Do-it-yourself digital home security systems like the and the are great for frugal homeowners who want to save money by monitoring their homes themselves, but these systems leave it up to you to take action when an alarm is triggered. They don’t check in to see if everything is OK when your smoke alarm goes off or when your front door alarm is tripped, and they don’t call the local authorities. For that kind of response, you’ll need a subscription-based service such as the Vivint Sky smart home system. With Vivint Sky you get around-the-clock home monitoring with an incredibly swift response when an alarm goes off, and it offers a variety of home automation services, all of which can be controlled from a smartphone, a PC, and a 7-inch touch-screen control panel. With monthly subscription plans ranging in price from $49.99 to $69.99, the Vivint Sky system isn’t cheap, but once you decide on a plan you won’t have to lift a finger; Vivint technicians will come to your house, install everything, and give you a comprehensive tour of the system.
Options and Features
Vivint Sky offers three monthly subscription services. The $49.99 per month base plan gives you 24-hour daily home monitoring, a 7-inch color touch-screen control panel, three door and window sensors, a motion detector, a key fob, and a yard sign. You can add optional components such as CO Detectors ($120 per pair), Glass Break Detectors ($120 per pair), a Panic Pendant ($60 each), light switch and outlet controls ($60 each), and Flood/Freeze Sensors ($120 per pair). For $59.99 per month you get everything in the base package, plus your choice of two connected home automation services including a video doorbell, electronic door locks, a garage door opener, a thermostat, and indoor or outdoor video cameras (the outdoor camera requires an additional $249 installation fee). For $69.99 per month you get everything in the base plan, plus 3 home automation services and 1TB of Space Monkey cloud storage that lets you back up and access data from all of your computing devices. Each package offers event notifications and around-the-clock technical support.
The SkyControl panel is the Vivint Sky nerve center. It has a 7-inch full color touch-screen display that makes it easy to lock and unlock doors, view live and recorded video, adjust heating and cooling temperatures, and activate emergency services including Panic and Burglary alarms that go straight to the local police department. The panel also lets you assign and edit user codes, adjust alarm volumes, tweak camera settings, arm or disarm the system, and run diagnostics. However, you can’t change the sound of the alarms, which can be problematic. More on that later.
The Vivint Sky video components communicate with the panel using various wireless technologies including Wi-Fi (cameras), RF (sensors and smoke alarm), and Z-Wave (door locks). My favorite is the newly released Doorbell Camera, which offers the best performance and aesthetics I’ve seen from a doorbell cam to date.
Whereas the and devices are somewhat bulky and are obviously housing a camera, the Vivint Doorbell Camera actually looks like a regular doorbell, and uses your existing wiring. It measures 4.5 by 1.5 by 1.0 inches (HWD) and has a silver housing and a glossy black face. At the top of the doorbell is a 1,280-by-800-pixel 720p HD camera, with a 180-degree field of view and a 10-foot night vision range. Below that is a tiny microphone port, and there’s a small but powerful down-firing speaker at the base for two-way communications with the SkyControl panel or a mobile device.
The camera records video when the button is pressed, and contains a motion sensor that automatically records video when someone enters its detection zone. It captures 30 second clips and uses continuous buffering with a 5-8 second pre-event trigger so you can see what happened just prior to the event. For example, you can see someone walking up to your door before they actually press the doorbell. You can share video clips, which are stored in the cloud, via text message, email, or by downloading them to your mobile device, but you can’t manually delete them from the cloud. They remain there for 45 days and are removed on a first-in first-out basis.
The interior camera measures 3.1 by 3.1 by 1.7 inches (HWD) and also has a 1,280-by-800 resolution. It uses 6 infrared (IR) LEDs to deliver black-and-white night video up to around 20 feet and has a 94-degree field of view. It sits on a round stand and has an Ethernet port on the back and a WPS button on the left.
The outdoor camera is a bullet-style model that measures 4 inches long by 2.5 inches wide. It too has a 1,280-by-800 resolution, but its 73-degree field of view is a bit narrower than the interior camera. That said, it has a longer (40 foot) night vision range thanks to its 10 IR LEDs.
