The best home security systems of 2021: Live monitoring, DIY kits, video doorbells and more



After a decade or so of app-enabled upheaval, the home security industry is booming . There’s a new wave of less expensive DIY systems, cameras, smart locks and video doorbells to consider alongside the professional alarm and monitoring system options that have been around for decades. Big names in tech like Google and Amazon want in on the action, too.

It’s admittedly quite a bit to take in — and today’s home security providers don’t necessarily always make it easy to comparison shop, either.

That’s where we come in, though — not only by putting these systems and their best features to the test at the HDOT Smart Home, but by evaluating the whole buying process, as well. We look at other important factors, too — including the privacy concerns that come with filling your house with cloud-connected cameras. 

So, are you ready to set up a base station, install that window sensor, entry sensor and door sensor, and connect your doorbell camera to an alarm monitoring service or home security company? Keep reading for our breakdown of the best home security equipment that we’ve tested to date, including DIY home security systems you can install yourself, professionally installed systems that promise to automate your whole home, and standalone gadgets like video doorbells, too.

Best home security system we’ve tested

Best DIY system SimpliSafe $230 upfront Monitoring starts at $15 per month, $25 per month to include mobile app controls and integration with Alexa. See it online
Best professional installation system Comcast Xfinity Home $99 upfront Monitoring plan costs $40 per month during the first year, $50 per month after that; bundling discounts available with TV and internet. See it online
Best video doorbell Nest Hello $230 upfront Continuous recording starting at $5 per month. See it online
Best for part-time monitoring Abode $299 upfront Monitoring available for $20 per month. See it online

Install-it-yourself systems

If a professionally installed security system from alarm companies or Brinks Home Security sounds like overkill, then you can save a lot of money by buying a system that you install yourself. For my money, systems like these offer some of the best value for your home security dollar.

You’re not missing out on much in terms of functionality. Though professionally installed security systems might offer a fancier keypad or touchscreen control panel, the rest of the hardware is largely the same as what you’ll get if you go the DIY installation route, relying mostly on wireless, battery-powered sensors that you stick up around your house. Just keep in mind that while DIY home security systems will deter intruders, they typically won’t offer as many integrations with things like carbon monoxide detectors, smart lights or your smart thermostat.

When DIY alarm systems first started popping up as a low-cost alternative to going with the pros, few, if any, came with an option for professional monitoring or customer service. That’s no longer the case. Most DIY security systems now offer the option of professional monitoring — and most of them charge less for professional monitoring than the professional installation security providers do, too. Automation and smart home devices have helped lower the overhead cost for monitoring services like those, and some of those savings get passed on to you. And the fact that most DIY systems don’t require any sort of service contract — just a Wi-Fi network and maybe some cloud storage — is another nice part of the pitch.

Something else to keep an eye out for: All-in-one DIY security devices designed for smaller homes and living spaces. Basically, just a single-point, tabletop security camera packed with extra motion detectors and sensors for things like temperature and ambient light, these devices can be a good fit for something like a studio apartment that doesn’t have a garage door or many street windows to protect.

Names to look at include Canary, Honeywell and the Abode Iota — though our favorite of the bunch, Piper, is no longer on the market after purchased its parent company in 2016. If we find another alternative that we like as much as we liked that one, I’ll update this space.

Abode’s excellent DIY system is well worth consideration.

Chris Monroe/HDOT

Other options we’ve tested

Professionally installed systems

These are the mainstays of home security — security monitoring company names like ADT and Brinks that you’ve probably been familiar with for years, along with home security systems offered by major telecom providers like Comcast and AT&T.

The pitch is pretty similar across the board. In addition to basics like motion sensors, window sensors and door sensors, these kinds of professional installations will also promise to cut back on false alarms to the monitoring center and seamlessly integrate things like door locks, cameras, keypads, thermostats, carbon monoxide detectors and touchscreens. And they’ll often support voice controls via Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant, too. Most charge an upfront equipment or installation fee and most require multiyear service contracts. As for the monthly fee for professional monitoring, those are mandatory and will typically range from $30 to $50 per month.

High-end systems like these will sometimes make it tough to comparison shop between companies. For instance, head to ADT’s website and you’ll find plenty of marketing copy touting the value of the security company’s various home security offerings and customer service — but you won’t find much by way of pricing specifics. Instead, the site directs you to request a “free quote,” either by calling the security company’s sales team or by submitting your name, zip code, phone number and email address. Doing the latter ensures that an ADT customer service specialist “will call you, from time to time, about ADT offers.” Read the fine print, and you’ll see that these calls are “provided” using “automated dialing technology.”

Mind you, the alarm company is hardly alone here. Some are less egregious about it than others, but you’ll find similar tactics — and similar fine print — on just about every website for professionally installed alarm systems like these. If the website is unclear about what a system built for your home would cost you, then your best bet is just to call the security company directly, tell them what kind of setup you’d like and ask for a quote.

Your experience might vary based on the salesperson you’re speaking with. For instance, when I first tried calling ADT, the salesperson told me that he couldn’t give me a quote without running a credit check first. I politely ended the conversation and called back another day, and had a much better experience with a salesperson who priced a core system for me within 10 minutes, no credit check or other exchange of personal info needed.

