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Simple but effective DIY home security systems with touchscreen control panels
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Editor's Note: Protect America was purchased by Brinks Home Security in 2020. If you’re looking for a comparable alternative, you might consider reading our review of Cove or our analysis of Vivint.
If you’re looking for fancy features and tech, then you’re probably barking up the wrong tree with Protect America. But if you value simplicity and low prices, then we think you’ll like these home security systems. A handful of great policies stood out to us during our latest round of testing. But as you know, we leave no stone unturned! So, we were bound to find some not-so-pleasant things hidden beneath the surface.
Protect America isn’t a perfect system (there’s really no such thing), but they do offer total home protection, DIY installation, touchscreen control panels, and easy-to-understand plans (a few things we liked!). On the other hand, we didn’t love the lack of options or advanced features. But, hey, some folks like to keep it simple — and we understand that. So, we ran Protect America through the gauntlet, so to speak, and we’re sharing all our findings with you today. Let’s see just how well this company “Protects America.”
Based in Austin, Texas, Protect America has been in business since the Bush Sr. Presidency way back in ‘92. By 2001, the company had installed 200,000 security systems across America. Then, in 2005, they became the first company to produce a monitored DIY installation security system, setting the standard for a new business model that has since exploded in popularity.1 Rockbridge Growth Equity later acquired Protect America for $100 million.2 In 2017, they were named one of SDM Magazine’s top U.S. security systems.3
We found that Protect America offers some of the best prices in the industry. The systems start at just $19.99 per month, with no installation fees or upfront equipment fees. While most DIY security systems cost at least $200 to $400 just to get the equipment, Protect America gives you the equipment for free. Now, you’re probably thinking — that sounds a little too good to be true. And you’re right…
As they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch! With Protect America, you don’t actually own the equipment; you just pay for it month after month (after a month). Well, technically you’re paying for the 24-7 professional monitoring service, which is required. Thankfully it’s ultra-affordable, and you’ll probably agree. Protect America provides up to $1,400 in “free” security equipment. With free installation, that’s about as little out-of-pocket as any home security company offers. Then, it costs between $19.99 and $54.99 per month depending on the equipment package and monitoring plan you choose.
|Monthly Cost||$19.99+ per month||$37.99+ per month||$42.99+ per month|
|Protection Type||Basic Security||Security + Automation + Video||Security + Automation + Video|
|Contract Length||36 months||36 months||36 months|
As you can see, the plans are easy on the pocketbook compared to industry averages. But keep in mind, those are just the starting prices. With each plan, you’ll have the option between landline, broadband, or wireless monitoring. And the prices vary depending on which option you choose (so choose wisely!).
Don’t worry, we’ll lay it all out for you and even share our expert recommendation as to which (if any!) of these plans are worth your time and money. But before we do, there’s one more thing to file away in the ol’ memory bank.
Protect America also offers a “lowest price guarantee.” That is, the company guarantees the lowest total price over 36 months.4 If you present a lower price within 15 days of the sign-up period, they’ll beat it. All right, so you’re probably itching to hear about our personal experience with the systems, so let’s dive right in.
FYI: We didn’t test the “lowest price guarantee,” but we imagine a company like Protect America will stand behind their word here.
To get started with Protect America, we used the “Build Your System” tool on their website, but you can also call in to order. Since we had to secure a 2,500-square-foot home, we opted for their premium Platinum package. Note that the biggest difference between the options is the number of entryway sensors included. The more you pay, the more you’ll get (that’s life!). And with the upper-tier plans, we had the choice to go with the push-button Simon XT panel or the new touchscreen Simon XTi-5. That was a no-brainer. Of course, we went with the touch screen panel. Here’s a roundup of what you can expect:
If you live in a smaller home or apartment, the Copper kit might do the trick. But chances are you have multiple entry points that only the Silver or Platinum kits will cover.
Once we chose our equipment package, we then had to decide on a monitoring plan. We go over the three different monitoring options in our Monitoring section below. But for now, just know that you can choose between landline, broadband, or cellular monitoring. We went with cellular monitoring, even though it was the most expensive option. All in all, we were out of the (virtual) door with total home security + home automation for about $55 per month. Not bad at all.
