Scout DIY Home Security Tested

By Brian Rhodes, Published Dec 11, 2015, 12:00am EST (Research)

This hipster startup claimed it would crush cavemen alarm companies, with a DIY disruptive offering.

Now in production, we bought a Scout Alarm system to see just how well it delivered.

The DIY alarm market has been getting a lot of attention, with mega funded Simplisafe making the most noise (see our Simplisafe Test Results).

For a DIY product, Scout performs rather well, and even offers advantages over some commercial systems. Key benefits include:

Positives

  • Solid App/Interface: Scout gets this part of engineering and design right. In the case of both web portal and smartphone app, system control was fairly complete and reliable. We experienced no bugs or hangs during our test from either interface.
  • Reliable Alerts: A key part of 'self monitoring' an alarm system is to have alerts pushed or sent dependably when they occur. In the case of Scout, we got alerts via email, SMS text, and push notifications through the app with no missed events.
  • Mobile Install: For the DIY install process, being able to manage installation and enrollment of sensors from the smartphone app was nice, as it saved multiple trips between sensor location and a workstation. Sensors could be added from the smartphone where they were installed.
  • Reliable, Quick Contact Performance: Some wireless sensors may have slight lag in updating state change, and cloud-based interfaces may delay even further when updating the info.  This was not the case with Scout, where changes updated in less than a second on the web or app interface, and no missed/false alarms happened during our test.
  • Custom Zones: Unlike most DIY systems that have limited or just one zone, Scout offers hundreds that are configurable by custom grouping sensors and the alerts they send on an individual basis.
  • IFTTT Support: Scout supports the If This, Then That code method of manually configuring home automation and security platforms together.  Even if overt support is not claimed, IFTTT recipes standardize the framework in tying systems together based on common actions.
  • Battery Backup: The Scout Hub includes integrated battery backup for both local and web communication, and if power drops the system still still work.  In our test, the battery lasted about 30 minutes.

However, not everything worked well. Scout's negatives may even be a showstopper for some:

Negatives

  • Quiet Horn: For local alarm annunciation, Scout is not loud enough. Despite claiming 100 db noise, the siren is significantly muted.  A review of Scout's forums reveals this to be the #1 complaint with no fix, so this was not the result of a bad test unit or one-off issue.
  • Wireless Range: Scout's alarm sensors 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, even with fresh batteries.
  • No Pet-Immune PIR: Another common problem is the PIR is not resistant to being tripped by dogs and cats. Scout has no fix for this, other than recommending people manually mask off portions of the PIR lens with tape.  Not good.
  • Giant Sensors: Another drawback of the system is the large physical size of the sensors. While weight was not an issue, the footprint of sensor can cause mounting and aesthetic problems. We detail this in the 'Hardware Overview' section below.
  • No Keypad: The main method users communicate with the system is through smartphone app or RFID fob. If users lose those or do not have ready access, they have no way of turning off/disarming or arming the system.
  • Nasty Fingerprints: A minor detail, but very distracting is how easily the high-gloss finish trim plates smeared with fingerprints.  Users should anticipate even occasional handling to result in a cleanup job to remove unsightly smudges.

Other Key Observations

  • No Tools Needed: We needed no handtools to completely install Scout. While the sensors are adhesive-backed, the bond was strong enough to withstand forceful closures and temperature/humidity changes without problem.  For the main "Hub', no mounting is necessary and users can locate it on a shelf or desk once power and network connects are made.  For apartment dwellers short on tools, or 'non-DIYers' uncomfortable with difficult installs, Scout is easy to commission.
  • No Cameras Yet: Despite plans to offer HD camera sensors at launch, they still are not offered by Scout [link no longer available] for sale, and the estimated release date has been missed several times. 

Overview

System Operation

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

 

The key takeaways for system overview is alarm configuration and function is solid. During our test, every alarm event that should have been reported was, and no false alarming occurred.

Furthermore, whether interfacing with the system via web portal or the app (and often both at the same time), controls worked and responded. Event logging was quick and comparable with commercial wireless alarm sensors.

The web apps are well laid out and reliable also.  In the example screenshot below, the 'system alarm' app screen is shown with recent event logs explaining alarms and interface options to call police or disarm the system as button actions:

We take a look at example alarm notifications and email report performance in the video below:


Hardware Overview

In this video, we examine Scout's hub and sensor design. 


