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SimpliSafe Home Security review: Simply a better way to secure your home

SimpliSafe wins our Editors' Choice. Let us tell you why.

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Ry Crist
Ryan_Crist2.jpg

Ry Crist

Senior Editor / Reviews - Appliances

Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, and home networking.

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11 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Editor's note (2/11/2015): We've recently looked into RF interference jamming, and how it can affect wireless security systems like SimpliSafe. For more,click here.

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8.7

SimpliSafe Home Security

The Good

For such a multifunctional system, <b>SimpliSafe</b> is incredibly easy to set up and use. Their contract-free packages are highly customizable and thoughtfully designed for better, smarter home security.

The Bad

SimpliSafe packages don't include video cameras, and you won't be able to connect with locks, lights, or other home automation devices over Z-Wave, Zigbee, or any other wireless network. The devices also look a little dated.

The Bottom Line

Home security options are evolving rapidly, but SimpliSafe is one of our current favorites. If you want a comprehensive, easy-to-use system that features live monitoring, you'll have a hard time finding a better option at a better price.

Do-it-yourself home security options seem to be growing more numerous by the day, and we've tested a lot of them. None of them have left us quite as impressed as SimpliSafe. With its wide variety of easy-to-install sensors, SimpliSafe protects your home in a way that's comprehensive and yet also remarkably user-friendly. The system is totally wireless and designed to keep running even if the power gets cut, and unlike most other DIY security kits, SimpliSafe features both live monitoring and a cellular backup. If something's amiss at home, you can count on your system to keep you and the authorities notified, no matter what.

SimpliSafe offers five different packages with a varying assortments of sensors, ranging in price from $229.96 to $539.85. That's quite a bit compared with other DIY options like the iSmartAlarm Preferred Package or Oplink Security's AlarmShield package, both of which cost $199. Also, unlike iSmartAlarm or Viper Home, SimpliSafe charges monthly fees in order to unlock fairly basic features.

Secure some time with SimpliSafe (pictures)

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You'll need to pay $19.99 per month in order to receive SMS and e-mail alerts, and if you want to control your system from your smartphone, you'll need to increase that to $24.99 a month. Even if you aren't interested in any of that, you'll still be paying $14.99 a month for the live monitoring and the cellular backup (you also have the option of foregoing the cellular connection and live monitoring altogether for a fee-free local alarm, but that isn't an approach I would recommend).

With so many fee-free competitors, I was initially skeptical of SimpliSafe's value, but then I installed and tested a system for myself. The setup process was as easy as I've seen from any home security offering, and once I was up and running, each sensor aced my tests. The more I used the system, the more it impressed me with its thorough and thoughtful security coverage. By the time I was finished, SimpliSafe had me fully won over. It's an outstanding value, and a deserving winner of our Editors' Choice award.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

First impressions
SimpliSafe isn't likely to win you over on looks alone. Its array of sensors all have a dated, plasticky appearance that seems downright ugly when compared with the sleek, modern designs of iSmartAlarm and Viper Home. The effect is even more stark when you compare SimpliSafe to an all-in-one security device like Piper -- you'll swear the two were designed twenty years apart.

But there's more to this system than meets the eye. Start setting it up, and you'll undoubtedly come to appreciate just how idiot-proof it is. You'll start with the remote keychain, which cleverly doubles as a USB flash drive. Plug it into your computer, and a menu will pop up to guide you through the installation process with step-by-step illustrations.

Plug the keychain remote into your computer's USB drive, and a a handy interface will pop up to walk you through the installation process. Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

The first step is to plug in the base station, which serves as the brains of the system. It's large, but unlike the core components of most other DIY kits, you won't need to plug it into your router, so you'll have some flexibility about where to stash it. Once the base station has power, the menu will show you how to set up each of the sensors in your kit. For each one, you'll simply need to pull a tab to activate the batteries, then choose a wall on which to stick it. As you set your sensors up, the menu will provide helpful pointers on placing them in the right spots. When you're done, you'll be able to customize your settings right on your computer -- afterward, you'll plug the USB into a port on the top of your base station to automatically transfer your settings into the system within seconds.

If the menu isn't enough, you can also go to SimpliSafe's Web site to view a five-minute installation video, as well as short, useful videos that demonstrate how to best use each sensor. One quick note, though -- don't make the same mistake I did and watch the video about the panic siren while wearing headphones. The video shows off all 105 of the alarm's decibels by setting it off at full volume, and with headphones in, it's a little like triggering the siren with your ear pressed up against it.

SimpliSafe will keep working even when there is no power. Ry Crist/CNET

Aside from the ease of installation, the true strength of SimpliSafe's design is in its many built-in safeguards. The cellular backup, included with all packages, is the most obvious one, as it eliminates the wire-cutting vulnerability of hardwired systems. I also appreciate that SimpliSafe will continue working even if the power goes out (many other systems will not, including iSmartAlarm and Oplink). Each SimpliSafe sensor is wireless, and all of them run on batteries that will last multiple years. The base station is the exception, as it needs to be kept plugged in, but it has a battery backup, too. Unplug the thing, and it'll keep on running for up to four days. Once the power is restored, the battery will recharge automatically.

