Abode home security starter kit (2018) review: This solid, if basic, security system gets a modest upgrade

Abode’s security-focused smart home system has been on the market for barely a year. When reviewed in March 2017, we found it to be a surprisingly capable system that covered the basics; one that beginning users could get their arms around. The system wasn’t perfect, but it did display a maturity that we seldom find in crowd-funded projects.

One year in, Abode is making some changes to its starter kit offerings. While the core hardware—a chunky gateway that is wired to your router—hasn’t changed, the sensor bundle has. Out goes the lackluster integrated camera/motion sensor; it’s now replaced by a standard motion sensor with no camera included. The two door/window sensors have been reduced to one, while the remote control key fob, a godsend that simplifies the process arming and disarming your system remotely, remains in the box. 

Abode's new baseline starter kit, reviewed here, costs $279. Two other kits are also available: The Connect bundle adds one year of 3G radio backup and costs $329, while the Secure bundle includes the radio plus one year of professional monitoring that calls the cops if a break-in is detected. The Secure bundle costs $379.

Abode app Abode

Abode’s timeline is easy to understand at a glance.

There are no subscription fees associated with the Basic bundle, but the Abode app maintains just three days of history before its logs are wiped. After the first year, you’ll pay $10 per month ($96 if paid annually) to continue the Connect bundle’s 3G service with 14 days of history, or $30 per month ($240 if paid annually) to continue the Secure bundle’s 3G service with 90 days of history plus professional monitoring.

Other discounts have shaved the price of outfitting a larger home considerably: Installing Abode in a home with 12 doors or windows and three motion sensors, plus professional monitoring, will now run you just $762, nearly $200 less than the same setup from a year ago.

As a security system, very little, if anything, has changed. Setup is streamlined and painless. Once you set up an account with Abode, a six-character code is used to connect your gateway to that account. Sensors are detected automatically, without having to scan codes, punch buttons, or tap in identifying information. Other devices, like the key fob that makes arming and disarming your alarm a snap, come pre-paired and ready to go right out of the box.

The app has also been refined a bit, though it still revolves around three operational modes: standby, home, and away. In standby, the only evidence of the system is a convenient chirp any time a door or window is opened. In home mode, door and window sensors being tripped will set off the alarm: a 93dB siren integrated into the gateway. In away mode, the motion sensors will also work. There’s no way to change any of these settings, or even to adjust the sensitivity of the motion sensor—a pet mode is still nowhere to be found. Geofencing, which lets you arm the system automatically when you leave the home, still works well.

Adobe Essentials Abode

The price-reduced Abode Starter Kit now consists of just the gateway, a remote control, and just two sensors.

Smart home features

Abode is also attempting to move the product beyond its roots as a basic security system, but here the system has some growing to do. Like many similar devices, Abode has developed hooks that connect its gateway to other smart home gadgets. For starters, several devices—primarily smart lights, including the Philips Hue, plus various switches and door locks—can be integrated and controlled directly with the Abode app. In testing, these features work well enough, though the interface is on the rudimentary side, can be slow to respond in the app, and is sometimes prone to crashing when working with third party devices.

The catch: All of this must be configured via a web browser; you can’t set up any non-Abode device directly in the app. As well, when compared to some of the larger libraries of supported devices from hubs like SmartThings and Wink, Abode is playing catchup.

Abode app Abode app

Without upgrading to a paid monitoring plan, various history and user account options are limited.

Other devices work with Abode via its oddly separate integrations system. At the moment, there are only four of these: Nest devices, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Ecobee thermostats. Unfortunately, once you get things connected, there’s really not much you can do with them. For example, I connected my Nest Protect smoke alarms to the Abode, only to find the duo don’t have much in common. A smoke alarm can be set to trigger the Abode app with a message or an alarm condition, but for the most part the Nest system does a better job of managing this on its own.

That said, if you have the $30-per-month Abode monitoring plan, you can have Nest alert Abode to in turn alert the fire department… if you trust this all to happen before something in that chain melts in the fire. Again, most of this must be configured in a browser instead of the app.

Similarly, there are two separate Alexa skills for the Abode. One works as expected, letting you make simple changes to Abode (like setting the system to Away mode) via voice, though as usual the syntax can be awkward. In a panic situation, will you be able to spit out “Alexa, tell Abode there is an emergency” (or similar)? A second Alexa skill is designed to let you control lights and locks in your home, which could be handy if you haven’t already figured out an alternative hook for them via Alexa.

All told, while Abode shows promise as a more general smart home hub, supporting a decent set of devices as a generic Z-Wave and ZigBee gateway, it just doesn’t match the capabilities of most of its more mature competitors. That said, it still shines as a no-frills security system, a task for which it still merits our strong recommendation.

IDG Insider


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