The days are long gone where you need to pay a company big money to have a security system. Nowadays some of the best options are actually do-it-yourself (DIY). You simply buy the smart security system package and install it yourself. We also have some awesome systems that have optional professional monitoring if you still wish to have someone else keep on eye on your house. Everything has become way more flexible than in the past. On top of that, we have systems that have major smart home smarts integrated which means your smart home security system is now integrated with other devices.
If you’re looking to jump into the smart home security game, we are going to examine all of the best ones right now including the Nest Secure, Abode, the brand new Simplisafe version 3, and the Ring Alarm system. There has never been a better time to be shopping for smart home security solutions.
We’ll put it right up front: In our opinion, the best DIY smart alarm system right now is Simplisafe closely followed by Nest Secure. Both of these options are awesome and should fit the needs of most users. Skip to our overall findings below.
We’re going to start with the general idea of DIY smart security systems but then get into what we think are the best systems out of the four in each category.
What is a DIY security system?
If you go back a decade the only people to offer security systems were major firms like ADT who offered professional install of security system components at the price of getting you locked into a multi-year (and generally quite expensive) home monitoring subscription. The technology was decent, but it was focused on hard-wired devices which had to literally be wired to a base controller. This meant that motion sensors, keypads, and glass-break sensors all had to either be pre-wired in your house, or you needed to pay to have wires run. These systems were stand alone and generally would not communicate with any other devices in your home.
Enter the rise of the smart home a few years ago and the idea of offering do-it-yourself solutions to home security. It started with basic smart security cameras but soon some of the leading smart home companies realized that customers were sick of paying through the nose for security systems that were overkill for what they needed. A new category of DIY smart home security was born.
As the name implies, everything in the installation of these systems is up to you. But smart security system makers have made it a fairly straightforward process. Sensors are almost all now wireless and run on low-power batteries for literally years. Keypads are similarly wireless or just need to be set on a table with a power outlet nearby. Your wireless home network connects the base station with your network and the internet and offers cloud-based smarts to enhance your security system.
Generally DIY smart home security systems are self-monitored. This means that out of the box the systems are built to send you smartphone notifications in the case of a break-in or other issue. It is then up to you to deal with the situation yourself or call the police.
Can you add professional monitoring to DIY smart security systems?
Yes! Now we are also seeing hybrid DIY systems that you can purchase extra professional monitoring on demand. Abode is famous for allowing you to literally buy professional monitoring for only the time you are on vacation. This is what we all wanted right? These things are flexible and are really shaking up the home security market.
Do they work? Are DIY security systems safe?
Absolutely. If you follow the installation instruction most of these systems are very plug-and-play. You will even be walked through the exact placement of sensors for doors and windows. If you aren’t going to be the type of person that keeps their phone on them and looks at motion notifications as they come in, then you should really consider systems that offer a full professional monitoring package. There are even systems that have both police and fire monitoring included for a fee.
What should I look for a good smart security system?
It’s pretty simple. Follow this criteria when looking at smart DIY security systems:
A good variety of sensors
The secret to a good security system is how the individual door, window and motion sensors perform. Make sure that any system you are considering includes a good mix of door, window, glass-break and motion sensors in the starter pack. Many allow you to add on additional sensors as well, but make sure all of these general sensors are there.
The best DIY security systems have base stations which include battery backup. After all, what good is a security system if it immediately goes off line if power is cut to the home?
The new systems all use some form of cloud connection to operate to their fullest. Not to mention that the security cameras which are integrated require and internet connection to store footage. The best security systems have an optional cellular backup which connects the system to LTE or 3G when the home wifi internet is down.
Good support for integrating with other smart home products
All of the systems we are going to mention below have good support for other smart home devices. This is very important when it comes to things like video cameras, water sensors and sirens. Your security system should be able to respond to data coming from other connected devices.
What are the best DIY smart alarm systems?
