Vivint Home Security System Review: Price Tag Is Worth the Ease of Use

Should you consider Vivint in 2023?

Things can change fast these days. That applies just as much to your home security options as to the latest and greatest gadgets. There are many DIY systems and professionally-installed options when exploring your available choices. Vivint Smart Home falls under the latter category and won the distinction of best professional home security for smart home automations in CNET’s best list for home security systems. Is that still the case?

CNET’s David Priest wrote our original Vivint review in March 2021 after testing the security system at home for a month. CNET’s Jared DiPane, who has been using the Vivint system at home for more than three years, contributed his point of view and additional information in November 2022 after Vivint released new products. Following Priest’s introduction, we’ve labeled the sections, so you know who’s writing.

One day, two trucks carrying three men showed up at my home for an all-day installation of a Vivint security system. I shepherded my chatty 3- and 4-year-old boys out the door, and my wife drove them to get egg bites at Starbucks while I did the initial walkthrough. Then we left for the day, went into the city, did some shopping, got ice cream and returned to find our house newly secured.

Security cameras, a smart thermostat, a video doorbell, a connected deadbolt, over a dozen sensors of various sorts and more dotted our home – though you wouldn’t notice most of the accoutrements without peering closely. Another quick walkthrough and explanation (thankfully brief because I’ve written about smart home devices for years), and it was dinnertime.

Vivint’s latest doorbell features a new design and a larger button.

Jared DiPane/CNET

In the following weeks, I tested Vivint’s home security system – checked the security camera feeds, timed sensor latency and so on – thanks to the company providing the hardware and installation for a one-month trial period. And in general, Vivint worked great. The experience is far more unified than you get with standalone devices, and it’s all made consummately accessible through the Vivint app and the central console: a touchscreen tablet affixed to your wall.

But for all its glitter and gleam – or perhaps because of it – Vivint costs some serious money. My setup clocked in at about $3,680, though a spokesperson at Vivint told me the average customer buys about $2,400 worth of equipment. That can be paid up-front or with a monthly payment plan. Either way, the device-by-device approach to pricing (as opposed to other brands’ package pricing) is a double-edged sword: You get devices personalized to your needs, but you don’t get the discount you’d expect when buying a package of equipment.

Given the high prices, Vivint seems aimed mostly at customers willing to spend significantly more for the added convenience. And for many, that’s a perfectly acceptable trade-off.

Vivint’s overall system

Priest: Before breaking down the Vivint system device by device, I want to talk a little about one of Vivint’s key strengths: its integration. I’ve tested Wi-Fi-connected tech since before voice assistants invaded the home, and integration has always been both the greatest point of pain and the greatest point of satisfaction in that work. In short, when an integrated home works, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, it’s a massive pain in the ass.

Two primary problems have plagued the integrated home for years: the problem of power (Wi-Fi drains batteries quickly, but routers don’t often communicate with low-energy radio protocols like Z-Wave or Zigbee), and the problem of continuity (some brands work with Alexa and Google Assistant, but not Siri; others are Apple-exclusive, etc.).

Whole-home systems like Vivint solve both of these problems: the Vivint Smart Hub has a Z-Wave receiver built into it, so low-energy devices like flood sensors and motion detectors (which you don’t want to constantly be changing the batteries in) work seamlessly with the larger system; and since all the devices are proprietary or curated by Vivint, everything communicates without issue.

In my few weeks testing Vivint, I didn’t have to do any trouble-shooting. Part of this may be my familiarity with the types of devices, but mostly it has to do with the solidly designed system. I showed the devices to my parents, and they both (despite being only somewhat tech-savvy) picked up scheduling for the thermostat with ease.

Not only is it easy to learn, but Vivint’s tools are genuinely useful. I closed the garage from the park after forgetting when I pulled out the kids’ bikes. The car guard alerted me when my wife was on the way home from a midday grocery run, so I could get our lunch started. The day after we installed the Vivint home security system, my 3-year-old dropped a glass plate in the kitchen downstairs and my phone immediately pinged me that the glass break sensor had gone off – which I wouldn’t have known otherwise, as I was on the opposite side of the house.

In only a week or two of moderate use, I immediately saw the benefits of some of these devices – and I can only imagine what it would’ve been like to have flood sensors where they are now when our HVAC spouted a leak in 2020.

Flood sensors can protect the easily forgotten nooks and crannies of your house safe from accidental water damage.

David Priest/CNET

I found the smart plugs to be a little less useful, but that’s likely just due to my personal preferences and usage patterns: I’m more likely to flip switches than to give voice commands to Alexa or set schedules for my lights, in part because it still feels like less work in most cases.

