Frontpoint home security review: An ace DIY system grounded by expensive subscription fees

Asia's Tech News Daily

Update, Oct 23: Since our initial review, Frontpoint added a feature called Frontpoint ID Protect to its monthly subscription. This new feature, in partnership with Allstate, will allow you to monitor your personal and financial data, and should catch early signs of fraud and reimburse you for fraud-related losses. I haven’t tested this feature out, but it’s an interesting addition to the mix of features available from Frontpoint. I’ve adjusted the overall score and the conclusion in the review below.

Frontpoint home security review: An ace DIY system grounded by expensive subscription fees
© David Priest/CNET

Frontpoint is comparable to most other DIY security systems on the market, except in one way.

Home security comes in two basic categories: professionally installed systems and do-it-yourself arrays. The professional systems usually cost a lot more, though you can often break up those fees into monthly payments — and someone else does all the setup for you. DIY systems by contrast are cheaper, but require a little more elbow grease.

And then there’s Frontpoint, a DIY system with high-end professional monitoring. Frontpoint Security Solutions’ offering is a solid system with a lot of flexibility — but its monthly monitoring costs, which clock in at a grimace-inducing $45, simply make it too expensive to beat out more wallet-friendly packages from competitors like SimpliSafe and Abode.

This old home (security)

Frontpoint works like most other DIY security systems: It arrives in a box that’s designed to unpack nicely. Once you download the app and begin to install each device, the smaller, numbered boxes inside the larger package help guide you through the process.

I got the most basic Frontpoint system, which includes a motion sensor, two door/window sensors, a keypad and the central hub. In addition, I got a camera and a doorbell cam. I set up my Frontpoint system in under half an hour, and despite some small hitches (your account is set up at the time of purchase, and since Frontpoint provided the box for testing, it was linked to someone else’s name), I was able to get things up and running without much head-scratching.

From there, I tried out the system as usual for about a week. The hub gives verbal alerts like “Front door open” when doors or windows are opened or closed, which I like. If you don’t, you can switch off the setting easily in the app. The motion sensor worked as well, balancing sensitivity so that intruders would be recognized but shifting shadows wouldn’t set off a false alarm.

Exploring the camera settings was fun and easy, too. You can set zones of interest for the camera, so it automatically begins recording when someone or something moves into that zone — or set up “tripwires” to create a similar effect.

Within two days of installing the system, I received a helpful alert before bed one night that the front door had been left ajar. And I was able to use the camera to check in on my kids playing in the backyard during the workday, catching when they were getting a little overzealous with their mud and sidewalk-chalk alchemical experiments.

Frontpoint home security review: An ace DIY system grounded by expensive subscription fees
© Provided by CNET Frontpoint’s basic system comes with two door/window sensors, one motion detector, a keypad, a base station and signs. David Priest/CNET

In short, home security systems are genuinely useful, and Frontpoint is no different. The big question is, how does it stack up against the competition?

Entering the ring with Ring

The DIY security market has exploded in the past decade or so, with startups like SimpliSafe and Abode, and latecomer systems from established smart home companies like Amazon Ring and Wyze. Frontpoint most resembles the startups, where home security is and has always been the primary focus. But its monthly monitoring fee sets it apart.

Let’s take a look at the details.

Again, Frontpoint’s basic kit starts at $392, and includes a motion sensor, two door/window sensors, a hub, a keypad and signs. SimpliSafe’s most analogous system starts at $259 and comes with three door/window sensors.

Seems like Frontpoint’s is much more expensive, right? Well, it’s complicated. Both brands are almost always running promotions of various sorts. Right now, that means Frontpoint’s system comes with a “free” doorbell cam, and is on sale for $255. SimpliSafe’s system is on sale for $207. So maybe Frontpoint, with that included video doorbell, is offering a better deal than SimpliSafe? But let’s go on.

Look, the starting price for many of these DIY systems depends on the deal you find, but the best way to get a sense of how the cost stands up over time is to look at device pricing and monitoring fees. There, a pattern emerges: Frontpoint’s prices are consistently a little higher than SimpliSafe’s — $6 more for door/window sensors, $12 for motion detectors, $13 for glass break sensors and so on.

Add up these small discrepancies over a larger-scale system, and you’re looking at hundreds of dollars of difference.

But if you’re trying for a small-scale system with a camera, Frontpoint could beat out SimpliSafe — especially because its indoor camera is the only device that’s significantly cheaper than SimpliSafe’s alternative. Frontpoint’s camera is $65 while SimpliSafe’s is $99.

SimpliSafe’s system is a little cheaper than Abode’s for the most part, but both are a little pricier than the Ring Alarm and Wyze budget options. Suffice it to say, Frontpoint’s offering fits in nicely with that higher tier of DIY systems… until you look at the monthly monitoring fees.

