ADT Home Security: Our Honest Review

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What’s new for ADT in 2023?

With an almost 150-year history behind it, ADT is possibly one of the most well-known home security companies. With the ever-changing technology of the past decades, the company has had to keep up with popular DIY home security systems and other competitors, like Comcast Xfinity and Vivint.

The company is working to rise to the challenge. In 2020, ADT started integrating with Google Nest home automation devices, including its smart cams and Google Assistant-equipped Nest Hub smart displays. In April 2021, ADT began installing and selling Nest products. This means existing ADT customers can now control their security systems with Google Assistant through voice and touch control using a Nest Mini, Nest Hub or Nest Hub Max. 

Perhaps most importantly, ADT unveiled an app at CES 2023 that allows customers to control all their devices and settings in one place. This addresses one of CNET writer David Priest’s major hangups with the service in his 2022 review, which follows below. It allows ADT customers to control all devices and settings in one place rather than jumping back and forth between the app, control panel and online portal. The new ADT Plus app is available now to DIY customers and should be available to all clients with professionally installed systems later in 2023.

Even with those updates, ADT probably isn’t worth its steep price. Despite the system performing adequately, its high prices make it one of the least enticing professional home security systems on the market.

ADT sign in front of a house ADT sign in front of a house

ADT is a classic home security brand facing an evolving and ever-modernizing marketplace.

David Priest/CNET

Here’s how we tested ADT home security 

Before diving into our ADT review, a little context might be helpful. While CNET has historically tested plenty of smart home security devices — and even DIY security systems — our coverage of professionally installed home security systems was a little more sparse. We’re trying to change that, testing major home security providers in the industry, from professional services like ADT and Vivint to DIY systems like Ring and Wyze. With this ongoing project, we’re trying to give the fullest and most up-to-date information on which system is best for you.

Here’s how we test: First, we either purchase the system ourselves or work with the company to acquire it for testing purposes, to be returned afterward. For professionally installed systems like ADT, we schedule an installation with technicians like any customer and then follow their instructions and suggestions carefully.

Once everything is up and running, we test each device individually, ensuring it accomplishes what it should (like, does a motion detector detect motion?). Then we see how the system works as a whole, looking for what integration options are available and how accessible controls and triggers are.

These systems are tough to rate, partly because each one presents a different vision of how home security can look. Some focus more on security and others emphasize smart home devices. Some lean more on a central hub, while others work best with an app. My goal is to judge each system according to its own standards, essentially asking what it’s trying to do, and then answering whether it does. No system exists in a vacuum, and sometimes I’ll point out when a system doesn’t try to do something but should.

In short, I’m testing each system to make sure it delivers on its promises, and I’m asking how it stacks up against the packages offered by competitors as a full package.

My installation process with ADT

I tested ADT’s home security system over two weeks, and my time with it was mostly unremarkable. The installation process stood out as particularly painful.

Like many other home security companies, ADT sends professionals to your house to help determine the best setup for your needs. Once you figure out what you want to be installed, technicians set it up for you. For this review, I wanted my setup to include at least one of every type of device. This resulted in an installation of a similar scale to what most customers might get, but not of a similar makeup, as I’ll discuss later.

The three ADT employees who came to my house were polite and professional. They were also responsive to my questions and requests, such as angling cameras in specific ways. The installation experience was far worse than Vivint’s, for example, which is the system I tested only a few weeks before ADT.

The first problem was the length of time it took. The sales reps arrived at 8 a.m., and the technician finished his work just after 5 p.m. We decided on the array of devices to install in about an hour, and the remaining eight hours were just spent on setup.

That might not seem unusual, but let’s compare it with a competitor for a moment. Vivint’s system took only a bit over seven hours total to install and included almost all the same devices ADT provided, plus eight extra door/window sensors, a second mounted outdoor camera, a car monitor, an external hard drive for video backup and a handful of extra sensors of various sorts. In short, it took less time for Vivint to install many more devices.

This wasn’t a shortcoming of my technician (although that will always be an uncontrollable variable in these situations) but of the process. Vivint had all three professionals present to help with setup. Only one of ADT’s three professionals took an active role in installing devices.

When I asked, ADT told me this approach and time frame for setup were standard.

ADT security tablet ADT security tablet

One key install element is setting a passcode, which can be used on the central hub and tablet to disarm the system.

