by Michael Olsen
There are many reasons to buy a home security system, and traveling is just one of them. Leaving the house unattended for an extended period of time could invite unwanted attention. And now, in this connected age, criminals have an ability see when you’re traveling and even where you are if they look hard enough. And statistically, homes without security systems are three times more likely to be burglarized, and 90 percent of convicted burglars report they avoid homes with security systems installed.
But you can also protect your home better and cheaper in the connected age. Just a dozen years ago, the standard home security system required professional, permanent installation, and lengthy, expensive monitoring contracts. No more.
Today companies such as Scout Alarm offer a new take on home security. Scout promises hassle-free DIY installation, easy monitoring via a smartphone app, customizable systems, integrations with existing connected home technologies, and commitment-free monitoring options. I’ve been using the Scout Alarm system for six months. Let’s see how it delivers on its promises.
There are two required pieces of hardware with Scout Alarm. The hub and the main door panel.
The hub costs $129 and is the brains of the system. It connects to your home router via wireless or an ethernet connection. The hub includes a 4G LTE cellular connection if your home internet access goes down, as well as a 105db siren.
The door panel costs $69 and monitors your door to see if it is open or closed. It has NFC technology that allows you to arm or disarm the system with the tap of a key fob or a RFID sticker. Each door panel comes with one RFID sticker and two key fobs. There is also an additional siren in the door panel.
Access sensors cost $29 each and are used to monitor the open/closed state of windows, sliding doors, and secondary doors. A $49 motion detector rounds out the hardware options.
Here is my system and pricing as tested:
|Scout Hub||Arctic White||$129.00||1||$129.00|
|Door Panel||Arctic White||$69.00||1||$69.00|
|Access Sensor||Arctic White||$29.00||7||$203.00|
Total cost for my equipment came to $401. I chose not to purchase motion sensors because of Scout’s ability to use my two existing Nest cameras as motion detectors (more on that later). Adding two motion detectors to my system would have brought the total to $499. One noticeable omission here is the lack of a moisture detector. Although stand-alone moisture detectors are available, it would be nice to have one offered by Scout to integrate with the existing system. Many Scout competitors offer these devices.
Overall, I am pleased with the hardware. The build is quality is there, looks nice, and is compact enough that it isn’t too noticeable. There was an initial problem with my door panel, which after the first couple of days stopped working intermittently. I contacted Scout, and after some troubleshooting that didn’t resolve the issue, the company shipped me a new panel. The new panel worked as promised, and I haven’t had an issue in the six months it has been running. I haven’t had any issues with any of the other equipment.
Everything except the hub is battery powered. The motion sensor requires 2 CR2 batteries, the access sensor requires 1 CR2 battery, and the door panel uses 2 CR123A batteries. Scout claims nine-month battery life. However, after six months of usage, I have replaced the batteries once in each device. The Scout smartphone app notifies you when batteries are low or dead.
As of yet, I haven’t paid for any batteries, as Scout has sent me free batteries when it detects they are almost dead. There is no guarantee this will continue. Nowhere is it advertised that they provide free battery replacements. My guess is that they are trying to improve battery life with system updates, and they are shipping free batteries until they are satisfied with battery performance.
Installation, Monitoring and Integration
Scout delivers on its promise of easy installation. The app walks you through the installation. You start with the hub, then work your way out from there. Because the system creates a mesh network of connected devices, you start with the closest door or window and work your way out from there. For each device, you place it or stick it where you want it to go, pull a thin tab covering the battery, then connect it to the hub and give it a name. Of the eight devices I installed, I had just one snag. One of the access sensors didn’t connect to the hub the first try. I removed that device from the system, redid the installation, and it worked.
While there is no contracts or long-term commitment, you do need to choose one of two monitoring options for the system to work. The ‘Always On’ monitoring costs $9.99 a month and offers 4G LTE cellular and battery backup, email notifications, Scout mobile app for iOS and Android devices and push notifications to mobile devices. For $10 more a month you can add professional monitoring. I chose the $9.99 plan. I have had alarm systems in the past and found professional monitoring more annoying than helpful. If my alarms are triggered, I know immediately. Because I have Nest camera’s installed in my home, I can easily assess if there is an intruder in my house and make the appropriate call to authorities if needed.
The heart of the system is the monitoring available via the Android or iPhone app. Inside the app, you can set up multiple types of arming scenarios. For instance, my daytime alarm does not include motion detection, as my two dogs would constantly trigger the alarm. However, my vacation mode does include motion detection. My nighttime mode doesn’t use the siren as I am a light sleeper and the smartphone notification is all I need to wake. There are a ton of options here, including what sensors to use with each mode, and what kind of notification to send. Also through the app you can quickly see the state of each device, and it tracks when all doors and windows opened and closed. You can add family members so each person in the family can have his or her own account. For me, the app is the most compelling aspect of the alarm system. It’s fairly intuitive, allows you to set up an endless amount of monitoring scenarios, and functions as advertised.
The integrations with other services are the other stellar feature of the Scout Alarm. It connects with Nest, Amazon Echo, Philips Hue, LIFX, and If This Then That (IFTTT). I’ve used the Nest integration to use the motion sensors on my Nest cameras. This works as advertised. Note, however, you can’t turn your cameras on or off using Scout, so in order for it to work, you will need to have your Nest cameras on 24/7. For most this is not an issue, as that is the intended use of the Nest cameras. I’ve also used the IFTTT integration. IFTTT is a service that connects together diverse services and provides recipes for a ton of actions. With this, the possibilities are endless. I use it in two ways. I’ve set up my alarm to turn on every night at midnight and turn off at 6 a.m. I’ve also tied it into my Google Home so when I say a certain phrase, my alarm turns on or off. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what one can do with IFTTT.
Real World Usage
In six months of usage, I have been happy with my Scout Alarm. It isn’t perfect. Often there is a delay, sometimes up to 30 seconds, between when a sensor is triggered and when the hub gets the information. It isn’t every time this delay happens, and this doesn’t bother me (if a thief can get in and out of my house in 30 seconds, more power to them), but it is something to consider. With the front door panel, you can swipe a key fob to arm or disarm the system. This can be touchy as well. It always works, but sometimes it takes two or three swipes for it to arm. Again for me this doesn’t matter as I use either the app to arm/disarm or voice commands via my Google Home to arm/disarm the system, but you may want to consider this as well..the key fob works, but it can be frustrating at times.
The flexibility and amount of control the system offers far outweighs the few annoyances. You can customize your home security system to your needs, take it with you if you move, and easily expand on the system. If you’re looking to secure your home when you are on the go, Scout Alarm delivers.