Is smaller really better? That’s the question we set out to answer with abode, a newcomer to the home security market. We’ll be honest, abode is serving up some of the smallest, most streamlined equipment we’ve seen (their new “Iota Gateway” is as slick as it sounds). We also wanted to see if abode’s CUE home automation engine was all that it’s hyped up to be.
So we recently bought an abode kit and put it through nearly 75 hours of rigorous hands-on testing. How did it perform? Well, somewhere between “this is prettttty nice” and “wait, how’d it do that?!” We will say that the installation process tested our patience a bit, but we still had the system installed in a matter of minutes.
Don’t worry, we’re sharing our full experience right here. So if you’re looking for home protection and some seriously smart features, you’ll want to strap in for the ride. Let’s see how abode stacks up and if they have what it takes to rival some of our favorite DIY systems like SimpliSafe and Frontpoint.
We went with the iota Kit Elite, abode’s most high-tech system. It shipped to us with the All-In-One Gateway (hub) with door/window sensors and a few other accessories. Note that abode only offers a few starter kits, but you can also build a custom system from the ground up.
Our iota Kit Elite included:
The kit set us back $389, which we think is pretty reasonable considering the iota Gateway has a built-in HD camera. And let’s not forget that in addition to protecting your home and family, abode doubles as a full-on home automation platform.
It’s also worth mentioning that you can score an abode system, sans iota, starting at $199. It’s called the Smart Security Kit — but again, you won’t get the iota Gateway with built-in camera. At any rate, these prices are on-par with other DIY home security systems we’ve tested.
Pro Tip: Abode’s iota Security Kits start at $279, and we think it’s worth the extra money to really get the most out of your home security system. As you’ll see, the All-In-One iota Gateway with its built-in HD security camera left an impression on us, and we think abode’s traditional Gateway would leave us wanting for more.
The moment we unboxed abode we knew we were in for a treat. The equipment was all black and white — but we’re not talkin’ old episodes of Gilligan’s Island black and white. Rather, our abode gear was smooth and glossy, with a surprisingly modern look and feel. From the iota Gateway, to the entry sensors, right down to the little key fob… it was all quite handsome and well built. We knew right away abode’s design would add a nice touch to our home.
But before we wax too poetic, remember that we judge a system on more than just looks. So we’ll jump into abode’s installation process and features. But first, let’s take care of some “Gateway” business.
Plain and simple, the Gateway is your central base station or hub. We think abode calls it a “Gateway” to emphasize its ability to connect you to a whole world of home automation. But at the end of the day, it’s just marketing speak for a base station.
You have two options with abode: the iota Gateway and the traditional Gateway. We like that the iota comes with a built-in 1080p HD camera with motion detection (the traditional Gateway doesn’t). Both units are identical otherwise, with the exception of the iota having a smaller footprint than its predecessor; hence the name “iota,” meaning “an extremely small amount.”1
Honestly, the traditional Gateway looks like an internet router from the 90’s. So we think the iota Gateway (pictured above) is simply all-around better looking and it offers the added layer of video security.
Did You Know: Both Gateways support abode’s CUE smart home automation engine. But we prefer the Iota for its video capabilities. Plus, the iota packages are only $80 more. Worth it!
Note that abode prides itself on two things: home automation and DIY setup. So we were really expecting fast and easy installation. This is a big draw for us, and it’s something that brands like SimpliSafe have dialed-in.
So first things first, in our abode box we found a nifty little card with 5 steps to follow for set up. It asked us to plug in our Gateway near our internet router, connect our Gateway to our router using the included ethernet cable, activate the battery backup (a switch at the base of the Gateway), and then download the app. So far, so easy!
Next, we logged into abode’s web platform to complete the install. Of course, you can do this right in the app, but our smartphone was bugging during setup, so we decided to do it online.
Once we created an account, abode asked for our activation key — which we found at the top of that nifty little instructions card — and then voila! we received the message “Success! iota Connected!”
We then went around the house mounting the entryway sensors. Note that abode’s mini door/window sensors are some of the tiniest sensors we’ve ever seen (remember coins?). They’re even smaller than Ring Alarm’s 2nd Gen sensors, which really surprised us.
This step was fairly easy. You just pull the plastic tab to activate the sensor, and abode shows you exactly how to mount and name your sensors. Once they were on our doors and windows, and once we peeled the “align” stickers off, we could hardly tell they were there.
