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Home alarm

Are you worried about domestic burglary? According to official statistics, around 2% of households are affected by burglaries every year, but the figures vary on the basis of a number of factors. For example, people living in houses are affected more often than those in flats, and people in cities more often than country dwellers. Some areas are also more likely to be affected than others. Equally, the nature of your garden and your house affects the likelihood that you will be a victim. For example, if you have a large hedge that conceals part of your property so that burglars can work uninterrupted. 

With a burglar alarm installed, many people feel more secure. Alarms are useful both if the property is burgled while you are away and if you're at home. There are many different types of alarm system intended for domestic users. These essentially consist of an alarm panel where you switch the system on/off, a number of sensors and some form of app or similar so that you can control the system. A system that's only connected to windows and doors is called perimeter protection, because you can live and work in your home while the system is monitoring it. But you can also protect the inside, for example by installing movement detectors. There are also systems with zone divisions, where only certain parts are protected.

Alarm systems often also include surveillance cameras. This means that, in addition to being notified if someone has broken into or is outside your home, you can see them acting in real time. The cameras often have movement sensors to detect whether someone is moving nearby. Many cameras have recording and storage capacities in addition to real time transmission. Some are intelligent and can see the difference between people and objects, which means that they react if a thief moves through the field of view, but not if the movement is caused by a robotic vacuum cleaner.

These cameras also have different areas of use. Some are motorised so that you can control them remotely, some are IP classified for outdoor use, some have the ability to see in the dark and so on. The cameras you choose for the different parts of your home depend on your needs and the type of space. 

You can also buy accessories for your burglar alarm which mean that the area around your house makes it clear that a burglary is taking place – for example with illuminated or flashing lights, sound sirens etc.

DIY or buy a ready-made system?

When you look at solutions for burglar alarms, you will quickly realise that there are two options. One is to choose different components and create a system yourself, and the other is to purchase a complete system installed by a manufacturer/dealer.

In the first case, this means that you buy products, either a ready-made kit or a number of separate items, which you install in your home. These systems rarely include any ongoing costs. Instead you pay for the products and then carry out the monitoring yourself. For example, cameras and sensors can notify you by mobile phone if someone is moving in your home.

If you instead purchase a complete system from an alarm supplier, they will come and install the system in your home. You usually choose between different sized packages and then have an installation cost and a fixed monthly cost. The monthly cost is usually £20-40, while the fixed installation often costs several hundred. The price varies depending on the supplier, the package and the functions you choose. In some cases, the operator retains ownership of the system for a number of years. So in other words, if you cancel the contract they have the right to remove the system. You should also remember that some systems have a minimum term. Another factor that can vary is whether call outs are included in the monthly costs.

With some systems, you receive the alarm call first so that you can verify it is a genuine break-in, and you then forward the alarm call to the alarm operator. Others go directly to the alarm operator, who then contacts you. In some cases the alarm operator can even see who is in your home and talk to them. This provides further security in that if a family member injures themselves you can quickly get help. On the other hand, this has integrity implications and you need to think about what you're willing for a stranger to see in the case of any false alarm.

The majority of alarm systems today are wireless. There are still models where cables are installed in the walls, but these are generally installed while the building is being constructed.

In terms of the wireless systems, they have different sensitivities to interference. Things like built-in encryption and the frequency they transmit on affect how good they are. For example, some of them have double encryption, while others only have single encryption. If the system communicates on a normal frequency, it may even get interference from other gadgets on the same frequency. If you're thinking of investing in a wireless burglar alarm, you need to invest in a product with high security levels.

Products in the guide

Somfy One

All-in-one alarm with siren and physical lens protection

Camera: Yes (Full HD) Movement detector: Yes (and thermal detection) Night vision: Yes Facial recognition: No Storage: Cloud (subscription linked) Perimeter protection: Window alarm Siren: Yes (90 dB, built into camera) Voice control: Yes (Alexa) Fire detector: No (but fire detector detection built into the camera) Battery backup: Yes (6 hours) What's included: 1 x camera, 1 x IntelliTAG, 1 x key fob

The Somfy One is a surveillance camera and alarm solution packaged in a single unit, which makes it a user-friendly combination. Installation is easy and straightforward. Each unit is easy to understand and connect to your telephone. It takes about five minutes to set up the whole thing. The alarm installed on the windows is quite small and is attached with a sticker. It doesn't impinge much on the view and stays on well. The siren for the alarm is attached to the camera. The alarm noise is very loud and frightening. Of course, a thief only needs to pull the cable out of the camera for this to stop, but they will already have been captured in an image - providing that you have positioned the camera in such a way that they can't avoid this. If you reconnect the cable, the alarm will continue to sound. In other words, it has to be switched off properly. One advantage with the Somfy One is the physical lens protection. When you enter yourself as "home", only perimeter protection is activated. This means that the cameras aren't used, and only the window alarms etc. are activated. However, for the creative hacker a surveillance camera is a relatively easy target. But with physical protection for the lens, which slides across automatically when you only activate perimeter protection, you don't have to worry about unwelcome watchers. However, when the lens protection is open we would have liked to see facial recognition. The system records anyone moving in your home. Cloud storage is free for a short trial period, but after this you have to pay if you want to store the video content. This is quite expensive. £4 a month for one day's storage, £8 a month for seven days' storage. Nor is there a micro-SD slot, which means that you have to use the cloud solution, and this reduces our score.

