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.
Starting from scratch, sort of
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.
BYO smart home
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.