wave door/window sensor and smart switch Blacksumac sent me to test with Piper were extremely easy to set up on the app. You simply go to settings, select Z-Wave accessories, add, and then start. It will walk you through everything you need to get them running right away.

The app design is pretty intuitive. I think it could be a bit more streamlined, but it is fairly easy to navigate. The dashboard, particularly, is a little busy, but everything you need to interact with the various features and monitor your home remotely is right there. It might take a little time to get used to, but the number of features offered makes up for any app design clumsiness.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Performance
I put Piper through the ringer in our small appliance testing room. I set it up as I would have at home, including the additional Z-Wave door/window sensor and smart switch, which I connected to a lamp.

Then, I set up various rules in stay, away, and vacation mode. There's also a notify mode that will simply let you know if it detects motion, sound, temp changes, or doors opening (if you have door/window sensors) rather than triggering a siren or other security-related response. It did not disappoint. I got e-mails, texts, and phone calls every time I triggered the system, using both the Android app on a Nexus 7 and the iOS app on an iPhone 5.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Since the door/window sensor and lamp-connected smart switch were added, a new rule option was available to me in each mode: "If door opens, turn on/off lamp." The app and Piper communicate extremely well and I never had a performance issue that would cause concern. If anything, it was too sensitive to sound -- I sneezed very near Piper at one point and actually triggered the "loud sound" notification.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Conclusion
I think Piper is the absolute best value among the DIY home security offerings we've seen so far. For $239 you get a video camera, a motion sensor, a siren, a microphone to detect sound, and built-in sensors that monitor environmental triggers like temperature and humidity. And the app integration lets you monitor your home in real-time and control any Z-Wave appliances -- with no monthly fee. And it works extremely well.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

No other system provides all of those things, especially not at that price. And, while it's geared toward renters or smaller homes, you can have up to five Pipers in one house. That would be suitable for a very large home for any mansion-dwellers reading this who prefer the DIY route.

So, if you like the idea of an all-in-one device that runs on Wi-Fi, I think Piper is a fantastic option, particularly for a smaller home. We will be reviewing the similar $199 Canary, too, but I don't think it can come close to matching Piper on features. Not interested in a Wi-Fi-powered system at all? You may prefer the very highly rated SimpliSafe, complete with cellular connection and remote monitoring for $14.99 a month.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Blacksumac Piper

Part Number: CNET-piper

MSRP: $239.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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