Smart-home security apps help ward off burglars

Learn about smart gadgets for better security

WKMG – (WKMG) For Sally and her husband, Jobo, April 28 was a terrifying day.

“The doorbell started to ring, and it just kept ringing and ringing and ringing.”

When she went to the front door, Sally noticed a young man looking out at the street and not at the house.

“I knocked on the window and said, 'Stop that,' and he turned around and he was surprised.”

What Sally didn’t know was while that man was at the front of the house checking to see if anyone was home, his partner was in the backyard, trying to break in through a sliding glass door.

“I saw the man at the back door,” Sally’s husband, Jobo, said.

“When I hollered at him, he immediately ran back the way he came.”

Jobo tried to chase the man, but the would-be burglar scrambled over a locked gate. With his way blocked, Jobo instinctively ran through the house to warn his wife.

Deputies don’t really have much to go on after the attempted break-in, despite cellphone pictures from a neighbor of both men and a vague description of the car they were driving. Jobo's fear is that someone else will try to break into their home again, sooner or later.

“It’s almost inevitable,” he said.

Sally, however, is more optimistic.

The couple contacted KPRC Channel 2 News partner WKMG-TV, who then contacted three different companies, which sent the couple several smart home devices to upgrade their security and give them a little more peace of mind.

First up is smart bulbs. TP-Link provided two different smart bulbs: an LB-120, which has a tunable white light, and an LB-130, which has a color-changing light. Smart bulbs are pretty inexpensive and pretty smart. They connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network through TP-Link’s Kasa app, which is available for both Android and iPhone. Aside from controlling the bulbs, the Kasa app works with TP-Link smart plugs and smart wall switches as well as thermostats, security cameras and smoke detectors from Nest.

Setup of the TP-Link bulbs is easy: Download the app, screw in the light bulb, turn on the switch, and you’re halfway home. When the bulb blinks three times, it’s ready to connect to the web. Find the bulb on the Kasa app, connect it and finish the setup. Once the bulb is paired with the app, you’re ready to access the features of the bulb-- including brightness, scheduling, and color temperature -- from anywhere in the world, as long as you’re connected to the internet. A professional tip to help in case of a problem: Turn the power switch for your light on and off three times to put the bulb back in setup mode.

According to TP-Link, smart bulbs will last anywhere from 13 to 23 years, depending on the bulb, with normal use. The bulbs also use very little energy. TP-Link says a standard incandescent 60-watt bulb uses about $7.23 of electricity a year, and its smart LED bulbs use about $1.32 of electricity a year. And don’t let the acronym LED fool you -- these bulbs are versatile and have the ability to give off the same warm light of older incandescent bulbs as well as the brighter fluorescent-like light of first-generation LEDs.

TP-Link smart lightbulbs range in price from $19.99 to $49.99. They can also be controlled by voice commands when set up through the smart home app section of any Amazon Alexa device. One other nice thing about TP-Link bulbs is that no additional equipment, such as a smart hub, is needed to operate them.

The second smart home device for Sally and Jobo is a wireless security camera system by Netgear. The standout difference of the Arlo Pro system is that it is wireless. There are no cables to run and no cameras to hardwire. Just turn them on, mount them and connect to them to the internet, and you’re in business.

Two things to note:

1. Arlo systems work best when there is a strong internet connection throughout your home. If you only have one wireless internet access point and sometimes spotty or weak coverage, consider upgrading your signal with a power line adapter or a mesh network.

2. There are actually three different types of Arlo security cameras. The original Arlo was the first generation of the product and, for many people, is still an affordable alternative to a well-thought-out security system. The Arlo Pro is updated and upgraded and now includes two-way audio on each camera, better night vision, longer -lasting rechargeable battery packs, better motion detection and a base station with a 100-decibel siren. You’ll know you’re looking at a Pro system when you see that thicker base station. And then there’s the Arlo Go, a true stand-alone system. Arlo Go cameras do not connect to Wi-Fi. Instead, they are individually monitored using subscriber identification module, or SIM, cards, just like your phone. The cards are  available from both Verizon and AT&T. Arlo Go cameras are a good alternative when a Wi-Fi signal is not available.

Like the smart bulbs, setup of the Arlo Pro system was pretty straightforward and surprisingly easy. Unbox the cameras, create an Arlo account, pop in the batteries one at a time, pair each camera to your base station and then mount the cameras where you need them to be. You can view your cameras through a web portal or through an iPhone or Android app.

Sally and Jobo’s new security system was almost ready to go in less than a half hour. A firmware update slowed the process for a few minutes, but after it was done, the couple was good to go. After putting up the magnet mounts and popping on the cameras, they were pleasantly surprised at how smooth the whole process was.

The Arlo Pro system can handle up to 16 cameras and Netgear throws in free seven-day cloud storage for the first five cameras. A single-camera Arlo kit starts at about $200 and additional cameras can be purchased for about $170 each. Sally and Jobo’s two-camera kit goes for about $375.

The last product was for the front door, which is where Sally’s nightmare began. August sent Sally and Jobo a smart doorbell that includes a built-in camera and microphone. For this particular model, as well as many others on the market, you’ll have to have a wired doorbell that runs off of electricity. August recommends a voltage level between 16 volts and 24 volts for a proper swap-out.

Smart doorbells are one of the hottest home-tech items right now. Installing them is a little trickier than installing smart bulbs and security systems because, first and foremost, you’re dealing with electricity, though it is low voltage.

Before starting installation, find the breaker that powers your doorbell and turn it off.

When he was finished with his prep, Jobo was able to take measurements and drill a few holes to mount the new bell. August included an interesting mount with their device that angles either upward or to the side to give you a clear view of the person at the door. Another mount is for an optional keypad that can connect to an August smart lock and Connect hub, if you want Wi-Fi access over the internet. If you opt for the whole package, you’ll be able to control everything from one screen using Android or iPhone apps.

Once the doorbell was in place, Jobo and Sally had to take a break for about a half hour while they waited for the doorbell’s battery to charge up. When it was charged, the device connected to the app and, as the Arlo system had done, almost worked. But instead of needing a firmware update, this particular unit first connected to one Wi-Fi network in the house but wouldn’t unlatch to connect to a stronger one. Some troubleshooting on the phone with August customer service determined that the unit was defective and August sent out a new one for next-day delivery. When the replacement arrived, Sally and Jobo had it up and running in almost no time. The August doorbell costs about $135.

It’s important to note that all technology, especially new technology, has its limitations. With any new technology, if you run into problems, don’t be afraid to call customer service. Sometimes it’ll be an easy fix, sometimes it’ll take some effort and, sometimes, as in Sally and Jobo’s case, you’ll have to just start again from scratch.

In case you weren’t keeping track, Sally and Jobo’s equipment was worth between about $385 and $560, which is not too bad to get you started on outfitting your new smart home.

A footnote: All of Jobo and Sally’s equipment is scalable and can be expanded upon with very little effort.

This story was borrowed from KPRC Channel 2 News partner WKMG-TV.

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