Monday, December 22, 2014

The Quest for Security (Part 2)

I know my previous post was a bit silly, but it got across the essentials of my search. Now down to the nitty gritty because I want you to be sure to have all the details here.

The package from SimpliSafe arrived in a couple of days, pretty darn fast. It was in a plain cardboard shipping box and was padded with brown paper (for all you eco-conscious people out there). The Master Security System ($497.98) I chose came with:

1 Base Station
1 Wireless Keypad
2 Keychain Remotes (the second is a free bonus)
2 Motion Sensors
6 Entry Sensors
1 Auxiliary Siren
1 Yard Sign
2 Window Decals
1 Panic Button (free bonus)
1 Smoke Detector

You can check the available packages, but I wanted to best approximate a replacement to my current ADT system. When choosing a package, try to select the least expensive package and add any additional sensors you may need. If the cost becomes high enough to jump to the next more expensive package, start there and repeat until you feel you have everything you need. You don't need to have sensors on every window and door if you choose your sensors wisely and place them strategically.

The sensors were very close in size and shape to those provided by ADT and it was a simple matter to swap out the existing ones for the new ones. They were backed by heavy duty adhesive strips that also have pull tabs in the event you wish to remove them and holes for provided screws if you needed to further secure them. If you've never encountered these before, you simply add the sensor to the moving part of the door or widow and then add a magnet to the fixed portion, say the top portion of window or on the door frame, aligned with the middle of the sensor (guides provided on the sensor). They even indicate how the sensor slides open for battery replacement so you can place it for easy access later. Nice touches.

ADT had mounted their control panel right to our wall because we had to provide a hard line for phone access as well as power. The SimpliSafe base station was a modern looking, free-standing mini-tower with an AC adapter. No phone line required since it's cellular, but I noticed it does have jacks for Line In and Telephone in the back. The wireless touch pad was a welcome difference. Since it's separate from the base station, you can place it closer to the door for quicker access when leaving or entering the house. We always had to run up the stairs and cross the living room to get to the ADT control panel.

The package includes a manual and installation wizard contained in one of the remotes with a USB connector. You can follow the printed manual and it pretty much tells you what to do and if you could follow what I wrote above, you could probably do the installation without looking at the manual until it came down to the final setup instructions, where the USB installation wizard became more useful.

You insert this thumb drive like keychain into your computer and launch the app. It walks you through placement and setup of all the potential parts of your package and suggests optimum placement. You can skip over the ones you may not have, like the glass break sensor, water sensor or carbon monoxide sensor. It's nice to see they have additional sensor types and you can purchase them right off their website and add them to your system. Then you add your master code and duress code if desired into the system. The duress code would be used when forced to disable the alarm. This deactivates the alarm, but still notifies the police. You can also add additional PIN numbers to enable and disable the alarm, like children or houseguests. It also triggers Test Mode to send a signal to the monitoring station as well as allowing you to test all the sensors you placed. The wizard will also pop you into your web-based Dashboard where you can make changes like naming the sensors, add additional PINs and read the system logs. You can have these sent to you via email and/or text with the plan I chose, the Standard Monitoring and Alerts for $19.99/mo. You can go lower without alerts for $14.99 or higher with additional phone/web functions for $24.99, and switch between plans at will. Compared the the $47.31/mo. I was currently paying ADT, any of those plans is a steal.

When done, you can exit the website and complete the install. Then you remove the remote from your computer and stick it in the top of the base station, where it syncs the settings you just created and puts the system into Practice Mode for 72 hours, giving you time to test the features of the system. It would be nice to have a way to make the system live prior to that time if you were comfortable with the system, but that's a small quibble.

Then came the fun of removing the ADT equipment. The window and door sensors were pretty easy. They, too, had the adhesive strips and were pretty easy to pull off. I then just rubbed off any remaining tape from the location. The motion sensors were also easy, since they were screwed into wall anchors. We tried using the same locations for the new ones, but like the previous ones, the cat kept tripping the motion sensor when she moved around the house (which is why we never used them). This time with the aid of my wife, we repositioned them in locations where the cat couldn't get near enough to trigger them (we hope). The control panel was a different story. It had been so long, I wasn't sure how it was originally installed, but we remembered having trouble getting it to call out, especially when we switched between service providers like Comcast and Verizon. So I figured I would remove it, disconnect it and presto! we would be done. Uh-uh. I did indeed remove it and found a gaping hole in my wall behind it where the installer had connected the phone wire. I unplugged that from the back of the unit. There was power also wired for the built-in siren. I disconnected that too. Then I was left with a gaping hole and two wires running down to the baseboard. Great. I might be able to cover the hole with the new siren. Back to that in a minute.

