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Nest Secure review: Nest Secure home security system is smart, but spendy

I wouldn't mind getting Nest Secure as a gift, but $499 is a lot for a home security starter kit.

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Megan Wollerton
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Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (now SyFy). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

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6 min read

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Editors' note, Oct. 21, 2020: Google has discontinued the Nest Secure Alarm System and will no longer be selling the DIY home security system, but will continue to provide support to existing Nest Secure customers. The original review, published Nov. 9, 2017, follows. 

The Good

The $499 Nest Secure alarm system starter kit is incredibly easy to arm and disarm and its Detect sensors do a lot more than monitor whether a door is open or closed.

The Bad

It's expensive and locks you into Google's smart home platform.

The Bottom Line

Nest Secure works well, but its value is only so-so, especially if you aren’t sold on incorporating Nest thermostats, locks and other Google devices to your smart home.

The Nest Secure alarm system starter pack, complete with one Guard hub, two Tag key fobs and two Detect door/window/motion sensors, costs $499. 

Existing and upcoming DIY home security systems from Abode, Scout, iSmartAlarm, SimpliSafe and Wink are all less expensive. Only the $500 Honeywell Smart Home Security System and the $550 SmartThings kit developed jointly with professional security firm ADT are in the same price range.

Read more: Google is killing off the Works with Nest program and it could mess up your smart home set up

Nest needed to do something pretty spectacular to make us want to spend this much. In some ways it succeeded. The system is responsive, the Tag fobs make arming and disarming effortless and the ability to temporarily disarm the Detect sensors at one door or window is truly innovative. Open a window, take the dog out or step outside to talk to a neighbor without sending the house into a frenzy of alerts, accompanied by the Guard's blaring 85-decibel siren.

Is that enough to make it worth buying? Maybe... if you already own (or plan to buy) Nest-branded thermostats, smoke detectors and locks for a completely integrated Google/Nest smart home. But if you're simply looking for a decent DIY home security system, consider Abode, or look ahead to the new Honeywell, Wink and SmartThings systems (and maybe Ring's, if it gets past its ADT lawsuit).

Note: The Nest Secure system is currently only available in the United States. At the current exchange rate, $499 converts to roughly £380 and AU$650.

Secure your smart home with Nest's DIY alarm system

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Installing Nest Secure is (kinda) easy

nestdetecterror

I am haunted by this error message.

Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

White plastic accessories are commonplace in the DIY home security market. I understand why manufacturers opt for white rather than, say, bright red (aw, remember the Revolv hub?). Going for basic white is a comparatively discreet way to add sensors and other monitoring devices to a home. But once, just once, I'd like to see something that's still neutral but a bit less boring -- maybe a matte gray?

Unfortunately, Nest didn't stray from the white plastic accessory paradigm here, but I will say its hardware feels more durable than iSmartAlarm and SimpliSafe hubs and sensors.

Connecting the devices to the app is easy (with one potentially significant caveat). Download/open the Nest app on your Android or iOS device, create an account/login to your existing account and select "Add product" from the settings menu. Scan the QR code on each device, starting with the Guard hub and follow the instructions to connect everything.

Secure's hardware installs easily, thanks to strong adhesive backings and easy in-app instructions. The wired Guard hub should sit on a flat surface near the door you use most often (front door, garage entrance); Tags should go on key chains/purses/backpacks; Detects install on doors, windows or walls.

This should take less than 10 minutes in theory, but certain routers are not compatible with Nest Secure. I first tested Secure at the CNET Smart Apartment, where we have an Asus RT-AC88U router. The Guard and Tags paired in just a few minutes, but both of the Detect sensors consistently returned the same error (see the screenshot above).

After attempting every possible troubleshooting strategy with Nest, I tried a second Nest Secure kit at the same location with the exact same result. I abandoned the first system at the apartment and tried the second system at my house on an Apple AirPort Time Capsule, and at the CNET Smart Home with an Asus RT-AC87U. At both locations the complete Secure system installed without the NS030 error message in roughly five minutes.

Of course, not every router out there will work with every smart home device and Nest publishes the list of routers it has issues with to offer guidance. But our Asus RT-AC88U isn't on the list. Basically, Nest told me new potential incompatibilities might arise with a new system like Nest Secure.

Here's why: Secure uses the Nest Weave communication protocol during the initial configuration process, which also means an option called IPv6 should be enabled on your router (so Weave can work optimally). What's frustrating is that your otherwise Nest-Secure-compatible router might not have IPv6 enabled as a default setting. So you'll most likely have to log in to your router and make that change manually.