Installation wasn’t exactly intuitive, though. We wish the Gateway would have given us some feedback as we went. And there was no chime test, like what we’re used to getting with Frontpoint and SimpliSafe. So with fingers crossed, we hoped we were doing it right. Well… we weren’t.
Turns out, it’s important to press the tiny button on the back of each sensor before mounting, a small detail we must have missed. Anyhow, this only set us back 5-7 minutes in total. And in full disclosure, we often come across small hiccups when installing home security systems, even DIY systems. No biggie.
As far as the Gateway goes, we had the option of keeping it connected via ethernet2 (most reliable), or switching to Wi-Fi. The obvious advantage of choosing the Wi-Fi connection over ethernet is that the Gateway doesn’t need to be buddy-buddy with your router — you can place it anywhere in your home. We prefer to go untethered, and we had a spot in mind for our iota Gateway that was nowhere near our internet router.
Finally, it was time to choose a subscription plan. Note that this is entirely optional; you can self-monitor abode without having to fork out money for a monthly subscription. But be warned: if you go the self-monitoring route, you’re leaving lots of great features on the table, not to mention the peace of mind you get from 24/7 emergency response from abode’s monitoring center.
We went with the 30-day free trial of abode’s Pro plan, and we’re glad we did. Don’t worry, we’ll touch more on the features and benefits of abode’s paid plans in just a bit.
Our first day using abode brought some intriguing surprises, to say the least.
We positioned the iota Gateway between our living room and entryway. Since it has a built-in camera, you can’t just put it anywhere like a normal base station. We recommend putting a little thought into it; try to make it a good hiding spot. We figured if our bookshelf was a good enough spot for our Ring Stick Up Cam, then it was good enough for our abode Gateway.
Arming and disarming the system is simple, but there’s one thing abode does a little different here. Their “disarm” mode is actually called “standby.” This took us a bit to get used to, and we’re still scratching our heads as to why it’s not just called “disarm.” Just another example of how abode marches to the beat of a different DIY drum.
These are your main controls, and you can perform these commands from virtually anywhere in the world using your smartphone. But keep in mind that each abode system also includes the Keypad 2.0 for arming/disarming.
We placed our keypad near our entryway, but we hardly ever used it. We mainly controlled our system using our iPhone and the key fob that came in the box (more on this nifty little guy in a bit).
As we were first getting used to the system, we were surprised by the beeping sounds coming from the Gateway. In fact, at one point the wife came into the room and made an R2-D2 reference, asking the whereabouts of C-3PO. Funny, but true. This system beeps a lot. But thankfully, we were able to jump into “System Settings” and select “Mute All Sounds.” You can also customize exactly what sounds you want to hear. Highly recommended.
Did You Know: Abode now works with Bose speakers — the first collaboration of its kind. If you have Bose speakers, you can integrate with abode to set unique chimes, crank up the volume of your siren, and perform other helpful functions through the ol’ woofers. You can even automate the speakers to play your favorite playlist any time you want. Hamilton soundtrack, anyone?
We were also able to customize the entry and exit delays. If you’re not familiar, a “delay” is the time the system gives you to get out of (or into!) your home without the alarm sounding. We’ve found that some systems require a minimum 30-second delay, but in our eyes, this only spells bad news.
For instance, if you have a 1-minute entry delay, that means a bad guy can break into your home and have a field day for a whole minute before high-tailing it out of there. A minute is a long time without an alarm, but even 30 seconds is enough time for a thief to grab-and-go. Needless to say, we were glad to find that abode offers the most delay customizations compared to any system we’ve tried.
Also note that every time we armed or disarmed (standby’d?) our system, our iota Gateway captured a short video clip, which showed up in our timeline in the app. You just don’t get this with other DIY systems — unless you purchase an indoor security camera separately, which is an option.
Now for a lightning round of our favorite abode features. Keep in mind that we’ve tested the best home security systems on the market, so we know what’s good and what to steer clear of. This will give you a sense of what it’s really like living with abode.
We typically like to check in and control our systems using our smartphones. But we appreciate how abode’s web platform lays everything out in a way that makes it easy to find what you’re looking for. Some other affordable brands offer a web interface (our favorite web platform is offered by Frontpoint), but the design is usually pretty uninspiring. We think abode has it dialed here. Have a look…
This is easily our favorite thing about abode. The CUE is a native home automation platform exclusive to abode. It’s like IFTTT, just built right into the app and ready to go.3 We think you’ll really like the feature-set here, especially if you’re a smart home aficionado like us. So… what exactly does it do?
