Roost Smart Smoke Alarm RSA-400 review: Roost's smart smoke detector is alarmingly dumb
The Roost Smart Smoke Alarm is a logical step forward for the company that made the Roost Smart Battery.
The battery is a useful, Wi-Fi-connected 9-volt that fits in your existing alarms and sends push notifications to your phone when the alarm sounds or the battery runs low. The problem with the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm is that it adds nothing to connected smoke detection that the included Roost Smart Battery can't do on its own.
Roost just put its name on a Universal Security Instruments (USI) alarm and called it smart. It's not.
If you do need a new alarm, Roost actually has two options. We tested the $80 RSA-400, which senses smoke, fire, carbon monoxide and natural gas. You can also get the $60 version of the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm -- the RSA-200 -- which just senses smoke and fire. The RSA-400 is reasonably priced. A similar USI smoke and CO detector costs $50, plus the $35 Roost. The RSA-200 is less so, as a USI detector that just smells smoke is only $12.
Either way, I don't recommend replacing a working smoke alarm with a Roost Smart Smoke Alarm just to add remote notifications. You can get that with a $35 Roost Battery and your existing alarm. If you want wholesale smart replacements, I recommend spending a little more for the $100 Nest Protect.
I really liked the Roost Smart Battery when I reviewed it last year. It looks just like an ordinary 9V, so if you can replace a battery, you can install a Roost. Hidden in that familiar form are a Wi-Fi antenna, a microphone and a replaceable power pack that snaps free from the bottom of the battery. Supposedly, a Roost lasts five years. When that time expires, you'll get a notification and you can buy a new power pack for $15.
The Roost App is simple and intuitive. Alerts arrived promptly when we tested it. Now, the Roost works with online rule maker IFTTT so it can integrate with a larger smart-home setup. For example, you can create a recipe that tells your smart lights to flash when your alarm sounds.
Because of how much I liked the Roost battery, I had lofty expectations for the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm. One criticism I had of the battery is that the in-app silencing feature doesn't work on hard-wired alarms. That's understandable, as it's just a battery and it silences the alarm by cutting the power. I thought the Roost Smoke Alarm would certainly address this problem, as well as close the gap between the Roost Battery and Nest in other ways by adding a light, a motion sensor or the ability to talk to other smoke detectors. Nope, nope and nope. The Roost Smoke Alarm adds nothing. In fact, Roost's Smart Battery would be more useful in a different, battery-powered -- app-silenceable -- smoke detector.
In terms of design, the Roost alarm just looks like an ordinary white puck. I wish Roost had done more to help the detector stand out than add its name to the front.
Disappointing but fine
The Roost Smart Smoke Alarm handles the basics well enough. You can buy the Roost RSA-400 for $80 or the RSA-200 for $60 at Home Depot or on Roost's site. Both models are available only in the US for now.
The smoke alarms use the Universal Smoke Sensing Technology of typical USI alarms. Here's a rundown of how smoke detectors work. In short, the ionized variety tends to be faster and cheaper, but more prone to false alarms than photoelectric technology. Nest uses a special form of photoelectric sensing called split spectrum, which supposedly helps its alarms sense a larger variety of fires faster. USI alarms use an ionized setup with a microprocessor to help reduce false alarms.
The Roost Alarm is certified by independent standards organizations such as UL and the FCC. It's ETL Listed, which is another form of certification recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In practice, Roost's alarm performed well next to an ordinary hard-wired detector -- we used a First Alert hard-wired alarm for comparison. We tested both several times with smoke candles and a canister that sprays smoke. Every time, the ordinary First Alert detector sounded the alarm before the Roost detector, but only by a second or two. The test lined up with our results from the Nest Protect, which was also slightly slower than an ordinary alarm. Once the alarm sounded, the Roost's alerts came to my phone reliably.
The $35 Roost Smart Battery is a great alternative to completely replacing your smoke alarm with something like the Nest Protect. It's not quite as smart as a Nest -- you can't silence all alarms, it doesn't have voice alerts and it doesn't work with as many other connected products as the Protect. But the Roost Battery doesn't have to be as smart as the $100 Nest alarm. It's simple, cost-effective and good at what it does. On the other hand, the $80 Roost Smart Smoke Alarm warrants a direct comparison with the Nest -- and it doesn't measure up.
Both the $80 RSA-400 and the $60 RSA-200 are still cheaper than the Nest alarm and the $80 version costs less than purchasing a similar detector and a Roost separately. The Roost detectors also work well enough that they're worth considering if you need a replacement alarm. If not, there's no advantage to buying the Roost Smart Smoke Alarm over the $35 Roost Battery.