Why would I want a ‘smart’ security system?
Home security no longer means slapping a big, ugly box to the side of your house, nor does it demand an expensive professional to hardwire your new system in place.
The smart home has ushered in a DIY security revolution: you can now build a decent security system in less than 30 minutes, with your smartphone acting as the controller.
Smart home security systems beat traditional ones not just by eliminating hefty installation fees and long-term contracts, but in sheer convenience too.
What do I need to get started?
Smart home security encompasses a wide range of gadgets, from cameras to doorbells, sensors to smoke alarms – but don’t let it overwhelm you. Sure, maybe you want the full Fort Knox, but for the humble homestead a couple of indoor cameras and sensors can do the trick.
Most smart home systems revolve around a hub, which connects to your Wi-Fi and talks to all the other ‘smart’ devices around the house. Cameras and motion sensors are the most common of these, but you can also add water leak sensors, smoke detectors and glass-breaking sensors.
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What’s so smart about them?
Smart systems give you more insight into what’s happening than traditional systems, including notifications on your phone when sensors are triggered, and video clips of any suspect activity taking place.
Using your phone, you can arm/disarm the system remotely, and, if you have any smart locks, lock your doors with the tap of an app. Some smart locks even let you create ‘virtual keys’ so friends and family can enter the home when you’re not there, while cameras and doorbells can be trained to recognise familiar faces and let you know who’s knocking.
Should I buy a package system?
It depends on your setup. Companies like SimpliSafe offer comprehensive systems made of a central hub and a few sensors, with the option to add cameras, key fobs and sirens as desired.
If you’re not sure how many devices you need, look out for ‘starter kits’. These serve as a great jumping-off point, and are often better value than buying individual devices.
And while most smart security systems are designed to keep drill usage and cable-running to a minimum, some do offer professional installation should you still want it.
What if I rent or live in a flat?
Smart home companies are gradually adapting to renters and flat-dwellers. Still, you’ll hit some limitations. For example, an outdoor camera might not be an option in a shared building, and you’ll want to check with your landlord before chopping off the deadbolt for something smarter.
Luckily, some security systems work great for flats too, as do many of the indoor cameras and sensors you can pick up individually. We’re even starting to see smart doorbells that are perfectly designed for apartment living.
How important are HomeKit, Alexa and Google Assistant?
This matters more if you’re buying devices piece by piece, as you’ll want a certain amount of interoperability to keep things running and reduce the number of apps.
My advice is to choose the system that best works for your home, and worry about the rest later. Luckily, many major systems support both assistants anyway.
If you’re a die-hard Apple user, you can build a decent security system around its HomeKit platform, thanks to a growing number of individual devices that play nicely.
Are there a lot of ongoing fees?
There can be. Most systems offer a level of service for free, but some will require monthly payments to let you store video footage in the cloud or access special features like person detection.
You don’t need all the bells and whistles, but you should consider paying for professional monitoring if your system supports it, so you can dispatch the authorities if needed.
Paying for cellular backup is also worth it, in case your Wi-Fi goes down.
Read more from Troubleshoot:
What are the best smart home security gadgets?
Hugh’s pick of smart home security gadgets should help keep your belongings safe
Ring Video Doorbell 2
Ring has the best smart doorbell, in my opinion. My favourite feature is the rechargeable battery, so you don’t have to wire it into the wall (although you can if you’d prefer), along with the ability to see and talk to any visitors through the mobile app. There’s motion detection too and, handily, infrared night vision.
Google Nest Cam IQ Indoor
Google’s indoor smart home camera comes in a cheaper model, but the IQ is superior in that it’s smart enough to tell the difference between general motion and people. There’s two-way audio so you can scare off burglars, and a 4K sensor for a sharp picture. Pay a bit more for a Nest Aware subscription and it will even recognise faces.
Arlo Pro 2
As far as smart security cameras go, the Arlo Pro 2 is hard to beat for indoor and outdoor use. It’s wireless and weatherproof, and offers crisp 1080p HD video along with zone detection (for highlighting specific areas) and two-way audio for yelling at any chancing intruders. Although the upfront cost is high, there’s ample free storage. Works with Apple HomeKit, too.
£569.99 (For two cameras), arlo.com
Samsung’s smart home platform has come on leaps and bounds, with new devices being added all the time. Better yet is the wide-ranging support for other companies’ cameras, doorbells and more that can play nicely with your SmartThings system. My top accessory is the Multipurpose Sensor, which monitors doors, windows and even temperature. Just remember you need the SmartThings Hub to run it all.
£79 (Hub only), samsung.co.uk
The clue is in the name: SimpliSafe’s security system is a breeze to install and use. There’s a heap of different bundles to choose from, or you can build a custom package from scratch, starting with cameras and moving up to panic buttons and glass-break sensors. Professional monitoring costs a monthly fee, but SimpliSafe still works as a local alarm without it.
£279 (For The Starter package), simplisafe.co.uk
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