My parents were looking for a basic home alarm system. After looking through numerous reviews out there I picked out the Vinker T01A. There weren’t a lot of independent reviews available on it, but here were a few key reasons I settled on this one:
- Cost effective. They just wanted something basic that works. Not only was this on the lower end of the price spectrum, but it came with 8 door triggers, 2 IR triggers, a horn (siren), the unit itself, and 3 key fobs. Some of the competition out there costs more yet comes with the bare minimum with the expectation that you’ll sink more money into additional triggers/sensors/horn/etc.
- It’s similar to the typical home alarm systems of yesteryear. You’ve got a unit with physical buttons to program and arm/disarm the thing. No smartphone apps needed.
- Phone notification over the POTS (plain landline) phone system. So if the alarm goes off when you’re out shopping, it can call you and let you know.
I’ll break this down into a few sections starting with…
The Unit and Programming
First a couple shots of the unit. The first is the standard display with the time and the 2nd is during a 30-second countdown when arming. Click for larger versions.
It’s got a built-in battery backup, phone line in/out jacks, the horn/siren jack, power jack, and an internal speaker. There are some voice prompts and confirmation when programming and arming/disarming the unit – it’s a female voice in english with a chinese accent – very english-as-a-second-language-esque.
The unit comes with programming instructions that you do not want to lose because programming uses sequences that start with either * or # followed by numbers for what you want to change. You probably won’t remember that *07xxxx* sets the time whereas #7xx# sets the exit delay for arming the system, so keep the manual somewhere safe where you can refer to it if you need to change an option down the road.
The “english” (likely translated from chinese) is easy enough to follow – it’s not great and there are a few confusing typos to deal with too, but I’ve seen much worse. Just in case something isn’t perfectly clear, the manual follows each instruction (ie * 07 (Hour) (Minute) * ) with an example (ie * 07 09 18 * for setting the time to 9:18) and often a link to a YouTube video to show it being done.
Because I couldn’t find a full list of everything that can be programmed before we got the unit, I’ll list everything here. That way if you’re considering this unit but want to know if it does X first, it might help you.
List of things that can be configured:
- Time (24-hour clock).
- Up to 5 phone numbers for notification when the alarm goes off.
- Whether to put certain sensors in the “defense” or “intelligent” area (or other “areas”). This is the most confusing part in the manual (much was lost in translation) and there’s very little detail about what each of the 6 technical “areas” actually encompass so you’ll have to muddle your way through slowly and should run a few trials if you want to make use of “intelligent” areas.
- Entry delay (0-99 seconds).
- Exit delay (0-99 seconds).
- Alarm duration when triggered (0-30 minutes).
- Rings before unit answers (0 to disable, 1-9 otherwise). This allows you to “call” the unit (as long as it’s plugged into a landline phone jack) and arm/disarm or trigger the alarm remotely. This requires you to enter a 4-digit pin.
- Set 4-digit password/pin.
- Whether to require the 4-digit pin to access and/or program the alarm panel.
- Add new remotes to the unit (easy – 1 button).
- Add new sensors/detectors to the unit (easy – 1 button).
- Reset pin, erase remotes, erase sensors/detectors, reset unit to factory.
Programming really isn’t that bad, with the huge exception being those “defense areas”. Programming the areas themselves isn’t that hard… the bigger issue is that it isn’t clear what normal vs intelligent vs emergency vs multi-checked vs delay-alarm vs repeat triggered areas entail. A clear description of what each of those mean and when you’d want to (or not want to) use them would have helped immensely. As it is, you’re really left to trial-and-error.
Fortunately, this one is being used in a standard “everything-armed” fashion (which all the sensors are set for by default from the factory), so I didn’t have to dabble in setting up those areas. The examples they *do* give pertain to the “intelligent” area, so if you’re only concerned with a normal and intelligent area you’ll probably be okay too.
I snapped pictures of the components just in case someone was curious. Click for larger versions.
Pretty standard stuff. Of note is that the IR sensors have some jumpers you can use to configure the behavior (seen in 2nd picture). The IR sensors come with a 9V battery installed, and also have a 9V jack on the side if you’d prefer to give them power from the wall (you’d need to buy a 9V power adapter though).
An LED does blink on both types of units when they “trigger”, so when installing you can test it out a little bit to make sure it’s functioning.
The door/window switches recommend having the gap at less than 10mm (1cm). They come with a 23A12V battery installed (visibly it looks like a really short AAA battery).
The key fob above (click for larger image) has a guard/slider you can see in the bottom half. It slides up to cover the buttons to prevent accidental button-presses in the pocket/purse. It’s slightly larger than most car alarm/lock remotes – part of that is probably so that it can contain the same 23A12V battery that the door/window sensors use.
