Getting a new house or apartment comes with the inevitable question of how to protect it. Insurance is great, but it only covers you after something happens. What can you do to try and prevent a burglary or deter a burglar? Most people would go for a traditional alarm system through a company like ADT, but the rise of the smart home has bought us a new way to protect your home.

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Google-owned company Nest is just one of these companies trying a different approach to securing your (smart) home. Nest Secure brings the features of a traditional alarm system with none of the fuss. I moved into a new apartment a few months ago and turned it into a smart apartment. Here’s how the Nest Secure works within my home and whether you should buy it.

What is Nest Secure

The Nest Secure is the latest in a long line of smart home products from Nest Labs, following the Nest thermostat, Nest Cam security camera, and Nest Protect smoke detector. It is designed to be the glue holding your entire smart home together, though integration with non-Nest products is limited (more on that later).

Inside the sleek box you’ll find the Nest Guard, two Nest Detect motion sensors, and two Nest Tag key fobs. The Nest Guard is beautiful and designed to blend into your home without being obtrusive, much like Google’s own smart home products. The solid build and soft-touch plastics deliver on a premium-feeling experience and is much better than other systems, which are often quite ugly. There’s only a few lights and they light up only when needed.

The hardware

The Nest Guard is nice. I’ve got it near my front door and, for the most part, it sits there unassumingly. When you approach it, or it senses motion, the Guard displays three buttons – Off, Home, or Away. There’s also an info button which looks like a messages icon, which tells you the current armed status and if any doors or windows are open. The LED ring remains switched off unless the system is armed (green), you trigger a sensor (yellow), or the alarm has been triggered and the siren is blaring (red). There’s also a keypad on top so you can enter a code to arm or disarm the system, as well as panic button at the back for emergencies. The motion and proximity sensor are at the front.

The Nest Tags are circular and cute, and designed to be attached to your keyring. They look great, but after just a few weeks of being thrown in a bag and rubbing against my keys, they starting showing signs of wear and tear. It’s doubtful they’ll last a year or two and replacing them won’t be cheap, at $25 each.

These tags are particularly useful if multiple people need access to your house. Each tag can be assigned to a person and you can set it so they only have access during certain times. If you have a dog walker who comes by during the day, you can restrict access to working or a specific set of hours. The same goes for your house cleaner, babysitter, and, if you’re feeling brave, your in-laws or significant other!

The Nest Detect sensors are a crucial part of the overall Nest Secure experience and you’ll likely spend a lot of money on them. Each multi-function sensor can detect motion as well as your presence nearby and monitor when a door or window is opened or closed. They can be mounted to doors or windows for the full range of features, or to a wall just to detect movement. Smaller pets shouldn’t trigger the sensors at all and there is a reduced sensitivity setting for larger ones.

The Detect sensors also offer two features that set them apart from other similar systems. Quiet Open lets you open a door or window without triggering the alarm. Want to get your paper in the morning without triggering the alarm? Press the button, step outside (keep the door open otherwise it’ll rearm) and grab your paper, all while Nest continues guarding your home. Pathlight is the other Nest Detect feature that’s particularly useful – the light ring at the bottom of each Nest Detect sensor will light up in the dark, providing a little light to help you navigate a dark room.

Installation is a breeze!

Setting all of these up was super easy, something Nest Secure promises. Nest Guard took less than 10 minutes to install, the Detect sensor under five minutes each, and the Nest Tag less than a minute each. The Nest app provides you with very detailed step-by-step instructions throughout. All in all, it took around 20-25 minutes to set up the whole system. Much easier than waiting for an installation specialist from an alarm company (and no drilling at all)!

During install, you set up a passcode and label for each Nest Tag.  I recommend you name it the person who’ll have the tag, so you can see their name if they trigger any notifications. The tags work well but unlike other alarm system fobs I’ve used (which were pretty much instant), you need to leave them on the Nest Guard for a couple of seconds to disable the system. On numerous occasions, I placed my Nest Tag on the Nest Guard to disable the alarm, only to remove it before the alarm was disabled.

The Nest Guard when your full alarm is set but your front door is open

Nest Secure and the Nest App – keeping your home protected!

