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SimpliSafe Home Security review: An outstanding value in its class

Still a terrific choice.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

SimpliSafe's first-gen DIY home security kit won the Editors' Choice Award here on CNET back in 2014. I liked that it was one of the most affordable home security options to feature 24/7 live monitoring, I liked how easy it was to install and operate, and I loved how customizable the system was, with subtle layers of protection for a variety of emergency situations.

The problem was SimpliSafe's hardware -- the dated-looking devices were ugly as hell. That's a significant shortcoming for a system you're supposed to stick up all over your home.

That's why I was particularly excited to test out SimpliSafe's third-gen system, which made its debut at CES 2018. Aside from a couple of new additions to the setup since last time around, the pitch was the same -- monitored security that you install yourself and control from your phone. The difference now is that the hardware looks a lot better -- and, with packages starting at $229, it doesn't cost any more than before, either.

8.5

SimpliSafe Home Security

Like

  • Easy to install and operate
  • Great customizability

Don't Like

  • The devices are unattractive (but have improved)
  • Some of the sensors are a little finicky

It's just as capable as before, too. Though some of the sensors -- particularly the glass break and freeze sensors -- were a little more finicky than the rest, everything still worked as promised when I put the system through its paces in the CNET Smart Home. It's still a relatively good value here in 2021, too with live, 24/7 professional monitoring available starting at just $15 per month. If you want a home security budget option that doesn't feel like a budget option, then SimpliSafe is the system for you.

Getting started

The cheapest SimpliSafe package costs $229 and comes with just a single motion detector and a contact sensor that can track when a door or window is open or closed. The most popular package costs $259, and adds in two additional contact sensors. 

You can build your own custom SimpliSafe package with the exact devices you want. All told, the package we tested cost $465.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

For our purposes, we requested a bigger package with a greater variety of sensors. The total cost as tested: $465.

Part of the SimpliSafe appeal is that you can also build your own custom system with the specific sensors that make sense for your living space. To do so, you'll start with the mandatory base station and keypad, which together cost $185, then add additional devices a la carte style. Here's the full menu:

Burglary sensors

  • Entry sensor: $15
  • Motion sensor: $30
  • SimpliCam: $99
  • Glass break sensor: $35
  • Panic button: $20

Hazard sensors

Like the base station, the keypad is available in both white and black.

SimpliSafe
  • Smoke detector: $30
  • Carbon monoxide sensor: $50
  • Freeze detector: $30
  • Leak detector: $20

Add-ons

  • Keypad: $70
  • Key fob: $25
  • Siren: $60
  • Yard sign: $4

You can run SimpliSafe's system with no monthly fees if all you want is a localized alarm that will sound a siren if someone ever breaks in. If you want to add in professional live monitoring, the fee is $15 per month, which is about as fair a price as you'll find in the home security space. Make that $25 a month, and you'll also be able to monitor the system from your phone using the SimpliSafe app, and you'll unlock integrations with outside platforms like Amazon's Alexa and the Google Assistant.

Once your system arrives, it's up to you to install it yourself. SimpliSafe made this really, really easy. Each sensor comes with preapplied sticky tabs on their detachable backs. Just peel and stick -- no wiring necessary. If you need to move something, the sensors detach from their backings, exposing the sticky tabs for easy removal that won't damage your walls. The only thing you'll need to plug in is the base station.

That said, SimpliSafe does offer professional setup help for $79 if you need it, but also notes that 97% of users set their systems up themselves.

With your sensors in place, you'll put the keypad into pairing mode, then pair everything up by pressing a button on each sensor, then giving it a name on the keypad. From there, you can make any final tweaks to the system settings by logging onto SimpliSafe's web portal, or by using the SimpliSafe app.

The SimpliSafe base station quarterbacks all of your sensors and houses a siren as well as Wi-Fi and cellular connections to the company's monitoring service.

