Escort, a name typically associated with high-end radar detectors, showcased a security solution for the car this year at CES 2010. The Entourage CIS is a GPS tracking device that allows a user to keep tabs on their wheels from anywhere in the world via the Internet.
At only 4.3 inches by 2.4 inches and only 0.8 inch thick, the Escort Entourage CIS is as thick as a deck of playing cards at its deepest with only a slightly longer footprint. Its mass is effectively reduced further by its concave edges that give it something of an "X" shaped silhouette. At each of the Entourage CIS' corners is an eyelet through which a screw can be passed for securing the device and extending from the top edge of the unit is the power cable. For installations that don't permit drilling, the CIS also ships with a pair of adhesive hook-and-loop strips.
Installation is as simple as finding a mounting location, locating a 12-volt (or 24-volt) power source, and connecting the power and ground connections. The Entourage CIS even ships with a pair of wire tap-in squeeze connectors, so one could install the device with little more than a pair of pliers.
With only two wires to connect, installation should be idiot-proof, but just in case, Escort has included an installation validation button and an indicator light on the unit's face. Pressing the validation button causes the unit to perform a self check. If all is clear, then the indicator light flashes green. If there's an error with the device or the installation (for example, the power and ground connections are reversed), then the light flashes red.
While the CIS draws its power from the vehicle's battery, it also has its own internal two-day rechargeable battery backup that allows the device to function even if the vehicle's battery dies or its power is cut.
The CIS also ships with an RFID MyPass key fob with a unique ID number that can be used to automatically arm and disarm the Entourage's alert mode.
The Escort Entourage CIS only has one two-part job: tracking your vehicle's location using GPS and reporting its position and speed using an integrated GSM/GPRS antenna. The CIS receives its GPS signal using a special antenna that shouldn't require a direct view of the sky to function, which allows a great deal of flexibility in where the Entourage is mounted. However, enclosing the device completely in metal will still block the signal, and the instructions state that it's best to mount the CIS beneath a plastic or wooden surface, such as inside of a door panel. During our testing, we were unable to establish GPS lock with the CIS mounted under the vehicle's hood. However, with a bit of experimentation, we found a mounting location that was both stealthy and permitted satellite lock at the bottom of the rear parcel shelf. Of course, the optimal mounting position will vary from vehicle to vehicle.
The Entourage CIS' RFID key fob arms and disarms the device automatically. When a driver approaches the vehicle with the fob in hand, the unit's alert function deactivates. When the key fob leaves the vehicle's vicinity, the alert mode is re-established.
While in the alert mode, the Entourage CIS can be programmed to send e-mail or SMS notifications if it is tampered with, if its internal vibration sensor is triggered, or if the vehicle moves outside of a safety perimeter that is established when the alert mode is activated. We like that Escort gives the vehicle a security perimeter because it allows the vehicle to be moved by valets and parking attendants without sending false alarms, but we were not able to control the size of that perimeter for earlier alerting.
With the CIS installed in our CNET test vehicle, we staged a few mock thefts to see how the device would help us to retrieve our "stolen" car. Within a minute of the theft, we received text message updates that the vehicle's vibration sensor had been triggered and that the security perimeter had been broken.
While the Entourage CIS hardware forms the core of the Escort's GPS location system, Blackline GPS' online tracking software is where most of the user's interactions with the system take place. The Entourage is powered by position tracking by Blackline GPS and requires a $30 activation fee and a monthly service subscription of $15 per month (or $179 per year with no activation fee). Subscribers can monitor and control their Entourage over the Internet via a Google Maps-based Web site. The units can also be tracked on supported Blackberry phones via a free Blip Plus app.
The Entourage doesn't report the vehicle's location constantly, only at 15 minute intervals, when a logged in user pings the device online, or when the safety perimeter is broken when alert mode is armed. From the Web site, users are able to ping their CIS for an immediate location and speed, schedule intermittent location updates with customizable intervals and duration, or continuously track the vehicle's speed and location for up to 10 minutes at a time.
Users are also able to remotely arm and disarm the alert mode, pair additional key fobs, make changes to what notifications the CIS will send and to what mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses the SMS/e-mail notifications are sent, and adjust a number of options to modify the CIS' functions.
During our testing, the CIS performed exactly as advertised, sending SMS and e-mail updates when the vehicle was moved and reporting its location rather accurately when pinged online. The unit even notified us when our test vehicle's battery was disconnected or when the unit strayed outside of cellular coverage.
However, the Entourage CIS has one weakness: parking garages. While the CIS doesn't require a direct view of the sky to locate itself, tunnels, parking decks and other major obstructions to the sky will prevent the device from establishing satellite lock and from being able to report its location until a clear shot at the sky is restored.
The Escort Entourage CIS retails for $399 before installation and the aforementioned activation fee and monthly service. If you want to give multiple users access to the protected car without receiving alerts, additional MyPass key fobs can also be purchased for $59 each--which is more than twice as much as we'd expect such an accessory to cost.
As a security device, the Entourage CIS is subtle in the way that it provides protection. There are no sirens and no whistles, just silent tracking of the vehicle's comings and goings. It won't stop someone from stealing your car, but it will go a long way toward helping you to quickly and safely recover it.