From face recognition web cams to keyless locks, keeping tabs on our home has never been smarter, but will the latest security gadgets really ward off the bad guys and give real peace of mind? Chris Haslam reveals all
Thanks to faster wireless broadband and a smartphone in virtually every pocket, creating a safe smart and secure home couldn’t be easier or more affordable. A few years ago you’d need to spend thousands in order to create a video monitoring, web connected, home security system, but today you can plug in a cheap motion sensing camera and have alerts sent direct to your phone from anywhere in the world.
Obviously there’s a huge difference between a spy-on-the-cleaner smart cam and a burglar proof security network, but with so much new and exciting technology available it can be difficult to work out which is right for your home.
We’ve dissected the smart home security sector to help you choose the best products, whether you want to watch your cat during your lunch break or cast an Orwellian all-seeing-eye over your home and family.
Smart security cameras – what’s best?
There are now dozens of internet connected web cams capable of streaming live footage direct to your smartphone. With motion and noise detectors – and now even face recognition – built in, they can alert you instantly if a stranger enters a room, when your baby wakes or if the Amazon delivery guy is walking up the drive.
Visit a few of the company websites listed below and you’ll soon see that many smart cams are aimed more towards ‘lifestyle’ solutions rather than serious security. They offer peace-of-mind to travelling parents and precious pet owners and help keep tabs on everyday coming and going, but their primary function is not to prevent crime. This doesn’t stop them being useful (and fun) though…
Netatamo boasts face recognition technology so as well as motion and sound it can tell you when your kids get home from school and send you a video clip to prove it. More importantly, from a security point of view, it also detects any unknown faces in the house and instantly alerts you. Unlike most smart cameras there is 8GB onboard storage, rather than a reliance on the cloud, and no subscription fee. It’ll even send you a ‘Welcome Home!’ message when you walk through the door.
Myfox Security Camera
This stylish option also forms part of a larger home security/alarm system (Myfox Home Alarm, £249), but as a standalone smart camera is offers great resolution plus a motorized shutter that closes the lens off completely, so you and your guests don’t feel spied upon. It boasts night vision, noise and motion detection, 2-way mic, and an intuitive calendar that lets you scroll through and see past events.
This feature rich model works seamlessly alongside the Nest Protect smoke detector and Nest Thermostat with the idea being if your thermostat registers that you’ve gone out the camera will switch on, or if you burn the dinner it will be captured in Full HD. As a smart cam though it can detect all sound and motion and is extremely reliable, but no recording or playback is available unless you subscribe to Nest Aware for £8 a month. Once you do you’ll also benefit from benefit from better depth perception, improved nigh vision, greater sensitivity to changes in light and shadow as well as heightened noise detection.
Withings make some of the most stylish connected kit and the Home is no exception. It has a 5 mega-pixel camera with 135-degree wide angle lens, LED night vision and a 12x zoom. There’s a Playback mode boasting a 24hr time-lapse option that’s like watching your life in fast-forward and it’s packed with baby-monitor features including lullabies and night light modes. It also monitors indoor air pollution (VOC – volatile organic compounds) and now syncs with Philips Hue lighting for added security chops. You get two day’s free cloud storage or can upgrade to a week for £7.95 (£19.95 per month).
£279.99 (additional cameras £109), Netgear.com
Arlo is 100% wire-free, weatherproof and designed for outdoor use. Each camera has a six month battery life and can survive in temperatures of between about -9 to 50 degree Celsius. The kit comes with two cameras, but four can be controlled via the free app, and you can monitor up to 15 via could storage. Great for keeping a watch over the garden or front door, it has a range of 300ft and unlike the Nest has seven-day recording included in the price, plus it’s easy to watch live via smartphone or have video clips emailed to your computer.
Although it looks just like a smart cam and has the usual Full HD resolution wide angle camera with night vision and motion/noise detection and video playback, it also boasts air quality, temperature, and humidity sensors and a 90+ dB siren. It also learns your movements – just like the Nest thermostat – and automatically arms the alarm when you go out and turns everything off when you come home. It can even notify the police in the event of an emergency.
