Seeing as I work from home, I don’t have an awful lot of use for home security gadgets. However, it struck me, during a recent power cut (when nearly every house in the local vicinity decided to chime their annoyance at the lack of electricity throughout the remainder of the afternoon) that standard burglar alarms are pretty much useless.
Unless a would-be thief is actually bothered by the loud ringing, assuming that they can even hear it through their buzzing smack withdrawal, then there’s little chance that anyone else is interested either. Unless you can actually see a broken window, or a front door hanging off its hinges, then it’s more than likely to just be another glitch in the burglar alarm system. That is, in a nutshell, the problem that AlertMe hopes to overcome.
The AlertMe system, as the name implies, is designed to let you – the owner – know when someone has broken into your house. It can do this by making quite intricate but clever use of the internet. As you can see, the standard AlertMe package comes with a standard Hub and a wide range of sensors for you to arrange however you like around your home. Once alerted, it will send you a text message to let you know.
The review kit I’m using has four door / window sensors, two motion sensors and two alarm detectors (these listen out for things like smoke alarms, or presumably any existing home alarm), as well as a lamp, keyfobs and buttons. After you’ve paired them with the Hub and you’ve set the system to detect intruders, as soon any of them picks up signs of a break in, you’ll be alerted by text. Simple. Now YOU know if your valuables are being looted, not a bunch of disinterested randoms on the street.
Initial setup is a bit daunting affair, unfortunately. On opening the very first box you are directed to the online walkthrough, which is essential to the proceedings. It promptly warns you that the process may take up to an hour and a half. It is NOT kidding.
After pairing the Hub with your account, you can then add the various accessories. You can add as many or as few you want, and in theory all you need to do is plug in their batteries and leave them next to the hub at the relevant point in the procedure and they’ll connect automatically. Naturally, I managed to bugger it up somewhere, losing connection between the Hub and most of the accessories in one fell swoop, where no amount of unplugging and butting pressing would fix it.
That’s when the frankly superb customer service kicked in. Despite it being quite late into the evening before I even started trying to setup, a guy from AlertMe called to ask how it was going and if he could help. A few minutes later, the accessories were re-paired and I was ready to tinker around with the whole alarm system via the webpage.
Customisation is where the AlertMe system really comes into its own. Using your personal AlertMe homepage, you can play with just about every function on the system – if you want it to be super-sensitive and alert you at the very nudge of a door frame you can. If you want it to wait until someone is actually wandering through your house and using up all the guest towels, you can decrease sensitivity to demand that X number of sensors are triggered before alerting you. If you want it to just email you upon intrusion, it can. If you want it text you, your girlfriend, your mother, her mother, the neighbour, the dog and the local post office, it can do that too. All of this is done on a well laid-out, easy to use online system that interacts almost instantly with the hub.
On to the key fobs. The key fobs are the main way of activating the AlertMe alarm system to let it know you are going out. You point it at the hub, press the Away button and the system will check to see that all the door and window sensors are as they should be and will start the arming process. In practise however, this proved a little bit unreliable and left me to prefer to activate the system from the internet instead. Checking the quite active AlertMe forums however, it seems that this is not a common complaint, so I’ll put it down to the review unit itself.
In the week that I’ve been trying the system out, not one smackrat attempted illegal entry into my flat, even in spite of my actually being away for a whole weekend. I therefore took it upon myself to break in and test the wits of the alarm system. After a few minutes of crawling around the floor I remembered that a thief a) wouldn’t know where the sensors were and, b) wouldn’t know what they looked like anyway. They are sensibly nondescript collection of white plastic cubes that do little to betray their real purpose.
Now you’re probably thinking ‘Well, couldn’t a thief just unplug the hub?’ Well, I did and I tried it. No joy, the hub has a battery and at that point alerted me to my nefarious activity via text message. Then I tried unplugging the router to stop its caterwauling. It even gets rounds that by connecting to GPRS when the broadband fails. Very cunning.
There are a few caveats, needless to say. As you can tell, setup is not exactly a breeze and I’m not entirely confident of how well all the batteries are going to last or whether you’ll even be able to find all the various accessories you have hidden away. My biggest concern is mainly in the build quality of some of the more outdoorsy accessories though. The keyfobs, in particular, don’t look like they would survive more than a few months in the rough environment that is my pocket, and I had other troubles with them as previously mentioned.
As for the doorbell – its neatest feature is that it will record each doorbell press in an online history so you can tell if anyone came a-knocking. I’m just not convinced it would be up to the rigours of the Scottish weather, that’s all.
In conclusion, I genuinely like the AlertMe system. It has a lot of the hallmarks of a really enjoyable gadget and with the added bonus of doing something for home security. You can keep tabs on what is happening in your house at any time or you can just play around with the lamp – which extends the range of the system and lights up with funky colours of either your personal choice or dependent on what’s going on with the system at the time. It is just fun; you can’t really say that about many alarm systems.
In fact I ended wishing there was a couple of cameras and listening devices that could stream me yet more information through the internet (and I could finally work out just what my cats are actually doing while I’m out), as the homepage just feels like it’s barely tapping into the full potential of the system. The system is also one that could improve over time as there’s a limitless number of tweaks and changes that could be made to the always-on, internet connected device.
But there’s a cost. It’s £399 (inc. VAT) for the package itself, and there’s a £9.99 (inc. VAT) monthly charge, presumably covering that pricey GPRS backup service and all the text messages you can receive on top of that. It is expensive and it isn’t suited to everyone’s home, by any stretch, but as a fun, enjoyable and practical alternative to a loud ringer on the outside of a building that gets ignored 99% of the time, it’s well worth a look.