Shopping for a pro system

Base upfront cost Monthly cost Contract length How long it took me to get that info when I called What personal data I had to give to get it
ADT $129 ($229 for a system with a doorbell camera) $47 ($67 for a system with a doorbell camera) 3-year First attempt wouldn’t give a quote without a credit check, second attempt took 10 minutes None
AT&T Digital Life $550 installation fee $40 2-year Easily available on the website None
Brinks $399 installation fee $29 3-year Easily available on the website None
Comcast Xfinity Home $99 installation fee (waived if bundled with TV and internet) $40 for first year, then $50 ($175 if bundled with TV and internet) 2-year 10 minutes ZIP code
Vivint $99 installation fee $40 plus financed cost of devices (for a bare-bones setup, about $10 per month for 60 months) None 17 minutes None

Whoever you end up calling, don’t be afraid to put your foot down over your own privacy. Companies that use robocalls and junk mail as a sales tactic don’t have a right to your address or other personal info until they’ve earned your business, full stop.

That caveat aside, the advantage with alarm systems like these is that professionals will come to your place to install everything for you, and you can typically expect a higher level of hands-on tech support and customer service if you ever want to make changes to your setup, too. Pick a professional system from a telecom provider and you’ll likely be able to bundle your home security with your TV or internet service. That’s a convenience that can also help you score a discount.


Vivint’s system works well, but the equipment doesn’t come cheap.

Chris Monroe/HDOT

Other options we’ve tested

Video doorbells

If you don’t need an entire security system, and instead just want to keep an eye on activity at your front door, then you might consider installing a video doorbell to keep watch.

Read more: The best video doorbells of 2021

You’ve got lots of options right now, and thanks to automation, all will send real-time alerts via a Wi-Fi connection or cellular connection to your cell phone or smart device whenever someone rings to show you who’s at the door. Some also track for unexpected motion or allow for two-way audio — and we’re seeing lots of new options that are capable of recognizing faces, too. That includes our top pick:

Prices for doorbells like these typically range from about $100 to $250 and most also charge an optional fee for viewing saved video clips. To pick one, first, figure out if your front door has a hardwired doorbell connection or if you’ll need something battery-powered. Then, consider features — for instance, do you keep a porch light on at night, or will you need something with night vision?

From there, think about which smart home platforms you want your doorbell to work with. On that front, you’ll find lots of options that work with Alexa and plenty that work with IFTTT, and with Google and Nest, too. Siri is still playing catch-up, though — the only HomeKit-compatible video doorbell we’ve gotten our fingers on thus far is the Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell, which debuted at CES this past January.

Comparing smart doorbells

August View Doorbell Camera Ring Video Doorbell 2 Ring Video Doorbell Pro Nest Hello Video Doorbell
Price $230 $199 $249 $229
Color finish Black, red, white, blue, brass, satin nickel, midnight gray, bronze Satin nickel, venetian (both finishes included with purchase) Satin nickel, venetian, satin black, pearl white White and black
Power source Removable, rechargeable battery Hardwired or removable, rechargeable battery Hardwired Hardwired
Resolution 1,920×1,440p HD 1,920x1080p HD 1,920x1080p HD 1,600×1,200p HD
Field of view No information 160 degrees 160 degrees 160 degrees
Live streaming Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cloud storage Yes, free basic plan, plus 15-day storage for $3 per month and 30-day storage for $5 per month Yes, 60-day storage for $3 per month Yes, 60-day storage for $3 per month Yes, free 3-hour image history; continuous recording starting at $5 per month
Local storage No No No No
Mobile app Android and iPhone Android and iPhone Android and iPhone Android and iPhone
Web app No Yes Yes Yes
Night vision Yes Yes Yes Yes
Alerts Motion Motion Motion Motion, person, facial recognition (with Nest Aware)
Activity zones No Yes Yes Yes (with Nest Aware)
Dimensions (HxWxD) 5.2×1.8×1.3 inches 5.1×2.5×1.1 inches 4.5×1.9×0.8 inches 4.6×1.7×1.0 inches
Third-party integrations Alexa; Google Assistant; Nest Alexa; IFTTT; Wink Alexa; IFTTT; Wink Alexa; Google Assistant; Nest
Operating temperature range -4 to 122 degrees F -5 to 120 degrees F -5 to 120 degrees F 14 to 104 degrees F

Many of the major home security systems now offer video doorbells of their own, and some offer compatibility with standalone video doorbells and keypads like these, too. Keep that in mind if you think you might want to expand to a full system later on down the line.

Oh, and want more tips on picking out the right video doorbell? HDOT’s Megan Wollerton has you covered.


Ring makes a variety of popular video doorbells, but the company faces nagging privacy concerns over its controversial data-sharing collaborations with police organizations. And, according to reports, thousands of Ring customers recently had their account information exposed. We don’t recommend any of the company’s products at this point.

Chris Monroe/HDOT

Other options we’ve tested

Smart outdoor lighting

Lots of us use motion-activated lights on our porch or outside our garage door — and though there’s plenty of debate as to whether or not exterior lighting can actually help deter a burglary, most experts agree that it can help play a role when used correctly. If you’re thinking about upgrading to something a little smarter than that cheap porch light, you’ve got a couple of options worth considering.

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