The Best Home Security System

If I were buying a monitored home security system, I’d get FrontPoint Security’s Interactive plan for $43/month (plus equipment).

Last Updated: May 8, 2014
Updated to clarify the relationship of Rapid Response monitoring center to the FDNY. Also: If you're using (or plan to use) FrontPoint's smoke detectors and have textured walls or ceilings, see our updated long-term test notes section for why you should mount the detectors with screws, not the attached double-stick foam.
Expand Previous Updates
March 28, 2014: I've had the FrontPoint system for six months now, so I added some long-term test notes regarding my experience below.
December 10, 2013: Added a link to a review of our step-down pick, SimpliSafe, from CNET, who made it an Editor's Choice.
November 21, 2013: We’ve reconsidered our stance on SafeMart, and while we can’t outright recommend it at this point due to a lack of a proven track record, it’s something we’re keeping our eyes on.

Want to support the Sweethome when buying your home security system? When contacting Frontpoint use our special Sweethome toll-free number (855-243-4990) or our email sign-up form here.

I like FrontPoint because their prices and equipment costs are totally transparent and (often) better than the competition, their equipment is wireless so it can’t be cut or shut down without setting off an alarm, it’s easy to install yourself, they have great customer service and fantastic reviews, they’re available nationwide and they don’t rely on sleazy high-pressure sales tactics or door-to-door salespeople. Their equipment is modern and high-tech, you can control your security system from everywhere with their middle-tier service and you can connect it with Z-Wave home automation and home security systems.

I purchased a FrontPoint system with my own money and signed a one-year monitoring contract. Money, meet where my mouth is.
This isn’t just some abstract recommendation, either. I recently moved into a house without a security system. After doing the research—first determining whether I needed a system at all, then whether I should go with a monitored system or an unmonitored one; reading the reviews (such as they are); comparing the services; and talking to the one guy I know who’s a real expert and a real person, I purchased a FrontPoint system with my own money and signed a one-year monitoring contract. Money, meet where my mouth is. It also turns out that editor Brian Lam has had FrontPoint in his house for 3 years and has never had a single complaint about the system’s service or hardware.

And the competition fails in clear ways that make FrontPoint the best option in both theory and our (combined) years of experience with the system. And nothing has as many stellar reviews on Angie’s List or as few negative reviews anywhere as FrontPoint.

This is clearly the best monitored home alarm system around.

You’re not under siege

Let me just say up front this piece isn’t for the doomsday prepper or the guy who feels besieged in his own neighborhood because the demographics aren’t to his liking. This isn’t about making you and your property one hundred percent free from harm or theft or damage. I’m not going to advise you to buy a shotgun or stock up on canned goods or plant claymores in your backyard. You should definitely have good homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

A home security system won’t stop someone who really wants to break into your home from doing so. If you have a window that can be broken or pried open, or a door somewhere that can be kicked down, a determined burglar can get in. But a home security system can discourage someone from breaking in if they know you have it, can frighten someone away if he or she does get in, can summon the cops or fire department in case of an emergency and can save you money on your home insurance premium.

Plus, if you get a modern, smart home security system, it can tie into home automation, smartphone apps and surveillance systems to make your life easier. A security system that makes your life more difficult is not worth having, because then you’ll never use it.

Side note: they’re called “home security” systems, but because the systems I recommend are cellular and wireless, there’s no reason you couldn’t put one in a rented home, an apartment or even a dorm room.

Who should buy this

You should get a FrontPoint system if you want a home security system that’s monitored by a dedicated center that can call you or your local emergency services if there’s an incident like a break-in, fire or medical emergency.

If you already have an alarm system and it connects to a monitoring station via cable or landline, you should see about upgrading it to use a cellular connection. Your control panel should have a battery backup, too. Your alarm system isn’t any good if a burglar can defeat it by cutting your power—or, even easier, cutting your phone line or cable.

If your modern security system has a cellular connection and a backup battery already and does all or some of the great remote-access and home-automation stuff FrontPoint does—say, if you have ADT’s Pulse or Vivint or ProtectAmerica—you’re probably stuck, because you signed a three-year contract if not a longer one. Getting out of that contract will be a pain in the ass and likely cost you a lot of money. Some companies require you to send a certified letter, and most have an early termination fee that makes cellphone companies look like Santa. Even FrontPoint charges 80 percent of the price of your remaining service if you cancel. On the bright side, if you own the equipment, many of the sensors are intercompatible, especially if your existing alarm uses GE Security parts, so if you switch to FrontPoint once your contract ends you may not have to buy new sensors. Depending on who you’re switching from (and to whom) you may not even need to get a new control panel, though you’ll need a new cellular module at the least.

If your alarm system doesn’t report to a central monitoring facility, the most it can do is make a noise, or flash a light, and maybe scare a burglar off that way. The modern DIY options like Lowe’s Iris or Nexia Home Intelligence or Vera (formerly Mi Casa Verde) can also send you a text or email, but they aren’t monitored remotely, so they can’t call the cops or the fire department if there’s a break-in.

And finally, some people think you don’t need a security system at all. Opinions on the internet range from “just buy the stickers and the sign” to “get a gun, a dog and insurance,” to “have lots of visible security cameras.” But I think a security system is worth getting, and not just for peace of mind. After all, if it didn’t help prevent burglaries, home insurance companies wouldn’t give you a discount for having one, right? Those actuarial tables, dogg.

The experts

There is a dearth of real security system reviews on the web. Sure, when you search for “security system reviews” or “best security systems” you’ll find plenty of results, but most are from suspiciously generic websites without bylines, clear ownership or real discussion of any flaws and with affiliate links to the security companies—sure signs of search engine bait. Among the more reputable were reports from Top Ten Reviews, which I only paid attention to because it’s owned by the same company as Laptop Mag and Tom’s Hardware, and a site called A Secure Life, which seems to do good meta-analysis of the existing market. They do a solid home security comparison table. Both Top Ten Reviews and A Secure Life picked FrontPoint as their favorite home security provider for 2013.

But by far the best reviews I’ve found come from one guy: Mike Brown. Mike used to work with me at Maximum PC (and its short-lived offshoot Maximum Tech), and he’s serious about home security and home automation. He’s the only one I can find who’s actually called in, had installed, and tested a bunch of home security systems. He tested FrontPointADT and Vivint systems for Maximum Tech in 2011. He’s now at PCWorld/TechHive, but continues working on home security and automation; he’s tested Nexia Home Intelligence and Lowe’s Iris DIY home automation kits for them.

In addition to parsing the current options on the respective websites of the frontrunners, and reading the few reputable reviews I could find, I interviewed Mike to see if his thoughts on monitored security systems had changed since he wrote his big roundup in 2011. I also checked reviews and complaints sites. I took the reviews on sites like Pissed Consumer and Consumer Affairs with a big grain of salt, lending more weight to sites like Angie’s List (subscription required) which have a paywall and a good userbase. I also checked with the Better Business Bureau. I discounted any feedback that seemed like astroturfing, the legions of near-identical anonymous comments that crop up on some FrontPoint reviews.

A security system is not an insubstantial investment. It’s hundreds of dollars up front, plus an ongoing monthly fee with a years-long monitoring contract. So after dozens of hours of research and cross-referencing equipment, pricing and plans (and eliminating every other option) I called up FrontPoint and bought a security system.

What to look for

After doing my own research and consulting with experts, here are what I consider the must-haves for a modern security system:

Cellular connection and battery backup

Mike Brown says, “Don’t buy any system that relies on a landline to connect to the central office. A burglar can easily disable your security system by cutting your phone line before entering the house. Better systems use cellular service, which can’t be disabled as easily.” A good home security control panel will also have a backup battery, so it works even if the power goes out. Do not get a security system without these two features.

A wide array of sensors

Your system’s control panel should be able to connect to door and window sensors, glass break sensors and motion detectors. Ideally these motion detectors should be able to tell the difference between pets and people. It should do so wirelessly, so you don’t have to run cabling through your walls and ceilings. You should be able to add additional sensors as you need them without having to schedule an installation appointment or buy bundles of things you don’t need. A good alarm service should also be able to monitor other sensors: garage door tilt sensors, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, even water intrusion and freeze sensors.

I have my security system set up so that if an alarm goes off at night, nearly every light in the house turns on.
There’s a growing market for home automation—automatic, remotely-controlled outlets and switches, smart thermostats, electronic deadbolts, that kind of thing. If that’s something you’re interested in, those items should work with your home security setup. There’s no point in having two incompatible network things adding cost and complexity to your house. Any good security system will be compatible with Z-Wave or Zigbee, the two most common home automation / mesh networking standards.

