The iControl Networks' DIY security system will protect your home and look good doing it.
Editor's note, June 25, 2014: Piper pricing has been reduced from $239 to $199 and units are now compatible with Z-Wave light dimmers. The company has also added a feature called Bedside mode that lets you turn on a siren during a security event. This review was previously updated February 20, 2014, to account for the new Android app and again on April 3, 2014, to account for the addition of two-way audio and multi-unit support.
Piper is a $239 Wi-Fi-enabled home security system with an intriguing all-in-one style that diverges from the DIY security system mainstream. Lately we've seen a lot of starter kits that come with motion and door/window sensors, but no camera. Examples include $199 iSmartAlarm, $199 Oplink Security TripleShield, $229 Viper Home, and $229 SimpliSafe. It's tempting to compare Piper with simpler IP-based cameras like the Dropcam Pro, but it does much more than that.
While these systems offer individual accessories, and therefore more installation flexibility, every Piper comes with a camera, a siren, a motion detector, environmental sensors, and optional Z-Wave integration. And it's only $10 more than our favorite a la carte system, SimpliSafe (which doesn't offer a camera at all, not even as an add-on), and $40 more than the Dropcam Pro. So, if you're already planning to splurge on a siren and other accessories, Piper is the absolute best value, particularly for an apartment or a small house. If you're shopping for a high-end Web cam, the choice is a little less clear.
Piper comes with a 180-degree glass lens and a 1080p video camera, a motion sensor with a 30-foot detection range, a microphone, two-way audio, and a 105-decibel siren (meaning it's very loud). It also has built-in sensors that track humidity and temperature, and ambient light and sound. In addition to these features, you get a backup battery, flash storage, and RGB LEDs that change color when you adjust the system status. Piper's most interesting feature, though, is its ability to act as a Z-Wave hub. That takes this product from a basic DIY security system to something that can function as an automation hub for your entire home. It's also what separates it from the Dropcam, which for now only functions as an advanced Web cam.
Piper communicates with your phone via your home Wi-Fi network (SimpliSafe relies on both Wi-Fi and a cellular connection). So, the better the connection, the more accurate and consistent your video feed and sensor results. The free Android or iOS Piper app has a lot to offer, but one core feature it its ability to send you customized alerts based on rules you establish, such as, "In away mode, if motion is detected, record video, notify me via phone call, and sound siren."
It's important to note that whatever e-mail address and phone number you provide during the set-up process will be the information Piper uses to contact you during a security breach. The app provides the current indoor and outdoor temperature and a list of recent activities under the "status" bar. It also has graphs that track outdoor temp, indoor temp, humidity, ambient light, ambient sound, and physical activity over the past 48 hours. I love this feature -- I just wish that I could click on each graph for an expanded view.
Like the Dropcam Pro, you can zoom in on Piper's video image -- both lenses are fixed, so there's no remote pan-tilt-zoom functionality. Piper's 180-degree fish-eye lens gives you a larger field of view than the 130-degree Dropcam Pro, but the Dropcam's video quality looks crisper, even though both claim to offer 1080p video quality.
The two have similar policies for watching and recording video. You can watch a live feed from both cameras for free on your local network and remotely on a mobile device. Both offer cloud-based storage for recorded video -- Piper will automatically upload a 25-second clip (that's 5 seconds before a security event takes place and 20 seconds after, and each recording uses about 3MB and you can store around 1,000 clips before needing to erase the old ones), Dropcam charges a fee, starting at $9.95 a month for seven days of continuous footage. Piper plans to offer a fee-based continuous storage option for business owners in spring 2014 and a network-attached option for home users with larger storage needs.
Unlike Dropcam Pro, Piper doesn't offer night vision. So, if you want superior recordings in dark rooms, Dropcam Pro is a better choice. And while Dropcam Pro will send alerts based on sound and motion, it's really more of a webcam or surveillance camera than a home security system or a home automation hub for now.
The situation might change because Dropcam Pro has Bluetooth LE connectivity, which has a lot of "smart home" potential. Dropcam also says it's working on expanding into other smart home devices that might work with that Bluetooth LE signal. At that point, I'd want to revisit its webcam versus security system-ness -- but not yet. And you would still have to purchase any additional security or automation products separately, while Piper comes with pretty much everything you need to monitor a single room. That's why I think $239 Piper offers the best value for a simple DIY home security system. We also have our eye on the Canary, due out next year.