David Priest/CNET

The second issue with installation was its intrusiveness. For liability reasons, someone must stay in the house during setup, which is typical for professional security installations. About 15 minutes at the end of the process required testing incredibly loud alarms for each device in the system. My home is over 3,000 square feet and two stories, but even on a separate floor, my father had to step outside to take a phone call, and my 3- and 5-year-old boys shut themselves in their room and covered their ears for the duration of the testing. Testing alarms and pinging monitoring services were much less involved for both Vivint and Xfinity — both were brief and quiet.

Finally, and most seriously, the installation did not encourage good passcode security. When one of the installers helped explain the system to me, he set 1-2-3-4 as my passcode. I was neither required nor advised to change this passcode later; considering how popular 1-2-3-4 is as a four-digit passcode, this felt irresponsible.

When I asked ADT about this practice, it said it was not standard. According to the company, reps usually “learn the customer’s requested four-digit passcode [and enter it] into the system for them and instruct them on how to change it. Upon your recommendation that you would play with the system yourself so you could determine how user-friendly the system is, the ADT team did not go too deep into the demo or into [discussing] the change of the passcode once they had left.”

It’s possible that my presence as a reviewer changed my experience. Still, I only mentioned my intention to play with the system after the 1-2-3-4 code had been set, so it seems unlikely that my comments affected the initial setup, which was the most troubling part of the installation.

Again, many of my criticisms here are not of the individual installers who helped me but of the company procedures that are — or aren’t — in place. When my technician accidentally wired my thermostat to send out heat after the temperature was turned down, I called the number he left, and he was able to help within a few hours. I was impressed with ADT’s customer service responsiveness.

Security and smart home monitoring

Once installed, ADT’s system lets you monitor your home effectively. Across flood sensors, smoke and CO detectors, glass break sensors and door/window sensors, you’re pretty well covered, whether you’re arming the system for the night or setting it to away mode for a week while you’re out.

You also get some smart home functionality, as with many modern security systems. If you’re lying in bed, you can check that your smart deadbolt is locked and ensure your thermostat is set to the cool 67 degrees you like when you’re sleeping. You can also set and automate routines so devices automatically respond to your behavior.

ADT's connected thermostat ADT's connected thermostat

ADT’s connected thermostat can adjust the temperature to your preferences.

David Priest/CNET

The center of ADT’s whole system is the control panel, the app and the online portal. This is the primary problem with the system as a whole: You can’t rely on any one of these control centers to meet all your needs.

On the control panel, you’re mostly limited to arming your system, checking camera feeds and device states and activating various routines (such as locking your door and turning off all the lights). This is fairly standard as far as professional security systems go. The control panel is convenient but doesn’t let you do much beyond the basics.

You can do all the same things using ADT’s app, plus create routines and access more specific device settings. The problem is all of these options are hidden behind unintuitive menus and icons. For example, if you want to change your camera recording rules, you don’t tap the device on your home screen. You open the hamburger menu, select the device and finally tap the gear symbol in the corner of the screen. The “Recording Rules” screen then takes anywhere from 5 to 20 seconds to load, at which point you can adjust when your camera records and when it doesn’t.

In short, the app is clunky. Worst of all, you can’t set up any automations in it. You’ll need to use the third control center: the online portal.

When I started testing ADT’s security system, I thought it might not allow basic automations such as setting your entryway lights to flip on when your front door opens. When I emailed ADT’s representatives asking about it, they directed me to the online portal, a website that looks like an enriched version of the mobile app. You can monitor your camera feeds, arm your system, adjust device settings and create automations.

This portal gives you much more control over your smart home experience, but it’s also annoying. You have to use a web browser to access the portal, which means no automating with a few taps in an app when the idea strikes you. ADT’s site isn’t particularly difficult to access — it’s just a quick login, without two-factor authentication, for better (convenience) or worse (security). For comparison, at the time of our reviews, Vivint didn’t require you to use its website for particular functions, and Xfinity didn’t use an online portal at all.

Screenshot of ADT's online portal Screenshot of ADT's online portal

ADT’s online portal lets you create various automations, but it’s disappointing the feature isn’t on the app. But that’s going to change in 2023.

David Priest/CNET

ADT offers much more customizable automations than Comcast Xfinity, allowing you to trigger most devices with most other devices. Want your lights to flip on when a camera detects movement? Check. Want your camera to record when your deadbolt unlocks? Check. Want your thermostat to save power when your motion detectors don’t sense you around the house? Check.

