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Featured Review: SimpliSafe Home Security System

October 29, 2015 - Written By John Anon

The DIY and home security market is one which is booming of late. Right now, there a ton of options to choose, from a variety of manufacturers. Not to mention, most of them seem to come with various customization options as well. So not only can you choose the type of hardware you want, but you can choose the level of coverage too. While these systems all come ‘connected’ the other surge of activity we are seeing, is their compatibility with Android smartphones and mobile devices. By offering the ability to connect to an Android device, your smartphone or tablet can essentially become the brains of your home security system. We have already reviewed a number of options currently available including the likes of MyFox and Skylink and today we are taking a closer look at an option from SimpliSafe.

Design & Hardware

Depending on which option you choose, will determine the level of coverage you receive. By ‘coverage’, I mean the number of connected products you will receive. This is one of the immediate benefits of SimpliSafe over some of the competitors, as you can buy a minimal pack which provides you with a basic system along with a few add-ons, right up to their Ultimate package which comes with literally every sensor or detector you could think of. As such, the price range of the packages start from the low $200s and go up to the mid $500s. Here, we have the ultimate package and it is big.

That said, in terms of the design, there is nothing breathtaking about appearance of the SimpliSafe products. Although, this is not necessarily a criticism. They are not highly identifiable products and instead adopt much more of a generic look with virtually all aspects consisting of plain white components. If you are into the more minimalist approach, then you will find the look of the SimpliSafe welcoming. However, from a design standpoint, they are rather generic in appearance.

Their build quality is also limited in some respects. To be clear, there are no major issues with their build and all of the products we tested work extremely well and are built to a good quality. However, the actual makeup of the build largely consists of plastic pieces which again, are not going to win any design awards. Some of the other options we have tested do place a greater focus on form over function, this is not the case with the SimpliSafe.

As mentioned, the variety of products you will receive will be determined on which package you opt for. In our case, the Ultimate Package, is extremely extensive and comes with the Base Station, a Wireless Keypad, two Keychain Remotes, two Motion Sensors, a Panic button, Siren, Smoke Detector, Carbon Monoxide Detector, Freeze Sensor, Water Sensor, four Entry (window/door) Sensors and a Yard Sign. So opting for this package will pretty much offer you a full level of coverage which virtually all potential situations covered.

Setup & Installation

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Generally speaking, the setup of the SimpliSafe system is extremely easy. In fact, this is one aspect which the company pushes as a selling feature for the system. SimpliSafe do provide a good level of instructions to help guide the installation and these come in both a paper form in the box, as well as a digital version available through a USB stick which also comes in the box. As a result, the whole setup aspect feels very well designed and consumer-friendly. The company has even released a video to highlight just how easy it is to set one of the sensors up.

As the video highlights, the physical side of setting up is extremely simple. All aspects come pre-built with adhesive backs in place, so for any of the sensors/detectors all you have to do is pull the adhesive backing off and stick in place. It is also worth noting at this point, that the adhesives do seem to be of a good quality. On some of these systems, the adhesive can be quite poor resulting in components often falling out of place. This is not the case with SimpliSafe components. All sensors and detectors tested were remarkably strong and capable of remaining in place once stuck. This is a ‘stick n go’ system and one that works well.

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Likewise, this is a battery operated system for the most part and all peripherals come equipped with batteries in place out of the box. Of course, to avoid any activation of the sensors while in transit, they all do come with paper inserts breaking the signal between the batteries and connection points, so the physical setting up of any of the sensors, simply required pulling out the tab, removing the adhesive backing and sticking in place.

Once all your sensors are in place and you are ready to go, the rest of the setup is equally as straightforward. There are two main control points. The first is the hub which acts as the go-between for all sensors. Then there is also the Wireless Keypad which essentially acts as a main user-control board. So for instance, with the keypad, as well as activating, deactivating the system, you can authorize certain sensors, add new ones and generally manage the system on the whole. On the other hand, the hub, essentially works passively for the most part. That is, unless you go down the software route of system management.

