Like most people, I like the idea of keeping my family and my home secure, but I don’t like the idea of locking myself into a multi-year service contract during which I have to pay a high monthly monitoring fee. SimpliSafe (starting at $229) is a DIY smart security system that’s easy to set up and use, and keeps your home safe from intruders and environmental threats like fires and floods. It’s a seamless system that succeeds quite well at what it sets out to do—secure your home simply and flexibly, letting you monitor everything remotely with (or without) an affordable monthly plan.
Our biggest gripes when we first tested SimpliSafe back in 2015 were the lack of cameras, support for third-party smart home devices and protocols, and the design of the hardware itself. With its latest updates, SimpliSafe addresses many of these issues, providing an ideal balance of high-quality service, ease of use, and value, earning our Editors’ Choice award for DIY home security systems. In addition, for the second year in a row, PCMag readers have named SimpliSafe their favorite smart home security system.
One of the best things about SimpliSafe is that it’s a completely configurable system, with five packages available. On the high-end there’s the Haven package ($489), which comes with 14 hardware components including the base station, a wireless keypad, a keychain remote, two motion sensors, four door/window entry sensors, a panic button, a 105-decibel siren, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, water and freeze sensors, and a SimpliSafe yard sign and window decals. The least expensive Foundation pack ($229), which is designed for small homes and focuses solely on basic home security, includes the base station, a wireless keypad, one motion sensor, one entry sensor, and the yard sign and decals. If you want to add one or more SimpliCam security cameras (the system supports up to four), they’re $99 each. The Video Doorbell Pro is an integrated 1080p smart doorbell with camera that you can add for $169, while the $99 Smart Lock allows keyless entry. SimpliSafe doesn’t typically offer any packages that include cameras, the lock, or the doorbell. They’re add-ons. Though we have seen the company throw in a SimpliCam as part of a limited-time special-price promotion.
Additional components can also be purchased separately to create your own package, or expand on one. If you have a lot of first-floor windows, for example, you might want a glass break sensor ($34.99) or extra entry sensors ($14.99 each; the system supports up to 100 sensors). Or if there are multiple entryways in your home, you can opt for additional keypads ($69.99 each).
If you want a one-stop home monitoring solution that encompasses more than just security, adding environmental sensors makes sense. Smoke detectors are $29.99 each and you can hook them into your monitoring plan, which will alert you via email or text message when an alarm is triggered and send first responders to your door in the event of a fire. Freeze sensors ($29.99 each) alert you when the temperature falls below a certain point to prevent burst pipes, and water sensors ($19.99 each) detect and alert you of leaks and floods.
Prices for additional hardware are reasonable when you consider that extra entry sensors cost $27 each with the DIY Abode iota system. Even with the budget-focused iSmartAlarm, entry sensors are two for $59.99.
Monitoring Plan Pricing
For professional monitoring, there’s a basic $14.99 per month Standard plan that includes 24/7 coverage. If a sensor is triggered, SimpliSafe will contact you, and if you don’t provide a safe word that you designate during setup, police will be dispatched. For $10 more per month, the Interactive plan adds SMS and email alerts, the ability to use the Online Dashboard for finer control of the system (more on that in a minute), and the app to arm and disarm the system. If you opt for the $14.99 plan, you can use the online dashboard to see your timeline of system events, but you can’t control the system remotely.
Another neat feature that comes with the Interactive plan is the ability to set up Secret Alerts. You can set up certain sensors in an Alert Only mode, without triggering alarms. Have a well-stocked liquor cabinet and unsupervised teenagers? Put an entry sensor on the door, set up a Secret Alert in the app, and you’ll be notified each time the cabinet is accessed.
If you don’t want to pay the monthly fees, SimpliSafe can be used as a local alarm. So when a sensor is triggered, it’s up to you to contact the authorities. There aren’t any contracts or commitments, and you can start and stop service or change plans at any time. This flexibility is what makes SimpliSafe a compelling alternative to competitors like ADT Pulse or Vivint Smart Home, where monitoring fees cost more, ranging from $30 to $60 per month. And with those fuller-service systems, you need to sign contracts and are subject to steep penalties for early termination.
Major Facelift, Same Simple Setup
The biggest upgrade that comes with the new SimpliSafe is the design of the system hardware. Every component has been redesigned. Where the old system looked and felt cheap and plasticky, the new hardware is sleek and modern. And the new components are not backward-compatible with the original SimpliSafe system.
The new pear-shaped base station, which powers the system, is 8.5 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter at its widest spot, with a blue light at its base—it glows steadily to tell you that the alarm is on, and pulses to tell you there’s an error with one of your sensors. It’s much sleeker and smaller than the original base, which looked like it was designed in the 1970s. And now the base station comes in black (Obsidian) or white (Cloud) to fit in more seamlessly with your home décor.
