We exist in a curious space in South Africa insofar as security systems are concerned. While newer (and more expensive) alarm ecosystems continue to crop up in the market thanks to household names such as Yale, older or more basic systems have yet to cross the proverbial Rubicon that is the Internet of Things.

The majority of homeowners in our country are arguably au fait with more basic systems from the likes of Paradox or Texecom – and given the expense of installing an alarm system, may opt to rent-to-buy their chosen unit as well.

What that may likely amount to is a slimmer installation designed to cover the bare necessities, and having an internet-connected alarm module is probably a luxury few of us might think of when installing such alarm systems in our homes.

While such IP modules for alarm systems do exist, they’re usually less than user friendly, can be difficult to set up, and have limited integration with certain brands and product ranges.

Enter Olarm – a new product on our shores designed to tackle all of these problems. Engineered in Cape Town, Olarm is a communicator designed to integrate with your existing alarm system (Paradox, IDS, DSC, and Texecom are supported for now) and enable you to activate, deactivate, sound an alarm or panic, and bypass zones (and manage multiple sites) directly from your smartphone.

Installation

For the purpose of this review, and as referred to in our disclaimer below, the Olarm team directly facilitated the installation of our Olarm review unit to our existing Paradox alarm system, which ran on 8 zones.

In a traditional setup, Olarm recommends installation through an armed response provider. Aboard a Paradox installation, Olarm easily connects to an available module slot, after which a user can download the Olarm app on their iOS or Android device.

By registering, and then capturing the device’s QR code, users can link their device to their app after which they will see their active alarm unit as well as any and all zones that have been configured on the alarm panel in question. Should the panel have been programmed with the zone names, this will transfer to the Olarm app – though in our case, these zone names weren’t available on our Paradox installation. Thankfully, zones can be manually named in the app with a handy photo for reference.

Build and design

Most of us likely have our alarm panel somewhere out-of-sight, meaning that the Olarm unit itself isn’t likely something that you’ll see in the course of your day-to-day. However, the unit is admittedly a model that doesn’t look out-of-place when stored in view.

By default, the unit functions out-of-the-box with an LED status light that glows blue. Fortunately, if you need or wish to have Olarm in eyesight, you can change the brightness of this light directly within the app.

You might be forgiven for thinking Olarm resembles a modern smoke detector – and that’s not an insult. Like any good smoke detector, the unit is generally unobtrusive, and yet distinguished enough that it doesn’t interfere with the flow or aesthetic of a room when stored in plain view.

App and features

Multiple sites

A neat feature that goes above and beyond what comparative IP modules offer is that Olarm accommodates multiple alarm sites on one installation – making it easy to toggle through multiple alarmed areas (for example, if you happen to have an out-house or a sub-divided property).

Armed response integration

Olarm intends to offer a number of benefits for your chosen armed response company as well – perhaps most notably offering a live dashboard of events that can track alarm zone activations as well as alerts for when the alarm is set to panic mode, or is otherwise offline or could be sabotaged.

History

While most alarm systems offer some form of rudimentary memory, this usually doesn’t extend further than showing a recently bypassed zone, a zone in trouble (for an issue such as a low battery or power complication) or the most recently activated zone.

Olarm enables a chronological view of home activity showing all activations and deactivations, as well as specific zone activity – giving a helpful and timely overview of what’s happening in your home.

User management

Perhaps my favourite feature aboard the Olarm Pro was the built-in user management, which allows a primary user to add additional users to monitor, arm, disarm, or control their home alarm system as necessary. This makes it simple to enable family members or trusted friends to control your home alarm system and offer access to your abode without the need to purchase or spend time encoding new remotes.

The benefit of adding users becomes apparent a primary user can track and manage another user’s actions within the app’s history screen; for example, one can see which user armed, deactivated, or bypassed zones over time in chronological order.

Silent panics and other features

While some alarm systems do have the capacity to issue a silent panic (or require a multi-button remote to do so), Olarm offers this capability out-of-the-box – giving users a novel way to quickly alert their armed response provider should the need arise.

Another small – but meaningful – feature is the ability to set a reminder should your home alarm remain deactivated by a certain time at night; obviating the chance of going to bed with your alarm system off.

Price point and subscriptions

Olarm Pro retails for R999 ZAR from third-party retailers, though the unit can be purchased separately through supported armed response providers or installers.

Given that Olarm functions on GSM technology, the service charges a subscription that can be paid through a supported armed response provider (which may be charged separately or as an in-line item on your armed response contract).

In terms of retail price, the cost of an Olarm Pro undercuts many alarm IP modules offering the same general concept (which can typically retail from R1200 ZAR upwards) and will naturally defeat the cost of fully-fledged internet-connected systems and hubs, which can easily retail for sums north of R3000 ZAR for a basic package.

The real cost – and line item you’ll need to justify for yourself – is whether you are prepared to subscribe to the Olarm service for integration with a (supported) armed response provider, manage specific users via the app, and require detailed history management for previous alarm activations.

Performance

Reviewing Olarm was an interesting task, given that while there are other competitors in the market, there are few devices that explicitly fill the niche Olarm does.

During the course of our review, Olarm functioned swiftly and accurately – providing real-time updates via notifications to our Samsung Galaxy A32 with only minimal latency. While this was most noticeable when switching alarm states from a countdown (arming mode) to armed, we found that this didn’t substantially hinder our use of the product.

Put through its paces, Olarm was able to quickly relay information to our test smartphone when out-of-the-house; giving accurate birds-eye information such as which user most recently armed or disarmed the home alarm system, which zones had been triggered, and a handy always-on notification advises as to what status the home alarm is in (though this can be disabled if that’s your preference).

Notification services remained useful and relevant – particularly reminders to activate the alarm system at set times to avoid heading into the darker hours of the night without an active alarm.

Another consideration that performed well (and was uniquely South African) is the fact that Olarm can continue to function during loadshedding by running off an alarm panel’s existing battery. The unit is capable of using multiple networks to operate when connections are spotty – though an added benefit is that the entire system could remain online seamlessly if you have a battery connected to your fibre router and ONT. The system will further issue an alert if your alarm battery fails.

Verdict

The Olarm Pro is perhaps one of the most different devices we’ve reviewed in 2021, and for good reason – it fills a particular niche in the average South African home.

Olarm is a well-designed, well-conceptualized device that feels like the most natural extension to a home alarm, and is capable of bringing even dated setups into a whole new orbit.

It’s rare to say that a product fits the bill it was made for – but that’s exactly what Olarm does. The device offers more control, and more remote power to existing alarm setups – and thoughtful features and meaningful abilities enhance the profile of the device.

Perhaps the major stumbling block the device faces is just how prepared you – as the consumer – are prepared to spend in the name of bringing your alarm system online. However, if you’re seeking a means to access your alarm system remotely, we have little difficulty in recommending Olarm.

Between user management features, a thoughtful offering for armed response firms, control of multiple zones, and the general use case of accessing and controlling your alarm over the internet, you’d be far and away in good hands.

With Olarm, there’s no reason to reconfigure, replace, or update your existing alarm for internet connectivity – and the features the platform offers outshine comparative IP modules you could readily purchase for your home alarm.

For these reasons, we find Olarm a great investment for the security-conscious home-owner – and a device that gives great peace of mind while selling at an accessible price point.

Disclaimer: To facilitate this review, we were provided with an Olarm Pro unit that was installed by Olarm’s technical team, as well as a 3-month free trial Olarm subscription to use the service in its entirety. To purchase or subscribe to Olarm through a supported installer or armed response provider, click here.