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You can keep watch over your home—on the cheap.
One of the most useful things about a smartphone is the peace of mind it can offer when you go out of town. When you leave the house, no longer do you fear a thief sneaking in and stealing your laptop, or a fire ravaging your apartment. Home security apps may not prevent those problems from happening, but they will let you know the moment something’s amiss.
Today, there are a wide variety of home security apps and devices. Many options don’t even require any extra hardware purchase—you can just set up one or more old smartphones to monitor your abode. Others coordinate with a variety of smart home sensors. At any rate, you don’t have to pony up thousands for a built-in home security system these days. And on top of that, it’s easier to check in on your home than it’s ever been.
The best home security apps of 2017
Below are some of the most popular, best reviewed, and easiest-to-use home security apps and services available.
If to you, home security means home monitoring, Manything (free on iOS and Android) may be the cheapest and most convenient option available. Manything turns an old phone into a home security camera. You can set up one phone for free, but for multiple phones—and to store recorded data for up to 30 days—you’ll have to subscribe to a monthly Cloud Recording plan. These range in price from $2.99/month to $19.99/month.
On two recent trips, I’ve used Manything to monitor the front door area of my apartment. I get alerts for any visual activity, which in my case, mostly just ends up being my cat sprinting from her litter box back to the bedroom. With push notifications, I’m alerted instantaneously when there’s movement (although you can also choose to be notified for loud sounds, as well). If someone had broken in, I’d be able to call the cops or a neighbor ASAP. You can check the live feed and recorded motion/sound events on the Manything app, or online in a browser.
The only issue I’ve had using it thus far: The app quit working after five days, when I believe the phone restarted itself for an update.
Alfred Home Security Camera (free on Android) similarly provides smartphone-based home monitoring, over Wi-Fi or a 3G/4G network. Alfred sends your phone alerts when it detects motion activity, and you can customize the sensitivity level for those alerts. It also includes a two-way talking function. This is useful if you need to chat with the house sitter or to make it sound like someone’s at home.
For nighttime, the app also offers a night vision mode, and the ability to turn on the monitoring phone’s flash as a flashlight. You can also swap between the forward and rear-facing cameras. This app saves videos for seven days.
Some reviewers have been disappointed in Alfred’s video quality, which can vary depending on your phone model and connection speed. All in all, though, the interface is straightforward and easy to setup. Some find it’s a better app than the one that comes with their fancy home security system. You can pay $3.99/month to upgrade from the free version (and eliminate the in-app ads).
With Presence (free on iOS), you can just set up the iOS app with an old phone if you’re on a budget. If you’ve got extra cash to spend (or a bigger house), you can tack on additional motion sensors and entry sensors for a complete connected home security solution. You can grab individual sensors for as cheap as $34.95 apiece, or a full, multi-device security pack for $199.95 to $499.95.
People Power, the company behind Presence, also crowdfunded for a smartphone security camera robot called Presence 360. Presence 360, which isn’t on sale quite yet, is basically a motorized smartphone stand. It lets you set up to three vantage points for monitoring your home—if it’s set up in a central location. It can cycle through those viewing points automatically, and you can customize how long it spends at each location.
In the near future, Presence will work with your Amazon Alexa devices, as well. Right now, it’s compatible with other smartphone systems and accessories though, such as GE smart bulbs and Blue Line Innovations’ products.
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4. Vivint Smart Home
Vivint Smart Home integrates a smartphone app with a variety of connected home products. However, this one doesn’t have a free option: You’ll need to purchase both Vivint hardware and a monthly subscription package. For an all-encompassing connected-home security solution, it’s very highly regarded. It’s not cheap, though: A combination touch-screen panel, two door/window sensors, and a motion detector costs $549. And if you want 24/7 home monitoring on top of that, it’ll cost at least $39.99/month.
Depending on your needs, you can add a doorbell camera, smart lock, outdoor cameras, and more, though. You can get an estimate for a customized smart home solution by visiting the Vivint website and calling its customer support line.
In addition to using the Vivint Smart Home app, Vivint’s products also coordinate with the Amazon Echo and several connected thermostats.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.