Customizable home security with loads of smart home automation features in the “CUE”
When it comes to security equipment, the newest and shiniest isn’t always best. However, abode — a relative newcomer in this space — is quickly becoming one of our favorite home security providers.
Why? Because they’re offering some of the sleekist, most well-designed equipment in the industry today. Their new iota Gateway in particular had my inner design senses tingling. In an industry where big, bulky equipment is the norm, abode is really setting themselves apart.
I recently purchased an abode kit and spent about 75 hours testing it. What was the verdict? Let’s say it was somewhere between “well that’s neat,” and “holy cow.” While there were some frustrating moments, overall I’ve decided abode is more than a pretty face.
Don’t worry, you’ll get the full story right here. So if you’re looking for home protection with 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 the best DIY home security systems, like SimpliSafe and Frontpoint.
Update: Since the time of this writing, abode has streamlined their kit offerings down to two. The iota All-in-One Security kit that offers an iota Hub, a mini door/window sensor, and a key fob for $329. The Security Kit offers the same equipment, but swap out the iota for a regular Security Hub. That one will only set you back $279.
Why’d they do this? We figure it’s because abode wants to focus more on customizability rather than offering scores of “kits” for customers. While it makes shopping a bit more labor intensive on your end, it is nice to be able to purchase exactly what you need without any fluff or filler.
Now back to my experience with abode.
I went with the iota Kit Elite, abode’s most high-tech system. It came with the all-in-one Gateway hub, door/window sensors, and a few other accessories. Though abode offers several equipment kits, you can also build a custom system from the ground up.
The iota Kit Elite includes:
This kit will set you back $502, which is pretty reasonable considering the iota Gateway has a built-in HD camera. And in addition to protecting your house, abode doubles as a full-on home automation platform.
You also have the option of scoring an abode system, sans iota, starting at $229. 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 systems. And abode’s entry-level kits are cheap enough to land abode on our list of most affordable home security systems.
Pro Tip: abode’s iota security kits start at $329, and they’re 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 is impressive, and I think abode’s traditional Gateway could leave you wanting for more.
|abode Home Security Systems||Smart Security Kit||Smart Security Kit Complete||Smart Security Kit Plus||Smart Security Kit Elite||iota All-In-One Security Kit||iota Kit Plus||iota Kit Elite|
|Base Station||Gen 2 Gateway||Gen 2 Gateway||Gen 2 Gateway||Gen 2 Gateway||iota Gateway||iota Gateway||iota Gateway|
|Mini Door / Window Sensor||1||1||3||4||1||3||4|
|abode Cam 2||None||2||None||None||None||None||None|
Right when I unboxed the iota Gateway, a grin came across my face. Its smooth, glossy, black-and-white motif felt very sleek and modern. It’s the details that abode really gets right, here. From the gateway to the entry sensors right down to the little key fob, it’s all very handsome and well built. The pieces didn’t feel obtrusive or out of place in my home, and I think you’ll be pleased with the design, too.
But of course, you judge a system on more than just looks. So let’s 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. It’s called the Gateway because of 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 (Gen 2) Gateway. The iota comes with a built-in 1080p HD camera with motion detection; the Gen 2 Gateway doesn’t. Otherwise, both units are identical, except that the iota is more compact than its predecessor; hence the name iota, meaning “an extremely small amount.”1
Honestly, the Gen 2 Gateway looks like an internet router from the ’90s. So the iota Gateway (pictured above) is all-around better looking, and it offers an added layer of video security.
Did You Know: Both Gateways support abode’s CUE smart home automation engine. But I prefer the iota for its video capabilities. Plus, the iota packages are only about $100 more. Worth it!
abode prides itself on two things: home automation and DIY setup. So I was expecting a fast and easy installation. This is a big draw, and it’s something that brands like SimpliSafe have dialed-in. (Read our SimpliSafe review to see how easy that system was to install.)