While the overall construction is solid, the size of sensors is large and will not be aesthetically pleasing on all doors and windows.

For example, the two piece 'Access Sensor' will typically be unevenly aligned when doors are shut, due to the characteristic difference in frame trim profile and leaf of door. At best, installations look sloppy and at worst functional alignment between sensor sides may not be possible:

Additionally, while the wireless nature makes install easy, it also requires changing batteries that add costs and potential nuisance to users over time.

System Weaknesses

Other drawbacks, like quiet alarm sounders and the lack of keypad controls are illustrated in this video:

Of the shortcomings, two big ones rise to the top:

  • Wireless Limitations: A significant barrier for many users will be the limited wireless range of system sensors. Because the range is 45 feet and no boosters are available, Scout's best fit is for small, single floor apartment sized areas with a few doors or windows.  
  • No Keypad: Another big drawback is the lack of an interface keypad to arm/disarm the system or review alarm codes. Instead, Scout uses a large 'door panel' RFID reader that users present 125 kHz fobs or stickers to activate the system. Users can also arm/disarm and read error codes from the Scout smartphone app, but if they misplace these items or don't have quick access, they simply cannot enter a bypass code into a keypad as typical with intrusion systems.

System Pricing

Those looking for a bargain system will likely find the cost of Scout steep. Pricing for a typical system will run $350 - $650 depending on total number of sensor points.

A system with a hub, a main 'door panel', a motion PIR, and two 'access sensors', the cost will be about $350 with no monitoring costs.  However, each door or window a user wishes to monitor adds $30 - $50 each point, and even a modest home with three doors and five windows will break the $650 mark quite easily.

For monitoring, Scout essentially offers three choices:

  • Free: The base self-monitoring option uses wifi to push emails and alerts to your phone. Scout explains this free option "Keeps you in the know about what's going on at home, but it's only as good as your internet connection", because it lacks cellular backup and police dispatch.
  • $9.99 Month: The 'Always On' plan turns on the system's 3G radio for cellular or mobile backup communication, so if local wifi goes down the system still can send alerts.
  • $19.99 Month: The 'Always On+' plan adds UL certified central station monitoring, essentially placing it on-par with professionally installed alarm systems. While $20/month is less than many incumbent contract monitoring prices, it still represents nearly $240/ year of recurring cost for a Scout system.

Scout offers a 10% discount ($107.90 or $215.90 annually) if users renew service annually versus being invoiced monthly. 

Deep Configuration

Scout offers users a fairly granular level of configuration options.  Unlike other DIY systems like Simplisafe or Korner that do not support multiple zones, Scout offers hundreds each user defined.

For example, if users wish to create an alarm profile that only arms doors but not windows, or the first floor but not the second, they can create their own custom grouping and select specific actions when a particular sensor trips.

Users can associate one beep pattern when the front door opens and a different pattern when the back door opens and so on. 

Wireless Limitations

However, a significant barrier for many users will be the limited wireless range of system sensors. Because the range is 45 feet and no boosters are available, Scout's best fit is for small, single floor apartment sized areas with a few doors or windows.  

Market Comparison

For users willing to pay a higher price for an entry level DIY system, Scout performs well. For example, while Scout's basic self-monitored, four sensor system cost ~$350, Simplisafe's 'Economy Package' four sensor system costs ~$260.

Other potential Scout disadvantages are limited sensor choices, of two basic contacts and PIR.  In contrast, Simplisafe offers a range of sensors, including glassbreak detectors and a 'pet-immune' PIR.

Our Recommendation 

If users are looking for an integrateable and configurable DIY alarm system, Scout could be a good option.  Unlike most intrusion systems, especially DIY offerings, Scout can be integrated with other home automation platforms (supporting IFTTT, Nest, Phillips Lighting, and Amazon Alexa).

The video surveillance gap could also cause potential buyers to think twice, as it is already a mainstay function of platforms like Alarm.com and Honeywell Total Connect.

However, the DIY market overall is mixed on video options, with integrated platforms like Canary limited on sensor design, but other discrete sensor platforms like Simplisafe also lacking video options.

 

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