Chris Monroe/CNET

How it works

SimpliSafe's sensors keep in constant contact with the base station, which then relays everything to your phone (or, in an emergency, to authorities) via Wi-Fi. The base station also includes a 24-hour battery backup and a fee-free cellular connection to the company's monitoring service -- if the power or the Wi-Fi ever goes out, it'll still be able to call for help.

That approach also separates the most sensitive system components from the keypad, the part that beeps and asks for a PIN if the alarm is ever tripped. In many cases, that beeping keypad is probably the first thing that an intruder would try to smash in order to shut down the system, but doing so wouldn't make a difference.

You can arm and disarm the system using the keychain fob accessory.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The system offers three modes during use: Off, which is pretty self-explanatory; Away, which arms the sensors; and Home, which leaves some sensors on but disarms things like motion detectors so you can move around inside without setting anything off. By default, SimpliSafe gives you 30 seconds to disarm the system upon entry (you can customize that length of time in the app).

To disarm the system, press the off button on the key fob or in the app, or enter your code into the keypad. You can assign specific codes to specific users or guests, and you can also set a duress code for situations where someone is forcing you to disarm the system against your will. Punch it into the keypad, and it will appear as if the alarm is canceled and the system disarmed, but SimpliSafe will still send in the authorities.

If you're paying $25 a month for the full system controls, you'll be able to arm and disarm the system from the SimpliSafe app, or arm it on your way out the door with a quick voice command to Alexa or Google.

If the alarm is ever tripped, your phone will ring, and a SimpliSafe representative will ask if everything's OK. They'll also ask for your safeword -- a secret password of your choice that acts like an extra vocal PIN for the system. Fail to give it, and they'll still send the authorities, no matter what else you say. Like the duress code, it's a nice, extra layer of protection.

SimpliSafe also lets you specify which sensors will trigger an entry delay and which ones will trigger an instant alarm. You'll probably want a chance to disarm the system if you trip a contact sensor or a motion detector, for instance, while a glass break sensor alert might merit an instant alarm with no delay.

You can also set secret alerts that can send you a SMS, email or app notification without tripping the alarm at all. Hide a contact sensor on the inside of your liquor cabinet, for instance, and you'll get an alert if your teenager ever tries to sneak a sip.

Our test dog Dolly wasn't able to set off the SimpliSafe motion detector. It does a great job of distinguishing between people and pets.

Chris Monroe/CNET

System performance

SimpliSafe's approach to DIY security is appealing, but it's all for nothing if the sensors don't work reliably well. To that end, we spent a week putting them through a battery of tests.

All in all, the system did a great job. The open/closed contact sensors were the most reliable, triggering the alarm each and every time they were supposed to. The motion detector performed well, too. It was able to distinguish between people and small pets just fine, and it caught me walking through the room about 95 percent of the time. The other 5%: a test where something seemed to hiccup and I needed to walk through the room four or five times before it triggered anything. That wasn't a great result, but it was the only true misfire across several days of testing.

The leak detector was another standout, firing off an alert as soon as it came into water in each of my tests. The one drawback to that level of sensitivity -- it also went off at one point when my producer simply picked it up and moved it. That's not a huge deal though, especially for something you're going to toss under your sink and forget about.

Next up, the freeze detector. By default, it will send an alert if it ever senses ambient temperatures below 41 F or above 95 F, but you can set those thresholds to whatever points you like. It worked as expected over the long run, but it only takes readings and sends them to the base station once per hour. That's acceptable, but maybe a touch more sluggish then you'd like for especially sensitive temperature monitoring. Still, after having the pipes in my crawl space freeze this past winter, I can definitely see the appeal.

My final barrage of tests was aimed at the glass break sensor. Like the name suggests, it'll sound the alarm if it ever hears a window break -- and SimpliSafe claims that its calibrations are precise enough to distinguish between a broken window and a broken plate. Translation: It was time to break some stuff!

I started by trying to trick the sensor into sounding a false alarm. I didn't have a plate I was willing to part with, but I tried dropping a light bulbloudly clinking glassware together, playing glass-breaking sound effects at full volume and even tossing my keys against the wall, as one follower suggested on Twitter. Nothing worked -- the glass-break sensor wasn't fooled.

