Review: First Alert Onelink Wi-Fi Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Another established company that's come onboard with HomeKit in recent months, First Alert is best known for its lineup of home safety products such as smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers, security systems, and safes. The company's new Onelink Wi-Fi Smoke + Carton Monoxide Alarm ($150-$160) aims to provide Internet and HomeKit connectivity to provide smoke and CO alerts on your iPhone when you're away from home, and it provides access to HomeKit triggers so that other devices can take action when an alarm event is detected — such as turning off your furnace in the event of a CO alarm.
First Alert has gone for a more modernist look with its new Onelink Wi-Fi alarms, eschewing the company’s classic round design in favor of a square unit that more closely resembles the Nest Protect. Two versions are available — the DC10-500 ($150) runs from a 10-year sealed lithium battery, while the AC10-500 ($160) uses a hardwired electrical connection with a sealed lithium battery as backup. Although the hardwired connection of the AC10-500 unit allows it to include an LED night light feature, both units otherwise function in the same manner once they’re installed. At first glance, the lack of a user-replaceable battery may be something that users may balk at, but the ten-year battery life matches FEMA’s recommendations that smoke detectors should be replaced completely every 10 years anyway. While this may be of greater concern for a $150 smoke detector, those cutting edge users that this product appeals to would likely be eager to replace it with more current technology by that time anyway.
Installation requirements do differ between the two units in a somewhat obvious way, however. Since the AC10-500 requires an electrical connection, it’s primarily designed for contractors or DIY home improvement enthusiasts who already have an existing smoke/CO alarm fixture or are willing to do the extra work to install one. More casual users will likely prefer to go with the DC10-500, which can be mounted on any ceiling or wall surface simply by drilling two holes and securing the mounting plate onto the surface with the two included screws and anchors.
Both the included manual and First Alert’s Onelink Home app provide good instructions on how to install either unit, and Onelink Home interestingly takes you through these guidelines as part of the normal pairing process — simply begin the process of adding a unit and the app will ask you which type of unit you’re adding and then take you through the recommended steps for mounting it on your wall or ceiling, after which, it will begin the pairing process. The Onelink alarms don’t have any normal user-accessible switch on them — they’re “activated” as soon as they’re clipped onto their mounting brackets and for safety reasons cannot be deactivated or turned off without permanently disabling them with a hidden internal switch — a step that’s intended only for use when the batteries reach end-of-life after several years of use.
Mounting an alarm will automatically begin the pairing process, indicated by a flashing blue light, and the Onelink Home app will take the user through the standard HomeKit steps of pairing to your Wi-Fi network and scanning the HomeKit code from the side or bottom of the alarm unit — First Alert helpfully includes the code in both places so that you don’t need to write it down or remove the alarm to get at the code on the bottom, and the sticker on the side is lightly attached so it can be easily removed and stuck onto the manual or another booklet or piece of paper if you don’t want it staying visible on the alarm unit itself.
Once the initial pairing process has completed, you’ll be prompted to assign the alarm to a room for HomeKit purposes, and pick a name for the room it’s in, which it will announce when an alarm is triggered (i.e. “Fire in the basement”). The app will also prompt you for names to be used by Siri — the Smoke Alarm and CO Alarm notably appear as distinct HomeKit devices for this purpose — so that you can use voice commands to check the status on your alarms. As with other HomeKit accessories, the Onelink alarms will appear as devices in other HomeKit apps and iOS 10’s new “Home” app, and can be used as triggers and conditions for HomeKit automation sequences, so other actions can be taken when an alarm condition is triggered on one or more of the Onelink alarms — the Onelink Home app itself doesn’t provide this capability.
The app can also be used to initiate tests of the alarm remotely — the same procedure can be run directly on the alarm simply by holding the center button for a few seconds — and in the case of the AC10-500, the app can adjust the intensity of the night light (which, as odd as it sounds, can also be adjusted via a Siri command to “set the brightness of the smoke alarm”). Push notifications are also generated by the Onelink Home app, providing alerts when a test is successfully run, a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm is triggered, or the unit is reaching its end of life.
As with most combined smoke and CO alarms, unique alarm sounds are used for each of the two alerts, as well as distinct voice announcements, so you’ll be aware of each. An announcement of the last concentration of carbon monoxide is also provided after testing or a CO alarm. Alarms can be silenced by pushing the center button on the unit or via the Onelink Home app — CO alarms will remain silenced for 4 minutes, while smoke alarms will remain silenced for 15 minutes, after which the alarm will go off again if the underlying condition that triggered the alarm is still present.
The First Alert Onelink alarms also advertise support for Wireless Interconnectivity — a feature whereby all units on the same network sound an alert whenever any single one of them detects an alarm condition — but we weren’t able to get this feature working between the AC10-500 and DC10-500 units we received. The AC10-500 triggered, along with other hardwired First Alert alarm units we already had installed, but would not interact wirelessly with the DC10-500, even when both units were placed side-by-side and reset and re-paired several times. We’ve reached out to First Alert to determine whether this is a known issue that needs to be addressed in a firmware update or if there’s some undocumented procedure required to set this up, but even with a professional home installer setup guide on hand, the documented procedure suggests that merely adding them to the Onelink Home app and HomeKit should suffice.
Personally, we’d choose First Alert’s Onelink alarms over something like the Nest Protect — not only does Nest lack HomeKit support (and the Google-owned company isn’t likely to add it anytime soon), but First Alert is a much more trustworthy name in the home protection market. Beyond those distinctions, however, the Onelink alarms remain in the same general category if for no other reason than their hefty price tags. At $150/$160, they’re only going to appeal to the most serious home automation enthusiasts — those intent on building a fully automated home, or having a real need to be alerted of smoke/CO alarms away from home. For everybody else, even a high-quality non-Wi-Fi First Alert alarm can be had for less than half the price of a Onelink unit, and the prices only drop from there if you’re not looking for features like wireless interconnectivity or aren’t concerned about specific brand names. There’s no doubt that if you’re looking for a smoke/CO alarm with HomeKit support, this is a great option, but we’re forced to question how many people are willing to pay a large price premium for the functionality that it offers.