Earlier this year, two trucks carrying three men showed up at my home for an all-day installation of a Vivint security system. I shepherded my chatty 3- and 4-year-old boys out the door and my wife drove them to get egg bites at Starbucks while I did the initial walkthrough. Then we left for the day, went into the city, did some shopping, got ice cream and returned to find our house newly secured.
Security cameras, a smart thermostat, a video doorbell, a connected deadbolt, over a dozen sensors of various sorts and more dotted our home — though you wouldn’t notice most of the accoutrements without peering closely. Another quick walkthrough and explanation (thankfully brief; I’ve written about smart home devices for years, after all) and it was dinnertime.
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In the weeks that followed, I tested Vivint’s home security system — checked the security camera feeds, timed sensor latency and so on — thanks to the company providing the hardware and installation for a one-month trial period. And in general, Vivint has worked great. The experience is far more unified than you get with standalone devices and it’s all made consummately accessible through both the Vivint app and the central console — a touchscreen tablet affixed to your wall.
But for all its glister and gleam — or perhaps because of it — Vivint costs some serious money. My setup clocked in at about $3,680, though a spokesperson at Vivint told me the average customer buys about $2,400 worth of equipment. That can be paid up-front or with a monthly payment plan. Either way, the device-by-device approach to pricing (as opposed to other brands’ package pricing) is a double-edged sword: You get devices personalized to your needs, but you don’t really get the discount you’d expect when buying a package of equipment.
Given the high prices, Vivint seems aimed mostly at customers willing to spend significantly more for the added convenience — and for many, that’s a perfectly acceptable trade-off.
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The Vivint system
Before breaking down the Vivint system device by device, I want to talk a little about one of Vivint’s key strengths: its integration. I’ve tested Wi-Fi-connected tech since before voice assistants invaded the home, and integration has always been both the greatest point of pain and the greatest point of satisfaction in that work. In short, when an integrated home works, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, it’s a massive pain in the ass.
Two primary problems have plagued the integrated home for years: the problem of power (Wi-Fi drains batteries quickly, but routers don’t often communicate with low-energy radio protocols like Z-Wave or Zigbee), and the problem of continuity (some brands work with Alexa and Google Assistant, but not Siri; others are Apple-exclusive, etc.).
Whole-home systems like Vivint solve both of these problems: the Vivint Smart Hub has a Z-Wave receiver built into it, so low-energy devices like flood sensors and motion detectors (which you don’t want to constantly be changing the batteries in) work seamlessly with the larger system; and since all the devices are proprietary or curated by Vivint, everything communicates without issue.
In my few weeks testing Vivint, I didn’t have to do any trouble-shooting. Part of this may be my familiarity with the types of devices, but mostly it has to do with the solidly designed system. I showed the devices to my parents, and they both (despite being only somewhat tech-savvy) picked up scheduling for the thermostat with ease.
Not only is it easy to learn, but Vivint’s tools are genuinely useful. I closed the garage from the park after forgetting when I pulled out the kids’ bikes. The car guard alerted me when my wife was on the way home from a midday grocery run, so I could get our lunch started. The day after we installed the Vivint home security system, my 3-year-old dropped a glass plate in the kitchen downstairs and my phone immediately pinged me that the glass break sensor had gone off — which I wouldn’t have known otherwise, as I was on the opposite side of the house.
In only a week or two of moderate use, I immediately saw the benefits of some of these devices — and I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to have flood sensors where they are now when our HVAC spouted a leak last year.
Flood sensors can protect the easily forgotten nooks and crannies of your house safe from accidental water damage.
I found the smart plugs to be a little less useful, but that’s likely just due to my personal preferences and usage patterns: I’m more likely to flip switches than to give voice commands to Alexa or set schedules for my lights, in part because it still feels like less work in most cases.