That all made for a promising start, but then, I tried breaking a small pane of actual glass. (I stole it from a picture frame -- apologies to the CNET Smart Home staging crew!) To my surprise, that didn't set the glass break sensor off, either. Maybe it thought it was a plate?

The team at SimpliSafe suggested I try dialing the sensitivity up -- turns out there's a slide switch on the back of the sensor with three settings. I set it to "high" and tried again, this time with an actual window purchased at a junk store. That did the trick -- across multiple tests, the glass break sensor caught us smashing the window each and every time.

In the end, I'd call that a successful result, but I'd definitely recommend starting with your glass break sensor set to "high" and dialing down from there as needed. As for me, I think the glass break sensor is one that I'd be comfortable skipping.

Smart security, yes; smart home platform, no

Something else worth thinking about as you're shopping for a home security system is whether or not you're interested in something that will tie in with a larger home automation platform. If so, SimpliSafe might not be your best option. 

Sure, SimpliSafe works with Alexa and Google, and it offers an integration with Nest that'll let you monitor your thermostat from the SimpliSafe app and tether its home and away modes to whether or not your system is armed. That's good enough for most, but if you want to add things like smart bulbs and smart switches to your setup, you'll have to control them separate from your security system. You're also stuck with SimpliSafe's SimpliCam as your only option for adding a camera to the equation -- and there are plenty of cameras that we like better.

Meanwhile, the SimpliSafe Smart Lock is a decent and relatively inexpensive addition to the system, but it's a bit more limited in features than standalone competitors like the 2017-edition of the August Smart Lock. That lock works with SimpliSafe, too, which is a useful integration -- I just wish there were similar options for adding smart lights to the system's control, given that automated lighting can help simulate occupancy to scare potential burglars away.

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The old SimpliSafe system in its awkward teenage years.

SimpliSafe

Other concerns

With an old-school, wired security system, you'd have to live with the worry that someone could deactivate your system by cutting a wire. Wireless systems like SimpliSafe eliminate that issue -- but what if someone manages to block the system's wireless transmissions? Wouldn't that have the same effect? As commenter Joe Duarte points out, security researchers have no shortage of questions like those about SimpliSafe and other systems like it.

We looked into jamming back in 2015, and tested SimpliSafe's protections against it. The company says that it uses a proprietary anti-jamming algorithm to detect if a sophisticated thief is trying to mess with your system. If it does, SimpliSafe will immediately notify you about it. That's what happened when we tested it out. With the right equipment, we were able to block a transmission to the base station, but not without SimpliSafe sending us an alert informing us of the jam. 

Bottom line: Jamming attacks like those are absolutely possible, but also exceedingly rare and difficult to pull off. A SimpliSafe representative claims that, to date, the company has no record of any customer ever being jammed. Even so, if a would-be thief were to try it, they'd come up against a functional layer of defense. That's more than enough for me.

As for other concerns like replay attacks where a hacker would try to intercept your keypad's code, SimpliSafe says that all system transmissions are encrypted, and also points out that its hardware allows for over-the-air firmware updates, making it much easier for the company to respond to evolving threats and vulnerabilities in real time.

SimpliSafe Home Security: Final thoughts

SimpliSafe's approach combines do-it-yourself appeal with live monitored peace of mind. It offers excellent value relative to the competition, it's remarkably easy to set up and use, and it doesn't feel (or look) like a compromise pick. In fact, its layers of protection are about as comprehensive as DIY security gets. I would have liked to have seen more new features and smart home integrations in the years since I first recommended it, but then again, it's hard to blame SimpliSafe for not fixing what ain't broke.

The system's strong performance and features earned it an Editors' Choice distinction last time around. Since then, we've seen new competition emerge from names like RingHoneywell, Vivint and ADT. Shopping around is always wise, but for most folks, I feel confident saying that SimpliSafe is still the best option, and still a worthy Editors' Choice-winner here on CNET.

First published on March 28, 2018.