Setup requires placing the base station in a central location within 400 feet of your sensors and 100 feet of your keypad(s), and plugging in the included power cord. The new base station integrates a 802.11n 2.4GHz Wi-Fi radio, adding another layer of connectivity with SimpliSafe’s monitoring service. The Wi-Fi is a boon for those living in rural areas who wouldn’t be able to use the monitoring service because of patchy cellular coverage. If you’re concerned about IoT threats, you don’t have to connect SimpliSafe to your Wi-Fi network, the monitoring works just fine without it, though you won’t receive firmware updates. Inside the base, there’s a siren, a backup battery the company claims will last up to 24 hours, and a SIM card for cellular communication.
The entry sensors are also redesigned, and are much smaller (about half the length they were before), squarer, and modern looking. They’re powered by inexpensive, user-replaceable CR2032 coin cells that should last an average of five years, and the system will warn you when they need to be replaced. Installation requires no wiring or drilling; I simply pulled off the battery-activation strips, peeled the backing on the 3M Command-like strips, and adhered each component after naming and pairing it with the system (more on that below). Components are easy to move around without damaging your walls, and you can take the system with you to your next home, which is a welcome feature.
The keypad, also available in black or white (and powered by four standard AA batteries), sees the biggest design improvement, with a 2.5-inch LCD replacing a tiny monochrome screen. Nicely sized, round backlit rubber buttons replace the tiny oval ones on the old keypad. A proximity sensor is a nice touch, illuminating the keypad for nighttime use. The larger screen also makes the system setup process much easier, since you just pair all the components using easy step-through menus on the display. Each component has a small button you press to pair it with the system. Once you do, the keypad will walk you through the naming process. You no longer need to consult the user manual for setup instructions.
Setting up my test system, which included installing the keypad, pairing four entry sensors, two motion sensors, the siren, and environmental sensors, establishing a PIN, and testing the system, took me about 45 minutes. I’m confident that the Essentials package could easily be set up in less than 30 minutes. The company covers the system with a 60-day money-back guarantee and a three-year warranty on hardware.
Up to four SimpliCams will work with the system (though the company promises support for an unlimited number of cameras in the near future). Setup is easy and consists of entering your wireless network details and scanning a QR code in the app. (Unlike with the system itself, Wi-Fi is required for the cameras to work.) The camera is a plain-looking black plastic rectangle—which contains a round lens, privacy shutter, microphone, and LED indicator—that slides onto a black metal stand. At 4.56 by 2.55 by 2.08 inches (HWD) and 5.3 ounces, it’s pretty standard in size as far as home surveillance cameras go.
The indoor camera is height and tilt adjustable, but lacks the ability to pan or zoom, though a 120-degree lens assures a wide range of view. The attached flat cable is nice and long at 10 feet, giving you some flexibility in where to place it, since it needs to be plugged into a wall outlet. The $19.99 add-on Outdoor Kit adds a weatherproof camera sleeve and a 25-foot power cord.
Video is captured in 720p, but looks surprisingly good. It’s also quite smooth, and never suffered choppiness in my testing—despite the fact that the camera only operates on the 2.4GHz band. When analyzing footage captured with an adjacent 1080p Logi Circle, which supports the 5GHz band, the SimpliCam’s video quality was comparable. Sound captured is a bit muffled, but certainly audible, though the camera does not currently support two-way audio. Night vision footage is clear and motion detection sensitivity can be adjusted in the app. Motion detection is based on heat signature so the camera can discern the difference between, say, a spinning fan, a small dog, and an actual moving person who’s breaking in to your home.
Push-based alerts and a live camera feed are free. A $4.99 per month/per camera optional plan lets you record, download, and share footage. With it, you can elect to allow SimpliSafe’s monitoring center to view alarms in progress and provide visual verification of alarms to the police.
The metal privacy shutter on the camera is closed when the system is disarmed (off), or in Home mode. It opens when you set the system to Away mode and records if an event is triggered. It also records a short clip when you arm or disarm the system. And you can view a live video feed any time in the mobile app or the desktop dashboard, though the latter requires a Flash-enabled browser. Simply put, the SimpliCam is not the most advanced home security camera, but it works fine for its intended purpose.
A Sharp Focus on Simplicity, But Getting Smarter
There’s still no support for Zigbee, Z-Wave, IFTTT, or other home automation protocols. That means little integration with third-party cameras, lights, door locks, or video doorbells. In most cases, you can install these devices alongside the SimpliSafe system, but you’ll have to use a separate app to control them independently.
