Name: AlertMe Starter Kit
Type: Energy monitoring kit
Price: £49.99 direct from AlertMe
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In these penny-pinching times we need every bit of help we can get to keep our bills down. Is AlertMe the solution to keeping those electricity bills in check, or a needlessly expensive alternative to switching off the lights before heading on out for the day? Read on to find out.
The AlertMe Starter kit is made up of a battery-powered wireless transmitter that clips onto the cabling of your electricity meter and a receiver unit that's powered by the mains and is connected to your broadband router via an Ethernet cable. Despite being a self-installation kit, setting up was rather painless. Though hooking up to your electricity box may sound like a job for a trained electrician, in this case it merely means putting a clamp around the wiring in the box, though the transmitter itself is a bit on the chunky side meaning it may not fit snugly into every electricity box.
From there on in you head over to the AlertMe website and set up the receiver hub. After setting a few parameters, the configuration process syncs the transmitter and receiver together, which will then allow you to track your energy usage online. Again, step-by-step instructions make the process very simple, and before long you're viewing fairly detailed info on your electricity usage.
Once signed up for a subscription with AlertMe (£1.99 a month for 12 months), you can view your electricity usage online from the company website, or via a smartphone. The presentation of your electricity usage data is very colourful and friendly. A "power now" dial shows you the precise amount of energy that you're using at that moment in time, given in kW, with an update rate of around every ten seconds meaning you'll almost instantly see the effects of switching off a light or TV for instance. The software also gives an estimate of how much your monthly bill will amount to, how your usage compares to recent readings from the past few months, and how your usage compares on average to that of the rest of the country's. It'll even quite nicely compare your usage to travel/fuel needs; you may be told your usage for the week was enough to send a train to Shropshire, for instance.
Another nice feature is compatibility with Google's PowerMeter service. It syncs your AlertMe data with your Google account, allowing you to add a widget to your iGoogle dashboard. Google will then present you with daily usage rates, and email you once a week with how much electricity you've been using in a graph. It's a nice feature, but the AlertMe dashboard itself is so good that you'll unlikely need this feature very much.
Our testing with the AlertMe kit wasn't without its problems though. While initially our testing was sending back reasonably accurate electricity levels, we began to see sporadic spikes in our energy usage, with the AlertMe website alarmingly telling us that we were using enough electricity to send an aeroplane around the world several times. We were quickly set right by a replacement transmitter kit, but needless to say we were gobsmacked when the service initially suggested we should expect an electricity bill of several thousand pounds.
While not included in the AlertMe Starter kit, it's worth noting that you can buy a number of various add-ons for the pack to further give you on-the-go control over your energy usage. Smart Plugs let you remotely switch appliances off whilst out and about and cost £25, perfect if you've left the iron on, while a number of additional units will turn the AlertMe kit into a fully-functioning home security system too.
Despite the size of the chunky transmitter and odd reading issues we experienced, we were very impressed with AlertMe, at least in terms of presentation. The kit itself has an Apple-style look to it and wont be an eyesore by your router. It's a shame however that the receiver isn't Wi-Fi enabled,as it means yet another unsightly cable sitting around our broadband router. Also, for a piece a gadget that's designed to save you money, it doesn't come cheap. £49.99 is a reasonable price, but factor in that subscription charge and it'll be some time before you're seeing any real savings attributable to the AlertMe Start Kit.