That's annoying enough to have to do, but it didn't actually help in my case. I enabled IPv6 and I got the same error trying to pair the Detect sensors. I'm still working with Nest to determine if another router setting could be causing the issue, but this shouldn't happen at most homes. If you get a weird error, you can always contact Nest customer support, but it's frustrating that consumers should have to deal with this kind of thing. Smart home devices can be intimidating enough to install without diving into your router settings.

Getting to know Nest Secure

Nest Secure's features are competitive with DIY home security systems we've reviewed in the past. Take a look at the chart below to see how Secure stacks up:

Comparing DIY security systems


Nest SecureAbodeScoutiSmartAlarmSimpliSafe
Hardware cost $499 (starter kit)$300 (starter kit)$276 (hub and accessories, no camera)$150 (starter kit)$230 (starter kit)
Required monthly fees NoneNone$10NoneNone technically, but you need to pay the $15 - $25 contract-free fee to access any remote features
Professional monitoring Yes ($20/month for a 3 year commitment or $25 month-to-month)Yes ($30/month, includes cellular backup)Yes ($20/month, includes cellular backup)NoYes (no extra charge)
Cellular backup Yes ($5/month)Yes ($10/month without professional monitoring)Yes (no extra charge)NoYes (no extra charge)
Power outage backup YesYesYesNoYes
Camera Yes (add any Nest Cam)Yes (add $150)Yes (add $169)Yes (add $100)Yes (add $100)
ZigBee/Z-Wave compatibility NoZigBee and Z-WaveZigBee onlyNoNo
Smart home partners Google Assistant, NestAlexa, IFTTT, NestAlexa, IFTTT, NestIFTTTNest

Nest's optional professional monitoring comes courtesy of Moni. It costs $20/month for a 3 year commitment or $25 on a month-to-month basis.

On Nov. 8 T-Mobile announced it would be the exclusive partner for Nest Secure cellular backup. T-Mobile Nest plan subscribers are supposed to get Nest Aware and cellular backup for $15 per month ($10 per month "after a $5 monthly bill credit").

Nest Aware is Nest's optional cloud video recording and storage subscription service for all of its home security cameras, so this particular T-Mobile service plan only makes sense if you have a Nest Cam and want Nest Aware in addition to Nest Secure cellular backup. Adding a Nest Cam (with Nest Aware) to the system means the camera will automatically record whenever the Secure system detects unexpected motion or other activity.

Nest, a Google-owned property, tells me they're "looking into" integration with Google Assistant. Since the Nest Cam IQ just started supporting Google Assistant, I wouldn't be surprised if Secure starts working with it soon, too.

Using Nest Secure was straightforward. Nest assigns you a 6-digit PIN for arming and disarming, one that I immediately forgot (you can also create your own custom PIN). I found myself naturally reaching for a Tag or the Nest app to arm and disarm the system instead. Still, it's nice that you have options. The Guard's built-in 85-decibel siren is loud enough to startle you and anyone else nearby.

The main settings options are "alarm off," "home and guarding," and "away and guarding," which you can adjust from the Guard, the app or with a Tag. Away and guarding mode means any motion detected in the house or open/close activity detected at a door or window will send you an alert and turn on the siren; you'll also get an email. Home and guarding mode will only react if a Detect sensor notices that a door or window was opened. Motion inside the home won't register.

My favorite Nest Secure feature is Quiet Open. With this option, you can temporarily disable the Detect door- and window-mounted sensors in home and guarding mode. So if you want to grab the newspaper in the morning, you don't have to disable the whole system; you just have to press the button on the Detect that's attached to the door you're opening. The status light will turn green, letting you know you have 10 seconds to open the door. Step outside (but leave the door open; it will rearm otherwise) and then back in while your Nest Secure continues to monitor the rest of the house.

Detect sensors are also equipped with something called Pathlight. Pathlight illuminates the Detect sensor's light when it's dark in the house and you're walking nearby. You can adjust the brightness in the app, too, in addition to turning it off.

nestsecure1

It's easy to view and make changes to your Nest Secure system in the app.

Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

The verdict

The $499 Nest Secure alarm system performs well and the app is easy to navigate. It's priced higher than most home security systems, but Nest backs it up with advanced features like Pathlight, Quiet Open and the ability to use other Nest devices with the system (and in the same app). Nest Secure will also likely work with Google Assistant soon. Still, I don't think Nest Secure is right for everyone, especially if you don't currently have or plan to buy other Nest-brand smart home products. The less expensive Abode system will definitely get the job done.

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7.2

Nest Secure

Score Breakdown

Features 7Usability 7Design 7Performance 8