Simplisafe review page 2 – weaknesses
Update 2016- At this point there are some better options. Samsung Smartthings is $100 and can be tied to a monitoring system. You can use any brand of sensors and connect to ITTT. I would wait on the IoT until the new 802.11AH devices are out. The newer wireless protocol is on 900MHz so it will go through walls better, use less power and supports something like 8000 devices per hub. Simplisafe is limited enough that I stopped buying sensors, I’m slowly building a replacement.
My plan is to sell my simplisafe system in 6 months to a year as I get my samsung smartthings hub tuned up and add more devices. There is a whole new world opening up with 3rd party devices Simplisafe doesn’t play with –auto shutoff for the water main, ties to the sprinkler system and smoke detectors. You can flip certain sprinkler zones on if the smoke alarms are going off. This years samsung TVs all tie in to their security gear. Many vendors out there. Fibaro makes a badass combo motion/temp/vibration/light sensor that looks like a cat eye. Apple is still proprietary and overpriced. Comcast is horribly priced (please buy comcast security so my stock keeps going up.) It is a tough time to shop right now.
If you want something super easy, simplisafe is ok. They haven’t added much in the way of new stuff and their interface is very dated. I don’t see them lasting a lot longer if they don’t start innovating in a serious way. It does work as advertised and has been working fine for 3 years in my home. I am just now starting to replace batteries in sensors.
This article is a little dated as well. ADT was the big competition. They are dinosaurs, don’t waste your time looking at ADT.
Keep in mind when reading these, when ADT has the same it will probably cost more up front and more forever. I started laughing when I looked at the installation costs for Comcast at my new house. I’m not touching them.
Simplisafe’s Assumption that users are dumb:
It is made to be simple. Once you learn it, it is almost too simple. I think simplisafe should have an advanced user status exemplified by bright people in the forums. If you have fewer than say 3 false alarms in year you become eligible for advanced features. That should keep the tech support calls to a minimum. Some of my complaints could seem advanced at first but after anyone uses the system long enough they might have feature requests like me and a few friends I have helped with installs. I think the demographics of a simplisafe user lean toward tech savvy compared to old school ADT bait and switch victims. It would be pretty easy to build an API and make the advanced features a use at your own risk responsibility of a 3rd party.
Lack of multiple zones:
ADT does let you do many zones. It is based on what board you have but you are able to upgrade. I run 3 at my office.
Simplisafe could solve a few of my problems with multiple zones, but this probably does not effect folks who don’t have a detached garage, mother in law apartment or want to watch outbuildings, barns etc. Yes folks have barns that house million dollar tractors, not just alarm inducing livestock, visit one. I would like to set the alarm for the house when I’m camped out in the garage all day. Or set it on the detached garage when I am in the house all day. I can solve this by buying a second system but don’t want to pay for it. If users have a hard time with the zone concept, SS could add an LCD to the touchpad that can show a user uploaded drawing. A few weeks of code and different hardware can solve this issue. Parts are cheap, much cheaper than when these were invented because China is amazing.
Lack of glass break sensors:
Glass break sensor issue has been solved.
Please solve with X sensors tripped before alarm. Think overlapping fields of fire or redundant power cables on a server.
ADT does not have this feature request as far as I know. Samsung smartthings does. After 7 years of ADT with 10 times the number of sensors in an office we have not had false alarms from equipment since the initial setup. Now they occur from employees and the cleaning crew. I have had one false alarm from Simplisafe so far in 6 months. In a basement room motion sensor on the picture to the left. We have no pets and the furnace was not on. Nothing moves. I called simplisafe for direction after I drove home and the cops left. They insisted that in my state/temp it must have been the furnace causing a large mass of hot all the sudden. I pulled up my Ecobee (thermostat) web interface and offered to email a screenshot of my logs to show it hadn’t fired for 4 hours when the alarm occurred. The rep was trying to be helpful, just didn’t have any solutions besides swap it with another unit and see if the problem occurs in another location with the same sensor. So far it has not triggered again in the same location. I will swap them after a while to see if the problem moves.
I offered a solution which causes me to pay more but I find acceptable. I want a drop down box that says trigger alarm only after X sensors trip. X being the dropdown box. I am happy to put 2 or 3 motion sensors in certain rooms. If that room has an alarm, I want the cops to know 3 sensors went off and what they are protecting from my notes on the simplisafe interface. It sounds like this is a problem to implement because simplisafe doesn’t handle the sensor triggers, a 3rd party monitoring company does. Probably the same ones that ADT and everyone else contract with.
