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Update, April 27th, 2021: We have revisited Comcast Xfinity home security service with a new review of its updated offerings. Our original review follows.
Comcast's Xfinity Home Secure service changed how I think about smart home devices.
That might seem odd, that something primarily billed as a home security service would change an opinion on home automation tech, but to be honest, up until I signed on to do this review I didn't care much about adding connected gear to my house.
My plain ol' dumb lights and thermostats worked just fine after all, and the thought of opening different apps to control different systems seemed like an unnecessary hassle. For home security, my needs were being met, for the most part, by the SimpliSafe system I'd installed. What Xfinity Home showed me, however, was how smart home devices make much more sense when fully integrated with the sensors and cameras of a home security system.
Xfinity's offerings aren't vastly different from what you'll find from other providers like AT&T and ADT or even do-it-yourself options like Frontpoint and Protect America. One big difference is that you can combine Comcast's devices for security and home automation with any of its growing list of supported third-party devices -- with no extra charges for using them -- and control them with the Xfinity Home mobile app, web portal or even your TV if you have Xfinity TV and an X1 DVR.
Just to be clear, I was already an Xfinity Internet and TV subscriber, but you don't need to be either to use Xfinity Home. You do need high-speed internet access, but it doesn't need to be Xfinity. Also, while I normally use my own Arris/Motorola modem and Netgear wireless router, for this review I used Comcast's gateway.
Unlike its competitors, Comcast doesn't have tiers of service for Home Secure. You sign up for a 24-month contract priced at $39.99 a month. At the time of this review, Comcast was offering new subscribers service for $24.99 per month for 24 months with free installation, after which it would increase to $39.99.
The price includes professional 24/7 security monitoring with direct access to call for police, firefighters or an ambulance and a little hardware to get you started: three door/window sensors, a motion sensor, a touchscreen controller and a wireless keypad.
The sensors are completely wireless, but should your web connection go down or you lose power, it has 3G wireless and a battery backup. If you have a previously installed alarm system (I had wired motion sensors still in place from an old ADT system, for example), Xfinity can potentially take over those sensors and use them for your new setup to save you some money.
The starter set might be enough for an apartment or a townhouse, but for anything larger you should expect to buy more sensors, which can drive up costs quickly. And if you want cameras for live video monitoring, those cost extra, too.
At the time of this review Comcast's indoor/outdoor cameras were priced at $99 each, but to get that price requires an additional $9.99 per month, per-camera service fee for 24/7 video recording with 10 days of storage. This will also let you cut clips to download and share. Otherwise, you can pay $200 for each camera, which gets you live round-the-clock monitoring and the ability to capture clips and photos.
Along with the security sensors and camera, Comcast has its own Zen thermostat and an outlet controller for lights or small appliances you want to remotely control. I didn't test the latter, but the thermostat was easy to install, works well and looks good to boot (though it did occasionally tell me it was -558 degrees Fahrenheit in my house and require a quick reboot to fix). It'll even recommend heating/cooling schedules based on your local weather patterns.
Already have a Nest thermostat or Lutron outlet dimmers? Then there's no need to buy Comcast's gear. This again is Xfinity Home's edge: It works with a large and growing list of third-party devices that you can control and automate from one interface.
Linking devices to the Xfinity Home service takes little more than adding your account logins for your individual smart devices into the Xfinity Home mobile app. Once they're synced, you can use the app to set up rules for home automation.
In the app you can set up actions like having a porch light come on at sunset and turn off at sunrise. Or have a camera capture a video clip when a door is opened or motion is detected. At the moment, though, most actions are for lighting, motion and door/window sensors, the cameras and Nest thermostats.
For example, while you're able to easily program a timed temperature schedule through the app, you can also create a rule that will automatically adjust the temperature to an Away mode and also shut off all your lights to save energy -- all with a single tap. You can also easily have connected lights turn on and off around your home to give the appearance of activity while you're away.
However, if you have a Chamberlain MyQ remote garage door opener connected, you can use the app to open and close your garage and set it to send push notifications when those happen. But that's it. Well, for now anyway. Comcast promises more rules are on the way and even in the three months that I tested the service, new rules and support for new products have come onboard. That said, I was a little disappointed that I couldn't create automations similar to those available with AT&T's Digital Life.
The Xfinity Home app is well laid out and easy to navigate and is likely the main way you'll control your system, but certainly not the only way. The included wireless keypad lets you arm and disarm your system and send an alarm to local authorities, while the touchscreen control center (not wireless) lets you do those things as well as adjust your thermostat, check the activity and status of all the sensors in your home, view live video from your cameras and even check the weather.
There's also a web portal, which pretty much duplicates what you can do with app -- from monitoring your cameras to setting up rules to arming/disarming your system. Lastly, for Xfinity TV subscribers with an X1 DVR, you can view and control your setup through your TV using voice commands. Saying "Xfinity Home cameras" will bring up the live views from your cameras, for instance.
What is missing is support for digital assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. So if being able to say, disarm your system by talking to your Amazon Echo is a must-have feature, you'll have to go elsewhere.
Like I said at the start, Xfinity Home has me rethinking the value of smart home devices. Putting them and professional security under one service makes having both more valuable. Although what it can do right now might not compare to what others offer and startup costs can get pricey, Comcast's monthly costs are competitive. Plus, with growing support for third-party devices that you can integrate now or later, Xfinity Home makes it easier to build out the system you need.