abode iota

When I was in my early 20s, I worked for an independent telephone company in Ringgold, Georgia. One of the projects I worked on was building a home and business security product. I ended up working with customers in a sales role after we got the product up and running. I say all that to make the point that I am somewhat of a veteran in the home security industry. I’ve been using the abode system for the past year, so if you’re researching the best options for a Homekit alarm system, keep reading to learn more about abode.

HomeKit Weekly is a series focused on smart home accessories, automation tips and tricks, and everything to do with Apple’s smart home framework.

One of the main differences between the various DIY alarm systems vs. traditional systems is where the devices are mounted and how they communicate. With my previous alarm system, there were door triggers hard-wired back to a central panel in my coat closet. The keyboard and motion sensor were also hard-wired. 110V powers everything, and it had a battery backup. The only communication method was a traditional phone line.

With DIY systems, it’s almost always some sort of wireless technology between the sensors and the base station. Most DIY alarms work off your internet connection and often include a SIM card for cellular backup.

abode iota review

I had been monitoring various alarm systems over the years, like Nest Secure (I have Nest thermostats) and SimpliSafe, but I hadn’t found one that made me want to redo my entire setup completely. Early in 2020, abode added HomeKit support to their iota line, so I made the jump and have been very happy in the past year.

When I made my initial abode investment, I chose the abode iota starter kit, added a dedicated keypad, two smoke monitors, three slim door sensors, and an extra motion detector. The iota starter kit includes a base station, a regular door sensor, and one keyfob. The base station consists of a built-in 1080p camera (works with HomeKit) and a built-in motion sensor. The base station works on Wi-Fi (requires ethernet for initial setup), has a cellular backup option, and includes a built-in battery if the power goes out. The standalone motion sensor is in my living room, the iota base station with the camera and secondary motion sensor covers another area, and the keypad is in our laundry room.

abode keypad

abode keypad

The keypad is pretty unique in that it connects to the wallplate with magnets. This feature makes it easy to mount and remove. It includes a built-in battery and must be charged via Micro USB every six months or so. In the past year, we’ve only used the keypad when we need to disarm the alarm, and I’d rather not grab my iPhone to disarm using the abode app. Looking back, I’d still purchase it again because it’s a nice backup option and I would have had holes to patch in the drywall from the previous keypard on my old system.

abode door sensors

One aspect of DIY alarm systems that I don’t like is how large the door sensors are. They are generally white bricks that mount near the top of the door. Their technology is relatively simple, though. One part of the door sensor is a magnet, and another is the actual transmitter. When the door is open, the “seal” is broken, and that sends a signal to the alarm.

abode slimline door

Abode has three different types of door/window sensors. They have a standard model, a mini model, and a slim model. The slim model immediately caught my eye because it fits in a door jam and stays hidden. The standard and mini models are powered by replaceable batteries. The normal ones will last 10 years, and the mini will last four years. The slim model will last eight years, but it’s not replaceable. They also have a recessed model, but you’ll only want to go that route if you are comfortable drilling into your door. I was able to test the mini model and the slim one, and both were able to be installed within minutes using no tools whatsoever. You can see the slim model in the photo above. In my time using abode, I’ve not had a single issue with the door sensors disconnecting from the base station. It’s been flawless. The doors are also exposed as HomeKit alarm door sensors, so you can build automations around them.

abode smoke monitor

When I ordered the Smoke Monitors, I assumed they were actual smoke detectors, but they are not. They are meant to be mounted next to your existing smoke detectors that are wired into your home. The monitors detect the sound that smoke detectors make and then trigger the alarm. While I didn’t know all of this when I ordered, it’s a pretty smart way to make the sensors smaller and lower cost while still accomplishing the result. The smoke monitors are not HomeKit compatible, though.

abode camera with HomeKit integration

The abode iota base station includes a built-in 1080p camera (can be disabled in settings) that can be programmed to start taking video when the alarm is triggered. It can also be added to the Apple Home app, where you can create various automations around it. Overall, it works well. We have it pointed at our front door, acting as a second motion sensor. My only complaint is that it doesn’t support HomeKit Secure Video. The company has done a lot of work to improve the quality of its video feeds, and they’ve released some additional standalone cameras as well.

Glass break sensor

I didn’t purchase the acoustic glass break sensor originally, but I recently added it on to my system. I’ve always loved glass break sensors as a way to add additional coverage for when you’re home when the system is in its home mode that has the motion sensors disabled.

A bonus feature of abode’s glass break sensor is that it’s exposed in HomeKit as a motion sensor, so you’ll be able to use it for sensor-based automations.

Multi Sensor

One of the products I never paid much attention to on my first purchase was the multi sensor. It’s a small but purpose-built device to monitor motion, temperature, and light. You can use all these functions to create automations inside abode, but obviously you can use the inside of HomeKit as well. It functions like a normal motion sensor, but in a much smaller profile. It had a four-year battery life with a replaceable battery. It’s one of those products that every abode owner should pick up with their initial order.