Is a larger monitor or keyboard necessary to use this portal? Not really. It’s disappointing that so many of these smarts are relegated to an online platform many customers may not be fully aware of or may find inconvenient.

ADT pricing and plans

Before considering the hardware’s cost, let’s look at the monitoring services ADT offers. Basic alarm monitoring starts at $46 per month (versus $30 a month for Vivint). Still, if you want to use the smart home automations I talked about before and video storage, you’ll need to shell out $50 per month (at Vivint, the equivalent plan with video monitoring costs $45 per month; Xfinity doesn’t charge extra for automation features and charges $50 per month to include video services).

In addition, ADT requires contracts that vary by region from 12 to 60 months in length. Cancellation fees for these contracts are steep: ADT can charge as much as 75% of the remaining balance due according to the contract. The company says the reason for contracts is to make purchasing the system affordable for people in different financial situations.

“ADT subsidizes the upfront cost of the customers’ security and automation equipment,” a company representative told me in an email, “which is how we can offer no [or] low upfront fees.”

With all the DIY options on the market, and the growing trend among professional security services to avoid contracts in favor of giving customers the freedom to pay for hardware upfront or in installments, it’s disappointing to see ADT still requires them. ADT told me contracts are “standard practice in the industry,” although I’m aware of Vivint, Comcast Xfinity and some other professional home security companies that don’t require them.

Xfinity home security panel Xfinity home security panel

Unfortunately, ADT requires a term commitment with stiff early termination fees.

Josh Goldman/CNET

That said, if you’re already planning to pay for the hardware monthly, a short contract may not interfere with your plans.

ADT’s hardware is also more expensive than the DIY devices we’ve tested and liked — from SimpliSafe, Abode and Ring Alarm — but how does it stack up against other professionally installed and monitored systems? First, let’s take a look at the breakdown of my ADT hardware bill. (Note: This was my bill when the system was installed a couple of years ago and some prices have changed slightly.)

  • Touchscreen hub: $374
  • Cell backup: $75
  • Door/window sensors (x3) and motion sensor bundle: $150
  • Touchscreen control tablet: $200
  • Charger for tablet: $50
  • Wireless touchpad: $150 
  • Desktop mounts for touchpad and hub: $100 ($50 each)
  • Key fob: $50
  • Indoor siren: $90 
  • Smoke detector: $100
  • Smoke/CO detector: $180
  • CO detector: $100
  • Glass break detector: $100
  • Flood sensor: $100
  • Temperature sensor: $100
  • Z-Wave smart lights: $60 for a two-pack
  • Indoor smart plug: $70
  • Outdoor smart plug: $70
  • Smart thermostat: $160
  • Z-Wave deadbolt: $250
  • LiftMaster MyQ Garage Bundle: $220 
  • Video doorbell: $200 (note: since replaced with the Nest Doorbell)
  • Indoor camera: $150 (note: since replaced with the Nest Cam)
  • Outdoor camera: $290 (note: since replaced with the Nest Cam)

My installation cost $3,387, although that number won’t be representative of most people’s setups. First, I didn’t fully cover all the entrances on the first floor of my house with door/window sensors, which would’ve added as much as $450 to my overall bill. Second, I got at least one of all the major device types — smart plugs and multiple types of smoke or carbon monoxide detectors — which probably isn’t what the average user would do. The $3,000-to-$4,000 range seems in line with some competing systems, such as Vivint’s.

Let’s look at the devices that make up ADT’s security system and how good (or bad) a deal they are.

ADT vs. the competition

If you’re getting an ADT security system, you’re probably not angling for a bare-bones setup. One of the biggest appeals of professional systems is their scale compared with DIY alternatives. It’s still helpful to compare the base price of the core devices — a touchscreen hub with cell backup, three door/window sensors and a motion detector — to competitors’ systems. For ADT, those devices cost about $699 by today’s prices (if you get a desk mount, it’ll be $40 to $50 more).

ADT's smaller tablet ADT's smaller tablet

I preferred the more affordable tablet — which you can carry around the house with you — to the wired touchscreen hub.

David Priest/CNET

You can also go for a more traditional keypad and control the system using your app, but it wouldn’t save you that much money versus the tablet, and it would cut out a lot of usability.

Vivint’s package is $600 for a comparable starting setup plus an extra door/window sensor. Xfinity’s is $360. Bottom line: ADT is the most expensive.

