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SimpliSafe Home Security review: Still king

In 2021, SimpliSafe still balances solid performance with appealing prices.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

SimpliSafe has a hell of a track record. It won the Editors' Choice Award here on CNET back in 2014, after exploding onto the still-burgeoning DIY home security scene. Then in 2018, when the third-gen system launched, it impressed again -- and it's remained our top DIY home security pick for the three years since.

SimpliSafe's packages start at $229, technically speaking, but you can almost always find them at steep discounts on the site. At the time of writing, for instance, the basic package only costs $160 and the most generous one (which includes 13 sensors and accessories alongside the base station) costs $342. I'll do a more thorough breakdown of the prices compared to competitors later in the review, but suffice it to say, it's a solid deal.

It's just as capable as before, too. The system works reliably, the devices on offer cover everything you'd need (including a brand new outdoor camera, as of August 2021) and you can bag 24/7 professional monitoring alongside your local alarm for $15 per month.

In short, SimpliSafe is still king -- though it needs to keep watching the throne.

8.5

SimpliSafe Home Security

Like

  • Easy to install and operate
  • Great customizability

Don't Like

  • Limited smart home integrations

Getting started

We've tested SimpliSafe a number of times, but our latest test, in August and September of 2021, was of a package that totaled about $827 -- or $630 if I opted for a free 2-week trial of the 24/7 professional monitoring service. Yes, they really incentivize signing up for a monthly subscription.

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:

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The $169 video doorbell is purchased separately from your security package, oddly enough -- which brought my total, with the promotion, to $630.

Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

Burglary sensors

  • Entry sensor: $15
  • Motion sensor: $30
  • Wireless Outdoor Camera: $170
  • SimpliCam: $99
  • SimpliSafe Video Doorbell Pro: $169
  • Glass break sensor: $35
  • Panic button: $20
  • Smart door lock: $99

Hazard sensors

  • 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

I used three entry sensors, one motion sensor, one of each camera, along with a glass break sensor, leak detector, freeze detector, panic button and key fob. The single biggest factor in my total price was the three cameras -- without them, my total with a subscription would've ended up at $272 (more on the cameras later).

When it comes to the sensors, SimpliSafe's pricing is nicely positioned: it's not quite as super-cheap as Wyze's Monitoring system, where motion and leak sensors are both $10 a piece, and entry sensors are $25 for three. But they're consistently cheaper than, say, Abode's comparable devices (their entry sensors, for example, are $38 each).

Even though SimpliSafe's devices cost a bit more than Wyze's industry low, they feel much more solid, and they look better, too. In my time with SimpliSafe, all the sensors performed as expected.

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 whole process took me less than an hour; it's not quite as simple as with Abode (where all the devices came already-paired), but it's about as painless as self-installs can get.

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. This cell backup is one of SimpliSafe's standout features, and it's one of the big ways the service differentiates itself from more affordable alternatives like Wyze and Ring, which don't offer that extra safety measure.

SimpliSafe's 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 safe word -- 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 (again, you can personalize this, in case you're prone to dropping plates or have kids around the house).

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

You're on, cameras!

SimpliSafe has been our favorite home security system for a number of years -- but that doesn't mean it doesn't have room to grow. Sure, the sensors -- those crucial bits of connective tissue for any good home security system -- offer solid value for the price, but the cameras aren't quite as unmitigated a success.

$99 indoor cameras and $169 video doorbells are fairly standard devices these days, even when you're buying them stand-alone from top brands like Google Nest, Amazon Ring or Arlo -- and SimpliSafe's options simply don't stand up to those top devices.

The video doorbell offers all the basics you'd expect, like two-way talk, motion alerts, night vision, live feed monitoring and storage (with camera plans starting at $5 per month). But its wide angle lens means you don't get a great view of your actual doorstep, where packages are usually left. What's more, the doorbell can't be set up wirelessly -- which is a real bummer, since many customers looking for DIY home security kits won't have doorbell wiring, or won't be allowed by their landlord to fiddle with it.

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SimpliSafe's new outdoor camera is a solid addition to its security lineup.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The indoor camera, which again comes with all the basics, like a 120-degree field of view, motion detection and night vision, is a little more impressive. It includes a privacy shutter, like Arlo's indoor camera, and person alerts using heat sensing.

The brand new outdoor camera is the latest addition to SimpliSafe's lineup, and it's the most impressive of the cameras. It costs $170, but users will get a lot out of it: live monitoring, two-way talk, 8x digital zoom, night vision and a built-in siren. The outdoor camera was a breeze to install and use, and I loved that it came with a built-in floodlight. The one disappointment there was that I couldn't manually control the floodlight, setting times for it to turn on or off, or simply switching it on when I wanted.

For $170, though, the outdoor light is a solid deal.

System performance

SimpliSafe's approach to DIY security is appealing, but it's all for nothing if the sensors don't work reliably well. Back in 2018, we put the sensors through a week-long battery of tests, and the results were solid.

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 our reviewer walking through the room about 95 percent of the time. The other 5%: a test where something seemed to hiccup and it was a few minutes before any motion was sensed. 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 someone 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 a touch more sluggish than you'd like for especially sensitive temperature monitoring, but for most people, it'll do the job you need it to do.

The 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!

We started by trying to trick the sensor into sounding a false alarm. We tried dropping a light bulb, loudly clinking glassware together, playing glass-breaking sound effects at full volume and even tossing 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 we tried breaking a small pane of actual glass. (We stole it from a picture frame -- apologies to the CNET Smart Home staging crew!) To our surprise, that didn't set the glass break sensor off, either. Maybe it thought it was a plate?

The team at SimpliSafe suggested we try dialing the sensitivity up -- turns out there's a slide switch on the back of the sensor with three settings. We 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, we'd call that a successful result, but we'd definitely recommend starting with your glass break sensor set to "high" and dialing down from there as needed. As for us, the glass break sensor might be one that we'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. As mentioned already, you're also stuck with SimpliSafe's cameras -- 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 some stand-alone competitors.

I also wish there were 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 -- just make sure you pay attention to any interference alerts, and don't just dismiss them.

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. We'd like to see more smart home integration as SimpliSafe continues to develop, but the company is also growing in other ways -- introducing the outdoor camera, for instance, and partnering with RapidSOS recently to improve 911 response times.

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 Ring, Wyze, Abode, Vivint and ADT. Shopping around is always wise, but for most folks, we feel confident saying that SimpliSafe is still the best option, and still a worthy Editors' Choice-winner here on CNET.