Now we’re getting to the good stuff! We took the top four DIY alarm systems out right now and pitted them against each other, feature for feature to see who comes out on top. So who is the best between Nest Secure VS Abode VS Simplisafe VS Ring? Here we go! In no particular order here are some of our favorites and the things that make them unique:
Nest Secure features
Nest Secure is actually a relative newcomer to the DIY smart home security market. Nest has always been a favorite for their thermostats and more recently their Nest Cam security cameras. But for several years Nest did not offer any kind of integrated security system. That changed in 2017 when Nest launched the Nest Secure alarm system. And call us impressed! For a first outing Nest has built a system that isn’t only intuitive, but also super innovative.
The Nest Secure core system is made 3 main devices. First is the Nest Guard which is a nice fancy name for their alarm system hub. This slick looking little device sits atop a table or shelf and operates as the main brains of the operation. While it doesn’t mount to the wall, this hub still gets the job done. The Nest Guard is where you either enter a code or touch a smart tag to arm and disarm the alarm system. And an integrated speaker gives out useful prompts telling you that the system is arming itself. But it also is where your system will tell burglars that the alarm has been tripped. Lastly, a beautiful light ring around the edge of the unit counts down the time for arming the system and also gives handy indicators of what mode the system is in. The Nest Guard actually also works as a motion detector for the system as well which is unique. Lastly, the Nest Guard includes both cellular backup as well as battery backup so the system can work without power as well as internet.
The second, and arguably more interesting, device is the Nest Detect sensor. This is a very cool new sensor which is sort of a combination of traditional motion sensor and an open/close sensor. A small battery powers this little guy and allows you to keep an eye on doors and windows in your house. The innovation here comes in how the sensor is both a motion and open/close sensor. And it also acts as a path lighting system when it is dark. This is the workhorse of the Nest Secure alarm system.
The last piece of the pie is the Nest Tag which is basically just a little tag that you keep on your keychain. This means you just swipe this tag when you get home to disable the alarm. This is also great because you could give one to a friend or family member that you want to have access to your home. You can even disable the tag at specific times to limit access during certain hours.
Overall we love the Nest Secure because of its innovative Nest Detect sensors as well as its top-notch design. Nest is king when it comes to user experience and that really shines through in how their system integrates into their whole app ecosystem. If you are already a Nest lover, then you should strongly consider the Nest Secure for your DIY smart home security system.
Abode markets itself as a professional-grade DIY security system. And we don’t disagree. Like most systems Abode is made up of a starter kit that includes a hub (or gateway as they call it), a door-window sensor, a key fob for use on your keychain, and a motion sensor which actually includes a camera on-board. On the surface this isn’t an overly sexy or innovative system, but its under the surface where you realize why Abode is on our list.
Abode has flipped the professional monitoring market on its head with some seriously amazing subscriptions. In the old days you would have to lock yourself into a fairly expensive contract that is usually a few years. Traditional security systems have cheap hardware but then absolutely whack you when it comes to monthly charges. Abode has changed this by offering professional monitoring plans that are counted in days, not years. That’s right, you can actually subscribe for 3 days, 7 days or 30 days at a time. This means that if you are going on a week-long vacation, that you can subscribe for this professional monitoring JUST for these 7 days. When you are back, then you go back to regular self-monitoring. This is the kind of flexibility that users have seeking out for years.
Like Nest (and all of the other alarms on this list) Abode can detect when you are away from home and it will automatically turn on the alarm. This is all done through a fairly detailed automation engine built into the Abode system itself. In our tests this actually worked very well. The Abode gateway is a pretty smart little device, providing good connections to Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, IFTTT and offers a full 3G fallback so the system works even when your internet is down.
Another big plus of Abode is that it actually is able to connect to zigbee and z-wave devices. If you have read our article about smart home hubs, you’ll know that there are some real advantages to using these devices. Now it doesn’t connect to every z-wave device on the planet. In fact, its a fairly small list of compatible devices. But its better than nothing and nice to see a smart security system embrace these ubiquitous standards.