Finally, while Vivint works great as a smart home integration system, it’s also first and foremost (at least for most customers) a security system. Again, as with its integration, Vivint is strong here: it offers 24/7 professional monitoring for $30 per month (a comparable price to most competitors). There’s the standard options here, including empty-house monitoring and nighttime monitoring.
Now let’s dive into the individual devices I tested out while using Vivint.
Here’s a breakdown of my Vivint bill:
Starter kit: $500 (includes Hub, 2 door window sensors, motion detector, flood sensor)
Vivint Smart Drive: $250
2 outdoor cameras: $800 ($400)
8 extra door/window sensors: $400 ($50 each)
2 glass break sensors: $100 ($50 each)
1 indoor camera: $200
1 Vivint Car Guard: $200
1 Kwikset Smart Lock: $180
1 Vivint Smart Thermostat: $170
3 Smart plugs: $150 ($50 each)
1 Doorbell Camera Pro: $130
1 extra motion detector: $100
2 extra flood sensors: $100
Smoke detector: $100
CO detector: $100
myQ garage door opener: $100
Before diving in point by point, a few observations regarding my bill: Vivint charges a $100 installation fee, but that fee is often waved for various promotions — and if you decide to get their system, you should avoid paying that extra money. But even with the fee waved, some of these devices feel more overpriced than others. I’ll explore the pricing in more detail below, but for now note the $400(!) outdoor cameras. Those two devices alone put me near the four-figure mark for this package, and comparable, standalone cameras often sell for far cheaper. I mean, you can get a pretty nice, Wi-Fi connected and outdoor-graded camera these days for under $30.
On the other hand, $130 for a video doorbell isn’t a bad price at all, considering that many standalone devices cost between $100 and $250. All this is to say, some of Vivint’s hardware is better priced and some worse, and what kind of security system you want may determine whether Vivint will meet your needs for a reasonable fee or will wring your wallet dry.
Vivint’s Hub is usually affixed the wall, and features an easy-to-navigate interface.
The starter kit
The heart of Vivint’s smart home is a $500 package of devices including the touchscreen Vivint Smart Hub, two door/window sensors, a flood sensor and a motion detector. It’s a bit pricey for the hardware alone, but if you think about it as the core smarts holding the larger system together, $500 might feel a little more palatable.
The operating system on the display and the Vivint app on your phone are both simple and straightforward to use. They give you a lot of flexibility, with setting schedules and learning about the potential of your newly integrated smart home, and they’re also accessible enough that less tech-savvy users will be able to navigate the interface without much trouble.
Sensors aren’t the devices that usually get people excited about a connected home, but they’re a core component to make the whole system run seamlessly. You can program your smart plugs to flip on lights when you open the front door, or you can make your thermostat turn down the temperature when your motion detectors haven’t picked up any movement in over four hours. In addition, the various sensors add a ton of security to the house: protecting against break-ins, obviously, but also against leaks, fires and other hazards — like kids cutting themselves on a broken plate.
I wish these devices were a little cheaper, or came with bulk discounts, because these are the simple devices that many people would want to load up on. I only outfitted the first floor of my house with door/window sensors, and that resulted in about $400 on top of the sensors that come with the Vivint starter kit. Those prices are especially painful when you compare them to, say, SimpliSafe door/window sensors, which you can pick up for a quarter the price at Best Buy.
The motion detectors feel similarly overpriced, as do the flood sensors and glass break sensors to a lesser degree. But even slightly overpriced devices quickly add up if you’re really wanting to give yourself thorough security coverage.
The cameras and the drive
As mentioned above, Vivint’s proprietary cameras — especially the outdoor ones — are expensive. They’re nice gadgets, providing features like automatic deterrent messages if they sense motion and hardwiring to a Wi-Fi bridge inside to give them better connection. Plus, having them professionally installed saves a big headache. But I honestly can’t imagine spending $400 on an outdoor camera when I could get top-of-the-line ones from Arlo for just over half that — or even solidly designed ones from Wyze for $24.
