The $100 Intrusion System Korner Tested

By Brian Rhodes, Published Aug 18, 2015, 12:00am EDT (Research)

Multi-year contracts at $30 per month are the norm.

Now a startup is offering an intrusion system for $59 up front and just ~$3 monthly.

The company, Korner, has billed itself as the "Home Security Anyone Can Use and Everyone Can Afford" and raised more than $400,000. It is even less expensive than mega VC funded intrusion company Simplisafe (who we tested here).

We ordered Korner last year, and it finally arrived, shown below:

Unfortunately, the list of Korner's negatives are long and substantial enough to recommend avoiding until they are fixed:

Negatives

  • Buggy App/Interface: The biggest issue with Korner is using the system once installed.  We experienced mutiple 'bugs' in the interface both via webportal and iOS app in configuring the system or sending notifications on events.  For example, registering sensor tags frequently timed out in the app, but worked in the webportal. But critical alarm notifications failed to automatically send at all - a real showstopper.
  • Sensor Range is Limited: Korner's "tags" are wireless and use Zigbee network formats. The website claims that range for these tags is 'about 100 feet (30m)', however we experienced intermittent dropping at 30 feet, and no connections at all beyond 45 feet. Korner is planning to offer an 'extender' hub that increases range by 'another 100 feet', but that unit is not yet available nor has it's performance been tested.
  • No Zoning: When it comes to setting alarms, Korner is 'all or nothing'.  There is no provision to disarm certain tags or interpret in a quick way which tag or alarm point has been triggered.  This is a major problem for even basic residential systems that may want to leave a door unarmed for routine foot traffic or check to see which window has been inadvertantly left open.
  • Laggy Arming: Perhaps because of 'no zoning', there is a lengthy delay between arming the system and it actually being armed, by a period of ~30 seconds or more.  The delay might be useful if serving as an 'exit delay' on a specific zone, but the app design already allows for remote arming/disarming and no discrete zones are supported.  Instead, the wait time just casts doubt on whether or not the system is responsive.
  • One Sensor Only: Korner only offers a single sensor type, a wireless inductive 'corner' mount sensor. With no additional sensors types (like even basic motion or glass-break detectors) to chose from, coverage is limited to doors and windows only.  
  • Email Alerts Spotty: The primary way Korner alerts users to system trouble is by emails. However, this proved unreliable in testing, with emails unsent to members of the 'security circle' of user-defined reciepients and no pop-up alerts via app being seen.
  • Base Station Design: Finally, the unconvential design of Korner's base station 'stick' can be a problem, because it is designed to be plugged into routers or modems.  With many users keeping these devices in a cabinet or shelf, the stick protruding out of the back may be and install issue.  Moreover, the stick includes the system sounder, and if buried in a cabinet or located in a distant room, the horn may not be heard by users essentially making the system useless.

Positives

However, not everything was poor.  Korner does have some strengths to build on:

  • Sensor Solid:  The tag is good, and showed to be both reliable and accurate in detecting door or window opening. Despite using an inductive/ MEMS accelorometer, non-magnetic contact sensor, it proved good for all but very, very slow opening movement not typical of a typical 'smash and grab' type of intrusion attempt.
  • No Tools Needed: We needed no handtools to completely install Korner. While the tags are adhesive-backed, the bond was strong enough to withstand forceful closures and temperature/humidity changes without problem.  The other major component, the 'stick', uses an RJ-45 style connector to plug into a router and no mounting is necessary.  For aparement dwellers short on tools, or 'non-DIYers' uncomfortable with difficult installs, Korner is easy to commission.
  • Inexpensive: Currently the price for a Korner system varies between $39 - $59 for a hardware kit with one to three tags, and a recurring annual cost of $39 for app access.

Overview

System Operation

In the video below, we demo the user app/system interface available via web portal or smartphone app:

 

The key takeways for system overview is that while simple to navigate, several features are broken (like notifications) or are unreliable or laggy (like addings tags and arming the system).

Hardware Overview

In this video, we examine the hardware design and network port installation of the base 'stick' unit:


The unconvential design includes the system's horn, but the entire unit adds almost 7" to whatever modem or router it is connected to, making for an awkward install and likely burying the sounder deep in a cabinet or in a location not easily heard by users.

Single Sensor Only

Finally, we examine the Korner 'Tag' sensor below, designed to be placed on doors and windows.


While the overall construction is solid, the size and shape of the tag may not be aesthetically pleasing on all doors and windows. Additionally, while the wireless nature makes install easy, it also requires changing batteries that add costs and potential nuisance to users over time.

System Pricing

When first announced, Korner claimed $99 system price with no recurring fees ever.  However the company has recently modified this to:

  • $59 one time system cost, including 1 stick and 3 tags, expandable up to 25 tags (at a cost of $25 each)
  • $39 per year service subscription costs to maintain connectivity to apps for configuration and alerts.

Most houses will require at least one 'extender' that adds a one-time cost of $39 to the system.

While these increase the ownership cost and may turn some off on the recurring yearly service fee, Korner still remains significantly cheaper than and incumbent alarm system that can cost thousands and require lengthy monitoring contracts.

Limited Applications

With the wireless range of the system being less than 45 feet and only supporting a single zone, Korner essentially is only a potential fit for small, single floor apartment sized areas with a few doors or windows.  While small apartments are the prime vertical Korner is targeting, the company does nothing to disclaim using the system for larger residences and multi-floor houses.

Considering app bugginess, the unreliability of Korner's alarm notifications, and with the DIY market full of consumer alarm systems, alternatives are easy to find.

The limitations on range, non-zoning, and single sensor choice leave Korner unsuited for larger spaces or where more flexible alarm sensors are required, even for standard residential intrusion systems.

Market Comparison

Given the simple installation and low cost, Korner is fighting in a suddenly crowded DIY intrusion alarm market. However, compared to other systems like Simplisafe (see our test here) Korner is not punching at equal weight.

For example, while neither Simplisafe nor Korner support discrete zones, Simplisafe allows for configuration of individual sensors by adding delays or disarming single units while Korner does not.

Simplisafe offers a range of sensors, including motion PIRs and glassbreak detectors, while Korner offers a single door or window type.

Costwise, Korner will win against most competitors, with most apartments costing less that $60 to outfit and less than $40 per year to keep networked.  The comparable system from Simplisafe runs about $260, and ~$240 for remote notifications, although performance is likely going to be better with remote notifications that work and more flexible detection designs.

Our Recommendation 

Stay away from Korner.  Like many crowdfunded projects, the security startup has entered a complex space not easily fixed by pushing firmware updates and hardware design must be reliable.  At this stage, Korner has just begun the process of debugging designs in the field, and the work ahead is sizeable for the company.

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