First things first: In your abode box, you’ll find a nifty little card with five steps for setup. It’ll ask you to plug in your Gateway near your internet router, connect your Gateway to your router using the included Ethernet cable, activate the battery backup (using a switch at the base of the Gateway), and then download the app. So far, so easy!
Next, you’ll log into abode’s app or web platform to complete the install. Once you’ve created an account, abode will ask for your activation key, which you’ll find at the top of that nifty little instruction card. Then … voila! You’ll receive the message: “Success! iota connected!”
You can then go around the house and mount the entryway sensors. Note that abode’s mini door/window sensors are some of the tiniest sensors I’ve ever seen. (Remember coins?) They’re even smaller than Ring Alarm’s 2nd Gen sensors, which really surprised me.
Setting up and installing the sensors is as easy as following the step-by-step instructions provided by abode. The main thing you need to do is pull out the plastic tab to activate each one and stick them in place. Once I did, I hardly even noticed them anymore – they were that low profile.
That said, some feedback would have been nice. There was no chime or anything to let me know that I’d installed and connected the sensors properly. I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, which wasn’t the right call.
Turns out, it’s important to press the tiny button on the back of each sensor before mounting, a small detail I must have missed. Anyhow, this only set me back five to seven minutes total. And it’s not unusual to come across small hiccups when installing home security systems, even DIY ones.
Turns out, it’s important to press the tiny button on the back of each sensor before mounting (a small detail I must have missed). Anyhow, this only set me back five to seven minutes total. And it’s not unusual to come across small hiccups when installing home security systems, even DIY ones.
As far as the iota Gateway goes, you have the option of keeping it connected via Ethernet2 (most reliable), or switching to Wi-Fi. You don’t have that option with the Gen 2 Gateway, which is another reason I prefer the iota.
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. I had a spot in mind that was nowhere near the router, so I untethered the iota and set it free.
Finally, it was time to choose a subscription plan. 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.
I went with a 30-day free trial of abode’s Pro plan, and I’m glad I did. But more about that in just a bit.
The first day using abode brought some intriguing surprises, to say the least.
Since the iota Gateway has a built-in camera, you’ll want to put a little thought into where you position it. I put mine between my living room and entryway, on a bookshelf with my Ring Stick Up Cam. (If it’s good enough for Ring, then it’s good enough for abode.)
Arming and disarming the system is simple, but there’s one thing abode does a little differently than some other brands. Their “disarm” mode is actually called “standby.” This can take a bit to get used to. Just another example of how abode marches to the beat of a different DIY drum.
On the app dashboard pictured above, you’ll see your main system controls. You can perform these commands from virtually anywhere in the world using your smartphone. You can also arm and disarm the system using the Keypad 2.0, which is included in several of the security system kits. (If you choose a kit that doesn’t have a keypad, you can add one on for $99.)
I placed the keypad in my entryway, but to be honest, I hardly ever used it. I mainly controlled the system using my iPhone and the key fob that came in the box. (More on that nifty little guy in a bit.)
While getting used to the system, you may be surprised by the beeping sounds coming from the Gateway. At one point my wife came into the room and made an R2-D2 reference, asking the whereabouts of C-3PO. Funny, but true. The system beeps a lot. Thankfully, you can change that. Just 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 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 anytime you want. “Hamilton” soundtrack, anyone?
You’ll also be 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. Some systems require a minimum 30-second delay, but in my eyes, long delays only spell bad news.
For instance, if you have a one-minute entry delay, that gives an intruder enough time to have a field day before hightailing it out of there. Even 30 seconds is enough time for a thief to grab-and-go. I’m happy to say that abode offers more delay customizations than any other system I’ve tried.
Every time you arm or disarm (or standby) your system, the iota Gateway will use the built-in camera to capture a short video clip, which then posts to your timeline in the app. You don’t get that with other DIY systems unless you purchase an indoor security camera separately.
If you’re in the market for an add-on cam, abode offers two of them with 1080p HD resolution: the abode Cam 2 and the Outdoor Smart Cam. They both have two-way talk, weatherproofing, person detection (more about that later), and full-color night vision. The Outdoor Smart Cam can even be mounted as a video doorbell.
