Fun fact: my CNET Appliances colleague Andrew Gebhart and I were once college roommates. We lived together in a six-bedroom house with four other friends during our senior year at Northwestern University back in 2008. It was a fun time, but our place wasn’t in the greatest neighborhood — sure enough, we had a problem with break-ins.
Andrew and I didn’t have a lot of home security options back then. After all, we were broke college students living off of ramen noodles and peanut butter, and an expensive, feature-packed security system wasn’t feasible for our budgets. Even if it had been, we were renters, and our dear landlord wasn’t keen on hardwiring a system into the home, especially not one with a lengthy contract attached.
That’s how I know there’s definitely a market for a product like Korner, which offers relatively inexpensive home security without a complicated installation or a long-term contract. It’s far from the first product in the smart DIY security space, but it might be the simplest — just stick the motion-sensing tabs on your doors and windows, then plug the siren-emitting base into your router. To arm and disarm the system, you’ll use a free app on your phone. That’s it — no cameras, no additional accessories, no live monitoring.
That approach is probably too simple for a lot of homes, and you’ll need to pay a yearly fee of $40 (a little over £25) in order to keep using the system after your first year, making it less of a good deal in the long term than a fee-free option like iSmartAlarm or Piper NV . Still, at less than $100 for a three-tag starter kit (converted, about £65), I think Korner merits consideration for people who just want a basic level of security covering the entrances into their home. At the very least, I think Korner would have probably scared off the intruder who forced our bathroom window open in the middle of the night back in 2008 — that’s enough for me to say there’s a place for it in today’s market.
Korner’s sensors stand guard over your doors and windows (pictures)
Design and features
Most open/close sensors take a two-piece approach, with a sensor on the door or window frame and a magnet on the door or window itself. When the door opens, it separates the two and triggers the sensor. Korner tacks in a different direction. Each triangular tag is a single skinny, sharp-cornered piece of white plastic with a simple accelerometer packed inside. Whenever the door or window moves, Korner senses it. If your system is armed, that motion will set off the alarm.
There are pros and cons to this approach. The upside is that Korner’s tags look a lot better than their magnetic counterparts, almost all of which are clunky-looking smart-home eyesores. Compared with those, Korner’s tags looks downright svelte. If your doors and windows are painted white, you might actually forget that they’re there — you can’t say that about traditional contact sensors.
The downside is that Korner’s tags aren’t quite as smart as the alternative. With magnetic sensors, you can check whether a door or window is open or closed; with Korner’s tags, you’ll only know if it’s moving or not. Another important caveat: if you open a door with a Korner tag stuck on it very slowly, you’ll be able to sneak through without setting off the alarm. You can’t do that with magnetic contact sensors. Once the magnet is separated from the sensor, the alarm gets tripped, no matter how slowly that separation happens.
The other system component is the “Korner Stick,” a combination base station and siren that you’ll stick directly into the back of your router, then plug into power via Micro-USB port. It isn’t nearly as clean-looking a design as the tags, and it eats up a good deal of room behind the router, so make sure you save some space.
Along with the siren, the Korner Stick houses a ZigBee radio, which lets it communicate with and keep tabs on your tags. Korner’s team acknowledges that ZigBee devices can be hacked if they aren’t careful about how they pass data back and forth, and insists that they keep things secure by encrypting and rotating network keys, among other safeguards.
Once the Stick’s plugged in, you follow the app’s instructions to get everything set up. The app isn’t the most attractive-looking I’ve ever seen, but it’s fairly intuitive, and easy enough to get started with. I had my three-tag system up and running within about 5 minutes.
Once everything is connected, you’ll be able to monitor the status of each tag on the app’s home screen, or arm and disarm the system by tapping on a lock icon. You’ll also find a time-stamped activity log on the home screen — a handy way to keep track of comings and goings.
The gear icon at the bottom of the app brings up system settings. You’ll be able to edit the names of your devices, turn on a door entry chime or customize how long an exit delay you get after arming the system.
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