Myfox Home Security review: Reality fails to live up to the promise of the demo

One great component does not a great system make.
The Myfox Home Security system supports up to four cameras, but you'll need to add them on your own at $199 each.

The Myfox Home Security system supports up to four cameras, but you'll need to add them on your own at $199 each.

As is too often the case, my enthusiasm for the Myfox Home Security System--engendered by a 30-minute pre-launch demo--has waned following real-world testing in my home. Quality-control concerns let some air out of the balloon; discovering the system's limitations lowered my opinion a bit more. Myfox's innovative IntelliTag door/window sensor mostly lives up to the hype, but I quickly discovered that it has at least one major shortcoming.

The axiom you only get once chance to make a first impression doesn't really hold true with new product coverage. Manufacturers get two chances: The demo is the first; putting the product in the reviewer's hands is the second. Myfox's demo was terrific; its delivery was much less impressive.

The $279 Myfox Home Security starter kit consists of four components: One siren, one key fob, one door/window sensor, and a wireless bridge. The bridge establishes a wireless connection to the other components and relays messages from them to your Wi-Fi router.

When I plugged the bridge into an electrical outlet, I discovered that it was DOA, so I had to put off my review until Myfox could send a replacement (they sent an entire second kit, just to be safe). Setting up the second kit was easy enough. You install an app on your smartphone (there are Android and iOS apps), and it steps you through the process of registering the components via the bridge.

Myfox also offers a home security camera that can be used on its own or incorporated into the rest of the system, and the company sent one of these as well. Since I couldn't get the rest of the system to work, I installed the camera on its own, but never got around to reviewing it by itself. When the replacement Home Security kit arrived, I performed a hardware reset on the camera (using the typical method of inserting the end of a paperclip into a recessed hole) so that I could reconfigure it as part of the home-security system.

But when I used the home-security app to add the camera, the app instructed me to reset the camera again. And again. And again. The fourth time I did this, the camera just stopped responding--the LED wouldn't light and there was no indication that the camera was even powered up. I unplugged the camera and set it aside so I could test the rest of the system. The camera finally powered up again when I plugged it in the next day, but I still couldn't add it to the home-security system no matter how many times I reset it. The camera is a $199 add-on--it's not part of the $279 kit reviewed here--so I'll publish a separate review of that component later.

IntelliTag door/window sensors

The IntelliTag door/window sensor is easily the most impressive component in the Myfox ecosystem. Most sensors of this type are two-piece devices: There's a battery, a steel plate, and a radio transmitter inside one enclosure, and a small magnet in another. One piece gets mounted to the door or window, and the other is attached to the door or window frame.

When the door or window opens, breaking the magnetic field between the two pieces, the transmitter sends a signal to the alarm system. Thanks to this magnetic field, your alarm system should always be able to tell you if the door or window is open or closed. And you when you activate your alarm system, it will warn that you've forgotten to close a window or door. That's important in any living quarters, and it's particularly valuable in larger homes.

The IntelliTag is remarkable in that it's a one-piece unit. Rather than depending on a magnetic field, it's stuffed with sensors--vibration, motion, and tilt--plus a gyroscope and a CPU. With all that silicon, Myfox says its sensor can discern between a knock on the door, a ball hitting the door, and a burglar violently shaking the door or attempting to kick it in. If it's the latter, the Myfox siren will go off and the system will send you a text message and email warning of the intrusion. The siren should convince the would-be intruder to beat a hasty retreat; but it's up to you to call the police.

Alternatively, you can recruit friends, family, and/or neighbors to agree to receive email and text alerts. This could be useful when you're far away from home and unable to investigate what's happening, or if your smartphone battery fails and you can't receive alerts. Anyone you designate as family or friend will be able to access the system and cameras for up to 30 minutes after an alert is generated. Neighbors will receive the same alerts and be able to access the system for 30 minutes, but they won't be able to see what's happening on the cameras.

I tested all three of the above scenarios, and the IntelliTag lived up to its promise, triggering the siren only when I bumped the door violently. This makes the IntelliTag superior to conventional sensors when used with windows and French doors because breaking the glass won't break the conventional sensor's magnetic field--the sensor will never send a signal to the alarm system in that case. But where a magnetic-field sensor can inform you at any time whether a door or window is open or closed, the IntelliTag can only send a message when it's moving or vibrating. When you arm the system, the sensors can't warn you that you've forgotten to close particular doors or windows (each sensor gets a unique name).

Because the siren is battery operated (four D-cells) with no provision to run it on electrical power, the 110dB siren automatically shuts off after three minutes. More typical alarm systems operate on AC power with battery backup in case of power failure, which is how the Myfox bridge and camera operate (the bridge will run for six hours on battery power, while the camera lasts just one hour). The IntelliTag relies on a single AAA battery, and the key fob operates on a CR2032 coin cell, since it wouldn't be practical to plug those devices into receptacles. Myfox says each of the replaceable batteries should last one year.

Myfox key fob and alarm modes

All that silicon renders Intellitags somewhat more expensive than their "dumb" cousins: They're $50 each, compared to $30 to $35 for the more conventional type. One Myfox system can support a maximum of 50 Intellitags. You can also add up to 50 four-button key fobs to a Myfox system (These cost $30 each). The key fob has four buttons to control the alarm system: Arm, disarm, night mode, and panic. The first two are self-explanatory. Night mode arms the system without activating the motion sensors in the cameras (if you've added them), and a panic mode that can invoked even when the system is otherwise disarmed. Press the panic button once and the system will send an alert to all registered users. Press it twice and it will also immediately sound the siren.

Key fobs can be assigned to each member of the family, and a proximity sensor in the key fob can inform the system who's home and who's away. The key fob can also automatically disarm the system when you return home. You can also configure the key fob to control the camera differently, based on who's home. You might want to leave the shutter open when your younger children get home, but have it automatically close for privacy when you, your spouse, or your older kids are in the house.

There won't be a Myfox in my house

The IntelliTag--expensive as it is--is the best element of the Myfox system. Even then, it's a bummer that it can't report the status of a door or window as being open or closed (apart from a tilt- or roll-up garage door, thanks to its tilt sensor). The rest of the package leaves even more to be desired (I'm reserving judgment on the security camera for now). The Wi-Fi bridge has limited range (328 feet if there are no obstacles in between), the siren is dependent on battery power (disposable batteries at that), and I my installation experience lends me to question the company's quality control.

It's also disappointing that you can't integrate lighting controls into the system (having lights automatically turn on when the siren goes off would do even more to scare an intruder away). The system can, on the other hand, be integrated with a Nest thermostat. There is a Myfox IFTTT channel, but it's apparently not available to consumers living outside of Europe at this time.

Finally, the Myfox Home Security starter kit is expensive since it can monitor just one door or window, and it becomes very expensive if you want to monitor more and/or want to provide key fobs to more than a couple of family members.