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Most of us, at some point or other, have left home and wondered whether we'd forgotten to close a door or window properly. In the past, you'd have to ring a neighbour or return to check things yourself, but today, a gadget called Alertme promises to do all the legwork. It'll send you an SMS text message to let you know whether you've left a door or window open, or whether you've got a potential intruder rooting around your sock drawer. Sounds fantastic, but at £399 plus a £10 per month subscription fee, it had better be.
The Alertme system looks absolutely fabulous. Its designers clearly hung out in the same circles as Apple's -- or at least stalked them surreptitiously -- because everything in the kit is looks good enough to eat. The ivory finish, curved edges and soft lights emitted by the various bits and bobs should sit nicely with all manner of décor.
The kit consists of several units. There are three sensors that can tell whether a door or window is open; two infra-red motion detectors, which monitor any movement in the room they're placed in, and an alarm detector, which listens out for your existing smoke alarm. There's also a 'lamp', which extends the range of the sensors and shows the status of your home through the medium of coloured LEDs. Also included in the kit are three key fobs so you can activate or deactivate the system and a button with a user-customisable function, which you can install anywhere you like.
The key fobs, sensors and other accessories communicate wirelessly with the hub using the little-known Zigbee wireless protocol -- a distant relative of Wi-Fi. Should the accessories detect movement in the home, a smoke alarm going off, or windows or doors opening, they alert the hub, which in turn contacts the Alertme servers. The servers can forward an alert via SMS text message to you or your nominated friends and neighbours, and keeps a log of activities.
The full Alertme kit contains several failsafe techniques to ensure messages get through. Should your broadband connection fail, the hub can communicate via GPRS -- thanks to its integrated GSM module and SIM card. The hub also contains a battery, so it can keep running for around 10 hours should AC power fail in your home. All you've got to worry about is keeping your phone turned on.
Unfortunately, the Alertme system is extremely limited. Should your home burst into flames, or a burglar decides to break in, it'll alert you via text. If you're not at home, which presumably you aren't, it'll text another nominated phone number. But what if they're at work, too? You can't call the cops -- the Metropolitan Police informed us that the mere text message from Alertme isn't sufficient grounds to investigate your property. Call them, and they'll probably caution you for wasting police time.
Some alarm systems automatically alert the police or a nominated security agency, who can visit your property in the event of an alert. They're usually quite pricey -- around £25 per month service charge, and an hourly labour cost of around £50 per call-out. Unfortunately Alertme does not have this facility. To its credit, though, its makers says the company is in talks with security companies to offer a similar service.
Our biggest gripe with Alertme is the price. Considering its shortcomings, we really can't see any justification for the full package costing £399. We also can't see any justification for the £9.99 per month service fee, which is the price you pay for having battery backup, GPRS functionality, 50 text messages per month and email alerts.
There is a starter kit consisting of one motion sensor and a key fob -- but it costs £150. There's no service fee, no battery backup and no GPRS, as it relies solely on your broadband connection. Each text alert costs 15p, and you'll have to keep a minimum of £10 on the system on a pay-as-you-go basis. Additional sensors cost between £20 and £35.
Unlike most ordinary alarm systems, Alertme does not include an external siren box. Its makers say the reason for excluding this is that it would "only annoy the neighbours". This is a tad ironic, since annoying the neighbours -- via text -- is exactly what the system is designed to do.
We'd only recommend the Alertme to people with more money than sense. Yes, it sends you texts to say whether someone's broken into your home, but for most of us, that doesn't seem particularly useful. We recommend you buy a £5 Web cam, set it up in motion detection mode, configure it to send email alerts about 'break-ins', and sit back as it sends you actual photos of whoever is threatening your inner sanctum.
Edited by Marian Smith