Frontpoint home security review: An ace DIY system grounded by expensive subscription fees
© Provided by CNET Frontpoint’s system is comparable to most other DIY security systems on the market, except in one way. David Priest/CNET

Netflix, but with security

Okay, streaming services like Netflix don’t seem like a great comparison, but monthly monitoring fees or subscriptions are an inescapable element of security systems — and many DIY options offer prices that are pretty similar to video streaming services’ monthly costs. SimpliSafe charges $15, or $25 with all the monitoring and automation goodies. Abode charges anywhere from $6 to $20. Wyze is $5 per month, and even professional systems like Vivint and Comcast Xfinity only cost $45 and $40 respectively for the most expensive options.

Frontpoint charges $45 per month if you use direct deposit, or $50 if you use a card. At the time of this review, the company is offering a promotional price of $40 per month.

Just to hammer this point home: Frontpoint’s monthly fee is equivalent to Abode’s most expensive tier, SimpliSafe’s most expensive tier and Wyze’s monthly fee combined.

I asked a representative at Frontpoint why the pricing is so high, and they chalked it up to the cellular backup, environmental monitoring, video monitoring and automation features.

But Wyze is the only option that doesn’t offer cell backup; various levels of environmental and video monitoring are often available, especially with professional systems; and automation features are fairly standard these days. While Ring Alarm, say, works with plenty of smart home gadgets, even more siloed companies like SimpliSafe integrate their services with Google Assistant and Alexa to allow greater automation. Frontpoint has some of those same voice assistant integrations — so that’s not a weakness — but it certainly doesn’t stand above the competition in smart home integration.

In short, I don’t buy the explanation for the monthly fee. That $45 (or even $50) price tag is frankly astounding, given where the rest of the industry stands. Practically, it will mean hundreds of dollars more every year compared with its direct competitors. At that point, you might as well get the excellent and surprisingly affordable Comcast Xfinity system and call it a day.

Frontpoint home security review: An ace DIY system grounded by expensive subscription fees
© Provided by CNET Frontpoint’s $65 camera is the best deal in its hardware lineup. David Priest/CNET

But… is it good?

The monthly fee disappointed me in part because I actually really liked working with Frontpoint. Setup was painless, and the app was fairly accessible, even while packing in a lot of features and information.

All the basic devices work as you’d expect them to, and the $65 indoor camera, designed by Alarm.com, is a solid deal. It offers 1080p resolution and a 110-degree viewing angle (I personally like wider-angle lenses for security cameras, but for an indoor option, 110 degrees will almost always do the trick). The camera is a breeze to set up, and as I mentioned before, can record and send notifications based on a variety of user-determined rules.

The video doorbell has 720p resolution with a 170-degree camera — no 1:1 aspect ratio here, though, despite it making the most sense for video doorbells, where people want to see packages on the ground as much as the faces of people standing only a foot or two away. I wasn’t able to set up and test the video doorbell because my previous doorbell damaged my house’s wiring, but Frontpoint uses a branded device from Skybell, which makes doorbells we’ve tested and liked before.

The other third-party offerings are solid, too, and Frontpoint doesn’t inflate its prices. You can integrate a Yale smart deadbolt, for instance, and you’ll pay a little less for it on Frontpoint’s website than Amazon’s. Ditto the Jasco light bulbs and Alarm.com thermostat.

These gadgets are all respectable — and it’s refreshing not to see upcharges on third-party gadgets when that’s so common. But besides the excellent Yale lock, none of these devices compete with the best stand-alone versions available, like Arlo’s latest video doorbells or cameras, or any of our favorite smart light bulbs.

This isn’t a deal breaker, but it does highlight a problem with Frontpoint’s general value proposition. Home automation is a key justification for the company’s $45 monthly fee, but when the smart home devices available are curated by Frontpoint and offer hit-or-miss quality, you have to ask: Why not just use the connection with Alexa or Google Assistant to allow people to choose their own smart bulbs, locks and thermostats to integrate with?

The takeaway

Frontpoint offers a solid security system, with performance akin to SimpliSafe or Abode. It even bests these DIY competitors in a handful of price categories — especially with a few of its smart home device offerings. 

But the outrageous monthly monitoring fee will rightly turn off a lot of people. Frontpoint’s customers will pay anywhere from $240 to $420 more per year than SimpliSafe customers — and that number is closer to $500 more than budget DIY systems like Wyze. You usually buy a home security system for the long run, not just a year or two, so that difference in monitoring fees will mean thousands of dollars for many, if not most, customers.

The new Frontpoint ID Protect feature, which is a free addition to the monthly monitoring fee, offers an interesting dimension to this conversation that most competitors don’t really address — and it may or may not be a feature that makes this package more appealing to you. While it makes that $45 monthly fee slightly easier to swallow, though, paying over $500 per year on an ongoing basis just feels a little too expensive, unless you’re all-in on every feature offered.

If you’re ready to pay that kind of money for security alone, a provider like Comcast Xfinity will offer better support at a comparable price (actually a little cheaper). If the appeal of DIY security is its affordability, then you’re better off sticking to more affordable-over-time options like those offered by SimpliSafe, Abode or Wyze.

Correction, July 1: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described which voice assistants Frontpoint integrates with. Frontpoint works with both Google Assistant and Alexa.

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