The Best Self-Monitored Alarm SystemsBy - 04/10/2017
Home alarm systems can be monitored or unmonitored. With monitored security systems, you typically sign a contract and pay a monthly fee to have someone watch your back 24/7. With self-monitored or unmonitored home security, you’re responsible for calling for help should the need arise. There is also “do-it-yourself” home security, referring to monitored systems which are self-installed, and no contract systems which provide monitoring without a contract.
Obviously, there are pros and cons to all four approaches. However, if you’re here, I will assume you’ve decided to go the self-monitored route.
Why You Should Trust Us
I’ve been in the technology business since 2003. I’ve been a technology reviewer since 2013 specializing in home security and smart home technology. I’ve tested multiple self-monitored systems including abode, eTiger, Scout, iSmartAlarm, SimpliSafe, SmartThings v1, SmartThings v2, Piper, Armorax, SkyLink, Oplink, and dozens of security cameras. I’ve also attended multiple Consumer Electronic Shows in Las Vegas as well as other trade shows where I’ve had hands-on experience with self-monitored systems such as MyFox, Insteon, and more.
What To Look For in a Self-Monitored Security System
Self-monitored home security is relatively new and the technology still young. Companies like SimpliSafe have been in the game for a while, but there is an explosion of new companies offering self-monitored alarm systems through the smart home market. With all the new choices, picking one can be a challenge. In general, you will want to look for a system that can communicate with multiple people in multiple ways while allowing you control and providing protection for things beyond burglaries.
If you plan to self-monitor your alarm, you are solely responsible for responding to any emergencies. From a communication perspective, it’s important that a self-monitored system can:
- Send push or text notifications.
- Call you if your system is breached.
- Notify designated contacts, like friends or family members.
Although communication is the most important feature, the ability to self-service the alarm is also important. Look for things like:
- The ability to arm and disarm a system remotely
- Full control over system customization.
- Full control over modes like home, away, vacation, and sleep
3. Protection Beyond Burglaries
A self-monitored system should be smart. It should have the ability to follow rules with cause and effect relationships between different devices. For example, if carbon monoxide is detected, you can create a rule to turn your heating system off. Or you can create another rule that says if the front door is open, your security camera should automatically start recording footage. In doing so, it can potentially protect your home from flooding, fire, or even rapidly changing temperatures.
4. Visual Verification
Finally, you will want to add a security camera to your system if you choose to self-monitor. Trust me, there is nothing more annoying than receiving an alert when you’re miles away with no way to know if the event is serious or not.
abode vs. SmartThings vs. Arlo Pro vs. iSmartAlarm Home Security
|Push or Text Notifications|
|Phone Call Notifications||Via IFTTT||Via IFTTT||Via IFTTT|
|Alert Friends and Family|
|Remote Arm and Disarm|
|Power Failure Redundancy||Battery Backup||Battery Backup||Cameras Have Battery Backup, Base Station Requires Power||Must Add UPS*|
|Internet Failure Redundancy||Cellular Starting at $10.00/month||NA, but devices can work locally.||NA||NA|
|Motion Sensors||1 Included||$49||via SmartThings||1 Included|
|Door/Window Sensors||2 Included||$39.99||via SmartThings||2 Included|
|Smoke / Fire / Heat||$49.00||$99.00||via SmartThings||Detect Smoke and CO Alarms with Spot $99.99|
|iTunes App Rating||4||2.5||4||3|
|Google Play Rating||4.5||3.5||4||3.2|
|Other Home Automation||Z-Wave, Zigbee, Amazon Echo, Works with Nest||Z-Wave, Zigbee, Amazon Echo, Stringify, Amazon Echo, Google Home, and More||SmartThings||iSmart Smart Plug|
|Professional Monitoring||Starting at $30.00/month||Through Scout’s Service||Through Scout via SmartThings||NA|
|Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now|
*In addition to using a UPS, I’ve been informed that using the Satellite Siren is a nifty way to make sure iSmart continues to protect during power outages. I have not tried a Satellite Siren, but from what I understand, it uses three AAA batteries to keep the Satellite running even if power is cut.
The Three Best Self-Monitored Alarm Systems
1. Most Comprehensive: abode
2. Easiest to Use: iSmartAlarm
3. Camera Based Approach: Arlo
Abode is a self-monitored home security system that ships with everything you need to protect your home while also providing access to several smart home features for free. In many ways, it is what Scout once was.