App and Performance
You can control the Vivint Sky system remotely using the free iOS and Android apps, and from a PC using the Web console. With the mobile app, the home screen displays how many doors and windows are currently open and which doors are unlocked. It also contains a big button for arming and disarming the system and buttons for locking and unlocking your doors. Using the task bar at the bottom of the screen you can access the thermostat to view the current temperature, turn the heating cooling system on and off, set vacation modes, and create a heating/cooling schedule for weekdays and weekends.
Tapping the camera icon takes you to a screen where you can view live video from each camera and see clips from recorded events such as motion detection or when someone rings the doorbell. The On/Off icon takes you to a page where you can turn wall outlets and light switches on and off, and the Settings icon is where you go to see notifications and a history of activity (searchable by date), such as motion detection and rule-enabled events, camera recordings, and door openings. Here you can also set custom rules; for example, you can have lights turn on and off at specific times or when an event occurs, have your doors lock or unlock automatically at a certain time or as a result of an event, and have the cameras record video when an alarm is triggered. You can use any of the numerous preset rules or you can create your own.
You don’t get quite as much control with the Web app as you do with the mobile app: You can’t lock and unlock doors or configure the thermostat, nor can you use the video doorbell’s push-to-talk feature. However, you can view live and recorded video, arm and disarm the system, create custom rules, and view activities and notifications.
The Vivint Sky performed admirably as a home automation system. It never failed to manually lock or unlock doors, and the thermostat followed my weekday and weekend heating schedules without issue. I created custom rules to have the system lock all of my doors at 11:00 p.m. daily and turn off my living room lights at 11:30 p.m. and it followed those rules without fail.
The system’s home security performance was equally impressive. The window and door sensors worked perfectly, as did the motion detectors. It followed my rules to have lights turn on when a camera detected motion, and when a door was opened after a certain time of day and I received a notification. Live video from the doorbell camera was crisp, with rich colors and sharp black-and-white night video out to around 15 feet. Recorded video quality was also top-notch. The interior and exterior cameras also delivered excellent day and night video, with the exterior camera providing highly detailed night vision imagery out to around 45 feet and the interior camera providing a night vision range of a little over 20 feet.
I unwittingly put Vivint’s emergency response prowess to the test, which it passed with flying colors. While heating up a slice of pizza, a chunk of cheese landed on the heating element in my toaster oven, filling the kitchen with smoke and triggering the smoke alarm. I was out in the backyard and could hear what sounded like birds chirping; it was loud, but it took a minute or two to figure out it was the alarm (I had no idea what it was supposed to sound like). I ran inside, turned off the oven, and turned on the house fan. But before I could enter my code on the control panel, a Vivint representative called and informed me that the fire department had been notified since I failed to answer their first call and did not enter my code in time. Sure enough, a fire truck and the fire chief pulled up a few minutes later. The response time from the initial alarm to the fire department’s arrival was less than 10 minutes.
This brings me to my only real performance gripe. The smoke alarm, while loud, doesn’t really sound like a smoke alarm. I’d much prefer the annoying beep or the shrill siren that I normally associate with an urgent alarm. As of now there is no way to change the sound of the alarm, but Vivint may add custom sirens in a future update.
With Vivint Sky you get a full-blown home security system that is constantly being monitored, and a comprehensive home automation solution that you can control from just about anywhere, including a best-in-class doorbell camera. Granted, you can save a boatload of money in monthly subscription fees with a DIY home security system like the iSmartAlarm Premium (our Editors’ Choice), but that means you are responsible for the installation, maintenance, and monitoring, and you must contact your local police or fire department when an event occurs.
Vivint still has some work to do to make the Sky system a little more user-customizable, and it would be nice to have the same set of controls with the Web console that you get with the mobile app. And as with most fully monitored home security services, the Vivint Sky system isn’t cheap, especially after you add in the $198 activation fee. But if you want the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your home is safe, secure, and protected 24-7, it’s money well spent.