In terms of mind share, ADT is the security industry’s market leader—and the company takes full advantage of it: ADT won’t reveal even ballpark pricing info to consumers over the phone. It charges extra for features we consider essential. Its representatives provided cagey answers to several of our fact-checking questions. And this is the only company we dealt with that restricts the make and model of Z-Wave devices you can add to the system it installs in your home.
We reviewed ADT’s Pulse Premier system, which consists of a primary alarm panel mounted inside a steel wall-mount cabinet, a plastic control panel with a text-only LCD and a rubber keypad, a second control panel with a seven-inch LCD touch-screen, and a Z-Wave control module with an integrated Wi-Fi access point. This was the only system of the three we reviewed that did not include a GSM module by default. This is a major drawback since, as we’ve already reported, a burglar can prevent the system from reporting an alarm even without gaining access to the interior of your home by simply cutting your land line. The package ADT sent for review included an added-cost GSM module.
By housing its primary panel and GSM module in discrete enclosures, ADT makes it more difficult for burglars to disable the system before it can alert ADT's monitoring station (note: included Z-Wave thermostat and in-wall Z-Wave switch not shown).
You’ll want to hide the steel cabinet in a closet or perhaps in the garage. The Z-Wave/Wi-Fi access point should be located in a more central area of your home, but it must be hard-wired to your router using CAT-5/6 cable to provide the wireless cameras and the GE touch-screen with Internet access (ADT’s system establishes its own dedicated wireless network, and the customer is not allowed to connect anything else to it). All other system data—sensor activity, alerts, etc.—is sent to ADT’s monitoring station over the GSM connection.
We put the GSM module, which is also housed inside a steel cabinet, in a bedroom closet. You’ll need electrical outlets for each of these four devices, and the plastic control panel, the GSM module, and the Z-Wave/Wi-Fi access point must all be hard-wired to the primary panel. ADT does send a qualified electrician out with their installer, but a permanent installation will likely involve drilling holes in your walls, rendering this a less-than-ideal solution for apartment and condo dwellers or frequent movers.
HOME SECURITY FEATURES
The rest of the security features in the Pulse Premier package include one motion detector, one wireless smoke detector, two fixed-position wireless IP cameras, and two rather unsightly surface-mount door/window sensors (ADT offers low-profile and recessed sensors at additional cost, but ADT declined to inform us how much). When we asked if ADT’s system offered protection from crash-and-smash break-ins, ADT’s representative evaded the question with this response: “To answer this question would require us to give information as to where and how we install panels. For our customers’ security we cannot provide an answer.” We interpret that answer as “No.”
ADT installed these plus-sized sensors (middle) without asking if we'd prefer something less obtrusive (available only at extra cost). FrontPoint Security and Vivint provide slim-line door/window sensors (right), and Vivint installs recessed door sensors at no additional cost (left).
Unlike FrontPoint and Vivint, ADT’s Pulse system does not support Z-Wave door locks or deadbolts, although our ADT contact did tell us the company was “currently evaluating locks, and our intention is to support them in the near future.” ADT offers only fixed-position cameras that do not have motion detectors. Cameras that are equipped with motion sensors can act autonomously, capturing photos or video in response to movement even if no other sensor has been tripped. You can, however, link the system’s other sensors to trigger each camera to record based on four parameters: Trigger Device (door/window sensor, motion detector, smoke detector, etc.), Event (tripped, opened, closed, etc.), Active (during selected days and times, only when the alarm system is armed, and so on), and Action (record a video clip or take a snapshot). ADT’s control panel can also serve as a camera trigger, so any alarm event (arm/disarm, duress signal) can trigger any or all of the system’s cameras to capture video.
You can configure the Pulse system to send an email and/or a text message (with or without a video clip or snapshot attached) whenever trigger events occur (e.g., when a door opens), when a system event occurs (an alarm goes off, for instance, or a device is tampered with), and when an expected action does not occur (your alarm system is not disarmed by a given time to indicate that your child has arrived home from school). In the event of any alarm in which the panel sends an alert to ADT’s monitoring station, an operator will call the contact numbers you’ve provided until they reach someone for further direction. If they can’t reach anyone, they’ll call police or fire authorities, as appropriate, to dispatch a response.
HOME CONTROL FEATURES
ADT Pulse Premier’s home-control features include a Z-Wave thermostat and one in-wall Z-Wave switch, which is a much better alternative to the plug-in modules that FrontPoint and Vivint provide (ADT provides one plug-in module, too). You can acquire additional Z-Wave devices from ADT, or you can purchase and install them on your own, but ADT’s system restricts your choices to specific models of switches, dimmers, and plug-in modules from GE Lighting and Leviton; two Z-Wave thermostats, both from Radio Thermostat Company of America (ADT’s system was the only one not capable of supporting multi-zone HVAC systems); and GE Lighting’s Z-Wave remote control model 45601. ADT prohibits you from installing any Z-Wave device not on its list, including multi-button scene and zone controllers from GE and Leviton.