Mike Brown, via email: “Incorporating home control features–such as lighting and entry locks–makes any security system better. You can disable the alarm system when you enter the correct code on your keyless entry system, you can turn on lights when you open a door, establish schedules for lights to turn on and off while you’re not home, and so on. I have my security system set up so that if an alarm goes off at night, nearly every light in the house turns on. If the siren doesn’t scare the crap out of him, all the lights going on at once should.”

Wireless and easy setup

Older alarm systems required hard-wired sensors, which meant a professional installer had to come to your house and run wires through your walls to connect the door/window and other sensors. That’s totally unnecessary now. A good home security system uses wireless transmission and sensors with long-lasting batteries (think years, not months). They shouldn’t require any holes drilled anywhere, unless you want to put a recessed sensor inside your door. My favorite options are DIY and don’t involve waiting for an installer to show up at your house.

Continuous professional monitoring

Once these sensors have been set up, your system should be continuously monitoring them. It should have the capability to detect when one of them is triggered and take action. If your system is armed, that usually means an alarm goes off inside your house to scare off intruders. The alarm company’s monitoring service will attempt to contact you to see if everything’s okay. If they can’t reach you or if you give permission, the remote system should be able to contact your local emergency service providers, including the cops. Even if your system isn’t armed, it should recognize that the door is open or the motion detector has been triggered, useful in setting up non-emergency alerts.

Hard to tamper with

Most security systems have an entry delay to give you time to turn off the alarm when you get home. A burglar shouldn’t be able to foil your alarm system by smashing the control panel before it can send the alarm. Systems like FrontPoint and Vivint that use Alarm.com to handle their monitoring have something called “Crash and Smash” protection. Mike Brown explains:

“Alarm.com, which offers central-office monitoring for a number of security companies (including FrontPoint Security and Vivint) came up with a way to protect against these types of break-ins, so that the control panel sends a message to the central office the instant a sensor indicates the possibility of an intruder. If that message isn’t followed by a second message indicating that the system has been disarmed, an Alarm.com employee will be alerted that something is amiss and will proceed as if the control panel did send an alarm message.”

Remote access

It’s 2013. You should be able to check on your alarm system from a web browser or smartphone, arm and disarm it, and configure it from the web. If you’re out of town and someone opens the front door, wouldn’t you like to know? Fortunately any decent home security system will give you remote access and text/email alerts, although sometimes it’s an additional monthly fee.

No pressure tactics

A lot of alarm systems are sold by door-to-door salesmen who talk their way into your house and use high-pressure tactics to try to sell you a service. Often you won’t see the final contract—or the final price—until the system is already set up, at which point you’ll feel pressured to comply. Sometimes these people aren’t even real representatives of the (legit) company they claim to represent; sometimes even the company they claim to represent is a scam. Don’t buy your alarm system from a door-to-door salesperson.

Transparent costs / contracts

You should be able to figure out the cost of the equipment and the monthly cost easily before the installer is at your house. It shouldn’t be some weird game of hide-and-seek. If the salesperson seems evasive, flee. Unless you’re at home. Then make them leave.

Get-out-able

Many home security setups tie you into long contracts. The standard is three years, and you can only cancel via certified letter. That’s space madness. One thing I like about FrontPoint is that you can do as little as a one-year contract. Oh, and don’t get security through your cable provider, because the contracts are super-long and if you ever cancel your cable you’re out.

Good customer support

Good customer support is always valuable, but it’s especially important when you’re dealing with a) expensive, on-contract services and equipment that b) have many things that could potentially go wrong and that c) you trust to protect your home and family. If you look at reviews and complaints sites, most of the praise for FrontPoint and complaints for its competitors are about customer service.

Major players

There are thousands of regional home security companies, and absolutely no way for anyone to test all of them. So for the purposes of this article I only looked at nationwide security companies. The largest and most famous nationwide brand is ADT, and they keep their name recognition through a combination of authorized dealers and very aggressive advertising, including door-to-door salespeople. Unfortunately the ADT experience is incredibly variable, with some ADT dealers like BlueLight getting great reviews and others garnering horror stories.

I’ve already mentioned FrontPoint. The other national names that pop up a lot, besides ADT, are Vivint, SimpliSafe, SafeMart, LifeShield and ProtectAmerica. All of these offer some variant of the kind of modern, connected home security system we’re looking for.

How much should I pay for this?

Expect to pay between $30 and $50 per month for a monitored alarm system with a cellular connection, not counting equipment costs.

FrontPoint’s Interactive plan, the one I recommend, is $43/month. Their $35/month plan skips out on some of the things I think separate a great security system from an okay one, and their $50 plan adds support for extensive home automation and for wireless streaming of video from your house to your mobile device, which can be nice to have but isn’t necessary for everyone.

Cheaper plans from other companies typically have dealbreaking flaws. ProtectAmerica’s cheapest plan with cellular monitoring is barebones in the extreme and only $42/month. That’s essentially the same price as my recommended FrontPoint Interactive plan, with fewer features.

Some plans cost more and offer less than those from other companies, too. For example, competitor Vivint’s $50 Home Security plan includes remote access plus support for door/window sensors, motion detectors, glass break sensors and fire/smoke/CO alarms. However, it doesn’t support thermostats, deadbolts or lighting control, like FrontPoint’s $43/month Interactive plan, or live video and home automation like FrontPoint’s $50/month Ultimate Monitoring plan. Vivint’s equivalent to FrontPoint’s $50/month plan is $70/month. And most cheaper plans don’t use cellular monitoring or have really lengthy contract times (or have other dealbreaking flaws which I’ll discuss later). You can check out Vivint’s comparison chart here and FrontPoint’s here.

As for the equipment, the end cost varies greatly. Many companies give you steep discounts on equipment when you buy a bundle and commit to a contract, and most don’t actually tell you what their equipment costs straight-up. FrontPoint is among the most straightforward security companies; they list their equipment prices on their website, and you can order a la carte. ADT lists some additional equipment if you order from its webpage, but since the prices include installation and are on top of a preexisting package, they’re quite a bit more expensive. Expect to pay in the range of $200-700 for a control panel and your door/window and motion sensors, depending on the length of your contract. If you go whole hog and get a keyless-entry deadbolt, thermostat, light control and video cameras, you can end up spending a few thousand bucks. I would start out with the basics and move up from there if you like the system. Some companies don’t subsidize their equipment at all, so the upfront costs are greater, but you’re usually rewarded by shorter (or no) contract lengths on the monitoring.

Our pick

frontpointsignI picked FrontPoint and its mid-tier Interactive Monitoring service because it fits all of our criteria for a home security system and doesn’t have any of what I would consider dealbreakers. When I get into home automation later I can expand the system with a smart thermostat (though not, alas, a Nest), a smart deadbolt, light control, video cameras and more.

Let’s look back at the criteria for a good home security system and see how FrontPoint does under scrutiny. Most of these features aren’t unique to FrontPoint.

Cellular connection, battery backup, and remote monitoring: FrontPoint’s control panel is the Interlogix (formerly GE Security) Simon XT, which isn’t the newest around but is compatible with a huge range of sensors and Z-Wave devices. More importantly, it uses cellular monitoring rather than a landline, cable or broadband connection, and it has a backup battery so that a criminal can’t foil your security system by cutting your power or phone lines. There are newer, fancier control panels out there (Mike Brown really likes the 2Gig panel that Vivint gives you), and my FrontPoint rep told me that FrontPoint is planning on upgrading to newer panels soon. They actually skipped the Simon XTi, the successor to the XT, because it didn’t meet their quality standards.

FrontPoint, like a lot of other alarm companies, uses Alarm.com for its interactive and remote monitoring back end. Alarm.com doesn’t actually provide the emergency response service in the event of an alarm; rather, they pass the signal through to the monitoring service that the alarm system uses. FrontPoint uses Rapid Response, which is one of the few monitoring centers certified by the Fire Department of New York to monitor fire alarms in that city. FrontPoint calls FDNY approval “the toughest in the industry.”

FrontPoint control panel

FrontPoint control panel

Wireless and easy setup: When you order a system from FrontPoint, the sensors and control panel are preconfigured for your home. The kit they send you contains easy-to-follow setup instructions. All you have to do is plug in the control panel and attach the sensors using 3M Command Strips. It took me about fifteen minutes to attach four door sensors and a motion detector. FrontPoint’s QuickStart guide is really helpful here. Once you have all your sensors placed, you call FrontPoint and they’ll make sure everything is working and activate your system.

The FrontPoint motion sensor.

The FrontPoint motion sensor.