The other chore was to cancel the monitoring service from ADT. I dreaded this, because I was afraid I was going to be bombarded with sale pitches to upgrade the hardware or discount the service, but I was pleasantly (and gratefully) surprised. I called the main number, they transferred me to another person who took my info asked me why I was canceling, put me on hold for about 2 minutes, and told me I was all set. He did ask if I would be interested in upgrading the hardware (of course requiring a commitment), but when I told him I already had purchased another system and service, he just moved on. I took that moment to thank him and told him that's the way I expect all companies to be. Courteous and helpful.

That being done, I thought I was golden. Not so. I went to use the telephone and found that it was dead. All my house phones were dead. What!? As a test, I just connected the phone line back to the old control panel and voila! the phone was back in business. A major blunder by the ADT installer. Somehow, they had wired it so the control panel was inline with the main telephone line. Break the line there by disconnecting it, disrupt the service on all phones. Great... Back up goes the control panel until I get this figured out.

Overall, I am pleased with the ease of installation and setup. New alarm users will find it even more so, since they won't have to deal with removing the old hardware and canceling the previous service. At about $30/mo. savings, it will pay for the hardware in about a year and a half. Not bad.

A few final notes, I wanted to mention that I was able to make this purchase using PayPal, which not all (maybe any) of the other companies offered, if that makes a difference. Also, SimpliSafe seemed to stress the need for acquiring permits, if necessary, for the self-installation and use of burglar and smoke alarms in your town, and to notify them what the laws were for your town if they didn't have it on record (which they don't if they mention it to you in the first place, lol). Lastly, the system is portable, so you can easily move it to another home, town or state with minimal effort and reconnect it to a local monitoring center.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Quest for Security

Gather 'round the fire, my friends, warm yourselves and I will tell you a story. A story about how I, as leader of my clan, was able to protect my home from the Outsiders – the ones that threaten my family, my home, and my stuff. It was a magical time, a time when technology was new. The omens presented themselves in the form of advertisements, the ones you see collected in envelopes and delivered monthly by post to your door. The wonderful offers they held... ah, but no time to reminisce. Suffice it to say that the lords of ADT made their wishes known and I believed. So I sent them their $99 offering and they in turn sent me their avatar — a man in dark blue overalls who came with a box full of a most precious cargo. These were the sensors, special talismans linked to the place of the monitors, those who would keep watch over me and mine — for a price.

They were placed in the most felicitous locations in our dwelling — over doors, over windows, eyes peering down our hallways. A lo, it was good for a time. But these monitors, they kept demanding more and more as the years passed and I was in a quandary for I did not wish to forsake their service. Yet the sensors were aged and their technology was no longer of high standing, and I felt that the lords of ADT were no longer paying close attention to me. So I embarked upon a mission of discovery which led me to question their supremecy. There was FrontPoint and LifeShield, Protect America and SimpliSafe as well as others, all new contenders for the title of Lords of Security. They too had sensors and monitors, but there was much confusion as to who would next hold my allegiance.

I read heavily the lore of each, of course written by their own devoted followers, then began asking the oracles of the net (Oracle1 and Oracle2) and listening to stories from other clan leaders regarding their experiences. It was still a difficult search, but I came across some common things to look for. Many of these new lords bind you to new contracts of 3 years or more, with penalties levied for early release. I care not to indenture myself to any lord. I also knew I wanted less wires and cellular technology so the sensors would not be beholden to my land line or power source. I wished also for the cost of the monitors to not require the sacrifice of my first born. Lastly, I wanted the power to choose the lords I would follow on my own, not upon the word of one of their acolytes. To wit, I have made my choice. It was simple.

SimpliSafe. A guild started by a scholar. It was he who understood the needs of the common man. Current technology. No contracts. A fair price. And the ability to see his wares without intervention. And on top of all this, sanctioned by one of the wisest of men, Dave Ramsey. Their technology will be mine, it has been foretold. Rest, my friends, while I tend to the fire. It has been a long journey, but it is not yet over. I will continue my tale next time and recount the ritual of Installation and Setup.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Apple, Watch... Out!

I just finished watching a rebroadcast of the Apple Keynote. iPhone 6 and 6+, Apple Pay, Apple Watch. Cool products. For someone else.

It took me longer than most of you to get a smart phone. Why? You’d think that since I run a business that requires the use of a computer, I would be a first adopter. But I couldn’t justify the cost of the phone and more importantly, the cost of the phone plan. I still can’t. But what I can justify is the cost of the service provided by Republic Wireless (see related post), even though I only get 2 choices for phones, both of them Android-based.