ADT sensors review 

The sensors in a home security setup aren’t as glamorous as the security cameras or video doorbells, but they’re the glue holding the whole system together. Door/window sensors let you know if someone’s coming through any of the points of entry into your home, motion detectors alert you to motion, smoke and CO detectors alert you to signs of fire or gas leak, flood sensors tell you if water is pooling somewhere and glass-break sensors alert you to these type of emergency situations.

All these sensors tie together to help you monitor your home thoroughly, no matter the situation. They can also help you create a responsive living situation, if you take the time to automate it, where opening your front door triggers your coffee maker, or locking your door turns on the porch light.

In general, ADT’s sensors are competitively priced against other professionally installed and monitored systems. ADT’s glass break sensors, motion detectors and smoke detectors cost the same as Vivint’s ($100). (You can get a combo smoke and CO detector from ADT for $180.) Its flood sensors are more expensive ($100 versus $50).

When you compare these detectors with Xfinity’s or those from DIY companies like SimpliSafe, ADT’s prices are high — or hard to understand. For example, ADT’s door/window sensors are one of the most basic units in a home security setup. ADT doesn’t offer the option to purchase these devices individually. Instead, you can buy a bundle, which includes a personalized assortment of sensors of various types.

The problem is, making sense of how the pricing works for your system isn’t straightforward. So even the better deals require some work to take advantage of.

ADT camera review

Note: As we mentioned above, ADT has replaced its own camera options with integrated Google Nest models. We are leaving this section of the review as a look back on their previous models.

ADT’s cameras definitely beat Vivint’s on price. Its outdoor camera costs $309 (Vivint’s costs $400), and its indoor camera costs $199 (Vivint’s costs $200). Xfinity only offers one indoor/outdoor camera that costs $120.

ADT outdoor camera ADT outdoor camera

ADT offers both indoor and outdoor cameras.

David Priest/CNET

Whether those price differences are appropriate, largely depends on the quality of the device. ADT’s cameras are as basic as they come: They don’t distinguish between people and cars like Xfinity’s cameras and don’t provide automated deterrence messages if they detect motion like Vivint’s. Instead, they bring basic two-way audio, high-definition streaming and little else.

The video doorbell was especially disappointing. While Vivint’s video doorbell Pro ($250) gives you a 1:1 aspect ratio for a clear vision of your doorstep (and packages left there), ADT’s video doorbell ($229) has a wide-angle lens. In addition, aside from two-way audio, many basic features are missing. You can’t draw motion zones to avoid unnecessary notifications and customize notifications based on whether a package has been left on your doorstep or a person is standing there.

Additional ADT devices

Aside from the central hub, arrayed sensors and cameras, ADT’s system comprises various helpful gadgets, from flood sensors and smart plugs to garage door openers and deadbolts. These devices use Z-Wave radio waves to communicate, meaning your routines won’t necessarily stop working if the Wi-Fi goes out. Across the board, these devices worked well when I tested them.

You can also arm and disarm your system with a simple command to Google Assistant for those with Google Nest devices. In addition, ADT’s lights, locks and thermostats are all voice-controllable.

In short, ADT’s hardware will work well for many people, but the value it offers for the price is too low, even if you own a Nest smart speaker or smart display.

Should you go with ADT?

Being the oldest company in a market doesn’t mean you have to act the oldest, but that’s what ADT’s home security often does. Its dependence on the online portal for its best features — not to mention its continuing use of contracts — feels outmoded. A painful installation process with low passcode security standards is worse than outmoded; it verges on irresponsibility.

Add in the expensive monitoring services and hardware prices, and ADT is one of the least appealing professional security services we’ve tested. That’s a real shame because ADT’s smart home automation capabilities are impressive if you pay the extra cost and don’t mind using the portal. Plus, the Google Nest integrations add some genuinely useful voice control to the whole equation.

It’s possible that ADT isn’t stuck in the past, as evidenced by its recent Google Nest integrations and coming changes with the app. That’s a small comfort in the face of the prices and contracts that are still standard at ADT. Until the security company adopts better sales and installation procedures, drops its prices and overhauls its control interface, it will continue to feel like a relic in a fast-moving market.

ADT Home Security FAQs

Basic alarm monitoring starts at $46 per month (versus $30 per month for Vivint or Xfinity), but if you want to use the above-mentioned smart home automations and video storage, it’ll cost you $50 per month. 

While the installation process length fluctuates depending on the number of devices you decide to install, the process took us nine hours. That includes an hour to decide on the array of devices to install and eight hours for setup. 


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