APX Alarm Security Solutions, armed with a hefty new investment from Goldman Sachs, relaunched itself as Vivint in early 2011 and embarked on a major push into the home-control market. Thanks to leading-edge technology and extremely aggressive prices—the company heavily subsidizes its customers’ equipment purchases in exchange for longer-than-typical 42-month service contracts—we think Vivint has become the company to beat.
Vivint’s home-security/home-control system includes everything we like about FrontPoint Security’s system, including Alarm.com monitoring services, but the 2Gig Go! touch-screen control panel that Vivint installs is considerably more advanced than the Simon XT products that FrontPoint offers. Vivint’s monthly monitoring fee, however, is considerably higher than FrontPoint’s: $68.99 per month versus $49.99. If you pay for a complete system up front, on the other hand, Vivint will reduce its monitoring fee to $49.99. In that case, the system we built out would cost $1,699, versus a subsidized cost of $348 (a $199 activation fee plus $149 for one additional camera). Refer to the spec chart for details.
We do wish Vivint’s prices were as transparent as FrontPoint’s, and you will have to deal with a salesperson to purchase a system. You can arm yourself for that experience with this information: A stock Home Automation package consists of the control panel, one IP camera, one motion sensor, one key fob, and three door/window sensors. It also includes the following Z-Wave devices: one thermostat, one door lock, and one plug-in lamp module. Vivint uses a point system to value some of these components, and the company gives you a bank with nine points (although the stock package we just described will leave you with just two points left over).
Wireless door/window sensors are worth one point each, while motion and smoke detectors are worth two points each. Since the stock Home Automation package does not include a smoke detector—a component we feel is essential to any home-security system—you can “spend” your two remaining points to add one without kicking in more cash. If you want two additional door/window sensors, you can trade something else—say, a motion detector—or you can buy two more points for $30 each. Sales representatives also have some flexibility to negotiate, and they can sacrifice part of their commission in order to close a deal. That’s fine if you enjoy haggling, but we prefer straightforward dollars-and-cents transactions.
Vivint uses Alarm.com for alarm monitoring, and the 2Gig Go! control panel, which boasts a large color touch-screen, delivers full crash-and-smash protection. That means the police will be dispatched even if a burglar disables the panel before it goes into a full alarm state. The panel displays the system’s status, the day’s weather forecasts, and severe weather alerts (including tornado warnings for customers living in regions of the country subject to that phenomenon). This is an all-in-one device with an integrated GSM module and a 24-hour back-up battery. It connects to your Wi-Fi router wirelessly.
This was the only panel we reviewed that supported two-way voice over GSM. This enables a Vivint representative to speak with you right at the panel in the event of an emergency to ask whether you need police, fire, or medical assistance. If they can’t reach you at the panel, of course, they’ll call your other contact numbers before automatically dispatching emergency services. The panel also has a one-touch button for summoning help in an emergency.
Vivint was the only company out of the three to include a Z-Wave door lock (a Kwikset model) in its standard package (FrontPoint supports Schlage locks, but does not sell them, and ADT does not support Z-Wave door locks at all). Vivint, meanwhile, does not support Schlage locks. Kwikset locks feature a motorized bolt that retracts when the correct code is entered on its keypad or when a command is sent over the Z-Wave network. The bolt can be put into the locked position in the same fashion. Schlage locks can be unlocked using the keypad or a remote command, but you must physically turn a knob to retract the bolt.
Vivint provides the same indoor fixed-position and pan/tilt IP cameras as FrontPoint, but Vivint does not offer outdoor cameras. Vivint also limits you to four cameras (deploying between five and eight cameras will add another $10 to your monthly bill). The motion sensors on the cameras won’t trigger an alarm directly, but they can be configured to send you an email or text message when they detect movement, and they’ll automatically upload a video clip to Alarm.com’s servers. This means the recording will be protected even if a burglar destroys the camera. None of Alarm.com’s cameras are outfitted with night vision, however, so one feature that we’d like to see added is the ability to turn on a Z-Wave-controlled light while viewing the camera remotely. As it stands, you must turn on the light in one step and then navigate to the camera window.
Vivint’s Home Automation package includes one Z-Wave thermostat and one Z-Wave plug-in module, but the system will support most other Z-Wave devices. If you want in-wall devices, you’ll need to hire an electrician or install them yourself. We tested Vivint’s system with a mixture of in-wall Z-Wave lighting controls from GE and Leviton and at one point had 54 Z-Wave devices in the network (including two locks and a thermostat).
As much as we like 2Gig’s panel and Alarm.com’s software, we do have some criticisms. First and foremost, the panel allows you to assign a unique name to each Z-Wave device (the panel also informs you of each Z-Wave device’s network node number, which is very useful when you have a large network), but this information is not passed on to Alarm.com. That means you must enter those unique names twice: First into the panel and then into Alarm.com’s web site.
Third, neither the control panel nor the website informs you of the current status of Z-Wave lighting controls. All three systems (ADT, FrontPoint, and Vivint) report the status of a Z-Wave thermostat (current temp, target temp, and heating or cooling mode), and the FrontPoint and Vivint systems report the status of Z-Wave locks (locked or unlocked). But only ADT’s can tell you if a Z-Wave-controlled light is on or off, the Vivint and FrontPoint systems merely report each light’s status as “OK.”
The balance of Vivint’s home-control system (and FrontPoint’s, too, since they both use Alarm.com’s back-end) is vastly superior to ADT’s. With ADT, you must establish two rules for every device for every event (one rule to automatically turn a light when a monitored door opens, for instance, and a second rule to turn it off). With just one rule in Alarm.com’s system, you can turn on every single Z-Wave-controlled unit if the system goes into an alarm state. Or you can establish one rule that will turn on a pathway of interior lights from the front of the house to the back when you open the front door, and have them all automatically turn off five minutes later.
If you want a state-of-the-art security system that integrates all the most important home-control features, but don’t have a lot of cash, Vivint offers a compelling package. In the long run, however, it would be wiser to pay for the hardware up front and qualify for the lower monthly monitoring fee.
Note: This review is part of a three-product roundup. You can read the entire story here.
$348 installed, plus $68.99/month; or
$1,699 installed plus $49.99/month
Best-in-class control panel. Crash-and-smash protection. Comprehensive Z-Wave device support.
Confusing pricing model. System does not report status of Z-Wave devices.
|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