To use Nest Secure and the remote features, you’ll need the Nest smartphone app. This is the same app for any other Nest products and it does a pretty good job neatly organizing all your products into an easy-to-use interface.

To arm your system, you can either press one of the buttons on the Nest Guard or use the app. Unfortunately, there’s no way to automatically arm the system, even if your cameras recognize you’re away. You can set up Home and Away alerts so that if you forget to arm your system before you leave, your phone will ask if you want to set the alarm. Same with when you come home; as soon as you near your house, the Nest App will ask if you want to turn off the alarm.

The home and away feature didn’t work for me for the first couple of days, but after that it’s worked flawlessly. It uses your phone’s GPS location, which means when I’m driving by my house on the freeway (that’s right outside my house), my phone thinks I’m home and asks me if I want to turn off the alarm. I’ve found I use the Home & Away feature about 50 percent of the time, and it’s great to know if I forget to turn on the alarm, it’s easy to enable on the go!

There are three different alarm options, either via the Nest Guard or via the app: Off, Home and Guarding, and Away and Guarding. Off does what you expect — it turns off all the features of the Nest Secure. Home and Guarding is designed to monitor your doors and windows but doesn’t look for motion inside your house; this is particularly useful to keep your house secure at night. Away and Guarding enables the full security suite.

Inside the app is where you can also customize all the settings for the Nest Secure. When you enable the alarm, you have one minute to leave before triggering an extremely loud siren (it hits 85dB for those wondering). You can set the time to 30 seconds, 1, 2, 3, or 5 minutes. You can also customize the time you have to disable the alarm when you arrive home, and choose between 30 seconds, 45 seconds, 1,3, or 5 minutes.

Does Nest Secure work with Google Assistant and other Nest products?

If you have existing Nest products or Google Assistant in your home, you might be hoping for some deep integration between these products. Sadly, for the most part, you’ll be left wanting.

For a home to be truly smart, I believe it should be able to alarm itself automatically when you leave. While I can get Google Assistant to turn off all my lights and change my heating using the “Ok Google, I’m leaving” routine, I still need to set the alarm manually.

Google recently bought Nest Labs under its own umbrella — rather than that of parent company Alphabet Inc — which could mean much tighter integration between the two companies’ products. With Google I/O a couple of months away, we may yet see new integrations announced at the annual developer conference.

If you have Nest cameras, Nest Secure can trigger them to live stream when the alarm is triggered. If you have Nest Aware, it will automatically save these snapshots for later viewing. When you get the Nest Cam, you get a 30-day free trial. After that ends it costs $50 per year to save 5-days-worth of footage, $100 for 10-days, and $300 for 30-days of footage. This additional premium is steep but worth having just in case. There’s also a third-party Professional Monitoring service for $19.99 per month which can alert you, emergency contacts, and the police if an alarm is triggered, but this is quite expensive.

Should you buy the Nest Secure?

Despite some limitations, I love the Nest Secure. Compared to the alarm system I had put into a family home in the U.K. in the middle of last year, the Nest Secure is sleek, easy to use, and simple to install. The app makes things a breeze. The multiple history option lets me see every time an alert was triggered, as well as when the alarm was set and disabled. As seen in the screenshots above, it breaks down every single movement, alert, trigger or enabling or disabling of the alarm so you know exactly what’s been happening in your home.

The biggest problem with Nest Secure is the price — at $499 for the starter kit, it’s already one of the most expensive systems on the market. To protect my one-bedroom apartment, I need a total of two Detect sensors for the doors and six for the various windows. This means there’s an additional start up cost of $360 just for the extra sensors. Add in another two or three tags for those who need to give multiple people access to your home and the overall set up cost is nearly $1,000! Nest Aware is another necessary expense. Nest Secure certainly doesn’t come cheap, but in my opinion, it’s worth it for some people.

If you need to give multiple people access to your home but want the ability to revoke it remotely at any time, Nest Secure is for you. Whether it’s a lost tag or just the passcode, you can disable them at any time from the app. Having other Nest products could also make Nest Secure worth it. However, if you’re looking for an entry-level security system, there are plenty on the market that offer better value.

That said, I think the simple, easy-to-install nature of the Nest Secure makes it worth buying.

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