Hard to tamper with: FrontPoint’s control panel will work even if a crook cuts your power and phone lines, and the $43/month Interactive plan and $50/month Ultimate Monitoring plan also have Alarm.com’s “crash and smash” protection, so even if a burglar gets into your house and smashes your control panel, the alarm will still trigger.

The FrontPoint system comes with a preconfigured master disarm code, but you can create others that you can give out and revoke at any time, and you can use the Alarm.com mobile app to see who’s accessing your system, so you know whether it was your mother-in-law or the babysitter who just got to your house. You also have a secret passphrase you have to tell them in order to cancel an alarm, so a burglar can’t call FrontPoint and have them turn off your alarm. That’d be silly.

FrontPoint door sensor.

FrontPoint door sensor.

Lots of sensors: The basic components of a home security system are door/window sensors and motion sensors. The former consists of a pair of sensors that trigger if they’re more than an inch or so away from each other, so they’re useful on doors, windows, cabinets and basically anything that opens. FrontPoint also sells recessed sensors that sit out of sight within the door and frame, but you have to drill out a space for them. Motion sensors do what you’d think they do, and they’re useful for covering large areas of your house, like a foyer or living room. FrontPoint claims that theirs are smart enough not to trigger for pets under 40 pounds, but I don’t have pets or small children so I couldn’t confirm this. Glass break sensors are useful if you have windows that don’t open or rooms with lots of windows. They stay on even when your system is set to “arm stay,” unlike your motion detectors. They also have garage door sensorsflood sensors for basements, freeze sensors for your pipes, extra keypads and touchscreenspanic buttonskey fobs and more.

FrontPoint also sells connected smoke and heat detectors and carbon monoxide sensors. You should have these anyway, but having your smoke detector hooked up to a monitoring service that can call the fire department for you is a great added value.

Expandable: If you decide to add any of the above sensors to your setup (or a smart thermostat, or lighting control), you can order them a la carte from FrontPoint’s website and they’ll ship preconfigured for your system. You can also buy Z-Wave-compatible devices elsewhere and connect them to your system yourself. Most companies with Z-Wave-compatible home automation systems support most Z-Wave devices, but as both MaximumPC and GeekDad confirm, ADT restricts its compatibility list to certain Z-Wave devices and won’t let work with things that aren’t on the list. Worse, as Mike Brown points out, “ADT and Vivint both include a number of sensors in their package, but will happily sell you more if you need them now or down the road. If you order them later, however, you’ll have to pay to have them installed—these companies won’t allow you to add them yourself.”

Good equipment prices: All of FrontPoint’s equipment prices are clearly listed on their website and tend to be cheaper than their competitors. They’re about the same price as on Amazon, although you’ll have to configure them yourself if you get them on Amazon.

Here are a few comparisons for you:

Sensor

ADT Pulse (installed)

FrontPoint (DIY)

Vivint (installed)

Safemart (DIY)

Door/window

$80

$33

$60

$33

Motion

$170

$65

$120

$80

Glass Break

$155

$75

$120

$75

Carbon Monoxide

$100

$90

$120

$110

Light Timer

$70

$50

$50

$60

I’m the kind of guy who has to go back a few times to make sure I locked the front door…
Remote access: The big reason I picked FrontPoint’s Interactive tier rather than the cheaper Protection plan is so I can check on and arm/disarm my system from MyFrontPoint.com and the Alarm.com mobile app. I’m the kind of guy who has to go back a few times to make sure I locked the front door, so it’s nice to be able to check on my alarm system from anywhere and arm it if I forgot when I left the house. (That’s why I’m eventually going to get a smart lock for my front door, too.) Alarm.com’s app works with any Alarm.com-based security system (not just FrontPoint). And most importantly they have apps for Windows Phone and BlackBerry, not just iOS and Android. Alarm.com can be configured to send you text, email or push alerts on certain triggers (like when the front door opens), even when the system isn’t armed.

 AndrewMobileApps

No pressure tactics: FrontPoint doesn’t use door-to-door salespeople, unlike ADT and Vivint, and I’ve rarely even seen an ad for them except on Angie’s List. Compare this to the 20+ unsolicited letters from local ADT dealers I’ve gotten since I moved into my new house. When I called them to order my system, the rep even convinced me I didn’t need all the sensors I had thought I needed, and didn’t try to upsell me to a longer contract.

Transparent costs / contracts: FrontPoint lists its equipment costs and monthly monitoring fees on its webpage, and there aren’t any hidden fees—even the discount you get for signing a long contract is clearly spelled out. Other companies obfuscate their activation fees, install fees or discounts and it’s often not clear how much you’ll actually pay upfront. Vivint, for example, has activation fees that start at $99 for their Home Security plan and go up from there based on your credit score. And ADT makes you hunt around on their website for pricing, though if you go to their Shop you can find something approaching an actual price, albeit with lots of “instant savings,” limited-time offers, and fine print.

Get-out-able: Unlike some home security companies (e.g. SimpliSafe), FrontPoint doesn’t offer no-contract monitoring, but they do have contracts as short as one year. Most security companies have a three-year minimum contract, and some are even longer. One year isn’t as ideal for me as month-to-month, but it’s short enough that if I hate it I’m not stuck with the service forever. That said, it’s better to avoid canceling if you can, because per FrontPoint’s fine print you’re still responsible for 80 percent of the cost of the time left on your contract. This is one of the few things I’m not thrilled with.

The good news is there’s a 30-day money-back trial period, and my rep was able to extend mine to 60 days with no problem.

The sensors are off-the-shelf and compatible with other security systems, so you can reuse them if you change providers. And because the whole thing is wireless, you can use it in a rental house or apartment and take it with you if you move.

Good customer support: FrontPoint has a fantastic reputation for customer support. There are 11 complaints on PissedConsumer and 28 with the Better Business Bureau. Compare with 133 PissedConsumer complaints for Vivint75 for Protect America and 276 for ADT (although many of those are doubtless due to local authorized dealers rather than the parent company). SafeMart and LifeShield only have one complaint each, but they’re newer, smaller companies.

In other “the plural of anecdote is data” news, Brian Lam has had FrontPoint for three years and loves their customer service, and I have had nothing but positive interactions the two or three times I’ve talked with them on the phone.

Who else likes it

We like Mike. Mike Brown is the only person we could find with a multi-decade history of tech journalism and expertise in home security and home automation who actually tests this stuff in his own home and writes reviews.

Mike Brown really likes FrontPoint. In his 2011 review, he said “We find the company’s straightforward and consumer-friendly approach to the home-security business refreshing. You don’t have to jump through hoops to find out how much anything costs, both the hardware and the monitoring are reasonably priced, and you’re free to buy only the components you want, versus getting stuck with a prefab package that might not fit your needs (although the company offers those, too).” Mike doesn’t much care for the aging Simon XT control panel that FrontPoint uses; he prefers the 2Gig control panel Vivint ships with.

AngiesList members really like FrontPoint: there are 2800+ reviews of FrontPoint on Angie’s List (subscription required), and 85 percent of them are As. Ten percent are Bs. FrontPoint got Angie’s Super Service award in 2011 and 2012. FrontPoint has a BBB score of B+, not the best in the business but respectable. SimpliSafe and SafeMart both have A+ ratings, but that isn’t the whole picture; I’ll discuss each of them in more detail below.

It’s all downhill after Mike Brown in terms of experts.

After this, we get into the realm of one-off blog posts, search engine bait, user comments, and stuff that looks like astroturfing. If you google some variant of “best home security system,” as I’m sure many of you will do or have done, you get a lot of results, and most of them are nearly meat-free. There are two sites we trusted more than the others, but we still relied mostly on our own research and Mike’s expertise than we did these “home security review sites.”

TopTenReviews picked FrontPoint as its top home security company. The only things they didn’t like were that the equipment warranty is only for two years and the control panel doesn’t have a two-way intercom for speaking with the monitoring service. We give TopTenReviews some credence because their reviews have bylines and their parent company runs LaptopMag and Tom’s Hardware, two reputable review sites.

A Secure Life has picked FrontPoint as its top pick for three years running. Michelle Schenker writes, “Our experience with Front Point showed us that the rep spent more time listening to our needs, and less time telling us what they thought our needs were (how would they know, anyway?).” A Secure Life does solid meta-comparisons of the home security providers—essentially a lot of the same stuff we did in researching this piece, and we like that they don’t just do home security system “reviews.” They’re attached to a publishing company that really exists, they use bylines and the bylines correspond to actual humans with LinkedIn profiles and Twitter handles and so forth. It’s a little SEO-baitey, but at least it seems to be done by humans.

Various other “home security review” sites also like FrontPoint the best, but they are very light on content, lack bylines and aren’t related to any reputable company that we could find. We’re more or less ignoring them.