You can establish schedules in which events occur automatically, such as turning Z-Wave-controlled lights on and off, snapping pictures with the cameras, and even automatically arming and disarming. Events can be randomized, too, so that the lights don’t go on and off at exactly the same time every day (useful when you’re on vacation and want the house to look lived in).
You can also program sensors to control Z-Wave devices, so that opening your front door automatically turns on the chandelier in your foyer, for example. These automations, as ADT refers to them, can follow the same rules as the triggers we’ve described previously. But unlike the FrontPoint and Vivint systems, you can’t assign multiple devices to a single automation. Programming the system so that an alarm event turns on six Z-Wave-controlled lights in the house and Z-Wave-controlled lights on the front and back porch requires establishing eight separate automations. What’s more, programming those lights to automatically turn off (within 10 minutes, say, or after the sensor closes) would require another eight automations.
SYSTEM COST AND CONCLUSION
We added the GSM module, one key fob, and one additional door/window sensor to our evaluation system, which bumped its installed price from $1,299 to $1,599, plus a monthly monitoring fee of $57.99. ADT does allow customers to make certain device substitutions: You can swap the Z-Wave thermostat for two in-wall Z-Wave light switches or dimmers, for instance. ADT does not require a credit check to sell you a Premier system, but you must put your John Hancock on a 36-month contract.
As a home-security system, our single biggest criticism of ADT’s Pulse Premier system is that it offers the least protection against crash-and-smash break-ins of any of the three systems we evaluated. We also don’t like the fact that ADT’s IP cameras don’t have motion sensors. From a home-control perspective, ADT is way behind the curve when it comes to supporting Z-Wave locks, and programming ADT’s home-control software is too time consuming. We also don’t appreciate ADT dictating which Z-Wave lighting controls we can deploy. FrontPoint and Vivint don’t fully support every Z-Wave device, either, but these companies don’t prohibit you from using them. In sum, the ADT Pulse Premier system is too expensive and has too many shortcomings to earn our recommendation.
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$1,5499 installed, plus $57.99 per month
Primary panel and GSM module enclosed in steel boxes. System reports status of Z-Wave devices. Licensed electrician at installation.
No crash-and-smash protection. GSM module costs extra. Limited Z-Wave device support.
|ADT Pulse Premier ||FrontPoint Security||Vivint|
|Control Panel||Safewatch Pro 3000||GE Simon XT||2Gig Go!|
|GSM Module||DSC GS3060-ADTRF||Integrated in GE Simon XT||Integrated in 2Gig Go!|
|Keypad ||Safetwatch Pro 3000EN ||Integrated in GE Simon XT||Integrated in 2Gig Go! |
|Wi-Fi Module ||iHub 3001B ADT ||Uses consumer's router||Uses consumer's router|
|Z-Wave Module ||Integrated in the iHub ||Integrated in GE Simon XT||Integrated in 2Gig Go!|
|Touch-screen||GE IS-TS-1000 ||GE Two-way Talking Touch Screen||Integrated in 2Gig Go!|
|Door/Window Sensors ||Three surface mount (recessed door sensors available at additional cost) ||Three surface mount (recessed door sensors available at additional cost)||Three surface mount (recessed door sensors available at additional cost)|
|IP Cameras ||Two fixed-position wireless without motion sensors ||Two fixed-position wireless with motion sensors||Two fixed-position wireless with motion sensors|
|Smoke Detector ||Wireless smoke/heat ||Wireless smoke/heat||Wireless smoke/heat|
|In-wall Z-Wave Lighting Control||One GE 45609 on/off switch||Supported, but not included||Supported, but not included|
|Plug-in Z-Wave Module ||One GE 45603 ||One GE 45603||One GE 45603|
|Z-Wave Entry Lock ||Not supported and not included ||Schlage model FE599 entry lock (also compatible with Kwikset locks)||Kwikset entry locks (not compatible with Schlage locks)|
|Available Smartphone Apps||BlackBerry and iPhone||Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone||Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone|
|Central Office Monitoring||ADT||Alarm.com||Alarm.com|
|Minimum Contract||36 months ||36 months ||42 months |
|System Price||$1,599 ||$1,114||$348|
|Monthly Monitoring Fee||$57.99||$49.99||$68.99 |
 ADT does not sell any systems without a monitoring contract.
 Without a monitoring contract, FrontPoint's equipment price increases to $1,414, but its monitoring fee remains the same.
 Without a monitoring contract, Vivint's equipment price increases to $1,699 and its monitoring fee drops to $49.99
 A stock ADT Pulse Premier system sells for $1,299