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Review: SkyLink home alarm system impossible to decipher

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With a poor app and unhelpful instructions, this home security option is best avoided.

skylink

THE GOOD: Reasonably priced for anyone who can figure it out.
THE BAD: Poor instructions and bad app cripple the system.
RATING: A A A A

Little did I know, when my wife and I bought our home in the not-quite-Toronto-suburb of Etobicoke last year, that we were moving into a neighbourhood besieged by a serial burglar for the past few summers. This shadowy individual has been so prolific, he even has his own nickname – the Etobicoke Prowler – and has forced the police to bring in profilers.

He can’t be caught soon enough, but until then it’s up to us inhabitants to secure ourselves against his encroachments. As such, I’ve had my eye on various security products.

It was with great interest that I tried the Alarm System Starter Kit from Skylink, a company with operations in Canada, the United States, Hong Kong and China. The $169 kit comes with a motion sensor, two door/window sensors, a keychain remote and a central hub that they all connect to. With all that, I figured my bases would be covered.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for my enthusiasm to melt into frustration.

Setting up the hub was simple enough – plug it into an internet router with the supplied Ethernet cable and you’re ready to download the control app onto your phone.

The app and the included printed instructions are a different story. Both are short on information, starting with the fact that the various sensors need batteries. Maybe I’m a dummy, but it took me a while to figure that simple fact out – and that’s when the real challenge came.

Both the motion and window/door sensors are incredibly difficult to open up, and nope, the instructions are no help. I had to pry them open with a screwdriver in order to get batteries in, cutting my finger and breaking a hinge off one of the plastic window sensors in the process.

From there, getting them working was an exercise in guess work too. The app plays short “learn” videos that supposedly explain how the sensors work, but they don’t – in the case of the window/door sensors, the video simply shows one segment being moved away from the other. I tried that repeatedly and nothing happened. I tried again a few days later and suddenly the hub beeped, much to my surprise.

Worse still is the app itself, which is where all the sensors’ notifications and alarm settings are controlled. Each has a bewildering array of possible settings, from full alarm sounds to sending notifications to your phone every time it’s disturbed to only being on when you tell it to. Regardless of which options I tried, I couldn’t get any of the sensors to set off the alarm, nor could I get the hub itself to go off. I kept getting error messages whenever I tried to arm it.

With no online support or help fora to speak of, I just couldn’t get the system to do what it was supposed to, which means it’s a product that is simply not ready for prime-time. The hub and sensors may very well work, but without proper documentation as to how, it’s a veritable crap shoot that will only end in frustration and bloody fingers.

Fortunately, the home-gadget market is a burgeoning one with lots of competing products, such as Dropcam, which was recently acquired by Google. Lesser-known companies such as SkyLink need to put a better foot forward if they intend to compete in such a fierce field.

SkyLink supplied a loan unit for the purposes of this review.

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