Four years ago, SimpliSafe’s DIY home security kit won the Editors’ Choice Award here on CNET. I liked that it was one of the most affordable home security options to feature 24/7 live monitoring, I liked how easy it was to install and operate, and I loved how customizable the system was, with subtle layers of protection for a variety of emergency situations.
The problem was SimpliSafe’s hardware — the dated-looking devices were ugly as hell. That’s a significant shortcoming for a system you’re supposed to stick up all over your home.
That’s why I was particularly excited to test out SimpliSafe’s new, third-gen system, which made its debut just a few months ago at CES 2018. Aside from a couple of new additions to the setup since last time around, the pitch is the same — monitored security that you install yourself and control from your smartphone. The difference now is that the hardware looks a lot better — and, with packages starting at $229, it doesn’t cost any more than before, either.
It’s just as capable as before, too. Though some of the sensors — particularly the glass break and freeze sensors — were a little more finnicky than the rest, everything still worked as promised when I put the system through its paces in the CNET Smart Home. It’s still a relatively good value, too — competing systems like Nest Secure, Honeywell Smart Home, Vivint Smart Home and the SmartThings-centric ADT setup announced last year each cost more upfront, and none of them offer 24/7 live monitoring for as little as SimpliSafe does. If you want a home security budget option that doesn’t feel like a budget option, then SimpliSafe is the system for you.
The cheapest SimpliSafe package costs $229 and comes with just a single motion detector and a contact sensor that can track when a door or window is open or closed. The most popular package costs $259, and adds in two additional contact sensors.
For our purposes, we requested a bigger package with a greater variety of sensors. The total cost as tested: $465.
Part of the SimpliSafe appeal is that you can also build your own custom system with the specific sensors that make sense for your living space. To do so, you’ll start with the mandatory base station and keypad, which together cost $185, then add additional devices a la carte style. Here’s the full menu:
- Entry sensor – $15
- Motion sensor – $30
- SimpliCam – $99
- Glass break sensor – $35
- Panic button – $20
- Smoke detector – $30
- Freeze detector – $30
- Leak detector – $20
- Keypad – $70
- Key fob – $25
- Siren – $60
- Yard sign – $4
You can run SimpliSafe’s system with no monthly fees if all you want is a localized alarm that will sound a siren if someone ever breaks in. If you want to add in professional live monitoring, the fee is $15 per month, which is about as fair a price as you’ll find in the home security space. Make that $25 a month, and you’ll also be able to monitor the system from your phone using the SimpliSafe app.
Once your system arrives, it’s up to you to install it yourself. Fortunately, SimpliSafe made this really, really easy. Each sensor comes with pre-applied sticky tabs on their detachable backs. Just peel and stick — no wiring necessary. If you need to move something, the sensors detach from their backings, exposing the sticky tabs for easy removal that won’t damage your walls. The only thing you’ll need to plug in is the base station.
With your sensors in place, you’ll put the keypad into pairing mode, then pair everything up by pressing a button on each sensor, then giving it a name on the keypad. From there, you can make any final tweaks to the system settings by logging onto SimpliSafe’s web portal, or by using the SimpliSafe app.
How it works
SimpliSafe’s sensors keep in constant contact with the base station, which then relays everything to your phone (or, in an emergency, to authorities) via Wi-Fi. The base station also includes a 24-hour battery backup and a fee-free cellular connection to the company’s monitoring service — if the power or the Wi-Fi ever goes out, it’ll still be able to call for help.
That approach also separates the most sensitive system components from the keypad, the part that beeps and asks for a PIN if the alarm is ever tripped. In many cases, that beeping keypad is probably the first thing that an intruder would try to smash in order to shut down the system, but doing so wouldn’t make a difference.
The system offers three modes during use. “Off,” which is pretty self-explanatory, “Away,” which arms the sensors, and “Home,” which leaves some sensors on but disarms things like motion detectors so you can move around inside without setting anything off. By default, SimpliSafe gives you thirty seconds to disarm the system upon entry (you can customize that length of time in the app).
To disarm the system, press the “off” button on the key fob or in the app, or enter your code into the keypad. You can assign specific codes to specific users or guests, and you can also set a duress code for situations where someone is forcing you to disarm the system against your will. Punch it into the keypad, and it will appear as if the alarm is canceled and the system disarmed, but SimpliSafe will still send in the authorities.
If the alarm is ever tripped, your phone will ring, and a SimpliSafe representative will ask if everything’s OK. They’ll also ask for your safeword — a secret password of your choice that acts like an extra vocal PIN for the system. Fail to give it, and they’ll still send the authorities, no matter what else you say. Like the duress code, it’s a nice, extra layer of protection.
SimpliSafe also lets you specify which sensors will trigger an entry delay and which ones will trigger an instant alarm. You’ll probably want a chance to disarm the system if you trip a contact sensor or a motion detector, for instance, while a glass break sensor alert might merit an instant alarm with no delay.
You can also set secret alerts that can send you a SMS, email or app notification without tripping the alarm at all. Hide a contact sensor on the inside of your liquor cabinet, for instance, and you’ll get an alert if your teenager ever tries to sneak a sip.
SimpliSafe’s approach to DIY security is appealing, but it’s all for nothing if the sensors don’t work reliably well. To that end, we spent a week putting them through a battery of tests.
All in all, the system did a great job. The open/closed contact sensors were the most reliable, triggering the alarm each and every time they were supposed to. The motion detector performed well, too. It was able to distinguish between people and small pets just fine, and it caught me walking through the room about 95 percent of the time. The other 5 percent: a test where something seemed to hiccup and I needed to walk through the room four or five times before it triggered anything. That wasn’t a great result, but it was the only true misfire across several days of testing.
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