FYI: If you want smart home automation or video support, you’ll have to choose either the broadband or cellular monitoring option. The landline option does not support these features.
We’ve tested more than a hundred security systems over the years, so we know how important it is to look over terms and conditions with a fine-toothed comb. The fact is, sometimes you can’t avoid contracts or disappointing cancellation policies. Protect America has plenty of both. They require a 36-month contract, love it or leave it (oh wait, you can’t leave it!). They also require written notice at least 60 days before your contract expires, lest they roll your contract right into auto-renewal. Honestly, this requirement wasn’t a deal-breaker for us, and it shouldn’t be for you.
Pro Tip: Always read the fine print! Most company policies — like long-term contracts and tricky cancellations — aren’t so bad if you prepare for them.
We did like Protect America’s 30-day cancellation policy for new customers. We had the freedom to cancel our service at any point in the first month, knowing they would waive the restocking fee and only charge us for the return shipping of the equipment. We’re seeing this 30-day to 60-day grace period more and more these days. And we must say, we like it!
Thankfully, all of Protect America’s wireless security systems offer easy DIY installation. The devices come pre-configured and ready-to-go right out of the box. It took us about 20 minutes to set up the base station and mount our door and window sensors around our house. No drilling or wiring was necessary, which is standard for do-it-yourself systems across the industry. Because let’s be honest, we’re a nation of DIYers, but don’t make us sweat for it!
Compared to other devices we’ve tested, we found Protect America’s Simon XTi-5 touchscreen control panel to be a little bulky with a much smaller display screen of 3.5 inches. We didn’t really like the way it looked mounted on our wall (it jutted out a good bit), so we just placed it on the counter. To be honest, we weren’t impressed with the product design, but it did perform great for us. We’ll touch more on that in just a bit.
Remember that Protect America is now owned by Brinks, and alarm.com provides the equipment.5 This collaboration is both good and bad. We think it’s good because it’s easy to use and high-quality. But it’s bad because it lacks the innovative features we like to see. Brands like Alder, for instance, make their own equipment and innovate ’til the cows come home.
We were able to control our system using the company’s SMART Connect mobile app. When the alarm tripped, we received instant alerts via the app, and if we had a camera installed, we’d be able to tap into the live feed video using our smartphone from pretty much anywhere.6 Now, this technology isn’t exactly ground-breaking. In fact, you can expect app-based controls from 95% of DIY home security systems these days.
However, we do think Protect America is on to something with their Simon XTi-5 touchscreen control panel. If you can look past the clunky design, we think you’ll like the voice-alerts, custom chimes, automatic system checks, and the way you can control smart home features, such as smart door locks and smart lights, right from the panel. There’s also a built-in panic button in the upper-left corner of the device to summon help when you need it most. Overall, the system is a cinch to control.
FYI: Using Protect America was easy, but not as easy as other DIY competitors like Ring or SimpliSafe.
During our initial research, we did come across a handful of negative reviews. But this is to be expected. Most complaints filed against Protect America involved contract disputes. However, in our experience, they were easy to deal with, and their agents were friendly and professional. The customer support team is available from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. It’s important to note that Protect America holds an A+ rating with the BBB.7 And that’s nothing to sneeze at!
If you experience a break-in, you should know that calls are handled by three monitoring centers for “triple redundancy.” That is, if one monitoring center goes offline, they still have two backup centers at the ready. This framework is better than most brands that only offer double redundancy or no redundancy at all.
In our experience, the system was responsive to our break-in scenarios. The monitoring center fielded the alerts and reached out within 40 seconds from the alarm sounding. It wasn’t the fastest (that award goes to Alder with 3.4-second response times), but it was consistent at the 30 to 40 second mark, which meets the industry average.
Did You Know: Protect America now offers 100% wireless systems that are monitored on a powerful 4G cellular network.
|Landline Monitoring||Broadband Monitoring||Cellular Monitoring|
Note, broadband and cellular monitoring cost exactly the same. So again, if you do choose Protect America, we would recommend going with the cellular monitoring option, as it’s the same price as broadband, but it is slightly faster and more reliable.
