Best smart security devices 2020: what they do, and which ones to buy | T3

Best smart security devices 2020: what they do, and which ones to buy

The best smart security devices make it easier to know your home is safe wherever you are. We'll tell you where to start, and what the best buys are

Best smart security devices
(Image credit: Arlo)

Security is one area where the rise of smart tech has been an immediate and obvious improvement – the best smart security tech enables you to know whether there's a problem at home the second something happens, and even gives you the power to see what's happening from anywhere, and respond appropriately.

It's brought the cost of effective home security down massively, and removes the need to have someone come in and install products onto the building itself, so smart security tech is viable for renters as well as owners.

There are many different approaches to smart security devices, though, so you need to know which is going to work best for your situation. These range from very low-impact options such as a single standalone smart camera with motion detection, right up to multi-sensor security systems with sirens and the full works (but that can send you notifications if anything happens when you're out, as well as blaring an alarm to the neighbours).

Which smart security buys are best for you?

We've outlined the key smart security device types below, what each kind of device is useful for, and our pick of the best of them.

Smart security camera system

If you’re looking for a way to add comprehensive security improvements to your home in a low-touch way, smart camera systems are the way to go. By a 'smart security camera system', we mean a set that uses satellite cameras usually connected to a base station, giving the cameras their own dedicated wireless connection so their feeds are less likely to be disrupted. The base station will perform some of the smart functions, and usually has the option of local storage, so if your internet drops out, the footage is still recorded centrally. These camera systems often have a lot of features beyond just recording footage that help them function more like larger security setups – they’ll have motion detection, and may have features such as spotlights, built-in sirens, two-way communication and more.

• See all of the best smart security camera systems

T3’s best smart security camera system pick

Best smart security: Arlo Pro 3

(Image credit: Arlo)

1. Arlo Pro 3

A smart security camera system that does a lot more too – and a T3 Awards 2020 winner

Reasons to buy
+Loads of great security features+Totally wireless camera design+Excellent image quality
Reasons to avoid
-Quite expensive-Options may be overwhelming for some

• Read our full Arlo Pro 3 review

This is an expensive setup to get into, but that’s because it’s so comprehensive, and so good – good enough to win our T3 Awards 2020 gong for Best Smart Security. The Arlo Pro 3 gives you totally wireless cameras that mount magnetically (starter packs will come with some mounts, but you can buy whatever you need) and are weatherproof, so you can place them absolutely anywhere. 

An Arlo starter system will give you a base station to connect to your router, and a number of cameras that connect to it over its own wireless connection. You can choose packs that come with two, three or four cameras to begin with, but you can also buy Arlo cameras individually and add them to your system later – it’s designed to be really flexible.

The reason we rate Arlo Pro 3 so highly is that it does so much, and it does it all excellently. The simple business of recording images is handled really well – HDR recording means it works great in bright sunlight, colour night vision means it gives you really useful images at night. A spotlight on each camera means they can be used as mini-floodlights (and will scare away some would-be intruders). Two-way talk on each camera means you can hear what’s going on, and yell at people. Each camera can also act as a siren, which you can trigger manually easily. But the cameras also listen out for things that sound like alarms, so can tell you if your fire alarm has gone off even when you’re out of the house.

There’s motion detection, of course, but the cameras can detect whether something is human, animal or another kind of motion, so you don’t get worried just because the cat’s in the garden.

And you can impressively customise what features should automatically activate themselves and when. It’s an in-depth system in terms of what it can do, but if you want comprehensive home security with nothing to install other than screwing a few mounts in place, there’s no better option.

It also works with Apple HomeKit, and with Alexa and Google Assistant, for viewing your camera feeds on compatible devices.