Smart locks in the UK
Keyless door entry is nothing new – people have been swiping fobs and key cards for decades, and even biometric finger print locks are old news – but thanks to smartphones, Bluetooth and the Internet of Things there’s a whole new generation of devices hitting the high street.
Once you get over the novelty, you’ll soon see the appeal of the latest smart locks.
- Instead of giving your friends, neighbours, cleaner a set of keys to lose you can grant them access using their smartphone.
- If the cleaner or dog walker for instance comes for two hours on a Wednesday, you can only give them access on that day.
- Combine a smart lock with a security camera and you can open the door remotely to friends if you’re running late, or let the Amazon delivery guy drop a parcel off in the hallway.
- American smart lock pioneers August recently announced a partnership with a range of home service and delivery companies. They will be able to get access – with permission- to your home, so you don’t always have to be in when they call.
So far so positive, but we’re not completely sold on the idea, and despite loving all things tech Live-Smart still has some reservations…
- What happens if and when the smart locks crash?
- Can they really be trusted to work better than a set of keys?
- Surely they’re easier to hack than to pick?
- What happens if I lose my phone?
Smart locks have not taken off in quite the same way as smart cams, possibly due to the reasons stated above, but also due to the compatibility issues with various types of lock. US and UK locks vary enormously for a start, while on any given street in the UK you’ll find a huge mixture of deadbolts, chubs, Yale and integrated three-point locking systems, each slightly different.
As a result, many of the big brands in smart locks are currently available in the US only.
Yale Keyfree Connected smart lock
£444, yale.co.uk (price includes installation)
One of the only smart locks made for a UK audience, and from a brand synonymous with home security, the Keyfree Connected Smart Lock can be opened via Bluetooth, key fob, PIN code or completely remotely via smartphone – great if someone shows up early for dinner, or the kids have lost their phone/keyfob.
It’s compatible with Z-Wave and Samsung SmartThings (Nest and Apple HomeKit in the pipeline too), which is great if you want a complete security solution. It’s also compatible with a wide range of Yale home security alarms and systems.
But please note, this lock is only suitable for doors with multi-point locks such as uPVC. If you’ve got a traditional wooden door your insurance company will almost certainly insist on you having two locks.
This battery powered design mounts over your existing deadbolt so there’s no need to replace anything on the external side of the door. As well as Bluetooth control it auto-locks behind you, and automatically unlocks as you approach.
The app has a 24/7 activity log, and each user has a unique code, great for those people looking to keep tabs on teenagers. Android and iOS compatible, it’s also works with Nest, the Apple Watch and Apple HomeKit, which integrates Siri voice control.
Designed to work seamlessly with the lock there’s also a new plug adapter, the August Connect ($79), which links to your Wi-Fi to allow remote access, the motion detecting Doorbell Cam ($199), which instantly alerts you to someone at the door, and allows you to grant access, or speak to them from anywhere. Finally, there’s the August Smart Keypad ($79) that allows you to create unique entry codes for family and guests to unlock the door without a key or smartphone.
With the Kevo deadbolt you can simply touch your Bluetooth 4.0 compatible phone (Apple iOS and select Android 5.0, Lollipop devices) to unlock the door, use one of the supplied Bluetooth key fobs, or…whisper it… an actual key. The Kevo app makes sharing access to neighbours, family, friends, trades etc. very simple as you can assign eKeys for specific days and dates. It’s also compatible with the Nest learning thermostat, which should also improve your home’s energy efficiency.
Smart fire alarms/smoke detectors
Even the humble burnt toast detector is enjoying a smart makeover…
So much more than a simple smoke and C02 alarm, the Wi-Fi connected Protect checks its batteries and sensors over 400 times a day and does a monthly test to to ensure all is in order. It also sends alerts to your smartphone of any issues and in the event of an alarm you can turn it off instantly without waving a tea towel frantically. It also has a motion sesing night light and works with the rest of the Nest family to keep you protected.