Monthly plans

As with any alarm systems, there are various ways to “monitor” the system. With abode, you have three options that can fit any budget. The free plan allows you to monitor your alarm remotely using your home internet connection. It includes three days of media storage and access to create automations.

The Connect plan ($80/year) offers all the things included in the free plan, but it also activates the LTE connection as a backup. It also bumps media storage up to 14 days.

The Secure plan bumps the media storage to 90 days, but it also activates 24/7 professional monitoring along with an unlimited warranty on your devices if you are paying annually.

I went with Secure plan because it includes 24/7 monitoring because I wanted someone to be able to call the police/fire department if the alarm goes off and I am not available. When I signed up, I got my first year for $100 with a starter kit purchase, but it only goes up to $200 after that. I save 15% off my homeowners’ insurance as well, so it ends up costing even less.

We’ve set the alarm off a handful of times over the past year, and I’ve been quite impressed with their responsive on calls and the process of canceling a dispatch. When your alarm goes off, you get an alert push notifications, an email, and a phone call from abode within just a few seconds.

abode homekit alarm system installation process

Overall, the installation is straightforward. Once you unbox the base station, you plug it up to ethernet and power, and then open the abode app. You type in your gateway code, and that kicks off the setup process. Once I got it configured, I was able to connect it to Wi-Fi so that I could put it in a better location. Activating the door sensors took just a few seconds, and then I spent another minute or so mounting them. The smoke sensors took around three minutes each, but that was mainly due to the fact I had to find a step stool to screw them into the ceiling.

Mounting the keypad and second motion sensor was also an absolute breeze. I think I spent a half-hour installing and configuring everything. The main hiccup I ran into was that I initially plugged the base station into a surge protector that is on a HomeKit plug, and it was off. It took me a good five minutes to realize what was happening. Once it was all configured, I was able to invite my wife to join our home so she could manage and operate it as well.

abode HomeKit integration

abode iota

Like I mentioned in my first paragraph, HomeKit alarm integration is one of the things that caused me to pull the trigger on the abode iota starter kit. With HomeKit integration, I am also able to leverage my existing smart home setup to work with abode. All of the setup for HomeKit is done inside the abode app. It generates a HomeKit code, and then you manually add it to the app. In my system, the motion sensors, camera, and door sensors are compatible with HomeKit.

One of the HomeKit functions I am currently using is when the motion sensor sees movement between 5:00 AM and 7:00 AM, it triggers the lamp in our kitchen that is connected via a Wemo Mini Smart Plug. I am getting up around 5:00 AM, so I want this light on as I make my morning coffee.

Another HomeKit integration is that the alarm auto enables when it no longer detects motions after 10:00 PM as we are likely in bed. I am using one automation inside the Abode iPhone app, and that is so it will auto-enable the alarm if my wife and I are both away from home. I could have done this inside the Home app, but I wanted to test the automations inside of abode’s app as well. If you are a heavy IFTTT user, it also supports the platform.

When abode first launched HomeKit support, I’d occasionally see the dreaded HomeKit no response error message that would usually require a power cycle. After a month or so, firmware updates solved that issue and it’s now has a very stable HomeKit experience.

Having almost all of the accessories exposed in HomeKit has made abode the best HomeKit alarm system that was easy to install and affordable.

Wrap-up on HomeKit alarm review

Overall, I am quite pleased with my purchase of the abode iota security system. I am currently building a new house, and I plan to continue to use abode in this new house. I am planning to take my iota base station and purchase new slimline door sensors, a couple of motion sensors, and a few smoke monitors. (I did not ask for a review unit, I paid for it). It’s replacing a legacy system, so I am happy I can now monitor and manage it remotely. By using the built-in camera that records video when the alarm sounds, I can check up on my home if something happens. Because the plan I am using includes LTE support, I don’t have to worry about someone cutting my phone line and disabling communication with the monitoring station.

The HomeKit integration makes it a natural choice for folks in the Apple ecosystem. If you want to use Nest Secure, you can check out my review of the Starling Home Hub, but otherwise, I would recommend abode.

The only hiccup I’ve had with is that on the first night, the HomeKit integration locked up. A quick reboot of the base station fixed it immediately. In my opinion, abode iota is the best DIY alarm system for Apple users thanks to its HomeKit integration, great looking hardware, and easy installation. I plan to add on the abode doorbell camera when it’s released as well.

You can purchase a HomeKit alarm from abode or on Amazon. If you are planning to activate monitoring, I would highly recommend purchasing directly from abode because they offer a discount when you bundle them together.

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About the Author

Bradley Chambers

Bradley lives in Chattanooga, TN where he manages Apple devices for a private school. 

Tips, feedback, corrections and questions can be sent to Bradley@9to5mac.com.