Oplink Security TripleShield review:

Fees make this solid security system a tough sell

Conspicuous design
When it comes to DIY security kits that involve multiple, networked sensors, it's hard to find much differentiation from brand to brand. The motion detectors and contact sensors all look more or less the same -- semiugly white plastic that will definitely stick out amid your decor. If you're more interested in a security option that's designed to blend into your surroundings, you'll probably want to go with an all-in-one unit like Canary or Piper.

Still, if you compare Oplink with a brand like iSmartAlarm, you'll find a couple of key design differences. For one, the mothership of Oplink's setup, the OPU router, is decidedly less attractive than the iSmartAlarm's slick-looking CubeOne. Granted, iSmartAlarm clearly poached much of its design from the Apple playbook, but still, I'd much rather have the CubeOne sitting on my shelf than the ugly, modem-esque OPU. Also, the Oplink contact sensors are bigger and bulkier than the iSmartAlarm sensors. This might seem like a trivial nitpick when it comes to security, but if you want the system that'll leave the smallest footprint in your home's design aesthetic, I think you'll find better options than Oplink.

Oplink's cameras are compact and easy to work with. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Oplink's cameras also take a different design approach than iSmartAlarm's iCamera. With Oplink, you get a pair of compact cameras that mount easily on bases if needed, making it easy to stash them away on a bookshelf or a windowsill. I like this approach better than the iCamera, which looks great, but also takes up too much space.

Another small differentiation point between the two systems: Oplink offers a dedicated panic siren that you can place wherever you like. iSmartAlarm, on the other hand, integrates its system's siren into the CubeOne. This means that you have one fewer gizmo to configure, but it also means that you don't get as much flexibility about where to place your siren, since the CubeOne needs to remained hooked up to your home's router.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Reliable performance
If you're spending money on home security, you're going to want a system that you can depend on. In my home testing, I found that Oplink meets the mark. My system performed exactly how I wanted it to, always alerting me when I (intentionally) tripped the alarm, and never once sending me a false alert. The sensors all seemed perfectly sensitive, too. I tried slowly sneaking past the motion detector, for instance, but I wasn't able to fool it.

Still, a Wi-Fi-based security system is only as secure as your network coverage. If the Wi-Fi in your home drops out, so will your system. This is where the argument for a cellular backup comes into play, and Oplink deserves credit for offering one when iSmartAlarm does not. But the fact that you'll need to spend an extra $80 on a Oplink-approved 3G modem, along with an extra $9.99 each month, is a little hard to swallow.

In the event that something does trigger your alarm, you'll receive an alert on your smartphone, as well as an e-mail notification detailing which specific sensor was tripped and when. You can also program your system to alert additional emergency contacts. Like iSmartAlarm, Oplink doesn't currently offer live monitoring, and leaves it up to you whether or not an alert merits calling the police. This can help you avoid wasting police resources with false alerts, but some users will understandably prefer a system with live operators capable of contacting the authorities on their behalf.

There's not a lot of difference between Oplink and iSmartAlarm -- except for the fees. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Oplink has designed a easy-to-operate DIY security system that performs well. Its cameras are particularly impressive, standing as an appealing alternative to iSmartAlarm's frustratingly glitchy iCamera. Still, when you put the two systems side by side, it's hard to see much value with Oplink. A $199 iSmartAlarm system (sans iCamera) will work just fine for small home or apartment security, and you won't be paying monthly fees in the process.

Oplink is smart to take advantage of the growing trend of DIY home security. However, I just wish that the company had brought a little more to the table in order to justify its pricing strategy and compete with the fee-free iSmartAlarm. As it stands, I can only recommend the TripleShield package for consumers with a strong enough interest in home surveillance that they're willing to spend at least $19.99 per month for those cameras. For everyone else interested in DIY home security, I still think iSmartAlarm is the better way to go.

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