Iris Home Management System review: Fees foil this system's potential

Cluttered controls
The Iris Web site and smartphone app are both littered with grayed-out devices you aren't even using. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Still, the Web site has a lot of features built into it, certainly more so than the app, which will really only let you arm or disarm your alarm, change between system presets (or Modes), or check device status. You won't be able to create or edit any automation rules (Iris refers to them as "Magic"), and the only system setting you'll be able to tweak is whether or not you need a PIN to open the app.

The Web site, on the other hand, features plenty of system settings, but the problem is that they're scattered about the site. There's no dedicated section for them. If you want to tweak the way your entry sensors work, you'll have to check the "Alarm Configuration" -- unless you want the system to chime whenever the door opens: in that case, you'll need to go to the Devices section of the site (not the Devices subsection of the Alarm section, mind you), then click the Manage button next to your entry sensor. If all of that seems confusing, it's because it is.

Iris Home Management System
Once you connect your Hub, setting your system up is an easy process. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Usability quirks aside, the Iris system works well, and it isn't terribly difficult to install. It isn't quite as idiot-proof as some of the other systems that we've looked at, but I was still able to get everything up and running in under an hour. After plugging in the Hub, the Iris Web site will walk you through the setup process device by device. Each system component that I tested paired with the Hub mere seconds after putting the batteries in -- from there, it's simply a matter of choosing where to place them.

Once you've got everything where you want it, you'll find that Iris is a reliable performer. In my tests, it never failed to work in the way that I had programmed it to work. This includes the aforementioned "Magic" rules that you'll create to form if/then relationships between your devices. I appreciated that the Iris Web site provided me with a lengthy, well-organized list of potential rules I could set up, with options like "when a sensor is activated, then control a device." Simply activate the rule, then customize how it works (which sensor, which device, etc.). Reading over the different options sparked my creativity, giving me plenty of ideas about new ways of controlling my system and making it more convenient. Best of all, each one that I tried worked perfectly.

Iris Home Management System
The Iris Alarm Keypad doesn't perform as well as other keypads that we've tested. Colin West McDonald/CNET

But doing what you're supposed to do isn't the same thing as doing it well. This much is evident with the Iris Alarm Keypad. It does what it promises, but that doesn't mean it's great at it. Unlike the SimpliSafe keypad, there isn't a screen on the thing, so you won't receive any feedback from your alarm that doesn't come in the form of beeps. What's worse, those beeps aren't nearly loud enough when it really counts: when the alarm is actually going off. The thing sounds a bit like a slightly aggressive alarm clock -- maybe it would be enough to scare off a skittish intruder, but I doubt it'd spur the neighbors to call the police.

The keypad isn't as responsive as I'd like, either. If it isn't in the same room as the hub, it'll lag a little bit when you try and put your code in. I'd often find myself entering my code three or four times before the signal would finally go through. This was especially flustering when I was trying to cancel a pending alarm. Arming and disarming the system through the smartphone app worked much better, and there's an optional keychain fob accessory that you can use as well, but still, it's disappointing that the keypad -- a default component of the Safe and Secure Kit -- doesn't work as well as it ought to.

All of this is to say that if you're looking for a system designed to secure your home, I think that you've got better options. For a slightly higher monthly fee, SimpliSafe will give you a system that includes live monitoring, a cellular backup, and countless other features that give it a distinct edge. If live monitoring isn't important to you, then you can turn to a system like iSmartAlarm or Viper Home, both of which do most of the same things as Iris, but do so without charging you a monthly fee.

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion

It's hard not to be impressed with the scope of Iris' coverage. No matter what specific subsection of home automation interests you, Iris will have you covered, and this is especially nice if you're a smart-home multitasker with a variety of uses in mind for your system. I also appreciated some of Iris' unique features, things like "Care," which is a mode within Iris designed specifically for caregivers and family members of the elderly.

The problem is that Iris just doesn't seem focused enough. It's a wide system, but not a particularly deep one. It does a lot of things, but it isn't the best at any of those things. Users who want a little bit of everything from their system will undoubtedly appreciate the wide approach that Iris employs, but I think that most consumers have at least one specific, primary function in mind for their home automation system, and that's where you want depth. That's where you want the best system for the job. As well-rounded a system as it is, there just aren't a lot of situations where Iris can say it's the best system for the job -- not in terms of performance, and not in terms of value, either.

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    Iris Home Management System

    Part Number: KIT650
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