The step up: FrontPoint Ultimate Monitoring

Also Great
Spending an extra $10/month gets you everything in our recommended "Interactive" package, plus video cameras and home automation.
The tier of service I recommend for most people is what FrontPoint calls its “Interactive” tier, which offers geolocation services, remote access via smartphone and web, email and text alerts, and Z-wave light control in addition to the standard fire/carbon monoxide/intrusion/emergency monitoring the basic $35/month Protection plan gets you. As I mentioned above, I think the remote smartphone access alone is worth the step up in price.

If you want to add networked video cameras and home automation, like controlling your thermostat or locking your door remotely, or setting your lights to turn on when the door unlocks, you’ll need to step up to the Ultimate tier at $50/month. You don’t have to do this when you get the security system, though. I just started out with the basic door and motion sensors on the Interactive plan, and I’ll swap up to the Ultimate plan when I get a smart deadbolt and thermostat.

Most of the competitors I list below offer some variant of these three tiers of service. Vivint calls them Home Security, Energy Management and Home Automation. SafeMart’s are Interactive, Premium and Complete 2.0. ADT has Traditional, Control and Video. Und so weite. Regardless of who you go with, I’d recommend getting the middle tier (or the lowest with cellular monitoring, web/phone access and customizable alerts) and upgrading to the higher tier if you end up needing cameras or a deadbolt or something. FrontPoint lets you change tiers at any time.

The step down: SimpliSafe

Also Great
SimpliSafe comes close to FrontPoint. We like that it doesn't require a contract and that it offers more products than our pick, but it can only be used with SimpliSafe equipment.
SimpliSafe hits a lot of our must-haves. It has a base station with a cellular connection and a backup battery, and it can also take a phone or Ethernet line for backup. It doesn’t have Alarm.com’s crash and smash protection, exactly, but its keypad is located elsewhere from the base station, so if a crook smashes the keypad they won’t disable the alarm. We like the DIY installation, and they have all the sensors you’d expect—fire, CO, motion, door/window, glass break and flood. It also has 24/7 monitoring and remote access from a smartphone or the web. Best of all, there’s no contract at all, and all the equipment is purchased up front. The 19-piece “Complete” kit is $520 but includes the base station and keypad, a keychain remote, two motion sensors, six door/window sensors, two smoke detectors, a flood sensor, freeze sensor, CO sensor, panic button, key fob and extra siren. That’s a lot of gear for the price; my FrontPoint system was about $350 and only included the base station, four door/window sensors, and a motion sensor. You can add extra sensors at checkout, and the prices are low. The “Interactive” plan is only $25/month and includes remote control. They even have a three-year warranty on their equipment.

SimpliSafe doesn’t have support for Z-Wave home automation, smart thermostats or wireless cameras, and they use their own equipment rather than more proven off-the-shelf equipment. This isn’t ideal if you plan on building a unified home automation system, but I can actually think of a use case: if you’re using other “smart home” stuff that isn’t Z-Wave compatible. If you have a Nest thermostat or a Dropcam or you’re planning on getting a Lockitron, Goji or August deadbolt, you’re not going to be able to integrate that stuff with a Z-Wave-compatible security system like FrontPoint or SafeMart, so you might as well save money and get the SimpliSafe system.

SimpliSafe has an A average on Angie’s List with 156 reviews. They also have an A+ on BBB.orgA SimpliSafe kit on Amazon.com has a 4.4-star average over 375 reviews, but reviewers noted the in-house alarm is a little anemic-sounding, and not everyone’s pleased with the customer service. CNET is a big fan of SimpliSafe, making it an Editor’s Choice and calling it “a comprehensive, easy-to-use system.” Apartment Therapy really likes it, too.

We still think FrontPoint is better for most people because of the greater range of sensors and Z-Wave modules that work with it. FrontPoint also has many more positive reviews. But SimpliSafe looks like a good option for people who already have other “smart home” appliances that don’t play well with others. The low price and no-contract plan make this a good step down from FrontPoint Interactive.

Unproven honorable mention

SafeMart also does a lot of things right. They use the same GE security equipment that FrontPoint does, with optional cellular monitoring. They have most of the same sensors and accessories and sell them a la carte, with prices clearly shown on the website. Installation is DIY, like FrontPoint’s. They use the same Alarm.com remote monitoring as FrontPoint and Vivint, and the system is Z-Wave compatible, so it’s got the same support for home automation and control devices. Their contracts are for one year and month-to-month after that, like FrontPoint’s shortest contract option. They even offer the Alarm.com services—remote access, remote arm/disarm and text/email alerts—at their $30/month package; FrontPoint’s cheapest plan with those options is $43/month. They have an A+ rating from the BBB and an A rating on Angie’s List, with 89% of their 91 reviews As (subscription required to view link). We’re still going with FrontPoint for our main pick because there are so many more great reviews–2800 Angie’s List reviews is a lot more than 91–but SafeMart looks like it’s about as good. It’s just not as proven, and you want a home alarm system to be proven.

Not Great:

Vivint

FrontPoint isn’t actually Mike Brown’s favorite monitored home security system. That honor goes to Vivint, which has a newer, fancier control panel with a two-way intercom, and steeper subsidies on its hardware when you sign a long contract so the upfront cost is less. It’s not a DIY solution; when you buy a security system from Vivint, they send an installer. Other than that, they’re nearly identical to FrontPoint: they offer roughly comparable tiers of service, have the same sensor types, use Alarm.com on the back end and support lots of Z-Wave devices. But there are a few dealbreakers. First, whether or not you can see equipment and plan pricing on their website seems to have a lot to do with what browser you’re using on what platform, so it’s fair to call their pricing obfuscatory. Second, when you can see their prices, their equipment and monitoring prices are higher than FrontPoint’s—Vivint’s Energy Management tier is $7/month more expensive than FrontPoint’s Interactive tier, and its Home Automation tier is $20/month more than FrontPoint’s Ultimate for the same level of service. And because all of their sensors include installation fees, they’re much more expensive than the FrontPoint equivalent. Third, they have a three-year minimum contract; FrontPoint’s minimum is one.  Fourth, like most alarm companies, they have plenty of negative reviews. They have 133 PissedConsumer complaints and they’re in AngiesList’s “Penalty Box” for unresolved complaints. The Better Business Bureau has pulled their accreditation, and they have government actions against them in six states for deceptive business practices. Even if they’re cleaning up their act, Vivint just isn’t as good a deal as FrontPoint, nor is its customer service as highly rated.

ADT Pulse

ADT Pulse is very similar to FrontPoint and Vivint at first blush. It has the same sort of sensors, the same basic types of monitoring, Z-Wave compatibility, remote smartphone access and 24/7 monitoring. ADT is also a much bigger, older company. But its vast network of authorized dealers and affiliates makes the ADT experience incredibly variable based on which dealer you go with. They also obfuscate their pricing, require three-year minimum contracts, and have a confusing web of limited-time offers, instant savings and activation fees on their websites. The monthly monitoring charges are more expensive than FrontPoint’s (at $50/month for the equivalent of FrontPoint’s $43/month plan). Buying additional sensors from ADT is much more expensive than with FrontPoint, since ADT has to send out an installer. You could add your own Z-Wave devices, but as Mike Brown’s review notes, “ADT prohibits you from installing any Z-Wave device not on its list.” FrontPoint and Vivint let you try, at least, and often their systems will work with devices that aren’t on the official compatibility list, because that’s what standards mean.

ADT doesn’t offer the “crash and smash” protection that Alarm.com’s providers (including FrontPoint and Vivint) have. Instead, as Mike told me via email, “ADT won’t discuss how [it protects] customers, but I think it boils down to mounting critical components inside heavy metal boxes that they bolt to the wall in a closet or somewhere else out of sight. The burglar might destroy the control panel that you use to activate and deactivate the alarm, but another component inside this box can still trigger the alarm unless the burglar manages to find these metal boxes, rip them open, and smash the electronics inside before the alarm delay ends.“

In practice, this may be just as effective as what Alarm.com offers, but it requires a more extensive and complicated installation. FrontPoint is cheaper, more flexible, offers shorter contracts and more expandability, has better a better sales experience, doesn’t use high-pressure tactics or door-to-door salespeople and doesn’t work through a network of affiliates and authorized dealers.

