Personal alarms aim to give people a way to communicate quickly in emergencies. Normally this is via a single button, which then either dials or sends an SMS to contacts configured on initial set-up (self-managed), or a 24-hour monitoring plan which can then alert an ambulance or contacts.
Personal alarms can be used for two-way conversation as well.
CHOICE tested the self-managed plan for several devices on the market. These devices are either worn around the wrist (smartwatch) or neck (pendant).
With their 30-plus years experience in the laboratory, we're proud of our expert testers. They've seen all kinds of gadgets come through the labs and they focus on the basics as well as the finer details so that when it's time to buy, you can be sure your new purchase will work well.
Why do we choose one personal alarm over another? There are a number of reasons for this, but our priority is to test what you'll see in the shops:
- That means that sometimes we might not cover a product that has sold few units in Australia, and instead focus on the big brand models that you'll most likely see in the retailer.
- How do we know what's in retailers? We check current market figures to see what's selling well.
- We'll also include models that you've requested; if a lot of members want it, we're going to test it.
When we know what you want, our buyers go out and use member funds to buy the personal alarms from a variety of retailers, then bring them in as-is – this means we get what you'd get, so we can be sure the results are what you'll find, and not 'tweaked' any way.
Reception and tracking
Our testers undertook several extensive journeys to track each of the devices, testing their mobile network reception, GPS accessibility, and battery life to find which ones perform the best.
- We tested reception in a number of areas, including a shopping centre, a house and a black-spot area.
- We made calls to the device (if supported), and sent an SOS from the device.
- We also conducted two longer multiple-stop journeys to see whether the GPS tracking functionality was effective throughout busy areas of suburbia.
Ease of use
- A good user manual is essential, and this is the first thing we look at.
- We also check whether each product has email and telephone support.
- If the device needs a SIM card to be inserted, we assess how easy this is to do, however most come with the SIM pre-installed.
- We assess configuring – and in some cases re-configuring – each device, and score based on how easy this is to do.
- Where applicable we also assess the ease of sending an SOS, recharging, using buttons, the shape of the device and whether it's easy to grip and carry.
- If there are differences in these areas, you might see a range of scores for what appears to be exactly the same product.
We call to and from the device, to test whether the voice quality was clear and loud enough to hear. Voice calling is only supported by some models, so it doesn't contribute to the overall score.
We assess the ease of use involved in setting up a geofence, and the alarm's response time and accuracy if the wearer leaves the designated area. This includes whether the alarm has present boundaries or if you can create custom ones. Old models were tested under a pass/fail methodology.
New models are assessed for their effectiveness, which is why they have a score. These results do not contribute to the overall score as the method has changed over time, and it is only supported by some models.
The overall score is a combination of the reception and tracking performance and ease of use, weighted as follows:
- Reception and tracking (50%)
- Ease of use (50%)
Voice calling and geofencing assessments do not contribute to the overall score.
Personal alarms are often targeted at individuals with people under their care who may have a reduced capacity for independent living. As one organisation that tests these products, we feel we have a duty to inform you of which products reasonably meet their claims, and which do not. However, we will no longer recommend any personal alarms.
- We conduct real world tests when assessing personal alarms, which are designed to replicate consumer usage during day-to-day life.
- However, experiences are subjective, and we have received a number of emails from members detailing how their products were faulty or didn't work as advertised.
- These complaints occurred across a number of brands and models, which we feel points to problems with the personal alarm industry as a whole.
We will continue to test, score and publish these products, so you can make an informed decision if you need to purchase one for yourself or a relative. In addition to listing products that we find to perform appropriately, we will highlight models you should not buy.