Safe by HUB6 review: Upcycle your old alarm system into a smart alarm Credit: Christopher NullIDG
Business Management

Safe by HUB6 review: Upcycle your old alarm system into a smart alarm

If there’s one near-perfect excuse for eschewing a DIY home security system, it’s this: I already have one built into my home. You can be forgiven for not wanting to have two security systems in your house, even if your old, wired system is no longer actively monitored. Who wants all that clutter, doubled-up sensors on each door, and the like?

HUB6 offers a unique solution to the problem: Just attach its Safe by HUB6 hub to your existing alarm panel, and convert your old alarm equipment into an up-to-date smart alarm system.

While setting up Safe by HUB6 isn’t as easy as, say, plugging in a SimpliSafe unit, it’s not overly difficult to get up and running. I didn’t have a compatible wired unit to work on, so HUB6 sent us one: an old dinosaur of a system from DSC that’s representative of legacy wired home security systems (you can check compatibility with your own system on the HUB6 website). I set this up in my home, along with two door/window sensors and a motion sensor. In addition to DSC-compatible units, HUB6 is also accepting pre-orders for a unit that supports Honeywell alarm systems.

hub6 connections Christopher Null / IDG

Wiring the Safe by HUB6 to your old alarm system’s wiring cabinet with these clamps is the easier way to go.

After installing the HUB6 app on your phone, it’s time to turn to the hardware. The Safe system—a simple plastic box the size of a PB&J sandwich—first must be attached to your router via ethernet or, thankfully, via Wi-Fi (which I chose). Naturally, it must also attach directly to your alarm system via one of two wiring options, both of which are included in the box.

The most straightforward of these involves wire clips that you  snap onto four key wires inside your alarm panel box. If you’ve ever set up low-voltage exterior lighting, you know how this works; otherwise, you can check out this YouTube video, which demonstrates the process. It involves working in a tight space (needlenose pliers are required) and some attention to detail, but the alarm panel HUB6 sent us already had the clips connected, so I can’t personally comment on how difficult this is to complete in the real world.

The other end of that wire connects directly to the HUB6 panel with an RJ11 (telephone) jack, after which the hardware side of things is complete. The remainder of the configuration takes place in the app. Here you simply walk through each sensor and zone on your old alarm’s network, adding each to the app. If you don’t have these documented, it might take some legwork to figure out what’s what, but assuming you have the pertinent information, it’s a quick handful of icon taps to recreate your sensors and assign them to rooms within the app.

ports on safe by hub6 hub HUB6

The Safe by HUB6 must be hardwired to either your legacy alarm system’s control panel or to its wiring cabinet. It can connect to your router with an ethernet cable or a Wi-Fi connection.

Once this is complete, you can effectively ignore your old alarm control panel and do everything from your phone (although the wired control panel will also still function normally). All the expected functions are front and center on the app’s home screen, including arming (with away and stay options), disarming, and checking the alarm status. Safe will tell you if the system is “not ready” in its status window should something be left ajar; drill down to a secondary page and you’ll find a detailed list of sensors, zones, and their respective statuses. A detailed history log is also included. Additional family members can be invited to install the HUB6 app after they have set up an account—as can neighbors, who can be set up for monitoring access only, providing another set of eyes on your home when you’re away.

If the alarm goes off, your phone is immediately pelted with push notifications, emails, and text messages all letting you know what’s happened and where (including which sensor was tripped), so there’s no risk of missing an update. (Toning down this information overload is simple.) All told, enabling and disabling the system is easy, and I never encountered any trouble using it, though note that you can’t do more advanced functions like changing the master code on the alarm through the app. For that you’ll need to dig out your wired alarm manual and start punching buttons on the ten-key.

hub6 user interface Christopher Null / IDG

The app is basic, but it tells you what you need to know. And when the alarm goes off, HUB6 fires off multiple messages to alert you.

There’s also an undocumented icon on the home screen that reads “Smart Home,” and here you’ll find a relatively primitive way to connect with other smart home products. At present, only Nest products are supported. I configured HUB6 to connect to my Nest Protect smoke detectors, which then showed up within the app much as they do within Nest’s own app.

Safe by HUB6 is designed to turn a security system that was useless without professional monitoring into one that you can monitor yourself. But for those who want an extra layer of security, a 24/7 professional monitoring package is available for $10 per month. This fee is pay-as-you-go, with no contracts.

All told, Safe by HUB6 is a clever and effective way to give an old alarm system new utility, though paradoxically it does end up locking you into that outdated system even further. If you want a real smart home security system—one that you can continue to upgrade and enhance— you’ll need to rip out the old one and start fresh. But for users who simply want to get a little more out of what they already have, this isn’t a bad way to go.

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