Easy to install. No-contract monitoring plans available. Works with lots of third-party devices. Amazon Alexa voice control. Supports ZigBee and Z-Wave. Mobile and web access.
Bulky sensors. Cannot manage notifications from mobile app. Doesn't come with control panel.
- Bottom Line
The Abode Home Security Starter Kit is a fantastic do-it-yourself security system that offers no-contract professional monitoring. It starts with the basics, but is highly expandable with support for plenty of third-party gadgets and services.
The Abode Home Security Starter Kit ($299) finds the sweet spot between a basic self-monitored DIY security system like the Smanos W020i and a professionally installed and monitored solution like the Vivint Smart Home. The system is easy to install and can be paired with dozens of Z-Wave and ZigBee smart home products including door locks, lights, and smart switches, as well as Nest devices, to provide whole house coverage. It also supports Amazon Alexa voice commands and IFTTT recipes. Its door/window sensors are abnormally bulky, but that doesn't prevent Abode from earning our Editors' Choice for DIY home security systems.
//Compare Similar Products
Design, Features, and Plans
The Abode Starter Kit comes with a gateway hub, two door/window sensors, a keychain fob, and a motion detector/camera combo sensor. The black-and-white gateway measures 7.7 by 1.7 by 5.7 inches (HWD) and has a small LED status light on the front that is normally off but turns red when an alarm has been triggered and yellow when there's a connectivity problem with the gateway itself or one of the sensors. Around back are a LAN port, a SIM card slot, a battery backup switch, a power connector, and a USB port reserved for future use.
Inside is a rechargeable battery that provides up to 12 hours of power in the event of an outage. There are also RF, ZigBee, and Z-Wave radios, and a cellular radio to keep you connected to the gateway if you lose your internet connection. However, you must subscribe to a cellular plan (explained below) to take advantage of this feature. Also inside is a 93dB siren that will sound when a sensor is triggered while the system is armed.
At 1.2 by 3.2 by 0.8 inches, the door/window sensors are significantly larger and bulkier than most; the sensors that come with the Vivint Smart Home (1.0 by 2.7 by 0.4 inches) are half as thick. The sensors are labeled A and B and are pre-paired at the factory. The motion sensor/camera measures 4.8 by 2.7 by 2.0 inches and contains a camera that takes 640-by-480 photos when triggered. The camera has a 90-degree field of view and uses a flash to take color snapshots at night.
The keychain fob is also black-and-white, measures 2.0 by 1.3 by 0.4 inches and contains an Arm Away button that activates all sensors, a Home button that activates all perimeter sensors and disables all interior sensors (allowing you to move about the house without triggering an alarm), and a Disarm button that puts the system in standby mode but keeps water and fire sensors active. Although Abode doesn't offer a full-on control panel like the ones that you get with Frontpoint, LiveWatch, and Vivint, it does offer a Wireless Keypad ($79) you can mount on a wall and use to arm and disarm the system without the need for your mobile device.
You can control dozens of Z-Wave and ZigBee components with Abode including door locks and garage door openers, water and flood sensors, glass break sensors, light bulbs, and dimmer switches. Add-on component prices are comparable with what we've seen with other security systems. Abode charges $27 for a spare key fob compared with SimpliSafe's $24.99, Protect America charges $49.95, and Smanos offers pair of fobs for $49.95. The Abode Indoor Streaming Camera ($149), which the company sent along for testing, is around $50 more than the one you get from Simplisafe, but it's $40 cheaper than the one from Protect America.
The Abode system also supports Nest devices, allowing you to view video from a Nest Cam when a sensor is triggered, integrate with the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, and control heating with the Nest Learning Thermostat. If you own an Amazon Echo, Dot, or Tap, you can use Alexa voice commands to call the police or fire department, arm and disarm the system, get the status of doors and windows, lock and unlock doors, open the garage door, and more. You can also use IFTTT recipes to have the Abode interact with other IFTTT-compatible devices to do things like turn on lights at a certain time, send an email when an alarm is triggered, and record video.
Abode offers three no-contract monitoring plans you can change at any time to suit your needs. The Basic plan is free and provides unlimited self-monitoring via an Android or iOS mobile app and a web app. You also get three days of cloud-based timeline and media storage and can take advantage of On-Demand Monitoring (three days for $8 or seven days for $15). The Connect plan goes for $10 per month or $96 per year and offers cellular backup (in case you lose your internet connection), 14 days of timeline and media storage, and the same On-Demand Monitoring options. The top-tier plan, Connect + Secure, costs $30 per month or $240 per year and gives you 24/7 professional monitoring, cellular backup, and 90 days of timeline and media storage.