When I asked Vivint about the high price on the camera, a spokesperson said, “The Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro has better build quality [than more affordable competitors], a 4K HDR sensor and edge analytics that give you faster AI and notifications, unique deter technology, professional installation and the assurance that if anything goes wrong, we’ll fix it.”
They also mentioned the hardwiring to the Wi-Fi bridge for reliable connectivity.
Vivint’s $400 outdoor camera feels overpriced when compared to comparable standalone devices.
Many of the specs don’t sound quite as impressive when lined up against a competitor’s. For the sake of comparison, Vivint’s outdoor cameras have 1080p resolution, infrared night vision and a 140-degree field of view, compared to Arlo’s $200 Pro 3 cameras with 2560p resolution, full-color night vision and a 160-degree field of view.
At $200, the indoor camera is a little less offensively priced, and includes a call button for, say, kids wanting to communicate with parents at work. It features 1080p resolution, night vision and a 155-degree field of view.
The best camera device Vivint offers is easily its doorbell cam, which offers 180-degree field of view and a 1:1 aspect ratio — meaning you’ll be able to see people’s whole bodies, even when they’re standing a couple of feet from the lens. In addition, it can provide person and package notifications, all for $130. That would be a solid deal, even if it weren’t part of Vivint’s larger system.
Vivint offers 14-day cloud storage of 10-90-second variable length video clips for its cameras, but you can also keep 30 days of 24/7 footage locally using the $250 1-terabyte Smart Drive. While the Smart Drive is available at the time of this writing, however, a Vivint spokesperson said soon-to-release Vivint cameras won’t require the device for local storage, and a new service plan will include the Smart Drive in the starter kit until those cameras release.
The lock and the garage door opener
It may seem odd to lump a deadbolt with a garage door opener, but these are the two primary devices that aren’t Vivint-branded. Instead, the lock comes from Kwikset and the garage door opener comes from Chamberlain — two long-established companies in their respective fields.
Both the Kwikset smart lock and the Chamberlain myQ garage door opener work well, letting you secure your home remotely or while you’re getting into bed. They’re solidly designed gadgets, and we’ve reviewed them (or closely related devices) positively in the past.
The one problem here is that both devices are significantly upcharged. The myQ sells for $30 at most retailers, but Vivint provides it for $100. The Kwikset lock sells for around $100, but Vivint provides it for $170. Again, you can think about this as a sort of built-in installation and integration fee, but at some point, the upcharges may feel a little exorbitant, especially if you pay the actual $100 installation fee.
Many of Vivint’s supporting devices are run of the mill — but key into the larger integrated system in service of a more unified user experience.
The rest of the gadgets and integrations
The rest of Vivint’s gadgets are fairly standard: the smart plugs and thermostat do what you’d expect them to (though, at risk of sounding like a broken record, $50 for a Z-Wave smart plug is… about $30 too much, especially since you can buy your own and integrate them in a couple of minutes).
In addition, Vivint works with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant — though the integrations feel a little basic. I couldn’t call up any of my camera feeds on my Echo Show, for instance (if you ask, it just pulls up the stream on your Hub screen). Asking for details on the security system still, in the Year of our Lord 2021, requires stilted phrasing like, “Alexa, ask Vivint if my security system is armed.”
I’d love to see integrations with voice assistants strengthened, particularly if Vivint wants to continue branding itself as a smart home system as much as a security system.
I really enjoyed my time with Vivint. I haven’t personally used a professionally installed security system in years, and seeing all the ways I was genuinely grateful to have the monitoring made me second-guess that decision. Paying for each of the devices might land me right back where I started, since the up-front technology costs feel overpriced almost across the board.
For many people, the price will be worth avoiding the hassle of installation and integration. If that headache is worth more to you than the hundreds of dollars you’d save by outfitting your house with a DIY security system and a few standalone devices — and it very well may be — then Vivint will be a great home security system for you.
Correction, March 15: A previous version of this review said the average Vivint customer buys $1,500 worth of equipment; the correct figure is $2,429.