LifeShield

LifeShield’s Gold monitoring package seems like a good deal at first, since it’s only $36/month and comes with the control panel, a separate console, a touchpad controller, three motion sensors, a fire safety sensor, a motion detector and a keychain remote. That’s with zero equipment cost, no activation fee, and a DIY option that means you don’t even need to pay an installer. You can add more equipment when you order for generally reasonable rates. So what’s the catch? Well, to get that price you need to sign a five-year contract. They also offer a three-year contract, but the monthly price goes up. LifeShield has an option that includes wireless video monitoring for $40/month, but it has no Z-Wave compatibility, so a LifeShield system doesn’t have the home automation potential of FrontPoint. Also, unlike FrontPoint, ADT and Vivint, they don’t sell fire and CO detectors that hook into the security system. Instead, LifePoint has a “fire safety sensor” that listens for the siren from your existing fire and CO detectors. This is nice if you already have those detectors in your house (which you should), but it’s still a bit of a kludge. We do like that it has broadband, landline and cellular connections, but ultimately FrontPoint is a better deal because its contracts are shorter and it’s more powerful and flexible. LifeShield has a B on Angie’s List with 66 total ratings.

ProtectAmerica

ProtectAmerica uses GE security equipment (including the Simon XT control panel that FrontPoint uses) and they also have Z-Wave compatibility and remote monitoring, as well as smartphone arming and disarming. They’re DIY only, and they don’t have equipment fees for their basic packages. They come up second at TopTenReviews and A Secure Life, just behind FrontPoint. Still, we prefer FrontPoint because ProtectAmerica’s shortest contract is 36 months, their equipment packages are less flexible than FrontPoint or SafeMart’s and their Silver Cellular package is $50/month—$7 more than FrontPoint’s Interactive. The Silver package comes with 10 door/window sensors, which is more than many people need. You can call to swap some of those sensors for other, more useful sensors—choosing from the same array of sensors and Z-Wave modules as most of the other systems on the list—but you’ll have to do it over the phone, and there are no equipment prices listed on the website. You also have to call ProtectAmerica to get pricing quotes beyond the basic monthly rate. They also have a B rating on Angie’s List (subscription required). FrontPoint and SafeMart are cheaper per month, more flexible and have shorter minimum contracts.

Comcast Xfinity Home

Do you really want to get a home security system from your cable company? Aside from the three-year contract, you get to deal with weird cable company pricing (e.g. “$39.95 for the first six months!”). There is a DIY install option, or you can go with Comcast’s installers, if you’re into that kind of thing. Xfinity Home does have Zigbee (not Z-Wave) home automation integration, and it connects via broadband with a cellular backup. On paper it has a lot of the things we like to see. But the monthly cost goes up to $50 after six months, it requires a “compatible” broadband internet connection (read: Comcast), and it’s only available in certain markets where Comcast internet is. Do you really want to have to change your home security system if you change cable providers or deal with Comcast customer support if something goes wrong? You’re better off with FrontPoint, SafeMart or SimpliSafe, in that order.

AT&T Digital Life

See Comcast re: getting a home security system from your cable company. AT&T Digital Life looks a bit better than Xfinity Home on paper—for example, you don’t need AT&T internet or cable to use it—but it’s not available in all markets, and it’s not at all clear whether it’s compatible with Z-Wave or Zigbee. It requires a broadband connection, but the fine print says it uses AT&T’s wireless service for its primary means of communication with the monitoring station. That’s fine, but if you don’t have good AT&T signal, you could be in trouble. FrontPoint has multiple cellular carrier options depending on the signal where you live. Plus there’s no DIY installation option. Each additional set of sensors (water, or door, or video) adds to your monthly bill, unlike FrontPoint. There’s a minimum two-year contract. Add that to the fact that it’s brand new on the market, and there’s just too much we don’t know about Digital Life. There are plenty of better options.

What about unmonitored home automation and security kits?

There is a huge array of “smart home” and home automation kits and ecosystems out there—enough to justify a future Sweethome or Wirecutter roundup. There are even more on the way.

Lowe’s IrisNexia Home Intelligence, and Vera (formerly Mi Casa Verde) are all home automation setups that can be configured as home security systems by adding Z-Wave sensors. They all do alright, more or less—Mike Brown gave the Nexia 2.5 stars out of 5 and 3 out of 5 stars to Lowe’s Iris. Of the three, I’d go with Vera for its robust community, lack of monthly fees (sorry, Nexia), and guaranteed support for every Z-Wave device. But none of them report to a central monitoring service. Via email, Mike explained why that’s not a good idea:

“A system that’s monitored by a central office provides the best security. If a sensor goes off indicating a possible break-in, the service will call you first, to ensure it’s not a false alarm. If you direct them to, they will call a police dispatcher and request them to investigate. They can also install smoke and carbon-monoxide sensors in your home and alert you if those are triggered, possibly saving your life in the event of a fire or a furnace malfunction.

“What if you’re asleep and you don’t hear the alarm, be it a break-in, a fire or a carbon-monoxide event?”
“As much as I like the Lowe’s Iris system and the Mi Casa Verde controllers for their home-control features, a device that only triggers a local alarm and perhaps turns on a light doesn’t provide much in the way of real protection.

“If there’s a break-in while you’re home, the alarm and lights will probably scare off an opportunist burglar, but can you be sure you’ll be able to reach your phone to call the police before a hardened or desperate criminal reaches you? What if you’re asleep and you don’t hear the alarm, be it a break-in, a fire, or a carbon-monoxide event? And if you’re away from home, can you rely on your neighbor or neighborhood watch to call first responders? What happens if your neighbor is away or doesn’t hear the alarm?

I don’t mean to sound like a fearmonger, but there are just too many holes in that type of security.  Oh, and there’s another benefit of a centrally monitored system: you can get a discount on your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Insurance companies won’t give you a discount on your alarm system if it’s not monitored.”

SmartThings is another new smart home kit, and it’s notable for being the first of many Kickstartered or IndieGogo’d home control kits to actually reach the market. It has good Amazon reviews, and its Hub can talk to Z-Wave, Zigbee, or IP-controlled home automation and security stuff, which is great. You can control it with your smartphone and even set IFTTT recipes that include SmartThings. This is rad, and it might be a good alternative to Vera, but for home security purposes we’re sticking with monitored options. Again, if there’s demand, we’ll look into these systems in a later roundup.

Not real yet, and probably unmonitored

The home security market is perceived as old and entrenched, so there are tons of Kickstarter-age companies looking to get their disrupt on. Most of them aren’t real yet (SmartThings being the exception), but here are a few that might (might!) end up being interesting. All of them give you remote smartphone access to your home automation stuff, and a lot of them promise to combine multiple home automation standards.

Canary is an all-in-one home security device in a pretty can. It’s not out until mid-2014 at best.

Revolv is a hub and smartphone app that supports Z-Wave, Zigbee (soon), Insteon, Philips Hue bulbs, Sonos, Belkin WeMo and other home-automation stuff. It’s preorder-only.

Scout is a good-looking Zigbee-compatible home security system, but it’s not actually real yet, and so far they only have a few types of sensors. The website promises offsite monitoring for as little as $10/month, but no details as to who will do the monitoring. It could be great, but it’s preorder-only for now.

Alertly looks intriguing but with few backers and fewer details, it’ll be a long time before Alertly is real enough to consider.

Care, use, maintenance and repair

Your alarm system isn’t going to do anything for you if it’s not armed. The best thing you can do is train yourself to arm it whether you’re home or not. Mike Brown explains: “Most alarm systems have two modes: “Arm stay” for when you’re home, and “arm away” for when you’re not. When you arm away, the motion sensors can trigger the alarm if someone gains access to your house through a door or window that’s not protected by a sensor. When you arm stay, the motion sensors are deactivated, so you’re protected from a break-in, but you can still walk around the house without triggering the alarm.”

This is one place where I find the Alarm.com service (offered with FrontPoint’s Interactive tier and above, as well as many of the competitors) so nice. You can set up notifications (text, email, or push) based on a pretty wide range of triggers. For example, if the alarm isn’t armed by a certain time every night, I’ll get a reminder notification.

With FrontPoint’s Interactive monitoring tier, you can set up “geo-fences” for your cell phones via the Alarm.com control panel. Mine sends a push notification to our cell phones if both of our phones leave the neighborhood without turning on the alarm.

The notification system isn’t just useful for arming reminders, though; there are all sorts of clever things you can do.

Insurance, insurance, insurance

I mentioned it before, but I’ll do it again. You need to have good insurance: homeowner’s if you own the place, and renter’s if you don’t. Even a very good monitored alarm system isn’t foolproof. Unless you have bars on the windows and triple-reinforced doors, a very determined robber will find some way into your house. A security system can discourage them from trying to break in or summon the police if they do, but it’s not going to stop a desperate thief from making off with your valuables. Especially if the system isn’t on.