There's also the fact that SimpliSafe comes with 24/7 live monitoring, which most DIY kits don't currently offer. In the event that something triggers your alarm, the system will notify a dispatcher (SimpliSafe currently licenses its dispatchers from Amcest, a New Jersey company). They won't call the authorities right away, though -- first, they'll try and call you, and ask for an established safe word. If you don't answer, or if you don't give them the correct safe word, they'll send the cops. I like this setup, since it means that the occasional false alarm won't end up wasting the time of emergency responders.

iSmartAlarm Preferred

Oplink Security AlarmShield

Viper Home

SimpliSafe

Upfront Cost $199.99 $199.99 $229.99 $229.96 - $539.85
Monthly Fees $0 $9.99 ($19.99 with camera) $0 ($9.99 with camera) $14.99 - $24.99
Live Monitoring No No No Yes (no extra charge)
Cellular Backup No Yes (add $9.99/month) No Yes (no extra charge)
Power Outage Backup No No Yes Yes
Camera Yes (add $149.99) Yes (add $100) Yes (add $149.99) No
Z-Wave/Zigbee Compatibility No No Yes No

Other safeguards are more subtle. The wireless keypad serves as a convenient spot for arming and disarming the system, but it also serves as a sort of decoy, as many burglars might assume that it, and not the base station you hid behind the sofa, is the thing that's alerting the authorities, and waste time trying to destroy it. To this end, you can program the base station to sound its built-in siren in the event of an alarm -- or program it to keep quiet.

If you're worried about false alarms, rest assured that SimpliSafe is flexible. You can program the system to delay the alarm for up to 250 seconds in the event that one of the sensors is triggered, giving you plenty of time to punch in your code or pull out your keychain remote before any sirens go off or any dispatchers are notified. You can also customize which sensors work on a delay and which don't. Say you want a delay when someone comes in the front door, but an instant alarm if the basement window gets opened -- SimpliSafe will let you protect your home the way you want.

Your options range from the five-piece Starter Package to the 17-piece Ultimate Package. You can add extra sensors to your system a la carte. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Sensors galore
You'll get a different variety of sensors depending upon which package you choose -- if you want any extras, you'll be able to add them to your system a la carte. The base station is capable of managing up to 41 of them, and no matter how many you choose you won't see an increase in your monthly fee.

SimpliSafe's lowest-priced package, the Starter Package, comes with the base station and the keychain remote, along with one entry sensor, one motion detector, and one wireless keypad. The entry sensor is the same kind of magnetic, two-part device that we've seen in other DIY security kits -- you stick the sensor to your door or window frame, then stick the magnet to the door or window itself. Whenever that door or window opens, the magnet will separate from the sensor and trigger the alarm. You can also set the base station to chime whenever the door is opened, which would be useful for a small business or for anyone who just wants to keep track of when people are coming and going.

SimpliSafe's motion detectors are a bit more compact than the competitors, and they work perfectly. Colin West McDonald/CNET

In my tests, the entry sensors worked perfectly, just as they have with the other systems I've tested. That said, I give SimpliSafe bonus points for charging a little less per sensor than its competitors. Each additional entry sensor will cost you $14.99, compared to $24.99 from iSmartAlarm or Viper Home, and $29.99 from Oplink. You can also upgrade from the Starter Package to the Economy Package for $30, which will give you three additional entry sensors.

The motion detector worked well, too, and I appreciated the fact that it's a bit smaller and less conspicuous than some of the competitors' offerings. Again, I appreciated that SimpliSafe doesn't charge as much if you want to pick up an additional one -- extras cost $29.99, compared to $34.99 from iSmartAlarm, $39.99 from Oplink, and $49.99 from Viper Home.

It's a little clunky-looking, but the wireless keypad has some nice features. Colin West McDonald/CNET

As for the keypad, I think it's definitely a bit of an eyesore, looking more like a calculator from 1983 than a security device from 2013. Still, it's smarter than it looks. Aside from easily allowing you to arm or disarm the system, you'll be able to enter your master code and access some of the system's basic settings. In addition to that master code, you can easily add up to four guest codes that will allow someone to arm or disarm the system, but not access the settings.

You can also program a special "Duress Code," which is just what it sounds like. If an intruder ever tries to force you to shut the alarm off, just punch it in. The sirens will stop and the system will appear to be disarmed -- but the police will still be notified.