The most troubling thing about my customer service phone call was the feeling of helplessness I got from the customer service rep. I work at a software company and deal with the trials of development vs customer service all the time. Development wants to build what they want to build. The users are stupid and don’t know what they want. Developers feel and often are smarter than the customer service folks. At some companies the input from customer service is not valued. I could tell this was the case at Simplisafe at least for this one front line person. The rep felt they had no voice and if she spoke up on my behalf it was bad for her employment and her supervisors wouldn’t pass it on even if she suggested it. It sounds like the entire Simplisafe crew could use a walk through the pages of The Breakthrough Company by Keith R McFarland.
It is funny that the biggest alarm sounding when this motion sensor tripped was the collision claxon of the Titanic after talking to the customer service rep. If the voice of the customer is being ignored by CXX, marketing and development via their CSRs, the company is on its way down if they aren’t lucky or pop culture trendy. Innovation becomes stifled, pet projects rule, revenue targets are not met. It is still early and they can fix it but we are starting to see better systems from cable companies and other competitors. They are more expensive for now but that may not last. I will mention this in feature requests, simplisafe needs to move to a customer centered tool like getsatisfaction or uservoice. 2016 note- not much is being done about user requests in the forums. They really really need getsatisfaction or uservoice.
I am not convinced that the simplisafe tower cannot trigger and communicate an alarm and is instead a relay dependent on a 3rd party. I would have to discuss the inner workings with an engineer from Simplisafe.
Update 1/2016- Better watch out simplisafe, samsung smartthings will tie in to IFTTT (if this then that, an easy scripting site) in order to do what I want here. For example:
If 2 sensors are triggered then 1. Send a picture from camera “c” to my phone and email, 2. send a text message to me, wife, friends. 3. notify alarm company (samsung smartthings already contracts with one alarm company and just signed a deal with ADT) or another example – if this safe is opened (door sensor) immediately sound audible alarm, flash lights, call police, notify everyone. I can set up multiple alarm programs so that the normal home alarm settings are independent of the safe alarm. Or my garage alarm settings (separate building) are different. Hence the ‘zone’ issue above with SS.
Another new note, Simplisafe is not innovating or investing in R&D. Over the years that I have had my system now, we have one new sensor. A much needed glass break. That’s it. The internet of things is going like gangbusters and they are sitting there collecting money. I have a feeling some VC money got hold of them and is extracting the max amount of money until they die. The forums are littered with requests for zigbee, zwave, all the sensor network types over the last 5 years or so. No response from SS besides an elaborate “noted.”
I would start simple wtih a newer device and as you find problems to solve, be creative and build new solutions. The new tools out there are as easy as simplisafe mostly because the simplisafe interface sucks. It looks like something I coded in college 15 years ago.
2 factor auth gone – These little buggers are the worst idea in the world. A wireless remote which is easy to lose and attached to your keys. Two factor authentication gets thrown out the window with these. If someone wants in your house and finds your keys, they can now disarm it from a distance, and walk up to your house and open the door with the key. They possess both factors. I haven’t sniffed the traffic from it yet but I bet I could duplicate the signal coming from one. $3 in parts makes me a garage door opener for 90% of garage doors. I would bet I can hack this thing with about the same cost.
To make sure you understand. 2 factor authentication is “something you have” and “something you know.” If you use this keychain, you no longer have “something you know” because the keychain is transmitting the alarm off signal for you. I’m telling you, don’t do it. Not on any alarm system. A remote needs to have a disarm code the same as a keypad does. And should be on the same keyring as the key.
False alarms – The panic button has to be held, but in a purse or pocket you have quite a dynamic environment with moving parts. Something WILL get held down on that button and sound a panic alarm. You can disable the call police function and still get text message alerts. I bought 3 of these, 2 are brand new in the box, all are sitting in a safe until I find out if I am missing something.
USB? Why? I don’t get the USB thing. I guess for charging, the software on it is out of date, and doesn’t work on any of my computers. I think it is supposed to be another way to do the initial setup, then you transfer the setup file to the tower. Some people may find the wizard to be helpful if they can get the damn thing to work. I can’t find anything on the web to update it or use it to update firmware on my control tower. I would love to see firmware updates downloaded to the usb keyfob so it has some use. The CSR I talked to said they don’t have enough bandwidth through tmobile to do firmware updates via cell. The only way I can see getting one is with the usb key or cable and a computer leading to the next bit.
