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ADT vs. Vivint: Which professional home security system is better?

You'd think it would come down to an old dog versus new tricks and, well, you wouldn't be entirely wrong about that.

Dale Smith Former Associate Writer
Dale Smith is a former Associate Writer on the How-To team at CNET.
Dale Smith
6 min read
See at Vivint
Vivint Home Security
See at ADT
ADT home security

If you've been considering getting a professionally installed home security system, chances are at some point you're going to narrow down your choices to ADT versus Vivint -- two of the biggest names in the industry. Odds are, too, you have some preconceived notions about these companies and you're wondering if your intuition is correct or completely off-base.

For instance, you've probably noticed ADT's blue octagonal yard signs your whole life, so you know the security company has been around quite a while, but you wonder -- has it kept up with the times? Vivint's bright, bold orange signs have been popping up in trendier neighborhoods more and more lately -- its entire ad campaign feels new and fresh -- but does the quality of its service match its marketing hype?

When comparing ADT with Vivint, there are surprises aplenty. Yes, at 100-plus years old, ADT is the longest-established home security company in the biz, but that reputation has allowed it to keep pace with innovations in the market -- wireless sensors, smart speakers and what have you. Vivint is indeed a relative newcomer, but with emphasis on the word relative -- Vivint has actually been around for over 20 years now -- almost as long as CNET, in fact.

And yet, when it comes down to deciding which service we'd recommend over the other, the difference between "old school" and "new school" turns out to be the make-or-break factor. We'll explain in a bit, but first let's take a look at each home security company, starting with the (relatively) new kid in town.

Ry Crist/CNET

If you're looking for the biggest names and biggest brains in smart home automation, Vivint easily fits the bill. The question is, however, does the bill you'll end up getting from Vivint for all these cutting-edge technologies fit you and your budget?

Everything you can get with Vivint -- door and window sensors, a smart door lock, doorbell camera, smart thermostat, etc. -- you can buy a la carte from Amazon and other retailers. Some gadgets, like the Nest Learning Thermostat or the Kwikset Smart Lock, are the exact same ones available for sale elsewhere (usually for much cheaper, thanks to Vivint's steep markup). Others, like Vivint's smart display home hub, are easily replaceable with other, better mainstream alternatives (like the Nest Hub or Nest Hub Max) that are, again, often a lot less expensive when purchased elsewhere. 

So, what do you get for all the extra money Vivint charges?

Simple answer -- convenience. You don't have to install any of it, you don't have to connect it all to each other, and if something goes haywire, there's a toll-free number you can call and Vivint will send someone out to diagnose and fix the problem. In other words, you never have to tinker.

If that sounds like something you're willing to pay for, you should be perfectly happy with Vivint's offerings. (If not, perhaps you should consider DIY home security alternatives.)

Vivint says the average installation package costs $2,400 for new customers -- back-of-the-napkin math says you could get a similar setup for about half that if you installed everything yourself. Vivint also offers a professional monitoring service for $30 per month, which is about par for the course for pro systems. 

Vivint will let you spread out the cost of installation over payments, but -- and here's the real kicker -- Vivint doesn't require any kind of contract. If and when you're ready to terminate service, if you still have a remaining balance, just pay it off and voilà. You're done. 

If only we could say the same about the other big name in home security…

Read our full review of Vivint Home Security.

David Priest/CNET

The one area where you could think ADT might be slacking, it's very much not -- ADT's technology is as state-of-the-art as any on the market. Even though the company was founded in the 1800s, it's very much kept up with the times. Where once the ADT system monitored doors and windows with wired connections (run behind walls and under kickplates), these days everything is wireless. 

You can get all the same (or similar) gadgets and gizmos with ADT as you can with Vivint or any other brand -- smart locksdoorbell camerassecurity cams, a connected thermostat. And ADT will now integrate with the Google Nest line of smart speakerssmart displays and connected cameras. 

ADT's pricing is on the high side of competitive with Vivint's -- most of its devices cost about the same or a little more than comparable devices from Vivint. A few cost a little less. Its monthly monitoring service is a bit overpriced -- $39 per month for basic service ($9 more than Vivint); $60 if you want to set up automations like turning the lights on when your deadbolt unlocks, for example. That's $15 more than Vivint charges for a comparable service.

But beyond the security equipment itself is where ADT's service starts to break down -- and fast.

First, there's the system for controlling all that gear. Vivint has a smart display that serves as a hub, as well as a mobile app and website -- but all three work in glorious harmony with one another, letting you control any part of the system from any one and all of them.

ADT's setup, however, is a bit more… disjointed. ADT also has a hub, an app and a website, but unlike with Vivint, you can't do everything on any one of them. For example, the control panel (aka hub) lets you arm and disarm the system and check security camera feeds and device settings. But if you want to set up a routine or access more specific device settings, you have to move over to the ADT Pulse app. To create more complex home automations, however, you have to move over to the web portal, which means you have to use a laptop or desktop computer (and not everyone has one of those handy all the time). 

Not only is it frustrating and confusing to have to use different tools to accomplish different tasks, the user interface and experience is subpar on all of the above -- as you might expect from a company that cut its teeth during the early days of the automobile.

But where ADT really falls out of step with modernity is with its contract. You read that right: ADT still requires a contract for service. And the company includes positively punishing terms if ADT customers want to get out early. Even if you pay for all the hardware up front, the contract will still lock you in for 12 to 60 months (depending on the region), and cancellation can cost up to 75% of the remaining balance of the entire contract.

With few (if any) advantages over other professionally installed systems, the required contract is the last nail in the coffin, placing ADT at the bottom of our list of favorite home security companies. 

Read our full review of ADT home security.

Conclusion: Vivint is better than ADT, but there are even better options

The winner this round is Vivint. It's less expensive for the same or similar equipment, offers a better user experience and requires no contracts. But there are a lot of conditions we want to point out before you call the number on your neighbor's bright orange yard sign to start service in your own home. 

First, our favorite professionally installed security system is Xfinity, so you should look to see if that's available in your area (you can read our Xfinity versus Vivint article for even more insights). 

But unless you're just so busy making money that you simply have no time whatsoever (even on the weekends) to install your own smart home devices, you should at least consider DIY options. For most products, the DIY installation process is simple enough that you don't need much know-how -- or for that matter, much time -- to do it yourself.

You can save yourself hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars, DIYing it, and, once you've signed up for a professional monitoring service from Ring, which has a $30 per month service, or SimpliSafe, which charges $25 per month for its best service, your experience will be fairly similar to someone who paid much, much more for their home security system.

But if you have the money to spend on a professionally installed security system -- and fiddling with smart home security gadgets isn't your idea of a fun and interesting weekend -- and Xfinity doesn't service the area where you live, we think you'll be perfectly happy with home security service from Vivint.