Adding a smoke detector to your system makes a whole lot of sense. Colin West McDonald/CNET

SimpliSafe doesn't stop with entry sensors and motion detectors, though. Upgrade to the package number three, the Classic Package, and you'll see that your system now includes the panic siren I mentioned earlier, along with a smoke detector. Like a regular smoke detector, it'll beep like crazy whenever it detects smoke, but unlike a regular smoke detector it'll also trigger your alarm, alert a dispatcher, and notify you over e-mail or SMS. If a fire breaks out while you're away, SimpliSafe can alert the fire department on your behalf within minutes. What's more, additional SimpliSafe smoke detectors only cost $29.99. That's a similar level of smart functionality to the Nest Protect, at a savings of $100.

Package number four, the $449.87 Master Package, comes with a dedicated panic button that you can stick anywhere you like. Upgrade your system to the top-priced Ultimate Package, and among the 17 sensors that come with it you'll find a carbon monoxide detector, a leak detector, and a freeze detector to help monitor your home's temperature and protect against burst pipes. You'll also be able to add glass-break sensors to your setup for $34.99 each. That's a whole lot of potential with a single system.

SimpliSafe offers many sensors, but no cameras. Colin West McDonald/CNET

What's missing
As many different sensors as SimpliSafe boasts, it's a little surprising that you won't find cameras anywhere in their catalog, especially considering they're something almost every other DIY competitor offers. If you're hoping for a system that will allow you to keep an eye on things remotely, or one that will automatically take photos and video during a break-in, you'll need to look elsewhere. For what it's worth, we were impressed with the cameras in both Oplink and Viper Home's kits, and less so with iSmartAlarm. Piper has a built-in camera as well, and might be worth consideration.

Another omission from the SimpliSafe lineup is the presence of any sort of compatibility with common home automation networks, like Z-Wave or Zigbee. This is something that you'll need if you want to be able to connect your system with any external smart home devices you may own -- ideally a door lock, or your lights. Piper and Viper Home both offer this as an option, which is a really nice feature. I know that I'd like to be able to arm and disarm my system simply by locking or unlocking the front door, and if the alarm goes off in the middle of the night, I'd definitely prefer for my lights to come on.

If home automation intrigues you, you should consider those options over SimpliSafe, or perhaps take a look at SmartThings, which boasts a wide array of security-minded sensors, will work with hundreds of Zigbee and Z-Wave devices, features IFTTT compatibility, and charges absolutely no monthly fees. SimpliSafe tells us that it's exploring an IP-based camera and home automation functions, but the company wouldn't commit to any concrete details for adding them.

SimpliSafe's Web site offers complete control over your system with easy-to-use drop-down menus. Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

Remote controls
You'll be able to log in at SimpliSafe's Web site in order to control your security system and adjust its settings. The site is simple and easy to navigate, with all the tools you'll need to take full control of your home security. You can rename system components, add or edit user codes, tweak which sensors will set off the alarm and when, change how long the system will delay whenever you arm or disarm it, and much more. None of it is difficult or confusing to work with -- if you can change your computer's screensaver, you'll be able to change your system's settings.

Keep in mind, though, that you'll need to subscribe to the most expensive service plan ($24.99 per month) in order to access these controls remotely. This is a little disappointing, but in my opinion, it's worth the extra cash. If you find that you don't need that level of control over your system, you can downgrade to a less expensive plan at any time with no penalty.

SimpliSafe's smartphone app is about as simple as it gets, but it does the job. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

In addition, you have the option of downloading the free SimpliSafe app to your Android, iOS, or Windows Phone device, then arm or disarm your system remotely. You'll also be able to check the current status of your sensors, or view an event log. The app is pretty bare bones in appearance, and it won't let you edit any system settings the way the website will -- although in a pinch, you could always log in to SimpliSafe's Web site using your phone's browser to access those settings. Still, it's a little odd that SimpliSafe didn't include any of the most commonly used settings within the app.

Should I buy it?

If you're looking for a flexible, comprehensive home security option that won't lock you into a long-term contract, then SimpliSafe absolutely deserves your consideration. It offers easy-to-use protection that's wide and well thought out, and most importantly, it just works. If I had the system installed in my home, I'd have no problem relying on it to be there when I needed it, especially given the fact that it utilizes both a cellular connection and a full battery backup. The fact that SimpliSafe systems come with a three-year warranty and a 60-day money-back guarantee doesn't hurt, either.

If you can't afford SimpliSafe's monthly fees, I'd recommend the fee-free iSmartAlarm, which offers basic protection on a budget. If the lack of cameras or home automation compatibility is a deal breaker for you, then you'll want to take a look at some of the other systems we've reviewed, or maybe try and design your own system with the help of SmartThings. Aside from that, I really can't think of a good reason not to recommend SimpliSafe over just about any other home security system. It's as full-featured and well-designed as any system I've tested, making it well worth the price, and a worthy winner of our Editors' Choice.

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8.7

SimpliSafe Home Security

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 10Design 7Performance 10