Finally, while Vivint works great as a smart home integration system, it’s also first and foremost (at least for most customers) a security system. Again, as with its integration, Vivint is strong here: it offers 24/7 professional monitoring for $30 per month (a comparable price to most competitors). There’s the standard options here, including empty-house monitoring and nighttime monitoring.

Now let’s dive into the individual devices I tested out while using Vivint.

Here’s a breakdown of my Vivint bill:

  • Starter kit: $500 (includes Hub, two door window sensors, motion detector, flood sensor)
  • Vivint Smart Drive: $250
  • Two outdoor cameras: $800 ($400)
  • Eight extra door-window sensors: $400 ($50 each)
  • Two glass break sensors: $100 ($50 each)
  • One indoor camera: $200
  • One Vivint Car Guard: $200
  • One Kwikset Smart Lock: $180
  • One Vivint Smart Thermostat: $170
  • Three Smart plugs: $150 ($50 each)
  • One Doorbell Camera Pro: $130
  • One extra motion detector: $100
  • Two extra flood sensors: $100
  • Smoke detector: $100
  • CO detector: $100
  • MyQ garage door opener: $100

Before diving in point by point, a few observations regarding my bill: Vivint charges a $100 installation fee, but that fee is often waived for various promotions – and if you decide to get their system, you should avoid paying that extra money. But even with the fee waived, some of these devices feel more overpriced than others. I’ll explore the pricing in more detail below, but for now note the $400(!) outdoor cameras. Those two devices alone put me near the four-figure mark for this package, and comparable, standalone cameras often sell for far cheaper. I mean, you can get a pretty nice, Wi-Fi connected and outdoor-graded camera these days for under $30.

On the other hand, $130 for a video doorbell isn’t a bad price at all, considering that many standalone devices cost between $100 and $250. All this is to say, some of Vivint’s hardware is better priced and some worse, and what kind of security system you want may determine whether Vivint will meet your needs for a reasonable fee or will wring your wallet dry.

The Vivint starter kit

Priest: The heart of Vivint’s smart home is a $500 package of devices including the touchscreen Vivint Smart Hub, two door/window sensors, a flood sensor and a motion detector. It’s a bit pricey for the hardware alone, but if you think about it as the core smarts holding the larger system together, $500 might feel a little more palatable.

The operating system on the display and the Vivint app on your phone are both simple and straightforward to use. They give you a lot of flexibility, with setting schedules and learning about the potential of your newly integrated smart home, and they’re also accessible enough that less tech-savvy users will be able to navigate the interface without much trouble.

Vivint’s hub now offers a standby mode that shows you basic information about your system.

Jared DiPane/CNET

Vivint’s Smart Hub

DiPane: The Vivint security system centers around the Vivint Smart Hub. It’s the main control panel for operating the system within the home, and an update that happened in September 2022 has improved the overall usability of the panel. From the Vivint Smart Hub you can control your smart home devices, view your cameras and make other system changes (like arming or disarming). I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of having a panel inside my home since I normally use the app, but Vivint has now made it so the panel can display things like the time, the status of your home security and even the weather while it’s idle, instead of a blank screen.

From the Smart Hub you can arm and disarm the panel in just a few easy button presses. Additionally, should there be an emergency at your home, you can notify authorities by using the buttons for Fire, Emergency and Panic. One of the great features is the Duress Code, which allows you to put in a code that seemingly changes your alarm’s status from armed to disarmed, but notifies Vivint of the emergency and sends authorities to your location. This could be used if you were being followed in your home or someone broke in and you were trying to keep things quiet. Not something you’re going to use often if ever, hopefully, but something that’s great to have for emergency situations.

Vivint video doorbell

DiPane: Vivint’s video doorbell was already a good deal thanks to its relatively low price and smart features. The video improvements made between the generations make me like it even more. The viewing area remains 180 degrees vertical and 180 degrees horizontal in the newest version, but it seems like there’s actually more video showing. Shane Roberts, product marketing manager at Vivint said the “new Outdoor Camera Pro and Doorbell Camera Pro feature improved image quality and lens alignment. With these updates, camera footage in your Vivint app may appear to have a wider field of view.”

It has an encrypted SD card for secure local storage of videos, which increases the performance a bit and allows you to view recordings a little faster. Overall, the new doorbell is a step in the right direction for Vivint and remains one of the company’s best value video cameras. The actual doorbell itself is a little larger than the previous model and has a slightly refined design. It still comes in only one color option and the front plate is all black, with the exception of the ring around the button that can change colors when it’s pressed or detects motion.

