Personal alarms can give extra peace of mind to the elderly, children, solo workers or people recuperating after surgery or illness – as well as their loved ones and carers. Also known as life alarms, the small devices send an emergency alert, when triggered, to pre-set mobile phone numbers or a 24-hour monitoring service. They can also include a lot of other features on top of their main function.
If you already have a phone there is a Daniel Morcombe Foundation Help Me app
. When this app is activated, you click on the emergency button and it sends a text to up to two numbers with optional notes (such as a vehicle description and registration number). It has very limited functionality, but is very simple to setup.
We think this app is suitable for kids who already own a smartphone. At the time of testing we tried it on both iPhone and Android. The Android application kept crashing when trying to display GPS location details where there were none available (such as being inside a house), but the iPhone version was fine.
Look for a personal alarm with a good reception score in our test – very few of them give an indication as to their reception levels. You'll need to be in a clear outdoor area to have them work well.
While GPS location is good for tracking the device, it's worth keeping in mind that not all will do it well. They rely on being in an open area to get a lock on at least three satellites, so they're hindered by city living and tall buildings – and of course, being inside any building will hamper them as well. We found those that allowed tracking by sending an SMS request worked well, it's not as handy as those that allow a tracking history, or 'live' view so you can predict where someone is heading.
When you have responsibility for someone that wanders, you might want to set up a perimeter so you can see if they go outside of it – either by choice or not. If you have geo-fencing, this works by setting up a virtual fence. When the device crosses that perimeter it sends an alert to a contact. Some do this via a radius, but we find the polygon setup was more useful. A radius only creates a circle, whereas a polygon means you can create a map that allows for some freedom.
Number of contacts
Look for a personal alarm that will accept more than one contact. The more contacts you have, the better – in case the first contact is away from their phone.
This might be useful if the device is with someone in danger of falling. If the device falls rapidly it triggers an alert to a contact.
This alerts a contact if the device doesn't move for a specified amount of time.
If the device starts moving rapidly, say by the wearer getting into a car or train, it alerts a contact.
Charging cradle or magnetic dock
A charging cradle is useful because it makes it obvious the device needs to be plugged in. It can sit in an obvious place in the home and it's less fiddly than a USB cover that needs moving. Some watches also have magnetic connections that only connect in a certain way, which means less mistakes in charging.
We were surprised and a little disappointed by the pricing on these devices: from $140 up to almost $500 excluding the pricing of the SIM card. We checked on a large shopping website based in China and found some identical looking, and similarly featured, devices to the Live-Life, Mind Me and Safe-Life for around $50, or a tenth of what some are available for in Australia.
Now admittedly these large websites tend to sell in bulk, but considering the scale of profit this might involve, their pricing in Australia is a bit steep. Sellers will say you are getting software and setup support, but we don't think this is worth the substantial mark-up.