Many alarm providers will reimburse you in the event of a robbery, but the print is both fine and stingy: if the alarm was set up properly and it was armed at the time of the break-in (and it somehow malfunctioned) the alarm company will typically reimburse up to $500 of your insurance deductible.

You. Need. To. Have. Insurance.

On the bright side, most insurance companies will give you a discount on your premium if you have a monitored home security system.

Alarm permits and false alarms

Most places require you to get an alarm permit if your home security system is capable of calling the police, fire or ambulance services. FrontPoint (and most alarm companies) will walk you through the process of getting a permit. It costs the city money to send emergency services to your house, so you may be charged for false alarms. I live in Houston, where a residential alarm permit is $50/year, and the false alarm penalties are relatively mild: the first three false alarms are free, the next two are $50 each, your sixth and seventh are $75 each, and after that it’s $100 and they reserve the right to stop responding. Remember that FrontPoint tries to call you before they call emergency services, and they only call emergency services if you don’t respond or if you ask them to. So if you accidentally set off your alarm, don’t just let it ring.

Other safety tips

Whether or not you have a monitored alarm system, there are some things you should do to secure your house. Lifehacker compiled a good list based on a StackExchange thread, and the comments are good too:

  • Don’t look like a target

  • Have a good deadbolt on every exterior door

  • Don’t have fancy stuff in plain sight from outside

  • Secure your window A/C units

The Chicago Tribune has some recommendations for people who don’t have security systems, though they apply to everyone: “Cheap and effective alternatives are quality deadbolts on doors, substantial window locks and motion-sensor lighting outside. You could get a dog, although its care might turn it into a pricey option. You could bluff by posting a Beware of Dog sign or the window stickers from alarm companies.”

Lifehacker also has a good post on what to do if you get robbed.

Long-term test notes

I’ve now had the FrontPoint system since July and I have nothing but good things to say about the customer service. They’ve been helpful and responsive every time. Since I wrote the piece I’ve added two connected smoke detectors, a glass break sensor, and a Z-Wave-compatible door lock, and each time getting them attached to the system took less than five minutes on the phone with the company. Adding the Z-Wave door lock bumped me up to the $50/month Ultimate plan, but it’s worth being able to check the status and lock and unlock my door from the Alarm.com app on my phone.

One suggestion: if you use FrontPoint’s smoke detectors and you have textured walls or ceilings, mount the detectors with screws, not the attached double-stick foam. Both of my smoke detectors ended up pulling the paint off of the ceiling and falling to the ground, triggering a fire alarm in both cases. The second time it happened, I wasn’t home to turn off the alarm, and FrontPoint called me within one minute of the incident to see what had happened. Since I didn’t know my house wasn’t on fire, I had them call the Houston Fire Department, which was on scene within 10 minutes. FrontPoint replaced both smoke detectors at no charge after the falls, and I attached the replacements with screws. The lesson: FrontPoint responds quickly, customer service is still great, but maybe don’t rely on 30-year-old ceiling texture to support the weight of a smoke detector.

Wrapping it up

A monitored home security system is a good way to help keep your home, valuables and loved ones secure. It’s not foolproof and you’ll need to remember to arm it, but it can provide peace of mind, deter crooks, call the cops or firefighters in an emergency, give you a discount on your home insurance and hook into home automation systems as well. We like FrontPoint the best because of its powerful, time-tested equipment, great customer service, clear pricing and short contracts. It’s not the only home security company that offers what it offers, but it’s strong all around and we think it’s the best choice.

Want to support The Sweethome when buying your home security system? When contacting Frontpoint use our special Sweethome toll-free number (855-243-4990) or email sign-up form here.

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Sources

  1. Michael Brown , Senior Editor at IDG Consumer & SMB, Interview , April 19, 2013
  2. Michael Brown, FrontPoint Security Review , Maximum PC, September 27th, 2011
  3. Peter M. Rogers, Who's Monitoring YOUR Alarm System 24/7?, FrontPoint Home Security Blog , August 10th, 2013
  4. Alex Schenker , Best Home Security System: 2013 Winners , A Secure Life , November 5th, 2013
  5. Gregory Han, SimpliSafe Home Security System, Apartment Therapy, October 27th, 2009
  6. BBB Business Review, SimpliSafe, Better Business Bureau
  • woberman

    Interestingly, I also have been doing a lot of reading on this same issue, but my two finalists were SimpliSafe and SafeMart. I was down on Frontpoint for being the same as SafeMart but more expensive, but I’ve trusted past recommendations here…. I’ll be curious to see if anyone else has doubts about SafeMart (as this article hasn’t quite dissuaded me yet).

    • Nathan Edwards

      Yeah, I’m certainly not anti-SafeMart, and I hope that came across. I think it’s almost certainly a great choice. It’s just that FrontPoint has so many more reviews and is more established, so if I have to recommend one over the other, I’ll pick the one that’s a little more proven.

    • slarche

      I’ve been doing the same analysis and narrowed mine down to SafeMart and SimpliSafe as well. I ended up going with SimpliSafe because I didn’t care as much about the home automation features and the monitoring costs were materially lower. If you have a long ownership horizon for these systems (4-5 years or greater) the monitoring costs factor in significantly more than the initial costs do in the total cost of ownership. Of course that doesn’t mean the monitoring costs won’t rise significantly in the future. Great article, I really liked FrontPoint as well.

  • Chris Warren

    How does the Z-Wave support of a system like FrontPoint and the Simon XT work with another automation system like SmartThings, which also supports Z-Wave devices? Could one control lights and read sensors through both without trouble?

    • Nathan Edwards

      I’m not sure about controlling the same Z-Wave devices through multiple controllers. Seems like a recipe for confusion. However, if I end up writing up home automation setups I’ll likely be able to test this.

  • Ben

    I live in an area where the local PD will not respond to an alarm, but will only respond to a confirmed alarm (i believe this is an actual phone call from a person in the home). If this is the case would you still recommend a system with monitoring?

    • Nathan Edwards

      Does it have to be from a person in the home? The system does not call the police itself; the people at the monitoring center call the police, after they try to get in touch with you first.

      • Ben

        I just looked it up and verified means one of two things (A: the homeowner/alarm company responder is on scene and can verify that a crime is being committed or B: sound, video, or eyewitness accounts of a crime being committed) otherwise they will not send an officer.

        • Kesey

          What’s the rationale behind that? High crime area where false alarms take officers away from real crimes?

          Sounds like they’re being negligent in protecting the community. If false alarms are a problem, charge for them like other PDs. Otherwise, respond to the incidents—better safe than sorry.

          In my area, it gives the Police something to do and they get to charge extra for it.

          • Ben

            I live in san jose, ca. You can look up what a crappy elected gov’t we’ve had for the past six years. They have been jumping up and down on the PD to solve budgetary issues and lots of officers have left for other departments. The number of officers are down and not going up any time soon and property crime is up 30% over this time, but Violent crime is flat, so city gov’t seems content with these numbers.

  • Jason Clark

    Can you clarify your position on SafeMart, especially as compares to SimpliSafe? You list SafeMart in the “Not Great” section, but your commentary says it is just as good as FrontPoint, only with fewer reviews. You list SimpliSafe as your “Step Down” pick, but in the Xfinity Home commentary you state, “You’re better off with FrontPoint, SafeMart or SimpliSafe, in that order.” Is SafeMart, as compared to SimpliSafe, better, worse, or about the same?

    • Nathan Edwards

      You’re right, that was confusing. We moved SafeMart up to “unproven honorable mention,” ahead of the Not Great section. SafeMart is going to be functionally identical to FrontPoint (same equipment, same Alarm.com functionality), but it doesn’t have as many reviews because it’s a newer and smaller operation, so we gave the edge to the more proven company. SimpliSafe uses its own equipment, which isn’t Z-Wave compatible, so it’s a step down from the other two, for people who don’t care about Z-Wave. Does that make sense?

      • woberman

        Clever solution that fully solves/answers/addresses my earlier comment, thanks!

  • Mike

    I’ve had this system in my new home for a year now and I love it. My only gripe is that I wish I can set the system on an arming schedule but apparently that is not supported. I would also invest in better adhesive for the mounting of the devices. I’ve had my alarm go off because my motion sensor fell.

  • JeweyNougat

    I did a giant spreadsheet to compare many of these options last year and ended up with SafeMart. It had a high approval rating, and all the same advantages as Frontpoint but it was significantly cheaper. I pay $40 a month for the tier with home automation (locks, thermostat, lights, etc.) which Frontpoint charges $50 a month for. The sensors and other elements were significantly discounted when I purchased them with my service (they are almost always running a special on their site, I discovered).