First off, it’s where you’ll set up and manage your home automations. At our house, we have smart lights installed, as well as a garage door sensor. Using CUE, we were able to integrate these devices and set custom automations to do our bidding.
For instance, we created an automation that automatically armed our home 15 minutes after sunset. The sun sets about 9 pm around here — and by that time we’re cozied up and tuned in to Sherlock anyway.
We also set our smart lights to automatically dim after sunset. And we set our garage door to close whenever we left our “geofence,” which is a 600 ft. radius around our home. Our abode system did all of this behind-the-scenes, while also keeping the bad guys out via the perimeter alarm. Not bad.
We were surprised to see how granular we could get with these “triggers” and automations.4 And we really enjoyed having them as “Quick Actions” right on our dashboard. Once we created an automation, all it took was a simple tap-of-the-screen to activate. Pretty slick!
As far as smart home automation goes, we think abode is a few steps ahead of other DIY home security systems we’ve tried. And it’s all thanks to the CUE. But if you’re really looking to smart-ify your home, we’d recommend checking out Vivint, which is one of our favorite picks. Vivint is a touch pricier, but you’ll enjoy lots of super-intuitive smart home features.
It’s worth mentioning that we wish abode offered a touchscreen control panel (like Vivint!). As it stands, you’ll have to create and manage your automations using your smartphone, a mobile device like an iPad, or your desktop/laptop. Not the end of the world — but is a touchscreen panel too much to ask?
FYI: Smart home automation means you won’t really have to think about your system. The “set it and forget it” nature of home automation means it all kind of fades into the background. And CUE delivers in spades.
Geofencing is a feature that uses your smartphone’s GPS to create a virtual “fence” around your home.5 You can set abode to perform a specific function when you cross your geofence. You might recall that Frontpoint offered us geofence arming reminders, which we thought was nice. But abode takes it a step further and actually armed our system for us.
This is helpful for us mere mortals who sometimes forget to arm our home when leaving for the day. With geofencing, we never had to worry about it. Just be sure this “auto alarm” feature doesn’t arm your house when your spouse is still at home.
Now we know this might seem like a silly thing to get excited about. But we must say, abode’s key fob is quite the looker. It’s about 25% smaller than our car key fob, and it has that modern two-tone, black and white design. If someone sees it on our keychain and asks what we drive — well, we drive an iota — it even sounds like a car!
Unfortunately, though, the button symbols took some getting used to. One night we pressed “Away” meaning to hit “Home,” and within 5 minutes our motion sensor triggered our alarm and woke our little one. That’s one mistake that will never (ever) happen again. Overall, we really enjoyed using abode’s key fob. We definitely got a lot of miles out of it.
When it comes to security cameras, we always look for at least 1080p HD resolution, 120-degree field of view, and two-way talk. And the iota camera checks all the boxes. We also appreciate that it’s built right into the main hub, which means less security equipment inside of our home.
The iota’s motion detection feature would trigger the alarm while armed in “Away” mode. And any time it sensed motion, a 30-second video clip was recorded and sent to our smartphone as an instant notification. You can fine-tune your video alerts in the abode app.
The video quality was sharp, and we only noticed a 1-second lag while streaming live video. Even in low-light conditions it worked pretty well (see the snapshot below).
As mentioned, we were able to adjust the video length as well as the resolution within the app’s settings, which is a nice little touch that we don’t see very often. Note that high-resolution footage will take up more storage space and use more bandwidth.
You’d think a company with such a strong focus on smart home automation would offer a touchscreen control panel. But abode has nothing of the sort! We think their push-button keypad is decent, but it’s just not the same as having touchscreen controls. So hopefully abode adds a modern panel to their lineup soon. In the meantime, at least you’ll have the well-designed mobile app and key fob to control the system (which we like!).
Another thing we didn’t love is that abode’s starter kits only come with one entryway sensor. Even if you live in a 400 sq. ft. studio apartment, chances are you’ll have a front door to protect and at least one window (hopefully). But it’s most likely that you’ll have several entry points to secure, which means you’ll have to add additional sensors to your order.
FYI: If you go with a starter kit, you’ll likely have to add extra sensors to your order. Thankfully, abode sells extra sensors on-the-cheap for $25 each. We had to buy a handful of extra sensors to secure our home.
