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Home security system buying guide: From cameras to doorbells

Monitor who visits your home, improve safety and protect your possessions

Jacob Little
Monday 10 May 2021 16:58
<p>Our guide helps you decide which system and model is best for you and your home</p>

Our guide helps you decide which system and model is best for you and your home

We’ve all spent a lot more time in our homes over the last year, and for many, it’s allowed us to make improvements and modifications to improve our standard of living.

There are a number of reasons to buy an improved security setup for your house. You may want to protect expensive possessions, or solidify existing setups with new technology that can record, track and monitor who visits your home.

Likewise, you may want to try to reduce insurance premiums or provide extra peace of mind for your family. Whatever the reason, there are a few things to think about when purchasing a home security setup, and a few different methods to implement to suit a range of different needs and styles of home.

In this home security buying guide, we will be looking at the options on the market at the moment, look at how to buy the right setup for your home and how you might go about choosing and evaluating different models of cameras, doorbells and other devices.

We’ll also touch on installation options, and some of the methods you can use to install brand new security systems hassle-free.

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What to look for in a home security system

Understandably the first question to answer is what needs to be protected. If you want a whole house system, you will be looking at a number of different devices to protect different areas of your home.

It also depends on whether you want to protect against intruders, unwanted callers, theft or anything else – it will determine which kind of setup to go for. If you’re rigging cameras, light or motion detectors up outside, you’ll have to ensure you have the right wiring and waterproofing available.

Additionally, if you’re looking at connecting to the cloud, ensure all your devices will be in-range of your router and the hub, which will enable each of them to speak to each other. Also consider genuine convenience – put video doorbells in easy to reach, convenient locations, for example, and ensure they’re at the right height so you can see and speak to whoever is calling at your door.

What kinds of systems are on offer?

It can sometimes appear a bit daunting and confusing assessing which security system to go for, as there are a number of systems that plug into different subscriptions, cloud-based software and storage solutions.

Cameras

Both indoor and outdoor cameras are widely used by a number of security systems, and can also be bought as standalone packages that connect to your wifi system, disregarding the need to purchase potentially expensive subscriptions services in order to use a monitoring system. Outdoor cameras tend to be weather and water resistant, but bear in mind how you supply power to the device, as some of the battery systems require frequent charging.

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Cameras tend to be easy to install, and connect up to your smartphone so you can view and often record live footage. Most indoor and outdoor cameras also offer notifications, motion detection and event-triggered detection, with a handful also offering face-detection. Many cameras from major security manufacturers will often link into other devices within a home security network.

Earning the top spot in our round-up of the best security cameras, the Google Nest cam IQ indoor was praised by our reviewer who said “Google Nest’s range of cameras is exemplary, with their snappy design and excellent lenses and sensors ensuring high-quality footage”. Though this model is currently out of stock, we recommend getting your hands on the very similar Google Nest cam indoor security camera (£129, Johnlewis.com).

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Video Doorbells

Perhaps one of the most affordable solutions, video doorbells connect to existing doorbell wiring (if they aren’t battery powered) and record video and audio when the button is pressed. They also connect to your phone’s wifi, so you can directly interact with whoever is at the door through your connected smartphone.

The two-way audio is especially useful, as it means you can chat with the person at your door no matter where in the world you are. As we’re all ordering a lot more online these days, that particular functionality can come in particularly handy when you’re not in but you’d like a delivery driver to leave a package in a safe location.

The best ones offer 1080p HD video, and some also provide “pre-roll” footage, so you can see recorded footage of what happens moments before someone rings the bell.

Coming highly recommended is the Ring video doorbell 3 plus (£159, Ring.com) – the best buy in our guide to video doorbells. Our tester singled out the “clever feature which records four-seconds of video automatically before the detection of a ‘motion event’ – meaning that you have a recording of somebody before you even get a notification or they ring the bell.”

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Smart Locks

Smart locks use the concept of the video doorbell, but instead of being able to see and speak to the person visiting, you have the option of letting them in, or scheduling pre-arranged open and close times using your smartphone.

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Some offer fingerprint scanners and biometric locking mechanisms, and many can be installed using your existing door locks, so they can be a fairly easy and cost-effective way to secure your home.

Convenient, easy to use and ideal for letting friends and family into your house to feed the pets while you’re away!

We’d suggest the Nuki smart lock 2.0 (£187.96, Amazon.co.uk) which featured in our guide to the best smart home devices. “This is a smart lock that attaches to the back of an external door,” our tester said, explaining that “as you walk towards the front door, the lock senses the smartphone in your pocket and unlocks automatically.”

“You can also unlock it from the app – handy if you want to let the dog walker in, or someone trusted. The Nuki app also confirms whether the door is open or closed, too.”

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Subscription and Cloud Based Services

Many security systems from the likes of Ring, Google, Blink and others use a subscription based service to store data, monitor usage and allow video and conversations to be saved for reference at a later date. They vary in cost, but they do tend to incur rolling contract charges as well as the initial purchase of the hardware, so that’s worth taking into account when you opt into a specific system.

Integration and the Internet of Things

The way we run our lives these days lends itself to automation, convenience and integration. Home security setups are no different, and even if you don’t opt for a fully-integrated professionally installed system from the likes of security experts ADT, you can be sure that many devices on offer are connected up to a wider network.

Bundled monitoring setups that connect to home hubs have the added benefit of being expandable, so you can add more devices to it at a later date such as smart smoke detection kits, window sensors, water sensors and door locks. Cleverly, many of these devices work together (unlocking a particular door when the smoke alarm goes off, for instance).

Read more: Apple AirTag review: Can these trackers finally stop us from losing our keys?

The only downsides we can see with these systems is that they are potentially expensive and time-consuming to install, and often come with fairly hefty contracts meaning you have to pay a monthly subscription as well as a termination fee if you cancel early.

The verdict: Home security

Like anything, it’s worth doing your research, and pay careful attention to the features that you knowyou will use, rather than those that sound high-tech but don’t necessarily apply to your home. Be aware also that you will often have to pay a subscription service if you want wifi connectivity and video and audio storage. That being said, if you want to shy away from these solutions and their “always on” approach, video doorbells and cameras from major manufacturers are available that don’t need constant connectivity but still hook up to your smartphone. These may be the way to go for many consumers.

We found the most useful products were wireless video doorbells, offering an easy setup, trouble-free linkage between device and smartphone and extra peace of mind when people come knocking. They also work as long as you’re connected to wifi too, so very useful if you’re going away for a bit.

Larger, more professional setups might be more suitable for homes with a lot of different outbuildings, rooms, or where wifi connectivity doesn’t stretch around the whole home.

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