Redundant communication paths:
I would like to see an internet connection for reporting directly to simplisafe. If you have a simplisafe sign out front, chances are that you gave a recipe for a cheap (illegal) and easy to buy cell phone jammer to block your Simplisafe alarm. Anything that interferes with 911 services can land you in jail quick and the FCC doesn’t like these boxes of pranktasticness. A cell phone jammer can be a problem with any security system just like a couple bucks for a pair of wire cutters. Most home invasions and robberies are committed by stupid people so I wouldn’t let this deter you. As a professional nerd, I like redundant connections. An internet connection from the simpisafe alarm to the simplisafe servers would be easy to secure. The direction is important when saying it is easy to secure or not. A redundant connection over the internet could limit damage from a cell jammer the 2 times it will happen in the next 10 years. Heh. Maybe this is a dumb observation. What if scenarios get out of control quickly.
I can’t figure out why cameras are so important for an intrusion detection system when there are more important components missing like glass breaks. Cameras are in the wrong tier of home defense for Simplisafe’s niche because it has to add a web connected service to handle the bandwidth requirements. I think? Cameras are what the masses seem to want and Simplisafe listened. I wish they would concentrate on the core of their current business before chasing windmills. Since they are going to build it, here are the two camera scenarios I have experience with to help you decide if you need a camera system:
1. Theft occurs, stored images help cops identify a perp. But your pics can’t be used in most places as evidence in court. A human must testify that the image is what they too saw (in most cases and places) hence no points on your license for red light cameras. There are exceptions. But if images can be used for leverage and or asking the public for help I say go for it. To be useful cameras need to be 600-700 TVL (lines of resolution.) We have all seen the craptastic 360 and 400 line pictures on the news that could be my brother or the thief or Elmo. The biggest problem with surveillance camera packages available to us normal folks is that they all seem to have update/security issues. I certainly don’t want to open a door for pervy stalkers to break in to my video camera system in order to possibly catch a different criminal while he watches. Or watch me practicing the Charleston and posting it on youtube. Simplisafe better be on top of this and just store the images or back them up to their own servers and do something with them from there. Either way I will be nitpicking the terms of service, EULA, system design, whatever they have before signing up.
2. Cameras are useful when an alarm is triggered and you are on the fence about sending the police. When an alarm occurs at my office building, it is usually the cleaning crew. So I fire up the vpn, log in to the cameras and see who is there while the nice call center lady waits. We specialize in computer security and have a heck of a set of roadblocks to get to our camera system. Someday when we are wrong and we do have a problem, I have to pay the city where my office is for false alarms. In theory the cameras pay for themselves quickly by avoiding said fines. At home my city won’t charge me until it becomes a problem so cameras are way down on the security list.
3. To those not in the industry I urge caution with cameras. I am a professional nerd with the skills to proxy and or secure my setups. Do some googling, you can find a ton of sites that are indexes of live cameras that you can watch all over the world because they are so easy to hack. Chances are a cheap setup can only do you more harm than good. Why broadcast that you aren’t home with a live video feed to any nerd with half a brain?
Untrained user placement for sensors
ADT makes mistakes on placement too, they put a motion sensor between a wall and a network rack near our ceiling at the office. It couldn’t see more than a 3 foot stretch until it hit a row of cubicles 15 feet away. They tried to charge us to come back out and move it even though we had agreed on where to put it and they didn’t follow that direction. I had to pull out my diligent documentation and force them to come out to replace the sensor. That was an infuriating set of phone calls that really got my blood pumping. Once you sign the dotted line with ADT you will be in for a fight to get what you paid for.
Mitigation – Draw a map of your house. Then draw the motion sensor coverage range. Highlight the windows and doors that should be covered. Look how far your smoke/CO sensor needs to cover. Imagine all the places where water lines have valves or moving parts for flood sensors. Think of your icemaker, disposal, washing machine, dishwasher. Where are the water lines that lead to faucets on the outside of your house? Put a freeze sensor close. Educate yourself in the forums. Remember when you got Christmas presents and you spent hours going through instructions? Where did the personal responsibility go in the last 15 years when it comes to learning about the things you buy?