Apps & Software

As well as the actual control by the keypad, the SimpliSafe system also allows users to control and manage their system remotely from a desktop. In fact, the desktop route works extremely well. One of the Key chain remotes hides a USB connector within its outer shell and this is the key to your desktop system. Once you insert the remote into a computer, the program will run and you will be able to control and manage all of your system.

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At this point, it is important to note that the USB key does not install anything on your system and instead runs directly from the USB key. There are two clear benefits from this approach. The first being that you do not have to worry about storing or installing any additional software on your computer (or worry about anyone using your computer to alter the system). While the second clear benefit is that you can pretty much control the system from any terminal you happen to be near. While also not having to worry about the USB Key leaving any traces of your actions on any of the computers you use. However, the downside is that you do always have to have the key with you to be able to access the system via this method.

SimpliSafe Screenshot desktop settiings 01

There is also another issue with the key and that is that it must be activated and reactivated each and every time you use the key. As all of the information is technically going through the USB key, it does not directly connect or relay any of this information to the main hub. Instead, you have to first insert the key into the top of the hub and wait briefly while it registers. Once complete, you remove the key, insert into your computer and make the changes as necessary.

Once finished and you remove the USB key, it does then need to be reinserted into the main hub for the changes to be registered and the system to take effect. So although, in principle you could control and make changes to your system from work using the key, they won’t actually take effect until your reach home and activate the key.

Of course, like many of the other systems, SimpliSafe does offer the option to control the system by using an Android app. The app is available from the Play Store and is free to download. However, and this is a big however, if you opt to go down the dummy route (i.e. buy the system and use in a local mode – where it is not connected to any response services and instead adopts a deterrent-only stance), then the Android app is essentially useless. The app does only work if you are subscribed to the SimpliSafe connected services.

SimpliSafe App 01

Even when using the subscription model, the app does still seem to be fairly limited (compared to some of the other options). You can of course, activate and deactivate the alarm, be notified of sensor breaches and see a breakdown of activity for your system, but that sees to be about it. Other companies have invested much more heavily in the app interface than what is offered with SimpliSafe. Although, this is obviously a software aspect and one which could see a greater overall interaction and use with an app update and upgrade. However, in its current form, the app does seem to be somewhat limited from the Android perspective.

Usage & Performance

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There is no arguing with the general performance of the SimpliSafe system. It does work extremely well and there is no major disappointing aspects to note. As already mentioned, the general setup and installation is rather simple and although it does seem daunting with so many sensors and detectors (if you opt for one of the higher packages), within no time the system will be up and running.

Once running, the system works flawlessly. The motion (or room) sensors offer a great level of coverage and are extremely responsive. With one sensor in any room, positioned mid way up any wall will offer plenty of coverage for the room. It will pick up any movement and will respond with a system trigger if the system is not set to ‘Home’. In fact, these sensors also come with some nice tweaks. For instance, if you own any big pets, then by simply turning the sensor upside down and installing it this way, will counteract the movement of your pets and avoid system triggering. A tip provided by SimpliSafe when setting up, which further highlights the great level of support that is offered during the setup process.

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In fact, the reliability of the system applies to all sensors. All seemed to be working fine and when you have a door or motion sensor in place you will receive small warning tones. So for instance, opening the front door with a sensor attached without the system in ‘armed’ mode will result in a small tone being played by the main hub. Nice reminder that you have not activated the alarm or that a door has been opened.

The main wireless keyboard also works well. This is essentially the menu for the system when you are not using a remote way of controlling and generally speaking was a decent way to maintain and control the system. That’s not to say it is the easiest system to control, as it is not. It can be fiddly at times going through the menu from the keypad, but if that is your preference, then the function of the control aspect works well.

