Swann Smart Home Alarm System: It Could Be So Much Better

Do-it-yourself home security is worth taking on only if it's easy to set up. Swann suggests that's the case with its $249 smart home alarm system, which includes a hub, a camera, motion sensors and a siren. But we struggled to set up the Swann system and there are much more sophisticated setups available for not that much more money that won't leave you as confused after everything is up and running.

Design

The Swann smart home alarm system is effectively a bundle of the company's various security and smart home accessories. The package includes the Swann smart hub with built-in Zigbee compatibility, a 720p indoor security camera, two motion sensors and one entry sensor.

There is also a sizeable, 104-decibel siren that's installed separately from the hub and that will leave your ears ringing if it goes off while you're near it. Each accessory comes packaged in its own box, which produces a lot of trash.

Design-wise, the actual Swann smart hub looks nothing like its competition. Rather than stuff all the components into a box-shaped or cylindrical chassis, Swann opted for a utilitarian plastic-tray design. It's meant to serve as a place where you can drop off your keys on the way into the house and charge your phone by way of one of two USB connections available on the device. The hub itself looks like a piece of medical equipment, with its white and plain gray trimmings. It's a nice idea, but it could look better.

Setup

Much of the Swann smart hub configuration takes place within a web browser. To begin, plug the device directly into your router and then sign up for a Swann account online. (You can connect the smart hub to your Wi-Fi after the kit is set up.) Once you're signed in, the online smart home portal will show instructions for setting up your new devices.

This is where it becomes a little tedious, as every type of accessory has a slightly different setup process. For example, the motion sensors and the siren require removing the battery cover and then holding down a specific button. Other accessories, like the indoor camera, need you to manually input your Wi-Fi credentials (including network name) into the Swann app, which then generates a QR code, which you then hold up to the camera. I much prefer the method of many other DIY security kits, which have you simply take a picture of a bar code on the device itself.

When I first set up the Swann system, I used the SwannOne app on the Google Pixel 2 — which is what the packaging for the smart hub told me to download. A conversation with Swann later revealed that the right app to use is the Home Protect app, and if you buy the kit after reading this review, you'’ll see newly printed instructions to download the latter.

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Both apps are still available to use in both the Google Play and iOS app stores, however. This is confusing, especially if you don’t read the instructions, and you would naturally expect the app with the name of the company to be the application to use with this service. Plus, the SwannOne app is buggy and often crashed on me. That became a serious problem for me later on when I needed to disable the alarm.

The Swann online portal provides an all-over view of every accessory you have linked up to the security system, in addition to a quick-access link to every device's online user manual. This is the portal you'll use to set up the accessories for the entire Swann smart home security kit. You can check which devices are online and whether anything needs a battery changed. Under Home View, the web portal even offers a live preview of what the camera is viewing, though you'll need Flash enabled in your browser to interact with the stream.

Professional monitoring

You can sign up for Swann's professional monitoring through the company's online web portal, though this process is confusing. I accidentally set up my husband as the primary account holder when I meant to set him up as a secondary contact, and that oversight on my part helped contribute to a false alarm.

Needless to say, Swann's professional monitoring works, but that's if you're paying for the Home Monitoring package. This costs $12.49 per month for a one-year contract ($149.88) or $20 a month if you want to go month by month. The package activates 24/7 alarm monitoring and mobile intrusion alerts, and it connects to emergency services.

If you don't want constant professional monitoring, you can pay $10 a month to unlock unlimited notifications and sound alerts, and then merely pay on an as-needed basis. It's $7.95 for two days of professional monitoring or $14.95 for a week of monitoring.

There's also a sold-separately tier for cloud video storage, which costs an extra $7.95/month for a week of cloud video storage or $24.95/month for 30 days of storage. And if you don't want any of that, there's a free tier offered by Swann, which includes unlimited notifications but limits app usage to two users.

Performance

The Swann smart home system works like any other DIY security setup: Close the front door, arm the system from your smartphone, and then your house becomes a virtual fortress. Both the web portal and the app(s) provide one-touch access to the Swann security system's three main modes: the At Home mode, which leaves everything off; Away mode, which arms every sensor and camera; and Night mode, which only arms the entry sensors.

There are no geofencing abilities, however, so you'll have to do this all manually or set up a Rule — Swann's version of automation — so that the system stays on a consistent schedule.

If you want a quick peek at what's happening in your home, you can check the camera's video stream inside the mobile app or web portal. Swann's 720p smart home SoundView indoor camera supports night vision and will send you a notification if it picks up sound or movement.

If the 104-decibel alarm is triggered (one of the loudest sirens we tested), a Swann agent will call you and ask for a four-digit PIN, which you choose while you're signing up for the service. If you offer the wrong PIN, the agent will then call the authorities. And they will show up.

Here's where it all fell apart for me. By default, most security systems offer from 30 seconds to 1 minute of lead time before they call the primary contact; Swann's default is 20 seconds, which I didn't realize until after I'd gone digging through the online web portal for the option to extend that time. In my anxious rush to drop off the groceries, I fired up the SwannOne app to disarm the alarm. But the app froze up, and so I had to force quit and then wait for it to launch again before I could successfully call off the alarm.

According to the Swann app's alert logs, I managed to call the alarm off at 19 seconds. The call to my husband went out at 20 seconds. I didn't hear from him until after the phone call, and though he'd given a PIN, he mistakenly gave the wrong one, which the agent took as a sign that something was going on.

Ten minutes later, the police showed up at my door to check on the house. I had no idea it would happen — there was no notification on my phone to indicate that the authorities were on their way, and I wasn't even aware anyone had been called. The entire ordeal ended with a hefty alarm fee — $125 in my case, though this will vary by municipality.

Hopefully, what happened to me shouldn’t be an issue for most users. After talking with Swann—and downloading the correct app—I was able to turn off the alarm from my smartphone without issue. Still, you’ll want to make sure you have the correct primary contact and set the alert delay to longer than 20 seconds.

Smart home compatibility

The Swann smart hub can be set up only through the web portal, where there's an option to select which Rules run in the background. Rules are effectively Swann's equivalent of automation schemes, though they have limited functionality. You can only customize actions like when to turn on the system to a specific security mode — which is helpful since there's no geofencing — or whether the camera should email you when it senses motion.

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Swann doesn't offer IFTTT integration, though you can use a few voice commands in Google Assistant to view the security cameras on connected Chromecast devices. And you can use Amazon Alexa to check the status of the sold-separately smart plugs ($20). While there is some compatibility with smart locks from the likes of Kwikset, Assa Abloy, Chamberlain and Yale, Swann isn't an option if you're hoping for robust home automation.

Bottom line

The Swann smart home alarm system has a few redeeming qualities. Unlike other kits in this price range, it bundles in a camera along with efficient professional monitoring. Even without the issues I had in using the wrong app, setting up the Swann is not as straightforward as installing the Nest, Abode or SimpliSafe security systems. And the Swann system's smart home capabilities are limited.

For a better experience and broader compatibility, the Abode Essentials starter security kit ($260) is a cost-effective way to protect your home and automate it at the same time. If you're just looking for professional monitoring, SimpliSafe offers the easiest subscription options, including the ability to pay on an as-needed basis. Both systems are also easy enough for anyone to set up, even if you've never done this sort of thing before.

Credit: Swann

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