The company’s CEO Chad Laurans explained to me that this limited integration is by design. The system is meant to be, well, simple. While additional platforms integrations are always being explored, there are no full-scale plans in this regard.
Still, there’s an August Smart Lock integration (if you don’t opt for SimpliSafe’s own Smart Lock), and you can hook a Nest Thermostat into the system to control the temperature in your home based on alarm modes. When you leave and arm the system in Away mode, the thermostat too, switches to Away mode and adjusts the temperature accordingly. When you disarm SimpliSafe, the Nest enters Home mode. This integration worked fine in my testing.
Recently added, Alexa voice control lets you arm your system or check on its status on Amazon Echo devices. Enabling the SimpliSafe Home Control skill in the Alexa app is simple, and commands like “Alexa, tell SimpliSafe I’m leaving” (to arm the system in Away mode), “Alexa, tell SimpliSafe good night” (to arm the system in Home mode), and “Alexa, ask SimpliSafe if my home is secure” (to get system status) worked well in testing. There was little lag between the voice command and the base station announcing status or changes in system modes. The Alexa integration only works with the new SimpliSafe hardware, and the system can’t be disarmed via voice (for obvious reasons).
You can arm or disarm the system from your wrist if you subscribe to the Interactive plan and download and install the SimpliSafe app on your Apple Watch.
With just three available modes, arming and disarming Simplisafe is very straightforward. Home mode activates the door and window sensors, while Away mode activates both the entry sensors and the motion sensors. Test mode helps you set up the system and allows you to periodically ensure that all the sensors are in working order. The base station loudly and clearly announces your actions as you enter various modes. The volume can be adjusted on the keypad or in the app.
When the alarm is armed and a sensor is triggered, the keypad will beep, and you have 30 seconds to enter your PIN. If you do not enter it, the base station siren activates and sends an alert to SimpliSafe, and the company will contact you via phone and ask you for the safe word that you designate during setup. If you don’t get the call, or you don’t provide the safe word, the Emergency Dispatch Center will send the police (or firefighters in the case of the smoke detector).
I like that SimpliSafe contacts you first. For me, cranky police officers showing up at my door because I fumbled my PIN is one of the greatest fears that comes with having an alarm system in my home. To be doubly safe, the time period allowed for PIN entry can be notched up to 250 seconds, and it can be varied by sensor.
In my testing over the course of several weeks, all entry and motion sensors worked properly, and the base station and 105dB siren did their jobs of loudly announcing accidental breaches—and SimpliSafe’s monitoring service contacted me promptly each time.
A new diagnostic feature, Heartbeats are periodic signals each sensor sends to tell the system whether it’s in range, if its batteries are low, or if it’s been tampered with, ensuring that your system is always working properly.
Online Dashboard and Mobile App
With the monthly Interactive Plan, you can use SimpliSafe’s Online Dashboard or mobile app to control the system, including arming and disarming it. The Dashboard also lets you view your System Event Log, change your PIN, assign up to four guest PINs, and choose an optional Duress PIN, to use when an intruder is coercing you to disable the alarm. Enter it, and the alarm will stop sounding, but SimpliSafe will immediately send the police. You can also tweak settings like siren volume, entry and exit delay time, and manage and rename sensors in the Dashboard. But now, with the new system, most of these controls are accessible on the keypad too, which is nice.
If you can swing the extra $10 over the Standard monitoring plan, the ability to customize and control your system from anywhere, offered in the app and online dashboard and app are worth the price. You’ll also need the Interactive plan to get the most from SimpliSafe’s smart lock and video doorbell. $25 a month is pretty reasonable when you consider that similar plans with competitors, Nest Secure and Abode Home Security, start at $30 a month, and those with ADT Pulse and Vivint are even more.
SimpliSafe or Something Else?
As far as smart home security systems go, we really like SimpliSafe for its ease of use, flexibility, and price. It lets anyone add a home security system in less than an hour, learning to use it is a breeze, and you don’t have to sign any contracts to get access to affordable 24/7 monitoring plans that can be turned off at any time. The system offered all of those things before—add in the redesigned hardware, an even easier setup process, and still-low hardware and monitoring prices, and SimpliSafe earns our Editors’ Choice badge for DIY smart home security systems.
If you’re really into home automation, a system like Abode might be a more compelling choice, with its support for several smart home protocols, and compatibility with many more existing devices. It too offers customizable hardware along with flexible, inexpensive monitoring. If DIY isn’t your thing, take a look at ADT Pulse. It will cost you much more, and you’ll give up the flexible monitoring plans, but you’ll get a full-featured system and someone will come to your home and set everything up. For everyone else, SimpliSafe is worth a serious look.