S
ince the invention of the centrally monitored alarm system (however rudimentary) at the end of the 19th century, you got home security by paying a company like ADT to install a system and monitor your home. In the 21st century, surveillance tools have become more sophisticated with the addition of devices like cameras, fire alarms and flood detectors, but the underlying business model has remained the same: pay experts by the month to monitor your safety. (That or a one-time investment in a doberman pinscher.) In the past few years, though, home security has been changing in a big way. Like many entrenched business models, the market for home security has been upended by technology — challenged by portable, user-friendly security systems. Scout Alarm ($129+) is one of the main players of the new guard, and we got our hands on a system to test for several months.

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The brain of the Scout system is the hub, a wall-powered unit that communicates on a wireless mesh network (802.15.4 IEEE) with a range of more than 100 feet. You need the hub ($129) to get started and from there you can add sensors, including a door panel ($69), access sensor ($29), motion sensor ($49) and HD video camera ($169). You set each up one at a time from closest to the hub to farthest away (since the devices communicate with each other, this increases the range of the network). Following the instructions on the installation guide or in the app, it took me about 15 minutes to install the hub, a door panel and a motion sensor, and to activate to RFID fobs that arm and disarm the system. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to the app or web dashboard to configure your settings.

Like many entrenched business models, the market for home security has been upended by technology — challenged by portable, user-friendly security systems.

These configurations are the most important thing that happens in the app. There are default modes for “Home”, “Sleep”, “Away” and “Vacation”, or you can create custom modes. They’re formatted in an if/then formula; for example, if the door alarm is triggered, then I can get a push notification sent to my phone or I can let the 106 db sirens start chirping.

The app also allows you to monitor basic activity, like when the door is opened and closed or when other people’s key fobs activate and deactivate the alarm. This easy, personal monitoring is one of the key features that sets Scout apart from its competitors. And, if you’d like a more traditional service, you can purchase contract-free monitoring services through the app. For $20 per month you get 24/7 professional monitoring and police dispatch; for $10 you add 3G cellular and battery backup (the hub is equipped with both) in case the power or internet goes down. Scout can operate as a hybrid of DIY home security and conventional monitoring services.

Scout’s closest competitors in the DIY alarm market are iSmartAlarm, Oplink, Viper Home (of car alarm fame), SimpliSafe, and two single-unit, camera-based systems, Canary and Piper. All of these justify further research if you’re in the market for home security, particularly if you rent a home or apartment. They’re portable, relatively affordable and don’t require contracts. Scout has the best design of the multi-sensor systems, and Canary and Piper seem to be video monitors first, security systems second (they don’t come with additional sensors). The truth is that all of the systems mark a real step forward in democratizing home security. If you didn’t think you could afford it before, or you like to be able to move from place to place, home security is now quite practical.

Scout-Security-Gear-Patrol-ambiance

For many people, DIY home security is part of the broader conversation about home automation. They want to know if they can integrate the security system with the rest of their home — locks, lights, thermostat, sprinklers, wearables — and then create a formula for how those things work together. One of the important players in the home automation game is Nest and, to Nest’s credit, their Works with Nest initiative has helped integrate a variety of smart products with their Nest thermostat.

IN A NUTSHELL

Pros:
+ Nice design
+ Cellular and power outage backup
+ Live monitoring available

Cons:
– Expensive with multiple devices plus monitoring
– Not yet integrated for automation

For example, if you have a Jawbone Up, you can program the thermostat to warm up your home as soon as Jawbone notices you’re up and about. Another automation service, IFTTT, lets users integrate web services and social networks in addition smart home products. One criticism of Scout is that it isn’t currently integrated into some of the important automation services, but the company says that they’ve applied for both Works with Nest and IFTTT and it looks like integration with IFTTT will happen soon. None of these systems sit at the forefront of automation, but Piper and Viper are both compatible with Z-Wave accessories, which include some light switches and thermostats.

For people with more luddite inclinations — the French press type — automation is less of a concern than getting a stand-alone security system that sets up easily, blends harmoniously with most home decor and gives options for additional security when far from home. All of these things are great, but the chief innovation of Scout Alarm might just be reaching these new customers. Scout has all the trappings of other compelling start-ups. Crowd-funded? Yes, and without Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Slick logo and website? Check. Thoughtful product design? See that sleek walnut finish. This might seem trivial, but in a market that’s long been dominated by big companies with austere branding, the look and feel of Scout is an innovation in itself. Like Warby Parker, Blue Apron or Dollar Shave Club, Scout sends a clean box to your doorstep and within minutes, the system is set up — and there’s a certain pleasure to that convenience, especially when it also makes you safer.