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Viper SmartStart and SmartKey review: Viper SmartKey unlocks cars with hands-free ease, but requires alarm

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For an even more remote solution, I could use the smartphone app. As it sends a signal over its data connection to Viper's server, which then sends the lock or unlock signal to the car, there is no distance restriction. I could activate the locks from anywhere in the world that I had a data connection for my phone. The downside of the app locking is the time it takes, about five seconds. However, if you have the Bluetooth module up and running, the unlock or lock command is also sent through Bluetooth, making it much quicker.

Viper, where's my car?

The cloud-based component of SmartStart allows a set of useful features for security and parenting. The included GPS module let me locate my car from anywhere I had a data connection. Touching the GPS button on the home screen brought up a map showing my current location. When I tapped the car button, it showed where my car was on the map. Even better, I could also view my car's current speed and direction, if it was moving.

If the Viper car alarm didn't prevent thieves from driving off with your car, then you could call the police and tell them exactly where it is. However, driving the car into a garage or area where data and GPS is blocked will defeat that location feature.

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With the Viper GPS module installed, I could share my car's location with family and friends. Screenshot by Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The app also let me share the location of my car through Facebook or a text message, useful if I wanted to let a family member or friend drive it.

The GPS module enables a geo-fencing feature useful for parents. With that, I could use the app to define a circular area around a central point. If the car was driven outside of that area, the Viper app shows an alert.

Viper includes some convenient parking features in the app, as well. When I hit the lock button on the app, a dialog box popped up telling me the parking spot was saved in the app's memory, and gave me the option to take a photo. Even more useful, the app includes a parking meter function that let me manually set how much time I had on a meter. I could check it to see when I next need to run out and feed the meter, and it alerted me when the time ran out.

Appropriate vehicles

Many new cars come with Viper SmartStart's GPS features built-in. All GM vehicles, for example, include OnStar, which duplicates a few of these features and includes a stolen vehicle service. Data connections and GPS chips are becoming very common in the automotive market, which might make the Viper system redundant for your vehicle.

I have also reviewed a number of easy OBD-II plug-in devices, such as the Zubie Connected Car Service , which use GPS and a data connection to locate your car, define a geo-fence, and even serve as a driving coach to encourage fuel efficiency.

The Viper SmartStart and SmartKey stand apart in that they offer car alarm features and the aforementioned Bluetooth unlocking mechanism. However, some of these features will require additional equipment in the car. For example, if you want to keep your 1959 Ford Ranch Wagon safe and include the convenience of remote unlocking, you will need to have a central electronic locking system installed.

The type of car you own, and the environment where you live, will be big determining factors in if Viper SmartStart is right for you. Given that I mostly park my car in a garage, the security features are of little interest. The Bluetooth proximity unlocking certainly makes for hassle-free car entry, but that convenience gets sidelined by the need to use a key to start the engine.

What might add to the attraction of Viper SmartStart is its integration with Viper Home, a home security system that can also be controlled from a Viper app. Read CNET's review of Viper Home to find out more about this system.

The cost of the Viper SmartStart system with its Bluetooth module will vary from installer to installer -- this is not a DIY system. In addition, for the cloud-based services you will need to sign up for one of Viper's data plans. That will cost you $99 for one year, or $199 for a three-year subscription.

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