We’re not in love with the still camera on the motion sensor, but you can also link the system up to the optional motion video camera that Abode sells. It’s not the best camera in the world though, so we recommend picking up something like a Nest Cam. Luckily Abode is pretty platform agnostic when it comes to add-ons, so you can totally match up some Nest products that will connect to the system nicely. You know what’s better than the Nest Tag? The Abode RF key fob! I personally prefer something that I can just press a button and disable my alarm when I am in the house. I don’t need to walk over to the hub or keypad to do anything. Abode also offers an optional traditional keypad that you can use for a numeric code for arming and disarming the system.
Simplisafe V3 features
One of the most capable home DIY security systems out there is the Simplisafe system. And the version 3 of Simplisafe has upped the quality considerably while retaining everything that made Simplisafe a popular system to begin with. In 2018 Simplisafe basically redesigned their entire security system. And it was pretty good before! But now the V3 system has improved performance as well as feature sets.
Where Simplisafe excels is the sheer number of sensors that they make natively in the Simplisafe arsenal. This includes:
- Key Fobs
- Entry Sensors and kaypads
- Motion Sensors
- 105dB Sirens
- Panic Buttons
- Freeze Sensors (to prevent frozen pipes)
- Water Sensors (to prevent floods)
- Smoke Detectors
The base station that is the brains of the Simplisafe system is sort of a vase-shaped thing. This houses all of the wifi components to connect to your network as well as a very loud siren. You can also buy additional sensors to add throughout your home.
The panic button is a pretty unique little device that allows you to trigger the system from your bed or something like that. It is these little details that make Simplisafe so popular.
The Simplisafe approach is to lock most of the interesting features behind a paywall. This includes many of the app and smart home feature unfortunately. But on the bright side, the system is very affordable. If you go with Simplisafe, we should 100% go for the monthly monitoring fee which unlocks these other features. Overall, this is arguably the most capable DIY smart security system out there right now.
Ring Alarm features
We already went over the features on the Nest (cough cough Google) system. What about Amazon? Well, Amazon has acquired Ring, the maker of the wildly popular Ring doorbell camera. Ring has the advantage of offering a very capable DIY alarm system for a very reasonable price.
Like the other systems above, the Ring system starts with a base station. It has all of the must-haves, including connections to wifi and z-wave devices, a battery backup, cellular backup, and an integrated siren.
The rest of Ring’s offerings are fairly basic. They have the following sensors and devices to keep your home secure:
- Contact sensors (for doors and windows)
- Motion detectors
- Range extenders for your base station
- Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Flood and freeze sensors
One thing we really like here is that Ring offers dual power mode for the keypad. This means you power it by plugging it in, but it also has battery backup for when the power is off. The other things is that Ring uses z-wave to connect all of the devices to the base station. This makes sure that all of the sensors stay off your already crowded wifi network since z-wave uses a whole different set of radio frequencies. This is important to ensure that your smart home devices work efficiently but also are reliably “on” when you need them.
Ring also supports an optional professional monitoring service called Ring Protect Plus for $10 a month. This is about as cheap as an ongoing monthly plan will get with DIY smart home security systems. We’d still argue that Simplisafe bests Ring in terms of design and variety of sensors and Nest is a more user friendly interface, but Ring is a very good alternative.
The best DIY smart alarm systems compared – Who comes out on top?
What is the overall best smart security system in our books? Simplisafe. It is well-built, offers the widest variety of sensors and has proven very reliable among thousands of happy customer. But let’s get into the details.
We are now going to crown the winner among Nest, Abode, Simplisafe and Ring across a number of categories.
Best feature set: Simplisafe
As mentioned above, all of these smart security systems offer the same base features. They all have a base station. They all have motion sensors. They all have decent open/close sensors. And each of them has the option to subscribe to professional monitoring plans.
But the one system that stands out in terms of feature set is the Simplisafe version 3. This system has a wide array of sensors, including freeze, water, glass break and smoke detector which not all systems have. The ability to add extra sirens is awesome and allows even a large house to have very loud deterrents. The beauty of Simplisafe is that there is such a wide range of sensors that it is quite easy to build a custom system to suit your exact needs. This isn’t totally possible with other systems either due to lack of sensor variety or the sheer cost of the sensors (We’re looking at you Nest).