Installation and Performance
The Abode system can be controlled using an Android or iOS mobile device or from a PC using the web portal. You can use the mobile app to put the system in Home, Away, or Standby mode, view your event timeline and captured images, view live video from connected cameras, check device status, view pending alarms, and add users to the system via email. Here you can also add and edit emergency contacts and order On-Demand monitoring, but you'll have to use the web portal to do things like add third-party devices, create custom automations, and manage notifications. Moreover, the web portal's Dashboard screen offers a more comprehensive view of the entire system (cameras, devices, timeline, captured images, and settings) than the mobile app.
In the Notifications section you can configure email and push notifications that tell you when the system has been armed and disarmed, when the system goes offline, when device battery levels are low, and when an automation has been triggered. The Automation screen is where you go to set up schedules for arming and disarming based on time of day or location (geofencing), and the Quick Actions screen lets you create one-touch actions such as "capture video from all cameras."
The sensors and remote are paired at the factory, making installation fairly easy. I connected the gateway to my router using the included Ethernet cable, downloaded the app, and created an account. Once the account was created and I entered my address and phone number, I followed the in-app instructions.
First, I entered the gateway activation key (provided on the startup card) and was connected within seconds. I clicked Continue to set up my devices, starting with the door sensors. For sensor A the app wanted to know if I was using it for a door or window and instructed me to pull out the clear plastic tab from the back of the sensor to activate it. I aligned the two components, named the sensor (Front Door), hit Continue, and it was immediately paired. I added the second sensor and moved on to the motion sensor/camera. Using a small Philips head screwdriver I removed the back cover and inserted three CR123 batteries (included). I replaced the cover, mounted the camera using double-backed tape, and hit Snap a Photo to test it. After the test image appeared I named the camera and proceeded to pair the Indoor Streaming Camera. This requires another open router port during the initial setup, but the camera can eventually connect via Wi-Fi or remain wired.
After connecting the Streaming Camera to my router using the included Ethernet cable, I chose it in the setup menu and entered the activation key that came with its setup card. I was instructed to press and hold the bottom half of the button on the side of the camera for 15 seconds, at which time it was recognized. I chose to set it up over Wi-Fi and waited a few seconds for the app to scan for available networks. I chose mine, entered my password, and was connected within seconds. I unplugged the camera and moved it to its new location by the front door corridor, and was good to go.
The Abode performed as advertised. The system reacted immediately when the door/windows sensors were opened and closed, and the internal siren is adequately loud, though not quite as piercing as the siren that comes with the Smanos system. The motion sensor/camera was also responsive, but I found its 640-by-480 image quality to be a bit fuzzy. Image quality from the 720p Indoor Streaming Camera, on the other hand, was much better; it provided good daytime color quality and sharp black-and-white night video.
Push and email alerts arrived immediately when sensors were triggered and when the system went offline. I set up an IFTTT recipe to have a Netgear Arlo Pro camera begin recording when the front door was opened and it worked flawlessly. Alexa voice commands to arm and disarm the system also worked wonderfully.
With the Abode Home Security Starter Kit you get everything you need to start protecting your home for under $300, but unlike systems from Protect America, Live Watch, and Frontpoint, there are no annual contracts required. Abode's flexible plans allow you to monitor yourself and pay for professional support only when you need it, or you can go with a 24/7 monitoring plan. With support for Z-Wave and ZigBee wireless protocols, Abode can control dozens of sensors and home automation devices, has its own IFTTT channel, and works with Nest thermostats, smoke detectors, and cameras, as well as Alexa voice commands. That all earns it our Editors' Choice for DIY home security systems.
If DIY isn't your thing, consider the Vivint Smart Home system. It's more expensive than the Abode but it too offers flexible monitoring plans and competitively priced add-on devices, and it comes with a 7-inch color touch-screen control panel. Moreover, once you chose your components, a Vivint technician will come to your house and install everything for you.
By John R. Delaney Contributing Editor
As a Contributing Editor for PCMag, John Delaney has been testing and reviewing monitors, TVs, PCs, networking and smart home gear, and other assorted hardware and peripherals for almost 20 years. A 13-year veteran of PC Magazine's Labs (most recently as Director of Operations), John was responsible for the recruitment, training and management of the Labs technical staff, as well as evaluating and maintaining the integrity of the Labs testing machines and procedures. Prior to joining Ziff Davis, John spent six years in retail operations for… More »
More Stories by John R.
- The Best Wireless Range Extenders of 2017
Bring your home's Wi-Fi dead zones back to life with a wireless range extender. Here's what you need… More »
- Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 4K Monitor (UP3216Q)
The Dell UltraSharp UP3216Q is a pricey 32-inch, professional-grade monitor that delivers precise co… More »
- VTech VM991 Safe & Sound Expandable HD Video Baby Monitor
The VTech VM991 Safe & Sound Baby Monitor delivers sharp HD video and will record a clip when your i… More »