The sensors

Priest: Sensors aren’t the devices that usually get people excited about a connected home, but they’re a core component to make the whole system run seamlessly. You can program your smart plugs to flip on lights when you open the front door, or you can make your thermostat turn down the temperature when your motion detectors haven’t picked up any movement in over four hours. In addition, the various sensors add a ton of security to the house: protecting against break-ins, obviously, but also against leaks, fires and other hazards – like kids cutting themselves on a broken plate.

I wish Vivint’s $50 sensors were a little cheaper or came with bulk discounts because these are the simple devices that many people would want to load up on. I only outfitted the first floor of my house with door/window sensors, and that resulted in about $400 on top of the sensors that come with the Vivint starter kit. Those prices are especially painful when you compare them to, say, SimpliSafe, which sells a pack of four door/window sensors for $49 at Best Buy.

The motion detectors feel similarly overpriced, as do the flood sensors and glass break sensors to a lesser degree. But even slightly overpriced devices quickly add up if you’re really wanting to give yourself thorough security coverage.

The cameras and the drive

DiPane: As mentioned above, Vivint’s proprietary cameras, especially the outdoor ones, are expensive. They’re nice gadgets, providing features like automatic deterrent messages if they sense motion and hardwiring to a Wi-Fi bridge inside to give them better connection. Plus, having them professionally installed saves a big headache. But I honestly can’t imagine spending $400 on an outdoor camera when I could get top-of-the-line ones from Arlo for just over half that – or even solidly designed ones from Wyze for $24.

When I asked Vivint about the high price on the camera, a spokesperson laid out its features. “The Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro has better build quality [than more affordable competitors], a 4K HDR sensor and edge analytics that give you faster AI and notifications, unique deter technology, professional installation and the assurance that if anything goes wrong, we’ll fix it,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also mentioned the hardwiring to the Wi-Fi bridge for reliable connectivity.

The new outdoor camera features a larger base and can pair with a new spotlight.

Jared DiPane/CNET

Many of the specs don’t sound quite as impressive when lined up against a competitor’s. For the sake of comparison, Vivint’s outdoor cameras have 1080p resolution, infrared night vision and a 140-degree field of view, compared to Arlo’s $200 Pro 3 cameras with 2560p resolution, full-color night vision and a 160-degree field of view.

Vivint refreshed its outdoor cameras in August 2022 and also released the new Spotlight Pro, a bright light that mounts with the new outdoor camera and sits below it. You can customize the trigger for the light, as well as how it behaves from within the app. It can pulse, it can follow a person around as they move, and more. This may be one of my favorite new releases from Vivint in recent years. At $250, it’s a bit expensive for what some may view as “just a light,” but it’s worth noting that the customization options are really worthwhile.

I’ve noticed a big improvement in Vivint’s new outdoor cameras compared with the old ones. While they still retain the 140-degree field of view, it seems like the new model offers a slightly wider view than the previous one did. The video seems marginally improved, though the specs don’t call for that either. Visually, the two cameras look nearly identical, with the key difference being the base of the new cameras being a bit wider than the base on the previous-generation model.

Vivint is releasing a new indoor camera later in 2022 that offers some promising improvements as well, such as the addition of CO2 and glass-break sensors, a new design and an enhanced Privacy Mode.

At $200, the indoor camera is a little less offensively priced, and includes a call button for, say, kids wanting to communicate with parents at work. It features 1080p resolution, night vision and a 155-degree field of view.

The best camera device Vivint offers is easily its doorbell cam, which has a 180-degree field of view and a 1:1 aspect ratio – meaning you’ll be able to see people’s whole bodies, even when they’re standing a couple of feet from the lens. In addition, it can provide person and package notifications, all for $130. That would be a solid deal, even if it weren’t part of Vivint’s larger system.

Vivint offers 14-day cloud storage of 10-90-second variable length video clips for its cameras, but you can also keep 30 days of 24/7 footage locally using the $250 1-terabyte Smart Drive. While the Smart Drive is available at the time of this writing, a Vivint spokesperson said soon-to-be-released Vivint cameras won’t require the device for local storage, and a new service plan will include the Smart Drive in the starter kit until those cameras release.

The lock and the garage door opener

Priest: It may seem odd to lump a deadbolt with a garage door opener, but these are the two primary devices that aren’t Vivint-branded. Instead, the lock comes from Kwikset and the garage door opener comes from Chamberlain – two long-established companies in their respective fields.

Both the Kwikset smart lock and the Chamberlain MyQ garage door opener work well, letting you secure your home remotely or while you’re getting into bed. They’re solidly designed gadgets, and we’ve reviewed them (or closely related devices) positively in the past.