Entering yourself as at home is easy with the Somfy One. Each family member has a remote control (key fob) that they press to tell the system that they are home. You can see on your phone when a particular family member gets home. The camera gives a good quality image, but unfortunately doesn't support 4K. But full HD and a wide viewing angle means that you still get a very good image of the room it's in. It also captures the sound in the room well, but also a hum from the camera unit itself. Sometimes it can also take a little while between starting the app and getting an image in the camera. However, the system gets a plus point for making it possible to talk to the intruder by holding in a button on the phone app. It can also detect the noise from your fire detector and notify you. One disadvantage is that the camera is quite bulky, is visible from a distance and can be difficult to position. But the app associated with the unit is straightforward to use and easy to navigate. Overall, this is a good value for money and well-designed product for anyone who wants to secure their home but who doesn't want to fiddle with a number of different products.

+Physical lens protection, small alarm unit, very good app, well designed comprehensive solution, can talk to each other
Bulky size, no facial recognition, expensive cloud solution, no micro-SD slot
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3.5 of 5

Panasonic Smart Home Control Start Package

Complete home alarm kit that's easy to install

Camera: Yes (SD). Movement detector: Yes (and thermal detection) Night vision: Yes Facial recognition: No Storage: Micro-SD Perimeter protection: Window alarm Siren: Yes (built into base unit) Voice control: No Fire detector: No (but built-in fire detector detection) Battery backup: No What's included: 1 camera, 1 base unit, 1 magnetic contact, 1 remote control switch

The Panasonic Smart Home Control Start Package is intended for those wanting a complete home alarm solution without subscription costs. You keep track of the alarm system yourself via your mobile phone. There's also a micro-SD card slot in the cameras so that they can record video. When the alarm is triggered, you receive a notification on your mobile phone and can check what is happening. You can also talk to the person in your home. The base unit will raise the alarm if an unauthorised person enters, but the siren it emits isn't particularly loud. However, it's certainly loud enough for the intruder to understand that they have been spotted. The base unit also emits a couple of short bursts before the real alarm goes off and the notification is sent to your mobile phone. This is useful as it's easy to forget to switch the alarm off when you come home. However, we tried pulling out the power cable to see if it sends a notification about this, but it doesn't. This means that any thief quick enough to do this won't be detected if they don't pass in front of a recording camera. Nor did the base unit notify us that the alarm had been triggered when we reconnected it. Another problem is that the camera included in the package has rather low image quality. We would have liked the images to be sharper, with better colours and a better refresh rate. However, the remote control switch is a good addition when you have created scenarios in the app.

The sensors in the Smart Home Control Start Package are rather large, although well designed. It's very easy to connect them and pair them with the base unit. The whole system feels well designed in terms of hardware when it's set up and configured. We had no problems with missed alarms or misbehaving cameras. The system is a model of user-friendliness. However, the app isn't anything like as good. The impression is that Panasonic have tried to squeeze in as many functions as possible into the home page, with a visually messy and text-dense interface as a result. It would have been more sensible to prioritise the functions customers use most and turn the rest into sub-menus. More graphics would also have been nice. When the alarm is triggered, the app sends a notification to your telephone, but if you aren't at home it takes time to link to the base unit and you also end up on the app's home page. It would have been more logical to display an alarm page with an overview over cameras and the active alarm sensors. If the app was restructured, this system would be a very good home alarm solution, particularly if you replace the camera with the manufacturer's KX-HNC800 HD camera, which has much better image quality but a rather stiff price tag for an indoor camera. Overall, the Panasonic Smart Home Control Start Package is still a relatively comprehensive package solution for a fairly reasonable price. 

+Easy to install as a complete kit, reliable
Low resolution camera, messy app, warns the thief before it warns you
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Choosing the right burglar alarm – check list

When you want to buy a burglar alarm, there's no one system that's right for everyone. Your needs and desires in terms of functions, your interest in technology, your budget and your family structure all affect the choice you should make. A few questions you can ask yourself are: 

  • Do you want to construct and maintain your system yourself, or use an alarm operator?
  • Do you simply want perimeter protection (windows, doors etc. so that you can set the alarm when you're at home at night) or do you want more functions, such as a fire alarm, indoor movement sensors etc.?
  • Do you want to both receive an alarm and see what is going on in your home, or is the alarm function alone sufficient?
  • Do you have pets at home during the daytime, or other things that move and which can trigger any movement sensors?
  • Do you want a system where an alarm operator can immediately investigate what is taking place in your home, or do you want to check first whether it's a false alarm?
  • Do you want control of the system from your mobile phone?
  • Do you have children who get home before you? Can they remember a secret code and enter it, or do you need a system with tags? Do you want to be notified when they get home?
  • Do you want accessories such as sirens and floodlights in the system?
  • Do you want to be able to expand the system with intelligent home functions, such as a connected fire detector, temperature sensors, moisture sensors etc.?
  • Do you want the alarm operator to only check your perimeter protection, or do you want them to also be able to enter your home and check every room?
  • Do you want battery backup so that the alarm isn't knocked out by a power failure?
  • Do you want a system that you own, or one that you only own after a couple of years (check the purchase conditions with your alarm operator)?