The Abode Gateway includes battery backup and a cellular chip which you can activate for $10.00 per month. Of course, you don’t have to do that; you can use the system for free. For free you get smartphone notifications, email alerts, an IFTTT integration, integration with Amazon Alexa (Echo, Dot, etc.), Works with Nest, and the ability to arm and disarm your system from anywhere. If you don’t mind paying, abode also sells professional monitoring services starting at $8 for three days of service.
From the abode app, you can view your camera’s live feed, control features like geofencing, and you can swap between abode’s three modes: home, standby, and away. If you want to customize which sensors should trigger in the different modes, create quick actions, or manage notifications, you’ll need to hop out of the app and head over to abode’s web portal.
Finally, abode has several security camera options. First, the initial purchase price includes an image sensor which abode calls the “Indoor Motion Sensor with Camera”. This device snaps three photos anytime it detects motion. If you want actual video footage, you will need to purchase the Indoor Streaming Camera, or you can connect the system to your Nest Cam.
- Multiple Smart Home Integrations for Free
- Battery Backup and Optional Cellular Backup
- Professional Monitoring Available
- Native Geofencing Feature
- Clunky Hardware
- abode Camera Performance is not Impressive
- Occasional Glitches as it is a New System
- Web Portal More Robust Than Mobile App
If you just want something simple, you should buy iSmart. It isn’t as expandable or customizable as the other two options, but it’s easy to install and use. Out of the box, you will have everything you need to protect your home. The iSmartAlarm starter kit includes a siren, two door/window sensors, a motion detector, two key fobs, and access to their mobile app.
The iSmart app is the easiest of the three apps to use. Open the app up, and you’re presented with giant buttons to arm the system, disarm it, swap to home mode, or trigger a panic alarm. Scroll down, and you will also find a sleep mode. Plus, thanks to a recent update, modes are customizable. You can modify modes including deciding which devices should trigger an alarm and which should not. You can also customize notifications and the system’s siren.
iSmart also provides phone call alerts natively. Of course, you can setup phone call alerts for abode and Arlo via IFTTT, but this isn’t as reliable as a native feature. That said, iSmartAlarm works with IFTTT too. Through IFTTT, you can connect iSmart to other popular home automation devices like SmartThings, WeMo, Homeboy, Nest, Philips Hue, and more. If you don’t want to expand into home automation through IFTTT, you can add a smart plug to the iSmart system. The smart plug can be used to automate small appliances and lamps.
Finally, iSmart offers multiple camera options. I’ve tested KEEP and SPOT (both iSmart cameras), and I’m not a fan. However, the iCamera KEEP Pro is launching soon and looks appealing. It offers FHD video, Amazon Echo integration, robotic motion tracking, sound recognition, a wide field of view, custom activity zones, and more.
- Easy to Use/Works Out of the Box
- Completely Free
- Native Phone Call Alerts
- App is Slow
- Not as Expandable as Other Options
- Cameras are Low Quality
Arlo Pro is a home security camera system. The cameras are wire-free, powered by battery, and controlled by a hub which is dependent upon both power and internet. If you follow my reviews, you might be surprised that I selected Arlo as I typically pick either Nest or Canary as my favorite security cameras. However, I selected Arlo Pro for its home security potential when connected to other Arlo products and SmartThings.
SmartThings supports Arlo Pro, the Pro Base Station, Arlo Q, and Arlo Q Plus. If your camera detects motion or sound, you can trigger a video clip or a SmartThings automation. This sequence of events also works in reverse. For example, if someone opens your front door when your SmartThings system is set to “away”, you can record a clip and sound your Arlo siren (which happens to be the loudest of the three sirens). Or, if Arlo Pro detects a sound, you can have your lights set to turn on.
Of course, you don’t have to connect to SmartThings to gain security value from Arlo Pro. Alone, the system can monitor for activity both inside and outside. It also integrates with IFTTT. Like abode, Arlo natively supports geofencing. It will arm and disarm itself as you come and go. You can also create schedules for it to follow or manually swap between modes. The modes are completely customizable, including the ability to include or exclude cameras. You can even create custom modes.
