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19 May 2020

Should you consider a smart burglar alarm or wireless camera?

Don't get caught out on cost or security concerns

When it comes to adding security to your home, there are plenty of options to choose from. A standard, 'bells-only' burglar alarm is the most popular, according to a recent Which? survey. At the other end of the tech spectrum are smart alarms and wireless cameras. But are they worth the extra spend?

Smart security is likely to bring an extra level of peace of mind. You can quickly check on your home wherever you are, without needing to rely on neighbours to respond to the sound of your alarm, or paying for a monitoring contract that alerts the police directly when there's an intruder.

However, smart home security systems can be pricey - we've heard from owners who've paid more than £500. Plus, they sometimes come with hidden costs and subscriptions that mean you could end up paying more than you expected to keep your home secure.

It might be tempting to opt for a wireless security camera instead. But these too sometimes come with additional costs and, in some cases, security concerns.

Keep reading to find out what smart burglar alarms and wireless security cameras can provide, plus the additional costs you need to know about before you buy.

Related: the best burglar alarm brands, according to those who own them.

Smart burglar alarms and wireless security cameras: what do they do?

A smart burglar alarm, or smart home security system, is essentially a burglar alarm (with motion sensors) that includes a wireless camera, where both connect to your smartphone or tablet.

You can then use your device to watch footage from the camera and get an alert if a motion sensor detects an intruder, even when you're miles away. Some of them can also be programmed to notify the police directly.

Smart home security systems can include a range of sensors (for doors, windows, rooms and outside), indoor and outdoor cameras - what you get depends on the brand and package you choose.

Wireless security cameras let you watch what's going on in your home from an app, or your computer.

Some have features including built-in motion detection, night vision, facial recognition and you can even tag family members so the camera knows when they are at home.

Others have two-way audio so you can talk to your family - or make a burglar nervous.

See our latest wireless security camera test results.

Both options give you constant access to your home's security camera - and the temptation to check it. Consider whether this will give you extra peace of mind, or be a source of anxiety.

Watch out for cheap wireless cameras

If you do opt for a wireless security camera, do your research carefully before you buy. There are plenty of cheap cameras doing the rounds on online marketplaces, but we've good reason to believe you should be wary of cutting corners. Last year we discovered more than 50,000 internet-connected cameras being sold through Amazon and other online retailers that could have critical security flaws.

Be wary of brands you don't recognise, especially if you don't find a reputable looking website for the company after a quick search around online. If in doubt, stick to well-known brands or read our security camera reviews to find a reliable model.

We run a full security test on all wireless cameras so you can be confident that what you're buying won't leave you vulnerable.

Smart home security costs

Smart burglar alarm owners most commonly paid between £201 and £300 for their alarm, according to our survey. But a range of prices are available.

Once bought, you'll need to install it. Just 16% of our survey respondents said they did the installation themselves.

Some 31% got it installed by the company they bought the smart alarm from. They most commonly paid between £401 and £600 for the alarm and installation combined (34% of respondents). One in three paid between £201 and £400 and one in five said they spent between £601 and £800 in total.

You'll also need to take into account any ongoing subscription costs. 65% of those in our survey with a smart alarm system said they pay a regular subscription fee.

Read more: burglar alarms and installation costs.

Family watching a film
Wireless security cameras are generally cheaper to buy upfront, with basic cameras starting from around £30 to above £150 for a premium model. Plus, you should be able to set them up yourself without too much hassle.

But they can come with extra costs too. Some wireless cameras require ongoing payments to send you notifications or access video footage (especially older footage).

  • Canary provides limited features for non-paying members - you can only record 30-second video clips to view later. Full membership costs £7.99 per month or £79 per year, and gives 30 days of video history, two-way audio and the ability to stream to your laptop or desktop PC.
  • Hive charges £4.99 per month for access to the last 30 days' camera history (you get 24 hours free of charge).
  • iOn charges extra if you want to store video footage for more than 24 hours. For example, seven-day storage costs around £8 per month (£95 per year).
  • Motorola charges a subscription if you want to watch footage captured when movement is detected. Its basic package, providing 24-hour video history for two cameras, costs £2.99 per month (£29.99 per year).
  • Nest's extra features, including intelligent facial recognition and storing recordings securely for up to 30 days, require a subscription to Nest Aware. This costs £4 per month upwards.
  • Swann's One alarm charges users to see saved footage from their camera. The free option lets you see the video live stream and list of when alerts were sent (but without a video snapshot).

So it's worth weighing-up the upfront costs of the wireless camera or full smart home security system alongside any ongoing subscription charges before you make your buying decision.

Most popular burglar alarm brands

Yale, Honeywell and Abel were the most commonly owned smart burglar alarm brands in our survey.

They differ from the most popular alarms brands overall: ADT and Chubb. So if you're choosing a smart alarm system, it's worth considering brands you're less familiar with.

Head to our best burglar alarm brands results too, to read reviews of each brand and find out what customers think of their alarms, including ratings for value for money and ease of setting up.

Which? burglar alarms research

We surveyed 2,083 members of the public online in January 2019 about their burglar alarm.