Cheap smart security camera

If you want to keep an eye on your home, but don’t need the depth and elaborateness of the kind of system mentioned above, you can grab a cheap smart camera designed with security in mind, but that isn’t so heavy on features. A low-price smart home camera will have motion detection, night vision and cloud recording, which are the key things you need to be able to watch your home from afar. The cheap models are plugged in, rather than battery powered, and most can still be wall-mounted, though some are better off being on shelves. If you want more security, you can usually add more than one of the same kind of camera to their apps without making things much more complicated.

• See all of the best cheap security cameras

T3's best cheap smart security camera

best security camera 2020 Neos SmartCam

(Image credit: Neos)

2. Neos SmartCam

The perfect starter security camera

Reasons to buy
+Incredible price+Excellent image quality+Free cloud storage plus local storage
Reasons to avoid
-Limited smart features compared to premium cameras

• Read our full five-star Neos Smartcam review

For under £30, the Neos Smartcam gives you all the basics you need from a smart security camera, in excellent quality. There's 1080p HD recording that's sharp, clear and bright, and short clips are stored for a week in the cloud for free – you can pay a subscription to capture longer clips that will be available for more time. 

On top of that, you've got motion and audio detection, with notifications delivered via the app (and it will capture video when it detects something), plus night vision that works really well. If you pay for the cloud subscription, you can also specify motion zones, meaning you can choose sections of the camera's view that it should ignore for motion detection (so a tree blowing outside of the window won't set it off, for example). 

You can use local microSD card storage as well as cloud storage, and it has a flexible stand designed for standing on a surface, or for wall mounting (with some useful fixtures in the box). It also uses geolocation for arming and disarming, so you won't get bothered by motion notifications when you're at home

It's a simply unbeatable package for the price – it may not have the more advanced detection or alarm features of expensive systems, but it's a tiny fraction of the price, and works almost flawlessly.


Smart security system

A smart security system is a lot like the classic style of home security system, but extra connectivity can make it easier to control, and means it tells you when there's a problem with a notification on your smartphone wherever you are – and it can tie together with other smart home tech. A system will include a control pad for arming and disarming, a siren that usually doubles as a hub for communicating with accessories, and a number of additional sensors, such as door and window opening sensors and motion detectors. Some include additional smart options, such as wireless tags to disarm the system with no effort.

T3's best smart security system pick

Best smart security: Yale Sync

(Image credit: Yale)

3. Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm Family Kit

A comprehensive smart security starter set

Reasons to buy
+Great set of core security options+Highly expandable+Works with other smart home tech
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly expensive to get into-No cellular backup

There are smart security system options from many manufacturers, and actually a lot of them are very similar in features, so it may be worth thinking about the ecosystem you want to go with – if you like the look of the Ring camera mentioned above, the Ring Alarm Security System might be your best choice, for example. But assuming you're not coming into it with any kind of existing ecosystem pull, this is our recommendation.

Obviously, Yale is a trusted name in security, but its security system gets our nod for being a really well thought-out setup in its own right, both in terms of the original kit and the expansion options. 

This Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm Family Kit is built around a base station, and all the other accessories connect to it wirelessly.

The accessories include a siren, of course, plus a keypad unit for arming and disarming the system, and three sensors: two motion detectors, and a door/window contact sensor. The motion detectors are exactly what they sound like, and you can tuck them into the corners of the ceiling to look over key areas of the house. The door/window contact sensor fits on the frame of a door or window, and can tell if it's been opened. They can all talk to the base unit over a range of around 200m, so distance is no problem.

The extendability is what we really like here: you can add more of the same motion sensors or door/window sensors, of course, but you can also add motion sensors that are smart enough to ignore pets, or a smoke/heat detector unit, or a panic button, and even special key fobs that turn off the alarm without you needing to actually bother with the code.

It also works with other smart home gear – for example, you can ask Alexa to check the current security status or to arm the system, and you can connect it to your Philips Hue lights, so they might come on or change colour when something unexpected happens.

Our only real issues is that, for telling you on your phone when something has happened, it relies totally on your Wi-Fi – so if that goes down, it becomes a regular 'dumb' alarm system. This is true for most of the competition too, though the Honeywell Evohome Security system does include a cellular backup communication option, if that's a dealbreaker for you.