We did experience some setbacks while setting up abode, so we think the process could be a little more intuitive. But honestly, it’s to be expected with any DIY project. If you want the flexibility and affordability of a DIY system like abode, but don’t want to roll up your sleeves, note that you can pay $99 at checkout for professional installation. So again, you have options.
Now we talked about abode’s native smart home automation chops using CUE. But what about integrations? If you’re a smart home buff (or want to be), you should know that abode integrates with 100+ devices from a handful of third-party platforms. We didn’t push our iota to its limits here, but we can say that it trumps other DIY brands in the home automation category.
Other systems might play well with Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control, and maybe Z-Wave or Zigbee (if you’re lucky). But abode works with Z-Wave, ZigBee, IFTTT, Nest, Philips Hue, Apple HomeKit, Yale, Schlage, Bose, and the list goes on. Seriously, what more do you need?
Like most home security companies, abode keeps things simple with their subscription plans. We had three options to choose from: Basic, Standard, and Pro. Keep in mind that the Basic Plan is included for free, but doesn’t offer 24/7 monitoring or really any of the features that makes abode worth it.
So we recommend springing for a paid plan to unlock features like CUE automations, instant alerts, video recording, and of course, 24/7 professional monitoring. Here are the main benefits and the latest abode prices you can expect with each plan.
|Subscription Plans||Basic (Included)||Standard||Pro|
|Timeline & Media Storage||✖||7-days||30-days|
|CUE Home Automations||✖||✓||✓|
|24/7 Professional Monitoring||✖||✖||✓|
|Price||Included Free||$6 per month or $60 per year||$20 per month or $180 per year|
As far as professional monitoring goes, abode is a little more expensive than, say, Ring Alarm or SimpliSafe and some other DIY systems. For instance, Ring’s Protect Plus Plan is only $10 per month, and SimpliSafe charges $14.99 monthly for their basic professional monitoring.
But for $20 per month you can get abode’s Pro Plan that includes 24/7 monitoring, video support, plus smart home automation.
Pro Tip: Take advantage of abode’s 30-day free trial of their Pro Plan. If it turns out that you don’t like it, just be sure to cancel it within the 30-day trial period.
Before we move on, it’s also worth mentioning that both abode Gateways offer local video storage for free. This means you can pop in a Micro SD card and store video clips on the camera itself. On the iota, you’ll find the SD slot on the back of the device, just above the ethernet port.
We only had to call in once to speak with an abode agent (during set up). We’re pretty sure abode’s support center is located in India, as our friendly rep had a thick Indian accent. This is neither good nor bad — it’s just the way they operate. What matters is that our abode rep spoke excellent English and was able to help us along when we needed assistance.
They also have a fairly robust online Support Center, with an FAQ section, live chat, troubleshooting guides, the whole bit. All things considered, abode makes the grade in the customer service department.
Did You Know: Abode offers a 30-day return policy on equipment, plus a 1-year warranty. Although these are nice customer-friendly policies, they are also the industry standard these days.
Abode is a solid DIY home security system, with just a couple of caveats. First, if you’re wanting touchscreen controls, you won’t find them here. And if you’re not willing to spend at least $250-$300 for equipment, and $20 per month for their Pro package, then we really don’t think it’s worth it.
BUT… if you are willing to spend a little extra for equipment and monitoring, we think you’ll really like the abode iota Kit combined with their Pro Plan. This will give you around-the-clock home protection from their professional monitoring center, video support, and best of all, a whole world of smart home automations in the CUE.
Abode offers 24/7 professional monitoring with cellular backup, but only on their Pro Plan.
No, Abode now offers month-to-month monitoring. No contracts are required.
The iota Gateway is the better choice, as it comes with a built-in HD camera with motion detection. Otherwise, the traditional and iota Gateways function the same.
Abode offers a 30-day return policy on equipment, which is standard for the industry.
Yes, Abode offers easy DIY installation, but just be sure to follow the in-app instructions step-by-step.
Iota. Wikipedia. Retrieved August 12, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iota
Spectrum Enterprise. (2020). What is the difference between a WiFi and Ethernet connection?
If This, Then That. (2020). https://ifttt.com/
Goabode.com. (2020). Meet Abode CUE. https://goabode.com/smart-home/cue
CIO.com. (2020). What is Geofencing? https://www.cio.com/article/2383123/geofencing-explained.html