The one problem here is that both devices are significantly upcharged. The MyQ sells for $30 at most retailers, but Vivint provides it for $100. The Kwikset lock sells for around $100, but Vivint provides it for $170. Again, you can think about this as a sort of built-in installation and integration fee, but at some point, the upcharges may feel a little exorbitant, especially if you pay the actual $100 installation fee.

Many of Vivint’s supporting devices are run of the mill but key into the larger integrated system in service of a more unified user experience.

David Priest/CNET

The rest of the Vivint gadgets and integrations

Priest: The rest of Vivint’s gadgets are fairly standard: the smart plugs and thermostat do what you’d expect them to (though, at risk of sounding like a broken record, $50 for a Z-Wave smart plug is… about $30 too much, especially since you can buy your own and integrate them in a couple of minutes).

In addition, Vivint works with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, though the integrations feel a little basic. I couldn’t call up any of my camera feeds on my Echo Show, for instance. (If you ask, it just pulls up the stream on your Hub screen.) Asking for details on the security system still requires stilted phrasing like, “Alexa, ask Vivint if my security system is armed.”

I’d love to see integrations with voice assistants strengthened, particularly if Vivint wants to continue branding itself as a smart home system as much as a security system.

Vivint customer service and support

DiPane: There are several ways to get in touch with Vivint’s support and customer service team. The first, and one of the easiest ways, is through the mobile app. You can begin a chat to get tech and product support with a representative in just a few simple taps. It will show you how many people are ahead of you in the virtual queue and give you an idea of how long you may need to wait. Another chat option is from the company’s online site, where you can also get product support and help with account-related concerns.

Finally, if you don’t want to sit and chat back and forth, you can always call Vivint and get customer support from one of its representatives. Vivint’s customer and technical support team is available from 4 a.m. PT to 10 p.m. PT Monday through Friday and 4:30 a.m. PT to 9 p.m. PT on the weekends.

Vivint’s mobile app

Vivint’s mobile app gives you control of your system from anywhere.

Jared DiPane/CNET

DiPane: Vivint’s mobile app is one of the better smart home apps on the market right now. It offers a ton of features, which may make you think it would be complex, but Vivint has done a great job of simplifying the actions. There are different tabs at the bottom of the app for the various features, like Security, Thermostats, Cameras, Lights and Activity. The app allows you to control all of your compatible smart home devices from the same place, and you can even create routines that involve multiple devices at the same time.

There’s a bit of a learning curve for some of the more advanced routine features, but overall the Vivint app is easy to use and has been reliable.

Does Vivint have an activation fee?

Priest: Vivint has an installation fee that it charges instead of an activation fee, but it’s not hard to find a way around that. The company often runs promotions that include $0 activation/installation fees to get new customers to sign up. Vivint normally charges between $50 and $200 for the installation of all the equipment, which includes professional installation at your home where its experts hide the wires, mount your gear, get everything configured and walk you through the operation of the system.

The verdict after one month

Priest: I really enjoyed my month with Vivint. I hadn’t personally used a professionally installed security system in years, and seeing all the ways I was genuinely grateful to have the monitoring made me second-guess that decision. Paying for each of the devices might land me right back where I started, since the up-front technology costs feel overpriced almost across the board.

For many people, the price will be worth avoiding the hassle of installation and integration. If that headache is worth more to you than the hundreds of dollars you’d save by outfitting your house with a DIY security system and a few standalone devices – and it very well may be – then Vivint will be a great home security system for you.

The verdict after more than three years

DiPane: Vivint’s security system is absolutely worth it, as long as you’re willing to pay extra. It’s not the cheapest option on the market, but it works really well and has a ton of great features. In addition to all of the equipment that Vivint offers for sale, you can add your own Z-Wave compatible smart home devices into the system, which allows you to use other smart locks, thermostats and more. This is a huge benefit as it opens the doors to other alternative equipment, some of which is cheaper than what Vivint sells its own for.

I was able to add the same MyQ smart garage controller that Vivint sells to my system for under $20 thanks to a deal I found at Amazon. I also added an extra alarm siren for just under $50, and that’s something that you can’t even buy from Vivint. I also used thermostats from another home that I own, instead of having to replace them with the Vivint options because they were Z-Wave. The Vivint smart thermostat is $169 on its own but you can find other options on Amazon for around $79 or opt for the Ecobee model for $159.

For those who want a smarter home but are afraid of having a ton of apps to control it, the Vivint experience excels as well. It allows you to control smart lights, plugs and more all in the same place and create routines around them that can be triggered by the status of the alarm (whether it’s armed or not).

Overall, the experience has been extremely positive for me over the past three-plus years of having my Vivint system, and several other people I know who have it like theirs too.