Smart door lock

The idea of smart door locks is to keep your home as secure as ever, but to help avoid situations where someone with a key just can’t be home when needed, or to skip having to get a mass of spares cut for guests. With a smart lock, the door can be accessed by other means, which will depend on the lock. Some have keypads, and you can set up a code that will last only for a limited amount of time (or even single-use). Some have wireless access, and you can share the authority to unlock a door with someone’s phone (and, again, time-limit it or revoke it whenever you want). And they can be handy for locking and unlocking remotely, so that someone comes without their keys you can open it for them, or if someone tries to deliver something, you can open the door just to let them pop the parcel inside (this pairs really well with a smart doorbell – see below). What type of lock you need really depends on your door, so be sure to read our full test of the best smart door locks of all types. Our choice below is one we like for being widely applicable, and easy to install.

T3's best smart door lock choice

Best smart lock: Igloohome

(Image credit: igloohome)

4. Igloohome Smart Deadbolt 2S

A great design, useful features, and comes with everything you need

Reasons to buy
+Really great app+Looks great+Deadbolt lock useful for most doors

The Smart Deadbolt 2S is, as its name suggests, a deadbolt lock, and it comes with everything you need for installation (other than tools), including a deadbolt itself. This means you could add it to most existing doors easily an extra lock, or you could replace an existing deadbolt.

It looks smart, with a PIN pad that only lights up when you touch the panel, and a simple black design all over. You can use the (excellent) app to easily create PIN codes for someone to gain access, or it can be unlocked via phone. There is also a hidden keyhole for emergencies.

It's pretty easy to install, making it the ideal addition to an existing door if you just want to add the flexibility of smart locking.

The only major downside here is that it's not going to be ideal for PVC doors that use multi-point locks. For those, take a look at the Yale Conexis L1 Smart Lock, which is a smart handle/lock replacement for those doors, and is also extremely easy to install and get started with.

• Read our full Yale Conexis L1 Smart Lock review


Smart video doorbell

Smart doorbells are a major convenience – getting a notification on your phone whenever someone presses the button no matter where you are, and being able to see and talk to whoever’s there, means you’ll never miss a parcel or an important visit. But they can also be part of your home security setup, keeping an eye on the front of your house from eye level.

• See all the best video doorbells

T3's best smart video doorbell picks

Smart security system: Ring Video Doorbell

(Image credit: Ring)

5. Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus

Easy to install, and works wired or wirelessly

Reasons to buy
+Great video quality+Good battery life+Some clever motion-detection features
Reasons to avoid
-Smarts are a little limited-Fairly expensive

This is the most advanced doorbell from the company that’s become synonymous with the field – it includes intelligent motion detection (including being able to discern close movement from far away, and to tell when movement is a person rather than something else), Full HD video, two-way talk and, of course, it will notify you when someone presses the button or when it detects motion (your choice).

It can record video to the cloud (which requires a subscription) or you can use it solely to view live video without a subscription. The key feature that’s only available in this ‘Plus’ version is ‘Pre-Roll Video’, which enables you to see four seconds of black and white video of what happened before the motion detector triggered or the button was pushed, as well as what came after.

It runs on batteries or a wired connection, and it’s easy to pop the battery out for recharging, but it will last around two months anyway. It comes with all the major things you need to install it, including two optional wedge mounts to get the optimum viewing angle. Installation and setup are really easy, too.

For the privacy-conscious, a useful new feature is the ability to black out sections of the screen, blocking the camera’s views of those sections entirely – you could use this for your neighbour’s garden or windows, for example.