- Battery Powered Cameras
- Works Indoors and Outdoors
- Native Geofencing Feature
- False Alarms are More Common With Cameras
- Requires Connection to SmartThings for Greater Protection
Other Options Not Currently Recommended
|Push or Text Notifications||Starting at $9.99/month||Starting at $14.99/month|
|Phone Call Notifications||Via IFTTT||Via IFTTT (Starting at $9.99/month)||Starting at $14.99/month|
|Alert Friends and Family||Starting at $9.99/month||Starting at $14.99/month|
|Remote Arm and Disarm||Starting at $9.99/month||Starting at $24.99/month|
|Power Failure Redundancy||Battery Backup||Battery Backup||Battery Backup||Battery Backup|
|Internet Failure Redundancy||NA, but devices can work locally.||NA||Cellular Starting at $9.99/month||Cellular Starting at $14.99/month|
|Smoke / Fire / Heat||$99.00||Temperature Sensor Included||NA||$29.99|
|Video Surveillance||$159.99+||Included||Works with Nest Cam||$99.00 plus monthly fee|
|iTunes App Rating||2.5||1.5||3||1.5|
|Google Play Rating||3.6||3.5||4||3.4|
|IFTTT||Starting at $9.99/month|
|Other Home Automation||Z-Wave, Zigbee, Amazon Echo, Stringify, Amazon Echo, Google Home, and More||Limited Z-Wave||Starting at $9.99/month – Integration with Amazon Echo, Works with Nest, and more||Starting at $24.99/month –
Works With Nest
|Professional Monitoring||Through Scout’s Service||NA||Starting at $19.99/month||Starting at $14.99/month|
|Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now|
Scout, SimpliSafe, and SmartThings are all no contract security systems. You can compare Scout and SimpliSafe here.
However, as of December of 2015, we no longer recommend Scout as a self-monitored home security system. In the past, they offered many features for free. But now, they charge. A paid plan is now required for:
- Push notifications
- Text message alerts
- Email alerts
- Phone call alerts
- Access to Scout’s web portal and mobile apps
- Cellular backup
- 24/7 UL-certified professional monitoring (Always On+ only)
- Police dispatch capability (Always On+ only)
- Integration with Amazon Echo, Google Nest, IFTTT and more
As you can see, Scout does a whole lot, but only if you are willing to pay a monthly fee. If you are, the system can work with IFTTT, Amazon Echo, and Nest.
Scout also offers professional monitoring without a contract. If you go on vacation one month and want a break from self-monitoring, simply give Scout a call and add service for a month. There are no contracts and no long-term commitments. They even have packages that will help keep your system connected. For example, you can add cellular backup to keep your system working during internet outages or you can skip the internet altogether and pay for a cellular connection.
I do not recommend SimpliSafe as a self-monitored system. As a self-monitored system, it is nothing more than a noise maker. It can’t send alerts, you can’t control it remotely, and you will not have access to their home security camera.
If you want to add service, you can do so without a contract. SimpliSafe offers three basic packages ranging from monitoring only to monitoring with app access. And like Scout, a paid plan can also provide access to Works with Nest. Unfortunately, SimpliSafe only works with the Nest Thermostat.
The Piper NV is first and foremost a camera. It offers night vision and a wide-angle view so you can use one camera to monitor a large space. Through the mobile app, you can stream live footage of your home or even use two-way audio to communicate with others. If Piper detects motion or sound, it will notify you via text, push notification, email, or phone call. In fact, you can even use all four methods at the same time.
Last year, the Piper nv was our top pick for a camera-based approach as it can integrate with specific Z-Wave devices like door/window sensors, smart bulbs, smart switches, and a water sensor. It also has its own IFTTT channel. However, since Piper was acquired by iControl and subsequently Comcast Cable, the company has done very little to improve the hardware which was already somewhat glitchy. At this point in time, there are better options.
SmartThings was also a past nominee. However, it requires a great deal of effort to get the system to function as a home security system. While it offers wonderful creativity, it will require more effort than abode and iSmart. Also, the app remains difficult to navigate as reflected by its iTunes rating.
The new hub supports battery back-up and allows devices to work locally as well as in the cloud. It also has a feature called “Smart Home Monitor”. From this one screen, you can arm your system, disarm it, check your system status, and even check the status of specific sensors. SmartThings can also connect to other devices, like Amazon Echo for voice control and web-based products or applications through IFTTT. You can even add professional monitoring for $19.99 per month through Scout’s (yes Scout’s) professional monitoring service. SmartThings will also be able to use ADT Canopy for monitoring once launched.
DISCLAIMER: I purchased the iSmart camera, Piper, SimpliSafe, Scout, and everything SmartThings on my own, but the iSmartAlarm system, abode system, and Arlo cameras were given to me for testing. This did not impact my opinion, but I thought you should know.