It wasn’t that long ago when “home security” meant buying into a monthly subscription, a service which bought home owners a yard sign and renters a window sticker announcing a rent-a-cop would occasionally patrol the premises, with help advertised as only a phone call away. I myself grew up in a home with one of these systems, the result of a few burglaries in our otherwise quiet suburban section of Los Angeles.
These home security systems were expensive to purchase, and used to require a professional certified installer to come out to place modules around the house at entry points, alongside install a control unit for managing the system. But in the last several years the home security market has exploded with network-connected devices which offer many of the same services of their pricier, pre-internet predecessors, all without the hassle of professional installation being required.
The Scout alarm is one of the newer players in the Internet of Things realm, and I’ve had a system installed now for a few months to see what has changed in the app-connected era of home security.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Scout is the home security platform’s clean, modern design. The array of motion sensors, central hub, and door/window sensors are fairly plain and unobtrusive visually – and that’s a good thing – ideal when considering the best security system is one invisibly present. Three finishes – Artic White, Midnight Black, and Walnut – give home owners the option to blend in the Scout components as seamlessly as possible to match decor.
Installation was mostly straightforward, but required the user’s undivided attention in regards to activating each module in a correct order. Connecting the hub unit directly via Ethernet to the home network was a 30 second affair; users are walked through the whole process of activating each sensor module individually using instructions displayed via an iOS (only) Scout app. The step-by-step activation went without a hitch except for a minor hiccup due to this user’s own enthusiastic mistake – thus the note above about being attentive – I had prematurely pulled out a battery tab too early in the set up process, requiring a hard reset for the sensor to be recognized by the system.
One note for homeowners or renters who live in older residences where windows and door entries are not perfectly flush in relation to interior walls: the access sensors can look awkward when installed where curved casing/trim doesn’t permit perfectly flat, flush alignment. This isn’t necessarily a fault or specific to the Scout system, more of an indication older homes and newer smart technology are sometimes strange bedfellows, but worth noting if a clean presentation is desired.
Installing each entry module is similar to most every other DIY home security system, with a non-destructive peel-and-stick adhesive solution. The main door module is notably large in dimensions (more about that later), with window units much smaller, and the battery powered motion sensor the easiest to place on a shelf or adhered to a wall. The hub itself can be placed anywhere near a hard wired network connection, but due to location and simplicity I kept my Scout hub neatly hidden away with other network gear. And hey, you still get that giant security sign to plant out front, alarm stickers galore to place on windows, so some things never change.
In practice Scout reminds me of another DIY home monitoring system previously installed in our apartment, SimpliSafe. Like that user-install system, each instance a door or window is opened the module notifies with an audible chirp and/or message via Scout iOS app. The app itself is where users can set the system for “Home”, “Sleep”, “Away”, and “Vacation” mode and is relatively easy to use. A long hold on any of the setting options takes users to an “edit mode” where IFTTT functionality allows further customization (e.g. “IF Front Door sensor is activated in HOME mode, THEN set custom alarm delay to 45 seconds”), and from there push notification, countdown audibles, siren activation, and email notification can be tied to a limited combination of conditions.
But to be honest, I’ve mostly kept the system on “Home” mode because the idea of launching an app each time I head out or come home seems tedious. On the other hand I could see arming the alarm system before leaving on an extended trip or vacation with some forethought I’d be away for more than a jog, errand, or even day trip. The Scout system addresses this propensity for occupants to come and go without the requirement of launching an app by including set of security keychain fobs and RFID stickers which arm and disarm Scout (partially explaining why the main door unit is so large; it’s a RFID scanner and houses the loudest of the alarms), solving the issue of user forgetfulness or apathy.
The Motion Sensor is rated for 90 degree field of view, up to 25 feet away, sensing movement whether in daylight or at night with its infrared sensor. In our modest sized apartment the Scout Motion Sensor had no trouble determining someone was in the room when we changed setting from “Home” to “Away”.
Since receiving our system, Scout has added another component – an HD Video Camera – fortifying the utility of the motion detection unit. The camera captures both video and audio in 1080p, with night vision capability, and even two-way audio so you can not only listen, but speak back to occupants, intruders, or your lonely pets. I didn’t get to try this new camera, but it’s probably not much different besides the higher resolution and sleeker design from the WeMo-enabled Belkin unit I installed a few years ago to keep tabs on our felines occupants while we’re away.
With only two access points and one of them only accessible via a locked entry hallway (we live on the second floor of a multi-unit apartment with inaccessible windows), the Scout is mostly forgotten during day-to-day ongoings of our two human+two feline occupant residence. And maybe that’s a good thing, because home security should be monitoring and present, but mostly out of sight and out of mind. Compared to earlier professionally installed systems, DIY solutions like Scout are an affordable option to add this peace of mind into a home, permitting mix-and-match additions as necessity (or budget) permits. Monthly fees do still apply if you want to add professional monitoring like 3G Cellular and Battery Backup police dispatch at your behalf, but are not required to operate the system for self-monitoring.
The real question is whether you need an alarm system at all. Like car alarms, home security systems are as much about the psychological as the physical, giving users an additional layer of perceived safety about self and possessions. But all it takes is one incident – when an alarm scares away an intruder or the camera notifies you the dog got out from a door unintentionally left ajar – for these monitoring and security systems to prove their worth. Nevertheless, a well secured door, sufficient exterior lighting, and a proper deadbolt are all secondary to establishing a habit of conscious awareness about the environment around us when it comes to personal safety. A home security system like Scout is the icing on the cake.