Smart security sensor

Security systems are usually based on a couple of key types of sensor: motion and contact. Motion sensors passively detect whether someone or something is moving about in range. Many smart cameras have this functionality built in, but you don’t need anything so techy for it – there are options that are more passive. These can then send a notification if they detect something, or can be set up to talk to other smart home tech. For example, a motion detector in the hallway could turn on some lighting when it detects someone walking past – or it can trigger a smart alarm to start blaring. Contact sensors are used on doors or windows, and they simply have a couple of units that can tell you whether that door or window is open or not. Again, they can be set to tell you when this happens (if a door opens when you’re out, for example), or they can trigger other smart home gear when this happens.

You'll have noticed that these sensors do feature as part of our smart security system choice further up the list, but here we're looking at getting the same functions without the siren and keypad and so on.

T3's best smart security sensors pick

Best smart security: samsung smartthings

(Image credit: Samsung)

6. Samsung SmartThings

Great sensors for doors/windows, and motion detection

Reasons to buy
+Inexpensive sensors+Some extra useful functionality+Wide smart home platform compatibility
Reasons to avoid
-Require a hub to work

Samsung’s smart home system is called SmartThings, and encompasses a broad range of product types. It’s the sensors we’re interested here, though – it sells both a motion sensor (called the SmartThings Motion Sensor) and a contact sensor (called the SmartThings Multipurpose Sensor) that also detects temperature and vibration, so it can detect if a door is being knocked on, or if someone is attempting to force a window.

The SmartThings system works with a wide range of other products, so there’s lots of other smart home tech these can tie into, or you can just use them to get notifications if anything changes. 

They require a hub of some kind – you can use an official SmartThings hub, but they can also connect directly to the Amazon Echo Plus’ built-in control hub. This SmartThings Starter Kit is really good value – it's a hub and a number of sensors, plus a smart plug control unit.

There is a whole smart security alarm system that works with them, very similar to the Yale system above, too. However, if you just want the sensors rather than the alarm and the rest of the gear, you can do that with SmartThings and save some money.


Smart smoke detector

They may not be security products in the more traditional sense, but smoke detectors are definitely vital to the overall safety of your home, and actually they can feature as part of a security setup, because some will function as the noisy part of a burglar alarm-type smart system. We’re mostly focused on their core functions here, though: detecting smoke (and, in many cases, carbon monoxide) and warning you when that’s the case, even if you’re not at home.

T3's best smart smoke detector pick

Best smart security: Google Nest Protect

(Image credit: Google)

7. Google Nest Protect

So much better than a regular smoke alarm

Reasons to buy
+Wired or wireless+Gives warnings before it goes off+Loads of really thoughtful features
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing major

This sleek box keeps a watch for both smoke and carbon monoxide, and what has always impressed us about it is that it’s smart in the ‘clever’ sense as well as the ‘connected’ sense – it feels like it was made for real-life, not to tick things off a spec list.

For a start, when it first detects smoke, it doesn’t go straight to a blaring alarm. It sends you a notification saying smoke has been detected, and announcers out loud in a friendly voice that smoke has been spotted, and that the alarm will sound if nothing changes. If the problem is just burnt chips, this gives you a grace period to open the window and clear the smoke, or you can just manually silence the alarm, knowing that you’ve got the situation under control. If you have more than one Nest Protect, it will also tell you exactly which room the problem is in when all this happens.

That feature alone makes us never want to go back to normal smoke detectors – no more false alarms that terrify the cat! – but it does lots more still. It self checks, for example, testing its own components multiple times per day, and running its own sound check once per month (in which its own microphone listens out for the sound, so it can run this while you’re out of the house). And when you turn the lights off, it gives you a single gentle flash of a green light to let you know everything is working correctly before you go to sleep.

It can also discern steam from smoke, so you don’t get false positives from a steamed up bathroom being opened. And it even functions as a night light: when someone walks under, it gives the perfect gentle glow to help you see your way.

And you can buy it to be battery powered or cabled in – your choice, and it’s the same price either way. It’s actually the smart home product we’d recommend most people should start with – it’s a truly undeniable upgrade over the dumb old system.