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

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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