Let’s get something out of the way. Protect America certainly didn’t razzle-dazzle us in the features and tech department. But honestly, at this price point, we weren’t expecting it to leave us awestruck! That said, the system did offer some features that stood out during our hands-on testing. Here are some of the aspects we found most useful.
Simon XTi Control Panel — The Simon XTi touch screen control panel can monitor up to 40 devices for home security, environmental safety, and home automation. The control panel comes standard with many wireless home security systems on the market. But if you recall, it’s built for function, not form.
SMART Connect Mobile App — SMART Connect is Protect America’s free mobile app. Depending on the features you opted for, you can use the app to arm or disarm your system, view live video, control door locks, adjust lighting, and more.
Instant Notifications — With the mobile app, you can receive text messages if your entry sensors, smoke detectors, or other safety devices are triggered. Staying connected to your home via text notifications translates to a little more peace of mind. Also, it sort of feels like the future.
Home Automation — Although Protect America doesn’t offer many smart home devices, they do offer Z-Wave compatibility. You can use the app to configure and control home features remotely, such as your thermostat, smart door locks, lighting, window blinds, and more. The systems are also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Pretty nice!
Video Support — The company offers some video capabilities, but don’t get too excited. They only sell an indoor camera and a doorbell camera. The devices offer 1080p HD video quality, night vision, two-way talk, and a couple of other features. The cams are easy to install and simple to use. But we’d like to see more camera options in their lineup.
Did You Know: Home security systems really do work. In fact, one study shows that up to 60% of burglars are deterred by home security systems.8
For the most part, we like their equipment lineup. Much like the home security giant ADT, Protect America offers a lot of add-ons and upgrades to customize your system. However, we wish they were more transparent with their prices. They don’t list costs anywhere on their website or online. But you can expect to pay industry average prices for most of the equipment below.
|Simon XT Pushbutton Control Panel||Control|
|Simon XTi-5 Touchscreen Control Panel||Control|
|Mini Secondary Control Panel||Control|
|Remote Alarm Control with Panic Button||Control|
|Glass Break Sensor||Sensor|
|Indoor Security Camera||Camera|
|Garage Door Sensor||Sensor|
|Keypad Door Lock||Entry|
|Wireless Light Control||Control|
|Z-Wave Appliance Module||Control|
Well, we do think Protect America offers a lot of bang for your buck. While there’s a lot to be desired when it comes to fancy features and tech, these systems get the job done without breaking the bank. We really liked the easy DIY setup, the relatively affordable monitoring plans, and the straightforward package options. But we didn’t love the long-term contracts and strict cancellation policies. Overall, it’s a decent system, but it’s not for everyone.
If you’re looking for affordable home security and don’t mind signing a three-year contract, Protect America might be just the solution for your budget and lifestyle. Expect to pay between $42 and $55 per month (because if you’re like us, you’ll opt for the more expensive cellular monitoring plan). This setup will give you all the equipment and 24-7 professional monitoring you need. At the end of the day, Protect America is a solid solution, but it’s not our top pick for home security.
Yes, Protect America systems can be installed without any tools in about 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, all of their systems require a minimum 36-month contract.
No, they require a monthly monitoring subscription, but starting at $19.99 per month, we found them to be quite affordable.
The upper-tier plans do support home automation features and integrations, as well as video capabilities.
Yes, Protect America offers landline, broadband, and cellular monitoring.
Protect America. (2019, October 14). Wikipedia. Retrieved April 20, 2020.
Rockbridge Growth Equity, LLC. (2020). Family of Companies.
SDM Magazine. (2017). 2017 SDM 100 Rankings.
Protect America. (2020). Terms & Conditions.
Protect America. (2018, September 5). Alarm.Com Google Home: What are your options?
SecureNet Technologies. (2019, July 30). Protect America.
Protect America: Better Business Bureau® Profile. (2020, April 13). BBB.
Blevins, K. R., Kuhns, J. B., & Lee, S. (2012, December). Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender's Perspective.