This review was updated on February 14th, 2014 to include the addition of glass break sensors to the SimpliSafe system.
Do-it-yourself home security options seem to be growing more numerous by the day, and we've tested a lot of them. None of them have left us quite as impressed as SimpliSafe. With its wide variety of easy-to-install sensors, SimpliSafe protects your home in a way that's comprehensive and yet also remarkably user-friendly. The system is totally wireless and designed to keep running even if the power gets cut, and unlike most other DIY security kits, SimpliSafe features both live monitoring and a cellular backup. If something's amiss at home, you can count on your system to keep you and the authorities notified, no matter what.
SimpliSafe offers five different packages with a varying assortments of sensors, ranging in price from $229.96 to $539.85. That's quite a bit compared with other DIY options like the iSmartAlarm Preferred Package or Oplink Security's AlarmShield package, both of which cost $199. Also, unlike iSmartAlarm or Viper Home, SimpliSafe charges monthly fees in order to unlock fairly basic features.
You'll need to pay $19.99 per month in order to receive SMS and e-mail alerts, and if you want to control your system from your smartphone, you'll need to increase that to $24.99 a month. Even if you aren't interested in any of that, you'll still be paying $14.99 a month for the live monitoring and the cellular backup (you also have the option of foregoing the cellular connection and live monitoring altogether for a fee-free local alarm, but that isn't an approach I would recommend).
With so many fee-free competitors, I was initially skeptical of SimpliSafe's value, but then I installed and tested a system for myself. The setup process was as easy as I've seen from any home security offering, and once I was up and running, each sensor aced my tests. The more I used the system, the more it impressed me with its thorough and thoughtful security coverage. By the time I was finished, SimpliSafe had me fully won over. It's an outstanding value, and a deserving winner of our Editors' Choice award.
SimpliSafe isn't likely to win you over on looks alone. Its array of sensors all have a dated, plasticky appearance that seems downright ugly when compared with the sleek, modern designs of iSmartAlarm and Viper Home. The effect is even more stark when you compare SimpliSafe to an all-in-one security device like Piper -- you'll swear the two were designed twenty years apart.
But there's more to this system than meets the eye. Start setting it up, and you'll undoubtedly come to appreciate just how idiot-proof it is. You'll start with the remote keychain, which cleverly doubles as a USB flash drive. Plug it into your computer, and a menu will pop up to guide you through the installation process with step-by-step illustrations.
The first step is to plug in the base station, which serves as the brains of the system. It's large, but unlike the core components of most other DIY kits, you won't need to plug it into your router, so you'll have some flexibility about where to stash it. Once the base station has power, the menu will show you how to set up each of the sensors in your kit. For each one, you'll simply need to pull a tab to activate the batteries, then choose a wall on which to stick it. As you set your sensors up, the menu will provide helpful pointers on placing them in the right spots. When you're done, you'll be able to customize your settings right on your computer -- afterward, you'll plug the USB into a port on the top of your base station to automatically transfer your settings into the system within seconds.
If the menu isn't enough, you can also go to SimpliSafe's Web site to view a five-minute installation video, as well as short, useful videos that demonstrate how to best use each sensor. One quick note, though -- don't make the same mistake I did and watch the video about the panic siren while wearing headphones. The video shows off all 105 of the alarm's decibels by setting it off at full volume, and with headphones in, it's a little like triggering the siren with your ear pressed up against it.
Aside from the ease of installation, the true strength of SimpliSafe's design is in its many built-in safeguards. The cellular backup, included with all packages, is the most obvious one, as it eliminates the wire-cutting vulnerability of hardwired systems. I also appreciate that SimpliSafe will continue working even if the power goes out (many other systems will not, including iSmartAlarm and Oplink). Each SimpliSafe sensor is wireless, and all of them run on batteries that will last multiple years. The base station is the exception, as it needs to be kept plugged in, but it has a battery backup, too. Unplug the thing, and it'll keep on running for up to four days. Once the power is restored, the battery will recharge automatically.
There's also the fact that SimpliSafe comes with 24/7 live monitoring, which most DIY kits don't currently offer. In the event that something triggers your alarm, the system will notify a dispatcher (SimpliSafe currently licenses its dispatchers from Amcest, a New Jersey company). They won't call the authorities right away, though -- first, they'll try and call you, and ask for an established safe word. If you don't answer, or if you don't give them the correct safe word, they'll send the cops. I like this setup, since it means that the occasional false alarm won't end up wasting the time of emergency responders.
|Upfront Cost||$199.99||$199.99||$229.99||$229.96 - $539.85|
|Monthly Fees||$0||$9.99 ($19.99 with camera)||$0 ($9.99 with camera)||$14.99 - $24.99|
|Live Monitoring||No||No||No||Yes (no extra charge)|
|Cellular Backup||No||Yes (add $9.99/month)||No||Yes (no extra charge)|
|Power Outage Backup||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Camera||Yes (add $149.99)||Yes (add $100)||Yes (add $149.99)||No|
Other safeguards are more subtle. The wireless keypad serves as a convenient spot for arming and disarming the system, but it also serves as a sort of decoy, as many burglars might assume that it, and not the base station you hid behind the sofa, is the thing that's alerting the authorities, and waste time trying to destroy it. To this end, you can program the base station to sound its built-in siren in the event of an alarm -- or program it to keep quiet.
If you're worried about false alarms, rest assured that SimpliSafe is flexible. You can program the system to delay the alarm for up to 250 seconds in the event that one of the sensors is triggered, giving you plenty of time to punch in your code or pull out your keychain remote before any sirens go off or any dispatchers are notified. You can also customize which sensors work on a delay and which don't. Say you want a delay when someone comes in the front door, but an instant alarm if the basement window gets opened -- SimpliSafe will let you protect your home the way you want.
You'll get a different variety of sensors depending upon which package you choose -- if you want any extras, you'll be able to add them to your system a la carte. The base station is capable of managing up to 41 of them, and no matter how many you choose you won't see an increase in your monthly fee.
SimpliSafe's lowest-priced package, the Starter Package, comes with the base station and the keychain remote, along with one entry sensor, one motion detector, and one wireless keypad. The entry sensor is the same kind of magnetic, two-part device that we've seen in other DIY security kits -- you stick the sensor to your door or window frame, then stick the magnet to the door or window itself. Whenever that door or window opens, the magnet will separate from the sensor and trigger the alarm. You can also set the base station to chime whenever the door is opened, which would be useful for a small business or for anyone who just wants to keep track of when people are coming and going.
In my tests, the entry sensors worked perfectly, just as they have with the other systems I've tested. That said, I give SimpliSafe bonus points for charging a little less per sensor than its competitors. Each additional entry sensor will cost you $14.99, compared to $24.99 from iSmartAlarm or Viper Home, and $29.99 from Oplink. You can also upgrade from the Starter Package to the Economy Package for $30, which will give you three additional entry sensors.