Of course, depending on your needs SimpliSafe does offer the ability to have a connected level of service, which is not something you will see on many self-install systems which typically only offer a dummy service. With SimpliSafe you can pay a monthly fee and make use of an actual 24/7 alarm service. When using this function, the system works as normal (in dummy) mode and then when the system is triggered by any of the sensors, the relevant emergency service or response are informed.

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However, what is nice about the SimpliSafe service is that it is not a direct unit to emergency service response. There is a middleman aspect which acts as a safe-guard against unintentional or unwanted triggers. So for instance when the system is triggered, at first, part of the SimpliSafe response team will look to contact you directly by phone. At which point you can provide your ‘safe word’ and cancel the need for a response. Of course, if they cannot get in touch with you or this is a genuine emergency, then the relevant services will be on their way. As already mentioned, making use of the paid monthly service also does offer the use of the Android app (when that feature is added on).

There are some additional nice tweaks to the system which are also worth mentioning. For instance, you can program in a fake code which can be used as a way to alert the authorities without alerting an intruder. So if somebody does enter your home and you are made to deactivate the code, by entering the fake code, the system will assume a deactivated mode (from the intruder perspective) while the code activates a signal to the outside world, just as if the alarm had been triggered. The intruder will never know and the emergency services will be en route.

Not forgetting of course, the system comes with additional standalone panic buttons which can be placed bedside, as well as additional panic buttons on the keychain remotes too. So you are always within easy reach of a quick activation of the system (either for audible or emergency-response purpose).

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However, the SimpliSafe system is not without its faults. For instance, although the system is a connected system, it does not allow you to connect to other non-SimpliSafe products. So it will not work with any other ‘smart’ products that you might have. Likewise it does lack the ability to record any video. There is no camera on offer with the SimpliSafe packages and due to the inability to connect third-party products, there does not seem to be any real way to connect an additional camera. Which is a little disappointing, as some competitor products are making a big push for this sort of video monitoring.

There is also the issue of the variance of sensors which comes with the system. This is a big system and although you might be leaning towards getting the biggest package (so that you have all the sensors you need), you would be better off buying the package that is right for you at the time. Any additional components, sensors and detectors that you do not use will only prove to be an annoyance. One of the benefits of setting up this system, is that the products are sort of aware of each other out of the box. So you unpack, remove adhesive, pull battery tab and stick in place. The system then automatically knows this sensor is active. The downside here is that when you have a larger system than you need, unused sensors will be read by the system as not connected/not working and although it won’t trigger the alarm, the main hub will continually flash blue until you manually (either through the computer program or wireless keypad) deactivate or disengage each of the unused sensors. This blue light warning is obviously handy for when one of your sensors is not working, responding or set properly, but if you have more sensors than you need, it becomes much more of a hassle to disengage them.

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One point worth noting here though, is that SimpliSafe do charge very reasonable prices (compared to the competition) for additional sensors and so you are better off opting for the essential system you need and then purchasing additional sensors as and when needed.

Of course, these criticisms are minor in the grand scale of things, the additional units do not hamper the use of the security aspect of the system and this is the main point worth remembering. As a security system, the SimpliSafe system works extremely well and offers a much heightened level of coverage than you will find from many other manufacturers and systems.

Wrap Up

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During testing, the SimpliSafe Security System was a joy to use. It is insanely easy to setup and the level of coverage is extremely comprehensive. As a result and whether you are looking for a fully fledged connected level of service and emergency response or simply a dummy (deterrent) system to offer visible and audible protection, the SimpliSafe will provide it and will provide it well. This is a really nice option to go for, for those looking for a self-install system. As mentioned, it does have some minor issues, like the lack of video recording or the inability to connect other third party smart products, but depending on whether you need these features will determine how much of a deal-breaker the lack of connectivity is. On a purely security standpoint, the SimpliSafe service and system is one of the better options to go for when considering features, price and the ability to customize.

Buy the SimpliSafe Wireless Home Security Kit (Ultimate Package)