    And I’m not sure why the SimonXTi wasn’t approved by FP but for me, a touchscreen panel was what I was looking for. No important reason, it’s just more what I like to deal with. Everything being equal, I wanted the Simon XTi. It also got great reviews when I was researching.

    I also have to say, SafeMart may be the best customer service experience I’ve ever had with any company. They will patiently stay on the phone with me for an hour when some sensor doesn’t want to play nice with the others (eg, the lock was installed wrong). They email follow-up every time. I would recommend them to anyone and hope they’ll be more strongly considered in the future. They’re exactly like Frontpoint… but cheaper.

  • MagicJewball

    I did a giant spreadsheet to compare many of these options last year and ended up with SafeMart. It had a high approval rating, and all the same advantages as Frontpoint but it was significantly cheaper. I pay $40 a month for the tier with home automation (locks, thermostat, lights, etc.) which Frontpoint charges $50 a month for. The sensors and other elements were significantly discounted when I purchased them with my service (they are almost always running a special on their site, I discovered).

    And I’m not sure why the SimonXTi wasn’t approved by FP but for me, a touchscreen panel was what I was looking for. No important reason, it’s just more what I like to deal with. Everything being equal, I wanted the Simon XTi. It also got great reviews when I was researching.

    I also have to say, SafeMart may be the best customer service experience I’ve ever had with any company. They will patiently stay on the phone with me for an hour when some sensor doesn’t want to play nice with the others (eg, the lock was installed wrong). They email follow-up every time. I would recommend them to anyone and hope they’ll be more strongly considered in the future. They’re exactly like Frontpoint… but cheaper.

    (deleted and reposted – wrong account)

  • supremus

    Cant believe you guys missed out on reviewing NextAlarm (nextalarm.com) – I would think they have the best bang for the buck right now. We have it right now and so far have been very happy with them. Plus paying 100$ a year beats 40$ a month.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      From what I can tell, the $100/year program is just a camera setup you watch yourself? How does it work? The cheapest active monitoring system plan I saw was $18/month.

      • supremus

        Maybe they increased their prices I guess – we paid 11$ for active monitoring and continued on the same price – I also noticed they have increased to 18$. But still 18$ vs 40$ is still quite a difference.

        • Nathan Edwards

          Also, NextAlarm uses a broadband adapter to connect to its monitoring service; at the very top of the article I mentioned that we eliminated anything that didn’t have at least a cellular backup, as broadband-monitored alarm systems won’t work if your internet goes down or is cut.

          • supremus

            Yes they do have a cellular option too but that jacks up the price/month anyways. My bad. Monday Confession – Honestly I usually end up just scrolling down sweethome/wirecutter and just end up making a decision to buy recommended product or not. (Have come to trust the site’s recommendation so much) ;)

          • Ken Esq

            Yes, but if the internet is cut that triggers an alarm condition with NextAlarm. Doesn’t that get you to the same place?

            Also many routers allow for a cellular fallback (Asus is one) which would keep the device on the internet, but only when necessary.

  • Dan

    What about for those that already have equipment installed and just want a monitoring service? Companies like AlarmRelay and NextAlarm exist, but it’s hard to find objective reviews of them.

    Thanks!

    • Jake Vendegna

      Call a local alarm company, and use their monitoring service. Make sure the monitoring company they use is UL Listed and are capable of monitoring commercial fire alarm accounts in your area. Do make sure the alarm company comes out to make sure your alarm panel is sending a “Timer Test” daily. And do not pay more than $35 a month, no matter what additional services you have.

      My opinion, if you are going to use one of the services you listed above, use alarm relay. At least they are UL Listed. And props to them for changing the game. Most monitoring companies, including the one my company uses, do not work directly with consumers.

      Nextalarm uses some sort of voip communicator that they have rigged to work with a variety of control panels. The issue is that not all control panels are alike, not all of them send the same codes, and therefore there are bound to be some pretty wide gaps in service depending on your equipment configuration.

    • Ken Esq

      I have used NextAlarm and they were very, very good. Solid support…far less expensive than the “major” services and they worked/responded every bit as well. I think I was paying roughly $10/month for the same monitoring service that used to cost me $30.
      One of the really nice features they had was an admin website that allowed me to monitor all of my alarmed points, change alarm status to test and handle any basic admin tasks.

  • paladrache

    Along with all the asides at the bottom, it’s worth mentioning that your local sheriff’s or constable’s office can perform extra patrols at/around your residence at your request if you’re out of town. I can’t speak for every place, but increased patrols in your neighborhood by marked police vehicles may act as a deterrent to would-be perps.

  • Russell Kent

    test

  • Russell Kent

    When I was researching systems last year, I wanted the 2GIG touch panel (same one that Vivint uses), but I didn’t want a long term contract. I also was planning DIY installation, so I didn’t want to pay for lots of service.

    I found what I wanted at SuretyCam.com (and SuretyDIY.com). Good prices on equipment, reasonable monthly fees, and Alarm.com interface. As it turned out, I did need some technical support, which SuretyCam provided without any trouble.

    I’ve also purchased 2GIG expansion parts from Amazon and eBay, at low prices.

    Incidentally, the 2GIG networked thermostat provides functionality very like the Nest, but at a much lower cost.

    Highly recommended!

  • kilowati

    I highly recommend SafeMart. I chose them over Front Point because they use the same UL listed monitoring centers for much less money. I have now had 2 false alarms that SafeMart handled very professionally. In both cases, the alarm should have gone off and it did. I have a $20/mo more basic monitoring plan with cell service that works for me. Oh, and SafeMart has available touch screens that are a nice upgrade.

  • http://www.coverstorymedia.com/ Alex Schenker

    Nice in-depth article Nathan. We agree with your #1 pick as Frontpoint and appreciate you referencing our article as a source. The only tip I wanted to add for your readers is to point out the misconception that a dog will provide security. The last thing you want is to put your pup in the line of fire! Get a monitored home security system to not only protect yourself, but the other members of your family, including your pets.

    Alex from A Secure Life

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Hey thanks for dropping by!

    • http://www.coverstorymedia.com/ Sadie Cornelius

      Agree with Alex that FrontPoint is the clear winner – there are a number of reasons why but customer service is by far the best! They go above and beyond for their customers and have proven time and time again, year after year, they are deserving of the title “Best Home Alarm System” to read more about the winners and find out why they are the #1 pick check out http://www.asecurelife.com/best-home-security-system

  • al

    Smith Thompson is awesome as well. can’t beat $16/month 4g monitoring

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Buy they’re only available in Texas & Phoenix. And only the bigger cities in Texas at that (San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Houston).

  • REMOTIZER

    After visiting the 30C3 booth at CES 2014 in Vegas, I question the security protocol of any “Smart Lock” that can be unlocked with a smartphone using NFC or Bluetooth. 30C3 demonstrated just how easy it is to hack these devices with a Raspberry pi. Garage door openers and automotive hey fobs have been working well for decades because they use encrypted RFID. Infra-red maybe more difficult to hack, but smart locks using infra-red run out the batteries in less than five months.
    I enjoy locking and unlocking my front door from 80 feet away. Everyone knows a burglar will first attempt entry through a window hidden by shadows or landscaping—
    so home security is a must…….just don’t replace your front door’s deadbolt with one of the newly released “hacker magnets”!

    • Nathan Edwards

      Yeah, we’ll do a smart lock roundup in a bit. Good call on the security aspect of BT/NFC.

    • Jake Vendegna

      The best advice I’ve read on this entire page!

  • Bailey Jones

    Thanks for the long term notes update.

    I’m wondering which door lock you went with. I’ve found it difficult to contrast the different models (e.g. Kwikset 909 vs 914? Is Kwikset called Weiser in Canada?). I don’t see consensus out there.

    I completely disagree on the no pressure comment. I was nagged everyday for 7 days so that I could “benefit” from their “end of month” special pricing which was really just the same pricing that you make reference to here. Old school sales tactics.

    I have the service and they still spam me even though I’ve unsubscribed and personally asked the rep to stop.

    However, I will say that they were very patient and knowledgable during the courting stage and that my experience as a Canadian customer was quite good (e.g. No extra shipping, receiving or returning equipment). The only thing I’d wish they fix is the monthly charge currency, CAD instead of USD.

    • Nathan Edwards

      Hi Bailey,

      I went with the Yale touchscreen deadbolt (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005NLKRAO/?tag=thewire06-20). I like it because it doesn’t require a smartphone to use, unlike a lot of new smart locks. It integrates with FrontPoint (although you do need to use the $50/month Ultimate monitoring plan), and it has a motorized deadbolt, so I can check whether my door is locked from the app, and lock or unlock it remotely.

