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iSmartAlarm review: Do-it-yourself home alarm system changes the security game

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The Good iSmartAlarm offers comprehensive and intelligent home security for do-it-yourself-minded consumers, all for a fraction of fee-based home security set-up.

The Bad This alarm system won't call the police for you, and getting the iCamera video add-on to work with the system can be a challenge.

The Bottom Line With its reliability, its overall ease of use, and its undeniable value, the iSmartAlarm is an intriguing, legitimate alternative in home security, especially for small-home owners and budget-minded consumers.

8.2 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 8
  • Design 9
  • Performance 7

You can't put a price on peace of mind, but that doesn't mean you have to overpay for home security. Now, with Indiegogo darling iSmartAlarm on the market, you don't. Its complete home security packages start at $199 with no contracts or monthly fees. Just set up the motion sensors, cameras, and alarms as you see fit, then monitor everything using the company's free app. It's smarter, more affordable home security for a new generation of DIY-ers.

Skeptics might be quick to point out that unlike the more established heavy hitters of home security, iSmartAlarm doesn't currently offer live monitoring. If somethings triggers your alarm, it won't alert an operator. Instead, you'll get a text message alerting you to the breach, as well as an automated phone call. From there, calling the police is left up to you.

For me, these concerns were less important than the fact that the highly touted iCamera was too temperamental. Still, it's hard not to like what iSmartAlarm is doing. It isn't the system I'd use to protect a Picasso, but for lower-stakes scenarios, it's truly a game changer. Consumers who have long felt priced out of home security finally have a legitimate and affordable alternative, and the appeal doesn't stop there -- even if money is no concern, you might still prefer iSmartAlarm's control and customizability.

Simply put, if you're thinking about securing your home, there really isn't a good reason not to give iSmartAlarm serious consideration. And if you've already gone with a more expensive option, you might want to look into switching to iSmartAlarm and saying goodbye to those monthly fees.

Flexible features, customizable control
iSmartAlarm's variety of sensors promises comprehensive coverage of your home security needs. Its Preferred Package, which runs for $199, includes a motion detector, two contact sensors for detecting when doors or windows are opened and closed, two remote tags that clip onto your keychain and allow you to arm and disarm the system, and the system's brain, the CubeOne, which also features a built in panic siren. For $150 more, the Premium Package adds the iCamera to your setup. Whichever package you choose, you'll be able to add additional sensors, sirens, cameras, and remotes a la carte style, so customizing the system to fit the specific size and needs of your home won't be a problem.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

No matter how many devices you end up purchasing, you'll control all of them through the iSmartAlarm app, a free download for iOS users that's coming soon to Android devices, too. The app's four-button home screen mirrors the remote tag, allowing you to arm the system, disarm the system, activate the panic siren, or go into "Home Mode," which disables the motion detectors but leaves the contact sensors active - perfect for protecting your house without having to worry about the pets triggering a false alarm.

If you spring for the iCamera, be prepared for potential frustration with the setup process. The folks at iSmartAlarm acknowledged that it tends to not play nice with about 10 to 15 percent of routers on the market today, although they maintain that they're able to help all users ultimately get it up and running smoothly. My experience wasn't quite that simple, which I'll get to.

When the camera does work, the app will display the iCamera's field of view for you, and also let you move it around just by swiping your fingers. You can also pre-set the iCamera's default viewing angle -- if the alarm is ever triggered, the camera will maneuver back to this framing and automatically save what it sees to the cloud, hopefully capturing the intruder on film. The camera won't detect or follow movement, though, which would have been a very nice added feature.

You can rename each sensor within the app to help keep things straight ("Front Door," "Back Door," and so on). You can also set names for the owner of each remote tag, which will help you track who's coming and going. For both the sensors and the remotes, you can upload photos, which doesn't really add any functionality, but still helps to personalize the app and make it more visually appealing. If someone else downloads the app and wants to link up with your security network, they'll just have to scan a QR code on your phone.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

When something triggers the alarm, the panic siren sounds automatically, and you'll receive a text alert notifying you exactly what part of the system went off. This is where renaming each sensor really comes in handy -- getting a 3:30 a.m. message that says "Contact Sensor No. 3 has been opened" is a lot less helpful than one that says "The back door has been opened."

In addition to the text alert, you'll receive an automated robocall from iSmartAlarm telling you that the alarm has been triggered and warning you not to return home until you are sure that it's safe. Like with the texts, you can set multiple numbers to receive this call.

For the most part, I found the iSmartAlarm's user experience to be one of the best of any of the home automation systems I've tested so far. The system's base of operations, the CubeOne, is beyond easy to install -- just plug it in, connect it to your router, then let the app walk you through the rest. From there, the contact sensors, motion detectors, and remote tags all connect to the system in mere seconds. From the time I opened the box, it was less than a few minutes before I had the core components of the system up and running.

The exception to this ease of use is the iCamera. I followed the instructions for linking it up with the system to the letter, and still had major problems getting the video to display properly, or at all (most of the time, the best I could get was a white, locked-up screen and an endlessly spinning wheel of frustration). Troubleshooting the problem pointed to a port issue with our building's router, so I tried to start fresh and set the system up on a completely separate home network. Still, the issue persisted, making me 0 for 2. Ultimately, after some fiddling, I got the camera working, but performance was spotty, and before long, the video once again dropped out completely.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

I've seen the iCamera in action before, and it's an impressive part of iSmartAlarm's system when it's working as promised. But given how finicky it was during testing, I can't recommend splurging on one when you're choosing your iSmartAlarm setup. For now, I say stick with the $199 iCamera-less Preferred Package -- you can always add a camera later if you decide you need one.

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