First Alert OneLink Wi-Fi Smoke and CO Alarm review:

Siri can't save First Alert's surprisingly dumb connected smoke alarm

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First Alert OneLink Wi-Fi Smoke and CO Alarm

(Part #: AC10-500)
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2.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good First Alert shows off its hardware pedigree with the OneLink by First Alert Wi-Fi Smoke and CO Alarm. The device looks good, and responds to smoke quickly and consistently.

The Bad The HomeKit integration doesn't add anything and the unresponsive app takes quite a bit away from this supposedly smart smoke detector. Both the push notifications and the in-app silencing feature are too slow to be useful.

The Bottom Line You'll pay a premium for this smart alarm that just isn't very smart. HomeKit's first smoke detector is one to avoid until it gets a few major software updates.

5.0 Overall
  • Features 4.0
  • Usability 4.0
  • Design 7.0
  • Performance 5.0

What aggravates me most about the OneLink by First Alert Wi-Fi Smoke + CO Alarm is what it could have been. This is HomeKit's answer to the Nest Protect, and with its killer list of features, I honestly thought it had a good chance to become the smart smoke alarm to beat. It does everything the Protect does like push alerts, voiced warnings, and in-app silencing of false alarms. Plus, the $120 hard-wired version talks to your existing hardwired detectors, letting you smarten up your whole house with one unit and significantly lowering the barrier to entry for whole-home smart smoke detection.

Both the $110 battery-powered version and the $120 hardwired version have sealed batteries -- a backup in the case of the latter -- rated to last 10 years and thus meeting the requirements of certain states with stricter safety standards. First Alert also has a long history of making smoke alarms and safety gear, and that shows in the detector itself -- it consistently responded to smoke and blared its warning faster than the Nest Protect.

At some point, software updates and better HomeKit integration might make this the smoke detector I was hoping for. For now, a bare bones app, horrendously slow push notifications, and meaningless HomeKit functionality make First Alert's alarm a nonstarter as a smart-home product. The connected functionality just isn't good enough to be useful yet. Save yourself the money and get a non-connected $30 to $40 combination sensor, or if you want to get smart with smoke detection, go with the $100 second-gen Nest Protect, or the retrofit $35 Roost Smart Battery.

A fine first impression

Before I faced the disappointment of the connected functionality, the OneLink by First Alert Wi-Fi Smoke and CO Alarm made a great first impression on me. Again, the hardware here is solid and responsive. It looks great, and it's easy to set up.

Physically installing the device is almost the same as installing any other battery powered or hard-wired smoke alarm. You'll need enough basic DIY skill to hang it on a wall for the battery version, and you'll need to be comfortable connecting a couple of wires for the hard-wired model.

The app makes setup simple.

Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Both the iOS only app and a set of physical instructions walk you through installing either alarm type, and a separate mounting plate makes the whole process easier, as you can simply focus on hanging that plastic frame, and snap the main body of the smoke alarm into place once the back plate is properly hung where you want it.

Once you twist the alarm onto its mounted backing, the LEDs framing the alarm's central button will flash green, and the alarm will speak a welcome before the lights flash blue, indicating that it's ready to sync to your home's router.

The alarm flashes blue when it's syncing with your Wi-Fi network.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The OneLink Alarm talks to your phone via Bluetooth, and sends you remote notifications over Wi-Fi. Once it's blinking blue, it'll use that Bluetooth connection on your phone to pull the appropriate Wi-Fi info. You'll barely have to do anything other than confirm the name of your network, wait for it to sync, then put in the proper Apple HomeKit ID.

As with any other HomeKit device, you can assign the alarm to a specific home, and then any of Apple's organizational buckets within your home, such as Zones and Rooms. You'll oddly assign the alarm to a specific room twice -- once for HomeKit organization with a name you can spell out yourself, and once from a selected list based on the names the alarm is programmed to say out loud.

