iControl Networks Piper review: An attractive all-in-one home security solution

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The Good There are a ton of useful home security and home automation features squeezed into Piper's compact frame. It looks great, too, which doesn't hurt.

The Bad The app design is a little busy, and I wish it had night vision. If you don't like Z-Wave, you're kind of out of luck in the accessories department.

The Bottom Line Don't expect Piper's slight build to mean that it's short on performance. This $239 all-in-one security system offers a great value for smaller homes and budding DIYers.

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8.5 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 8
  • Design 8
  • Performance 9

Review Sections

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.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

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.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

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."

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

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.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

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.

Dropcam Pro offers night vision.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

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.

Piper on top, Dropcam Pro on the bottom

Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

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.

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