Pro Tip: Learn what to look for, how much to pay, and more in our buying guide for home security cameras.
|Features||abode Cam 2||Outdoor Smart Cam|
|1080p HD Resolution||Yes||Yes|
|Two-Way Voice Enabled||Yes||Yes|
|Full Color Night Vision||Yes||Yes|
|Compatible With Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant||Yes||Yes|
Now for a lightning round of my favorite abode features. This will give you a sense of what it’s really like living with abode.
Even if you typically like to control your system using your smartphone, you’ll appreciate how abode’s web platform lays everything out in a way that makes it easy to find what you need. Most security systems offer a web interface (Frontpoint is our favorite), but the design is usually pretty uninspiring. I think abode has it dialed-in here. Have a look …
CUE is easily my favorite thing about abode. 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 You’ll really like the feature set here, especially if you’re a smart home aficionado like me. (And if you are, I recommend checking out our guide to the best home automation security systems.)
So … what exactly does CUE do?
First off, it’s where you’ll set up and manage your home automations. At my house, that includes smart lights, as well as a garage door sensor. Using CUE, I was able to integrate these devices and set custom automations to do my bidding.
For instance, I created an automation that armed the system 15 minutes after sunset. The sun sets about 9 p.m. in my area, and by that time I’m cozied up with Netflix anyway.
I also set the smart lights to automatically dim after sunset. And I set the garage door to close whenever I left my “geofence,” which is a 600-foot radius around my house. The abode system does all of this behind the scenes, while also keeping intruders out via the perimeter alarm. Not bad.
It’s impressive how granular you can get with “triggers” and automations.4 And it’s really handy having them as “Quick Actions” right on your dashboard. Once you create an automation, all it takes is a simple tap-of-the-screen to activate. Pretty slick!
As far as smart home automation goes, abode is a few steps ahead of other DIY home security systems. And it’s all thanks to CUE. But if you’re really looking to smart-ify your home, I’d recommend reading our Vivint home security review. Vivint is a touch pricier, but you’ll enjoy lots of super-intuitive smart home features.
It’s worth mentioning that I 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 really won’t have to think about your system after you program it. Just “set it and forget it.” 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. I talked about geofencing in my Frontpoint home security review, because their system offers nice geofence arming reminders. But abode takes things a step further and actually arms the system for you.
This is helpful for those of us who sometimes forget to set the alarm when leaving for the day. With geofencing, you never have to worry about it. (Just be sure this “auto alarm” feature doesn’t arm your house when your spouse is still at home. Oops!)
abode’s key fob is quite the looker! It’s about 25 percent smaller than my car key fob, and it has that modern two-tone, black-and-white design. If someone sees it on your keychain and asks what you drive, just tell them you drive an iota. It even sounds like a car!
Unfortunately, the button symbols on the key fob take some getting used to. One night I pressed “Away” meaning to hit “Home,” and within five minutes my motion sensor triggered the alarm and woke my little one. That’s one mistake that will never (ever) happen again. Overall, I really enjoyed using abode’s key fob. It definitely got a lot of miles.
When it comes to security cameras, you always want to look for a resolution of at least 1080p HD, a 120-degree field of view, and two-way talk. The iota camera checks all the boxes. And it’s great that it’s built right into the main hub. That means less security equipment inside the home.
abode also just rolled out a new person detection feature in the iota smart hub and their stand-alone cameras. This takes those cameras to a whole new level of intelligence. When someone approaches (or enters!) your home, you’ll get an instant mobile notification with a short clip of the activity. New “person” tags will appear on your timeline in the app, and you’ll be able to go back and review the clip for as long as your storage plan allows.
FYI: I like abode’s new person detection feature; however, remember that person detection and facial recognition are two different things. abode doesn’t offer facial recognition (yet), which is advanced AI-powered functionality. You’ll only find this feature in top-shelf cams like the Nest Cam IQ. (Read about facial recognition in our Google Nest Cam IQ review.)