When I first set up the alarm, I called the room the "Smoke Test Room" then had to dub it the "Living Room" for the sake of the audible alerts the alarm gives. To be fair, the alarm comes with several different room choice options, so you'll likely find a room name close to your selection, but I still found it slightly confusing to have the same alarm assigned to two different places in a single app.

Make sure you keep the name of your alarm straight. Though Siri actually responded to both names for this one.

Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Once you're up and running, you'll be able to test your alarm from the app and slide the brightness of the nightlight up or down. When the alarm sounds, it blares loudly and it's wildly annoying. I appreciated that. I certainly don't want my smoke detector to be shy if something's wrong. The central LEDs flash red and the alarm rings in a slightly different pattern if it's a smoke or CO emergency, and then a voice notification tells you which emergency it is, and where it is.

Here's where it reads the name you gave it from the listed choices, so my alarm would say, "Evacuate, Evacuate, there's fire in the living room." When testing, you'll see all of this in action, except the voice will clarify that it's testing, and then it'll go on to give you a reading of the parts per million of the carbon monoxide it sensed, before assuring you that the test is now over and you are protected. If the alarm is sounding for real, you'll see a button in the app letting you call 911.

When all's well, you can long-press the alarm icon to test it. The app has a button that lets you call 911 when the alarm is sounding.

Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

You'll also see the battery percentage level in the app, and it'll let you know when it starts to run low. Since the batteries are sealed, you'll have to replace your detector at that point, which isn't great, but again, this was done to meet stringent safety standards in certain states including California. And it shouldn't happen for 10 years.

Solid smoke detection

In the meantime, you can rest assured that once your alarm smells something wrong, it'll sound its siren loudly and proudly. The OneLink by First Alert Wi-Fi Smoke and CO Alarm uses photoelectric smoke sensors that will supposedly catch both slow- and fast-moving fires while being less prone to nuisance alarms.

In our tests, those sensors proved reliably responsive, consistently picking up on the smoke candles we set off as soon or sooner than the Kidde smoke and CO detector we used for comparison. The second-gen Nest Protect would generally start sounding a few seconds after the Kidde alarm in the same test. As far as hardware is concerned, the OneLink Alarm performed slightly quicker than the Nest Protect.

A familiar look

It also looks fairly similar. That's not a bad thing; we loved the look of the Protect. The all-white First Alert alarm isn't quite as striking, but it's still attractive. And though it's a departure from the usual rounded shape of First Alert alarms, I didn't think the look too derivative of Nest. It's cut from the same cloth, and a small step down, but attractive all the same, and the white finish should blend into your ceiling more as the years go by and you stop thinking about your spiffy new smart smoke alarm.

The familiar-looking OneLink alarm responded quickly to both cans of smoke and smoke candles.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You can purchase the OneLink by First Alert Wi-Fi Smoke and CO Alarm now on Amazon and the Apple Store. Again, the hardwired model costs $120 (£80, AU$165) and the battery version is $110 (£75, AU$150).

For the price, you'll be getting a fine smoke alarm that makes a great first impression and has smarts and HomeKit compatibility. As it turns out, though, those latter two features don't add much to the experience.

HomeKit for what?

Yes, you can use Siri -- the digital assistant on your iPhone -- to interact with the OneLink by First Alert Smoke + CO Alarm. That's the perk of the alarm working with HomeKit -- the smart-home software built into Apple's mobile operating system. The First Alert Alarm is the first smoke detector compatible with the HomeKit system, and in exchange for following Apple's structural and signal rules for HomeKit, First Alert gets a HomeKit sticker on their box, as well as automatic interoperability with any other HomeKit device.

It's a nice boon for both companies. It makes Apple's HomeKit catalog more diverse, and ups the profile of First Alert's product. As of now, it's not much of a benefit for consumers, since the HomeKit functionality is nearly useless. You absolutely can use Siri to check on the status of your smoke alarm, but doing so doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Here are the commands currently at your disposal:

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