Most Secure: Simplisafe
Simplisafe is just a bit ahead of the other systems in terms of actual security features. Their custom professional monitoring is excellent and the price is also very competitive. The addition of panic buttons and various smoke, leak and freeze sensors not to mention its close integration with its own camera and other smart video security cameras make a for a winning combo.
In our tests the Simplisafe V3 entry sensors worked just about as well as the more expensive Nest Guards which is a testament to how competitive Simplisafe actually is. The sirens on the system are loud which is a major advantage over the Nest Secure system. Nest Secure was simply too slow with sending notifications and too quiet when an alarm was actually triggered. It is great when it is just nagging you to get out of the house, but the actual alarm is to quiet. Simplisafe’s siren on the hand is ear-piercingly loud.
One of the features we really like is ability to set which motion and entry sensors will actually trigger an instant alarm as opposed to one that takes some time to trigger. Sometimes there are entry-ways which require an immediate response and Simplisafe provides that. For example, I would probably set the glass break sensors to trigger an alarm immediately as opposed to a front door where you will want a cool down. They also have a setting to have sensors simply send you a notification if triggered. This could be an excellent way to make a covert alarm for family members…
Overall the security features in Simplisafe are the best available right now.
Best design: Nest Secure
Simplisafe has come a long way with its design language between V2 and v3. But they still don’t match the industrial design on the Nest Secure system. Everything from the smooth-talking base station to the Nest Guards are incredibly well thought out. For example, the Nest Guard door sensors have a small button on the bottom which you can press in order to keep the alarm active but leave your house covertly without setting anything off. This is great for, say, letting the dog out in the middle of the night. Speaking of these little sensors, they also pack a small path light which illuminates the direct area below it. It’s those little design tweaks that take the Nest Secure system over the edge.
Best app: Nest Secure
Nest’s app has always been great. And they now add great integration for the security system in the same interface you know and love. It all just works seemlessly with your your smoke alarms, cameras and thermostats. If you are already heavily into the Nest ecosystem, none of the other systems have apps that will impress you.
Best bang for the buck: Abode and Ring
Abode is a clear standout with their ability to add “pay as you go” professional monitoring. But if you are looking for the absolute bare bones then you may want to consider the Ring Alarm system. It won’t have the same build quality as other systems but it does 80% of what everyone else does with a price that can’t be beat.
Best smart home integration: Abode
Abode is the system that plays well with others on this list. Nest is pretty good but is limited in its integration with other cameras. Simplisafe is fairly limited except for integration with Nest. Abode goes out of its way to integrate as many devices and smart home standards into their system as possible. This means you are getting both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support. You are also looking at Nest support plus IFTTT and Stringify support. Add to that their list of z-wave and zigbee compatible devices and you have a very friendly smart home security system.
The best overall DIY smart security system: 🏆 Simplisafe
Right now you simply won’t find a more capable DIY smart security system. It is stylish, expandable, and just downright fun to use. The security features are well thought out and get your attention when they need to. And the system integrates well with Nest which is sure to even make dedicated Nest users think twice before dropping almost double the cost on Nest Secure. If you are in the market for a new DIY smart security system you will do very well with Simplisafe.
Other smart security systems to consider
These aren’t the only four smart security systems out there either. For smaller apartments consider the Canary which is a really nice all-in-one security system and camera which is ideal for positioning in a central location in an apartment. Scout Alarm is another great system which we almost put on our main list here. Particularly for users in Canada, Scout is a good choice where Simplisafe and Abode are not currently available.
And if you are a real DIY kinda person, you can even make your own smart security system with the Samsung SmartThings system. Just buy the SmartThings Hub and requisite sensors and away you go! They even have some professional monitoring deals with various security providers if you se need it.
Conclusion: Nest Secure VS Abode VS Simplisafe VS Ring
Overall pretty much any of these systems will provide an excellent security system. Simplisafe and Nest are the highest quality and probably the highest performing in terms of accuracy of sensors. Abode breaks the mold with their super affordable professional monitoring. And Ring is great for someone who needs something affordable to get started or has already bought several Ring doorbell cameras. But if we had to pick one, the best system right now is from Simplisafe.