The iota has motion detection, too. But that’s standard these days. The iota’s motion detection feature will trigger the alarm while armed in “Away” mode. And any time it senses motion, a 30-second video clip will be recorded and sent to your smartphone as an instant notification. You can fine-tune your video alerts in the abode app.
The video quality is sharp, and I only noticed a one-second lag while streaming live video. Even in low-light conditions it worked pretty well. (See the snapshot below.)
As mentioned, you’ll be able to adjust the video length and resolution within the app’s settings, which is a nice little touch that you 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 touch-screen control panel. But abode has nothing of the sort. Their push-button keypad is decent, but it’s just not the same as having touch-screen 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.
Another thing I don’t love is that abode’s starter kits only come with one entryway sensor. Even if you live in a 400-square-foot studio apartment, chances are you’ll have a front door to protect and at least one window (hopefully). Most likely, 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 for a reasonable price. You can get the standard door/window sensors for $32 each, or the mini door/window sensors for $38 each.
I did experience some setbacks while installing abode, so the process could be a little more intuitive. But honestly, a few bumps are 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, you can pay $99 at checkout for professional installation. So 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 160 devices from a handful of third-party platforms. I didn’t push my iota to its limits here, but I 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 DIY home security companies, abode keeps things simple with their subscription plans. There are three options to choose from: Basic, Standard, and Pro. The Basic plan is included for free, but doesn’t offer 24/7 monitoring or any of the advanced features that really make abode worth it.
I 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 latest abode security system plans and prices, and the benefits of each.
|Price||Included Free||$6 per month or $60 per year||$20 per month or $180 per year|
|Timeline and Media Storage||Yes||7 days||30 days|
|CUE Home Automations||No||Yes||Yes|
|24/7 Professional Monitoring||No||No||Yes|
As far as 24/7 professional monitoring goes, abode is a little more expensive than some other popular DIY systems. For instance, Ring Alarm pricing runs as low as $10 per month, and SimpliSafe pricing starts at $14.99 per month for basic professional monitoring.
But for $20 per month (or the discounted rate of $200 per year), you can get abode’s Pro plan, which includes 24/7 professional monitoring, video support, and smart home automation.
Pro Tip: Take advantage of abode’s 30-day free trial of the Pro plan. If you’re not happy with it, just cancel within the 30-day trial period and you won’t be charged.
Before moving on, it’s 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.
I only had to call in once to speak with an abode agent (during setup). I’m pretty sure abode’s support center is located in India, as the friendly abode 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 clear English and was able to help me when I needed assistance.
abode also has a fairly robust online support center, with an FAQ section, live chat, and troubleshooting guides. 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 one-year warranty. Although these are customer-friendly policies, they’re also the industry standard these days.
This is a solid DIY home security system, with just a couple of caveats. First, if you’re wanting touch-screen controls, you won’t find them here. And if you’re not willing to spend at least $350 to $400 for equipment, and $20 per month for their Pro package, then I really don’t think it’s worth it.
That said, if you are willing to spend a little extra for equipment and monitoring, I think you’ll really like any of abode’s three iota kits, 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 with CUE.
Yes, abode offers 24/7 professional monitoring with cellular backup, but only on their Pro plan.
No, abode 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. Besides that feature, the Gen 2 Gateway and the iota Gateway function the same.
abode offers a 30-day return policy on equipment, which is standard for the industry.
Yes, abode offers easy DIY installation. Just be sure to follow the step-by-step instructions in the app.
Merriam-Webster. (2021). iota. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/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
As Managing Editor for SafeHome.org, Rob Gabriele has written and edited over 1,000 articles in home security. His expertise is in smart home automation and home protection with thousands of hours of testing and research under his belt. Formerly a reporter and producer for the USAToday network, Rob has been a writer and editor for over 10 years. He holds a Master’s of Science with an emphasis on writing from the University of Montana, and he currently lives in the Reno/Tahoe area of Nevada.