But back to Apple. I just have to laugh, Tim Cook was obviously very excited (he said it a dozen times during the announcement, just in case we missed it the first time). Now don’t get me wrong. The iPhone 6 is cool. Great looking, great hardware, great features. Ground breaking features? Nope. Oh look, a predictive keyboard. I have that on my Android phone. Oh look, phone service over WiFi. I have that with my Republic Wireless service. Oh look, a $200/month phone bill. I don’t have that.

Now, time for the Apple Watch (see what I did there?). Their design of course, is stunning, and they made sure that it was customizable almost as much externally as internally so everyone can get a version that suits them. But here are three quick points that won’t get it on my wrist. “Requires iPhone.” Deal breaker right there. I might have even considered it, but the fact that it’s required just annoys the heck out of me. Next, the cost. $349.00 smackers. Wow, it’s as much as buying their iPhone 6 64GB version (with a 2yr agreement). That no mere accessory, folks, that’s a whole wardrobe. And three, Mr. Cook said that since he knows we’ll be using it it a lot, he made recharging it easy. But he never mentions what the battery life is. That is scary.

If I want the time, I’ll look at my phone.

ApplePay. Or PayApple, in this case, because to use it, you must have an iPhone 6 or an Apple Watch (iPhone required.). Again, being a fan of Max Headroom and all things futuristic, I like the idea of waving a wand or phone in front of a register and paying for something (though the idea feels less secure than it probably is), but not if it locks me into any piece of hardware.

Let me reiterate for people who need reminding, and to those people who were writing about corporate addiction. I could get by using other people’s hardware and software to do my work, but Apple products make it easier. I am willing to pay more for that, because in the end it benefits me. But don’t think for a second that means that I will just zoom out and buy an iPhone 6 or an Apple Watch (iPhone required). I don’t see the payoff here. What about you?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Battle Theme of the Republic (Wireless)

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is... or is it? My eldest daughter's boyfriend (let's call him Pete) was bragging on this new company, Republic Wireless, for a while even before he decided to try them out. They offer a unique product – the ability to conduct phone calls via cell and wireless connections. It uses wireless whenever it can and when it can't, switches to cell. If even bridges the services, so that your call isn't dropped when switching between them. Pretty neat technology there.

Cost? There are four monthly plans currently $5 (unlimited calls), $10 (unlimited calls & text), $25 (unlimited calls, text & 3G data) and $40 (unlimited calls, text & 4G data). Downside? If you like choice, then you are not going to be happy. They had offered only two phones. Neither of them were iPhones. One is the feature-filled Moto X ($299), the other was the rugged Motorola Defy ($99), which has since been discontinued. As part of the deal, you have to buy the phone outright. Luckily they subsidize the cost by about 50%, so you're not loosing any limbs.

Pete went ahead and made the purchase. I kept close tabs on him to determine his reaction. He seemed to like it. It apparently works pretty well, moving between cell and WiFi with no complaints. His aunt bought one and she liked it. Hmm. I had been thinking about going to a smart phone for quite some time, but all I kept thinking of was the cost of having the data plan so I had kept to my Samsung flip phone (I know, I know, don't laugh).

Now about the phone. The Moto X is Android 4.2.2 based and can access the usual selection of apps and media from the Google Play store and elsewhere like the Amazon App Store. Use their handy coverage indicator to see if your area has service. Both myself and my daughters (both currently in VT) had coverage.

I went ahead and got the Moto X for myself and my youngest, who is still on our phone plan. Wouldn't you know that Pete got my eldest the same phone for Christmas? We are using the $10 unlimited call and text with WiFi data only and I am not really missing the roaming data access it so far, since I can acquire the data from many locations that offer free WiFi. And they offer you the ability to switch your service twice a month, so if you're on vacation and want data access, you can, and then switch it back when you're home.

I have to admit, I am liking the phone more for its computer functions than the phone, but the phone seems to work at least as well as my flip phone. People on the other end say it sounds great. It's fast. Maybe because I am comparing it with my iPod Touch 2nd gen. But it even seems to hold up next to my new iPad Air. And when comparing the apps between my iPad and the Moto X, I was able to obtain almost all of the same ones Weather Channel, IMDB, Bible, Steam, Evernote, Chrome, Email, 1Password, Bank of America, Netflix, Dropbox, Strava and more. And where I couldn't match apps, I was able to find replacements to play music, podcasts and videos.

Is it perfect? No. No phone is and this one with it's new technology is still evolving. But it works as a phone and it's great as a hand-held computing device, and well, you can't beat the price. The phone will pay for itself in a year and then it'll be $20/month for two phones instead of the $80/month I was paying Verizon. Can't beat that with a stick.