This ingenious Wi-Fi battery instantly upgrades your existing smoke alarm. Once fitted, and synched to your home’s Wi-Fi, it will send you alerts if your alarm sounds, tell you when the battery needs replacing, and allow you to control the alarm from the smartphone app. What’s more, the Lithium-ion battery will last up to five years.
All in one solutions
While the smart cameras and locks grab the headlines there are an increasing number of one-box smart security solutions available. Combining Wi-Fi hub, wireless door, window and motion sensors, plus cameras and even alarms, they offer advanced home control from a single app without the need for a costly professional installation.
Watch out for subscription services – some kit isn’t worth buying unless you pay monthly for video streaming – and check to se if it is compatible with any existing smart home products.
SmartThings (iOS and Android) lets you monitor, control, and secure your home from anywhere using a wide range of compatible devices. The system is based around a hub – plugged into your broadband router – and a bundle of smart home products including motion sensors, plug switches, door/window sensor, presence sensor (a keyring fob to keep tabs on the kids) and moisture sensor.
SmartThings also communicates with many third-party products including Sonos multi-room audio, Philips Hue, LIFX and Osram lighting, Yale smart locks and Honeywell thermostats.
The SmartThings starter kit includes Hub, Motion Sensor, Multi Sensor, Presence Sensor and Power Outlet.
Panasonic Smart Home
From £129, Panasonic
The Smart Home security system uses DECT ULE technology (same tech as your digital landline), rather than the usual Wi-Fi connection, which, according to Panasonic, will keep your images safe from hackers and means you can connect multiple accessories without the need for your Wi-Fi password.
Unlike SmartThings this is a closed loop system, so it won’t work with any third-party products, but there are plenty of accessories available and Panasonic have many more in the pipeline. The current range includes hub, DECT phone, window/door sensors, motion sensor, indoor webcam, outdoor webcam, smart plug, indoor siren, keypad, key fobs and water leak detector.
Buy each component individually – smart plugs cost £39.99 each, or choose a bundle to get started. The Home Monitoring & Control Kit, for instance, includes one Hub, one Indoor camera, two Window/Door sensors and one Smart plug for £229.99.
Swann is an established name in CCTV and security and this all-in-one app controlled smart home system has some clever security features not found on other systems. Firstly, it can differentiate between sounds and tell when a window has been broken rather than a door slamming which helps to reduce the number of false alerts you receive during the day.
It offers the usual selection of door and window sensors, socket switches and security cameras and, like SmartThings, is Zigbee, Zwave and Wifi compatible so can be paired with third-party products such as Yale, Nest and Philips Hue.
There’s also a separate smart thermostat available, adding the ability to manage your energy use and set temperatures via the same app as your CCTV.
The SwannOne Video Monitorininsuranceg Kit includes Smart Hub, KeyFob, Motion Sensor, two window/door sensors and one SoundView indoor webcam. Extra components can be bought separately from £22.99. There are various subscription packages including £5.99 per month for seven day’s video recording and storage and they plan to introduce a professional home monitoring service from £7.49.
Smart home insurance
Better security can help bring down the cost of your home insurance premium, and some insurance providers will give discounts depending on what security measures you have installed.
And just as British Gas has invested heavily in their Hive smart thermostat we expect to see major insurance companies offering discounts for homeowners with smart security gadgets. At the moment, we know of one UK provider, Neos, which is offering Samsung SmartThings tech, 24/7 home protection and home and contents insurance in a single package, but we expect there will be more in future.
Insurance companies have been offering discounts for years on those homes with heightened security, but before you install a camera in every room, remember that the cost of the kit may be significantly more than the insurance discount earned and simple low-tech changes – extra chain on the door, new window locks, dummy alarm box – could be as much of a deterrent in the eyes of your insurer.
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