      I can also set door-only PIN codes for guests and revoke them at any time. It’s ANSI 2 rated–so not quite the strongest, but the second strongest. And it does have a key, so if all else fails it’s no worse than a regular deadbolt.

      It is expensive, but for me it was worth it just so I can no longer lock myself out or accidentally leave the door unlocked.

      Hope that helps! We’re working to get more smart home coverage on the site.

  • Quentin Hartman

    This is a great writeup. Just the thing I was looking for.

  • Paula Livingston

    This article was very helpful. While researching home security
    tips I have found that outdoor lighting is also a very relevant way to make
    your home not only more appealing but more secure as well. Outdoor lighting when
    done correctly can help secure your home much more than the alternative which
    is a dark exterior. An intruder has no desire to be seen and outdoor lighting
    is one way to detour any unwanted intruders from your home. Designing your
    security lighting and making sure it is as beneficial as possible is a very
    important step in outdoor security lighting. I found this article to be very
    helpful with that and with other things that go into lighting the exterior of
    your home: http://www.delmarfans.com/educate/outdoor-security-lighting/

  • Sindu Esync

    Nice article…thanks for sharing

  • chrisdag

    Based on this article I contacted Frontpoint via the method suggested so that you guys would get the referral credit. One thing I wanted to mention being unhappy about – despite the rave reviews these Frontpoint folks still pull off some old school annoying time and pressure-based sales tactics. Despite telling the person I was filling my online shopping cart for a to-be-purchased home that was still ~2 months away from closing I was still subjected to a strong effort aimed at getting me to sign up that day. They still persist in calling repeatedly even though I told them straight up I was already sold and would be purchasing closer to my home closing date. Then just today I get an email offering a special deal “good only for today” if I would only act fast and order. For a company trying to disrupt the old model it’s mildly disappointing to see they still use old school tactics. Good companies with good products should not need a high pressure sales effort unless something is skewed with their compensation model. The only thing I can think of is the sales agents are heavily compensated based on what incoming leads do and this agent is being tenacious in making sure that they get credited when I actually pull the trigger and order. It’s off-putting enough that I’m going to research alternatives even though this writeup had convinced me otherwise.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

    • chrisdag

      Following up to my own post. The Frontpoint off-putting sales tactics drove me to the competition. I bought two separate systems from LiveWatch and am very happy.

    • nsfw

      I went through the same thing with FrontPoint. They need to relax a bit and let the customers come to them. Once you make contact you are barraged by emails and daily phone calls.
      I like a little time to think and shop and I found this tactic really annoying. My friends whom I referred went through the same thing. They use used-car salesman tactics which is really tacky.
      I’m happy with the service but I wish they would upgrade the Simon XT. It does some things that are not programmable which I would venture are options to config in newer devices.

    • zenandtheart

      I recently purchased a home security system after narrowing down the options to the same top three discussed here (Frontpoint, SafeMart, Simplisafe). After calling each to get a quote, I shared other chrisdag’s negative sales experience with Frontpoint. The rep I spoke with forced me to sit through a long “here’s why we’re the best” spiel even though I had already done my homework, pressured me to place an order immediately, and followed up several times even after I was clear that I would call him back if necessary. It was enough of a turn-off for me to eliminate Frontpoint from contention (to be fair, I was already leaning towards SafeMart for their similar features at a lower price).

      When I spoke with SafeMart, their staff was extremely helpful, professional, and courteous. I enjoyed working with them from the initial call for info, all the way through setup. We’ve had their Simon XTi touchscreen system for 8 months now and have had a very good experience for the most part.

      Our one complaint was with their default setup for the fire alarm, which instructed the monitoring center to call the fire department immediately, before contacting us (the default for a door or window alarm is the opposite). Having the fire department dispatched no matter what, even if a smoky pan set off the alarm and it was canceled seconds later, didn’t make much sense. However, we ultimately resolved the issue, and I suspect it was mostly with the monitoring center, and not under SafeMart’s direct control.

      Overall, we’ve been very pleased and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend SafeMart as a top choice or at least an equal alternative. The Simon XT family is not a powerhouse in the home security world, but for the basics, it does the job.

  • http://blog.mattnworb.com Matt Brown

    “FrontPoint uses Rapid Response, the same monitoring center NYC uses to monitor its fire alarms.”

    This seems like a misinterpretation of the linked blog post, which says the monitoring center is FDNY certified and therefore can monitor commercial property in NYC. The linked blog post doesn’t state that the City of New York uses their services.

    • Nathan Edwards

      You’re right. I’m not sure how I made that mistake, but I’ll correct the post.

      • http://blog.mattnworb.com Matt Brown

        this is one of the reasons why I love The Sweethome. Great review!

  • Marius Piedallu van Wyk

    What about unmonitored? I prefer no monthly costs…

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Check under this section:

      “What about unmonitored home automation and security kits?”

    • Roman Greene

      Check out http://www.dragonalarm.com. I bought the matiGard system and it works great.

  • lora.fernadiz

    Nice information i would prefer my home security system as based on monthly charge.
    http://security.chubb.co.nz/

  • Kirstin Guerra

    I am looking for a security system for my small little business, just so I know what’s going on or if something goes wrong. I’m wondering if they are kind of like home security systems and I can just set it up or if I need someone to do it. I hope I find something that fits what I am looking for. Michael Williams| http://www.lamarcosystems.com/security/

  • Roman Greene

    I personally prefer the self monitoring systems. You either have land line or GSM (cellular). It notifies you via text or phone call and you don’t have to pay monthly fees. http://www.dragonalarm.com has several models with very impressive features at affordable prices.

  • Jake Vendegna

    Really, if you want the best deal, and the best equipment, skip the national companies. Find a local alarm company! You will get better customer service, more knowledgeable professionals, less ridiculously overbearing sales tactics, your money will stay within your community, and the list goes on and on and on. About 30% of my customers come from other companies, because they cannot get a hold of anyone in the middle of the night. The national companies contracts are not that hard to get out of if you understand contract law and hold your ground. Usually they promise 24 hour support, if you can’t get a hold of anyone, or get a technician to come to your house at 3 am, they are in breach. Tell them this and you’re out of it, fee free. My clients call me at 3 am I answer my phone. All of my clients have my direct home and cell phone numbers. While we do implement a rotating on call schedule that all of our technicians participate in, I want my clients to know that they can get a hold of me, the owner, personally at any time, day or night, 365.

    I would like to state that I am not trying to say my business is the best and you should switch to me. I have a very small service area, and we do not work outside of it. Instead I am offering a little insight as to why almost any smaller, local home security company is always a better choice than any of our nation wide competitors.

    Invite a local alarm company to give you an estimate the next time you are in the market. I think you will be surprised… And never trust an article that is asking for referrals. All of this looks like paid SEO content attempting, and succeeding, to lead you straight into the open arms of FrontPoint, while lining the pockets of the author. Shameful at best.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      That actually isn’t a bad idea. However, when we made this guide we were aiming for something that most people had the ability to get.

      As for the paid SEO thing, you must not be familiar with how we do things here. We’re not a pay-for-review publication.

      You can familiarize yourself with how we work here:

      http://thesweethome.com/about/

      and here:

      http://thesweethome.com/how-to-support-the-sweethome/

      • Jake Vendegna

        Okay, I wasn’t familiar, thanks for the info, and I apologize for assuming.

        If you really want to know what you’re paying for, call your alarm company and ask them how often your panel sends a “Timer Test” or “Periodic Test Transmission”. As this is truly what you are paying for when you sign up for 24/7 monitoring. If it is sending a timer test once a day, you are with a decent company, or at least had a decent installer who was willing to risk his/her job for your family’s safety. However, if you are like the majority of consumers, your alarm panel might send this signal once a month, if at all. What this means is that your alarm panel is only telling the monitoring company that it is still in working operation. It only tells the monitoring company this when your control panel sends the Timer Test. Call your alarm company and make damn sure that you are set up to be notified when this timer test is not received at the proper time. Make sure that this signal is being sent at least once daily. If it isn’t and they wont change it, change companies. Without the installers code, you cannot change it yourself on any system… Okay there is an exception, if any of you are alarm installers, you know what I am talking about. In the best interest of the people who may own this particular control panel, I will not post this information here.

        The bottom line is that if you are paying more than $35 a month for residential alarm monitoring, I don’t care what services you have, you’re being had, and you should call a local company. The local company is more than that? Call another one. All of them cost more? Have a friend burn your house down while you are on vacation, take the insurance money, and move far far away.

  • http://www.bestwirelessdoorbells.com Best Wireless Doorbells

    This is such a detailed review ! Loved the granular aspects you have covered. How this fares against simpli-safe? May be a comparison post?