Editor's note, March 25: Ring has been called out for its partnership with local police departments in the US, leading privacy advocates to express concern about the data Ring shares with law enforcement and how they use that information. In December 2019, thousands of Ring users' personal information was exposed, leading us to stop recommending Ring products. Ring has since updated its security policies, from offering customers a Control Center dashboard allowing people to more easily access privacy and security settings to requiring two-factor authentication.
We have resumed recommending Ring's products with this caveat: If you have concerns about Ring's privacy policies, make sure to familiarize yourself with its privacy statement. You can read more about how we factor Ring's privacy policies into our recommendations here. CNET has not and will not be issuing Editors' Choice awards to Ring while the company's policies around law enforcement and surveillance remain on their current course.
When deciding on a home security system, the central question often comes down to how much DIY you're willing to perform to get it done. How you answer that one also can radically alter the amount of money you'll ultimately pay for such a system -- a number inversely proportionate to the amount of DIY work you're willing to put into it.
That cost/benefit equation in particular rises to the top when comparing security systems from rivals Vivint and Amazon-owned Ring. Vivint skews high on the cost axis, but magnificently low on the DIY axis. Ring, conversely, ranks low on cost (which is good) but high on DIY, which can be anywhere from bad to good, depending on your DIY acumen.
Many of the available features are must-haves for any smart security system worth its sale -- smart displays, connected cameras, etc. Where it gets complicated is in sussing out which of the other features you require for your individual application. Do you need more flood sensors or fewer? Does your home have multiple entryways (which may or may not include a garage) or just one front door? The list goes on.
Here, we take a look at integrated security systems from both Vivint and Ring, paying special attention to the cost breakdown. The response to which system is best for you are detailed as much as possible at the end, with the answer determined by where you fall on the cost/DIY continuum mentioned above.
Let's start with the system that's breathtakingly painless to install (because someone else does it for you) but, generally speaking, you'll pay more for that privilege: Vivint.
The Vivint security system is great if you have absolutely zero electronics DIY skills or an unlimited budget (or both). Most people don't have the luxury of a bottomless bank account, and if you have some level of DIY chops then you're probably capable of handling at least some of the installation tasks as well as if you outsourced the work to professionals.
But there's another, hidden advantage to the Vivint security system. Each and every one of the devices included -- in whichever package you choose -- has been tested to work in concert with all the other devices. The same cannot be said of Ring, which, for example, doesn't manufacture its own thermostat but instead relies on third-party devices, some of which may not integrate as seamlessly or consistently as one would like.
The cost of a Vivint installation breaks down into the following three tiers (not including the $30 per month charge for professional monitoring service):
- $500 -- The price of the starter kit, which includes only a video hub, two door window sensors, one motion detector and one flood sensor. A starter git will be enough for exactly no one, so you should plan on selecting some of the available add-ons (keep reading for more info).
- $2,429 -- That's the average cost a new customer spends a Vivint system, according to Vivint, representing the base $500 price plus the cost of add-ons like indoor and outdoor security cameras, a smart door lock and garage opener, smart plugs, the aforementioned thermostat, etc.
- $3,680 -- The value of the setup installed in the home of CNET's David Priest (keep reading for the full list of add-ons).
Chances are your final cost will be a number much closer to the average. And unless you're rich beyond most people's wildest dreams, the cost of David's tester setup is probably way more than you'd ever consider spending on a home security system -- especially since some of those devices are being phased out (the $250 Vivint Smart drive) or you'd otherwise be better off buying separately if you're willing to go higher on the DIY axis to cut down on costs.
Here's the full list of add-ons installed at David's house, which also serves as a complete list of what's available:
- Starter kit ($500)
- Vivint Smart Drive ($250)
- Two outdoor cameras ($400 each)
- Eight extra door/window sensors ($50 each)
- Two glass break sensors ($50 each)
- An indoor camera ($200)
- One Vivint Car Guard ($200)
- One Kwikset Smart Lock ($180)
- One Vivint Smart Thermostat ($170)
- Three smart plugs ($50 each)
- One Doorbell Camera Pro ($130)
- An extra motion detector ($100)
- Two extra flood sensors ($50 each)
- Smoke detector ($100)
- CO detector ($100)
- myQ garage door opener converter ($100)
Starter kits for the Ring Security System costs between $200 and $330, or about half the price tag of the Vivint starter kit. Plus, Ring offers two subscription tiers at a fraction of Vivint's price: $30 or $100 per year (you can pay by the month instead, but it costs more). The cheapest Ring starter kit gets you five devices: A base station, one keypad, one contact (aka door and window) sensor, one motion sensor and one range extender.
Upgrading to the $250 kit that CNET's Molly Price tested in 2020, you get everything in the five-piece kit plus three additional door and window sensors. The $330 kit adds an extra keypad, a total of eight contact sensors and an extra motion sensor.
Unfortunately, there's one crucial piece of equipment missing -- a smart display to act as a hub. Thankfully, the Amazon Echo Show 8 display will only run you about $80 if you can find it on sale, which it almost always is. So, you're still paying considerably less than for the Vivint starter kit when you choose Ring. Here are the other add-ons you may consider:
- Ring outdoor camera ($100)
- Ring outdoor camera with spotlight ($200 each)
- Ring door and window sensor ($20)
- 3rd Generation Amazon Echo Dot ($40, serves as glass break and other emergency noise sensor)
- Kwikset Smart Lock ($118, same model Vivint offers)
- Amazon Smart Plugs ($25 each)
- Ring 3 Video Doorbell ($140, wired version)
- Ecobee Smart Thermostat ($249)
- Ring Motion Sensor ($30)
- Ring flood and freeze sensor ($35)
- Ring smoke and CO detector ($35)
- myQ garage door opener ($30 -- doesn't work with Alexa)
Some quick back-of-the-napkin math shows that David's Vivint setup would cost about $1,700 with the comparable Ring or Ring-compatible devices. This eliminates the smart storage drive option, which Vivint is phasing out anyway, and the car guard, for which there is no similar Ring device. Those omissions bring the total cost of David's setup down to about $3,230, or still nearly twice was a comparable Ring system would cost.
The only downside is that you're going to be the one installing all those devices, both physically in places around your home, but also electronically, by connecting the various apps and services to your Ring Security System.
Conclusion: Add your DIY ability to your budget to get your answer
With about a $1,500 price difference between the more expensive Vivint security system and the far less-expensive (but more DIY-intensive) Ring system, it might be worth it to you to learn the DIY skills necessary to install the Ring system and save all that money. But if the time it would take you to learn how to install and connect all of those Ring devices would be better spent earning that $1,500 at, for example, your day job, by all means, outsource it.