Compared with more traditional "hub and component" security systems, the Piper isn't quite as robust in some cases, but it excels in others. There are no monthly fees associated with Piper, but that also means there is no remote monitoring. Piper only notifies you of a security event, not the police or any remote dispatch team. SimpliSafe offers live monitoring for $14.99 a month. So, if you don't like the whole Wi-Fi thing and want your system to notify a dispatch team when a security event takes place, SimpliSafe makes a lot of sense. Then again, you can't just plunk SimpliSafe down in a room like you can with Piper. Just remember that it doesn't have a video camera.
Piper doesn't come with a door/window sensor or any other accessories, but that's where Z-Wave saves the day. I tested out the Aeon Labs Aeotec Z-Wave door/window sensor and smart switch (included in the review packaging so I could test Z-Wave capabilities, but sold separately). Both are available on Amazon, as are many other Z-Wave products. The door/window sensor costs $42.75 and the smart switch costs $47.95. I think Amazon is the best place to search for Z-Wave gadgets, but I also like the variety offered on Smarthome, although prices tend to be higher.
Piper claims to be able to manage a whopping 232 Z-Wave devices. Sadly, I didn't have that many Z-Wave gadgets laying around, so I was unable to test this claim. Right now, you can pair Piper with "plug-in modules, wall switches, motion sensors, freeze sensors, and open/close sensors" with plans for an expanded list in 2014. So in addition to the two Z-Wave gadgets Blacksumac sent, I also tried to link a GE Z-Wave wireless lighting control fluorescent light and appliance module we had in the lab. It worked without a hitch.
Design and Usability
Blacksumac did a fantastic job on this design -- it's modern and the construction feels solid. You can get Piper in either black or white and a matching black or white power cord will accompany it. Piper weighs 9.8 ounces, and it is 6.5 inches tall with the stand and 3.5 inches wide.
You have the option of mounting Piper on a wall or using the included stand to rest it on a flat surface. While it does offer battery backup, it relies mainly on a 7.5W AC/DC wall adapter for power, so consider outlet location when you're deciding where your Piper should go. That, and make sure you find a spot that will optimize Piper's potential to get great video footage.
Set-up couldn't be more straightforward, particularly if you're just putting it on a table or a countertop. Connect the power cord to Piper and then to the outlet and then press the small button on the back of Piper once. The LED on the front will immediately turn yellow. After a short time the light will turn blue and Piper will chime so you know it's ready for the next step.
Now you're ready to download the free Piper app on your Android or iOS device, create your login info, and then link it to your home Wi-Fi. That's it -- you can start using Piper. The whole thing should take 5 to 10 minutes from start to finish.
The Z-Wave door/window sensor and smart switch Blacksumac sent me to test with Piper were extremely easy to set up on the app. You simply go to settings, select Z-Wave accessories, add, and then start. It will walk you through everything you need to get them running right away.
The app design is pretty intuitive. I think it could be a bit more streamlined, but it is fairly easy to navigate. The dashboard, particularly, is a little busy, but everything you need to interact with the various features and monitor your home remotely is right there. It might take a little time to get used to, but the number of features offered makes up for any app design clumsiness.
I put Piper through the ringer in our small appliance testing room. I set it up as I would have at home, including the additional Z-Wave door/window sensor and smart switch, which I connected to a lamp.
Then, I set up various rules in stay, away, and vacation mode. There's also a notify mode that will simply let you know if it detects motion, sound, temp changes, or doors opening (if you have door/window sensors) rather than triggering a siren or other security-related response. It did not disappoint. I got e-mails, texts, and phone calls every time I triggered the system, using both the Android app on a Nexus 7 and the iOS app on an iPhone 5.
Since the door/window sensor and lamp-connected smart switch were added, a new rule option was available to me in each mode: "If door opens, turn on/off lamp." The app and Piper communicate extremely well and I never had a performance issue that would cause concern. If anything, it was too sensitive to sound -- I sneezed very near Piper at one point and actually triggered the "loud sound" notification.
I think Piper is the absolute best value among the DIY home security offerings we've seen so far. For $239 you get a video camera, a motion sensor, a siren, a microphone to detect sound, and built-in sensors that monitor environmental triggers like temperature and humidity. And the app integration lets you monitor your home in real-time and control any Z-Wave appliances -- with no monthly fee. And it works extremely well.
No other system provides all of those things, especially not at that price. And, while it's geared toward renters or smaller homes, you can have up to five Pipers in one house. That would be suitable for a very large home for any mansion-dwellers reading this who prefer the DIY route.
So, if you like the idea of an all-in-one device that runs on Wi-Fi, I think Piper is a fantastic option, particularly for a smaller home. We will be reviewing the similar $199 Canary, too, but I don't think it can come close to matching Piper on features. Not interested in a Wi-Fi-powered system at all? You may prefer the very highly rated SimpliSafe, complete with cellular connection and remote monitoring for $14.99 a month.