Buttons are pretty intuitive for anyone who’s had an aftermarket car alarm before: lock = arm, unlock = disarm, bell = panic. The little lightning bolt is to enable the “intelligent” alarm setting. Note that the bell (panic) basically triggers an immediate alarm – the siren / horn will go off, and it will start dialing any programmed phone numbers.
A few options for arming:
- From the key fobs. Lock button arms the unit normally. Lightning button sets the “intelligent” arming.
- On the unit via the “Intelligent” button. Note that if you don’t set up intelligent areas, intelligent arming is the same as normal arming so you can use this as a normal arming button.
- By phoning the unit (if you’ve configured it), or if the unit has phoned you when the alarm went off. Only standard arming (no “intelligent” arming). Phone arming does NOT trigger the exit delay and arms immediately.
A few options for disarming:
- From the key fobs.
- From the unit via the “Disarm” button.
- By phoning the unit or if the unit has phoned you.
I get the impression that the key fobs are the intended focus when it comes to arming/disarming. They have decent range, they’re the only item that allows both normal and intelligent arming, and the unit came with 3 of ’em.
Phone Functionality (Details)
I spent a good bit of time testing the phone aspect of the unit. Here are a few notes:
- Both a 10-digit (123-456-7890) and 11-digit (1-123-456-7890) phone number could be programmed. The tones when it dialed out weren’t evenly paced so I’m almost wondering if it used my dialing timing during programming also.
- When it calls out, it tries the 1st number. If there’s no success it tries the 2nd, and continues rotating. Once it reaches the last number it will try the first again. “Success” means that somebody answered and responded with the required key presses all within a certain time frame. So if Person A answers but forgets what keys they’re supposed to press (or if their voicemail answers), the system will give up on them and move on.
- There are no instructions given by the machine over the phone. It simply keeps repeating what zone (#) was triggered. If you arm/disarm it (4/5) it will give voice confirmation.
- If the unit called you, you don’t need to know the pin – you can just arm/disarm/confirm (4/5/#). If you call the unit, you do need to enter the pin – there’s no prompt (dead silence) but after you enter the pin it will tell you if the pin was successful at which point you can arm/disarm.
- Actions taken over the phone (arm/disarm) happen immediately. There’s no delay.
One very obvious thing to note: If you have an answering machine, voice mail, or anything else that might answer your landline before the unit does, you probably won’t be able to get the unit to answer your calls. That’s probably fine for most cases – as long as you arm the system when you leave home it’ll call *you* if the alarm goes off and you can rearm/disarm the unit at that time.
A few things worth noting here:
1 – All of the sensors are wireless, so you don’t have to mess with running wire all over the place. They come with batteries already installed. They’re all synced to the unit from the factory.
The biggest downside is that the larger part of the door sensors doesn’t have mounting holes so you’re relying on the double-sided sticky pad to hold it in place unless you want to fashion something up to hold it more securely.
Other downsides – you do have to keep an eye out for batteries dying, and if your range is far enough that you have to extend the antenna, it might look a little unsightly.
2 – The unit is vulnerable during a break-in. If a burglar sees it and tears the wires out of the sides, hits the disarm button (if you haven’t enabled the pin requirement to use the keypad), or just plain turns the power switch off, well… the alarm stops working.
A couple options to help deal with this:
- Keep the unit somewhere inaccessible and/or hidden. If it needs to be near the door in plain sight you may want to build an inset-box within the wall so that the wires and switch on the side can’t be reached (and enable the pin code). That limits a burglars recourse to smashing the unit from the front. Keep in mind that it does need to reach power (and possibly a phone line).
- Don’t enable an entry-delay. Instead, use the key fobs to disarm before you enter the house. The problem with an entry delay is that it gives the burglar time to discover the unit. Even worse, the voice on the unit talks during that delay making it even easier to find.
3 – The horn/siren is also vulnerable, the wire is only 3 feet, and the wire leads back to the main control unit.
Depending on where you want the horn, you might need to extend the wire. The horn runs on 12 volts, so voltage drop may be an issue if you need to extend it a really long way – you can overcome that by using thicker wire but it’s all stuff to consider before you start installing everything.
If the horn is in a visible and accessible place and the wire is exposed, it’s also a quick snip away from being disabled. The worst location for the horn is probably on the overhang just outside the door (where it can be disabled even before the theives enter!).
The horn itself is quite loud. It’s a shrill-sounding siren that probably stands a good chance of getting a burglar to run if it’s near them when it goes off – particularly if it catches them unexpectedly. That said, it might not be enough to wake the neighbors if that’s what you’re after, and might not even phase them if it’s on the opposite side of the house. If you’ll looking for something that gets the whole neighborhood looking at your home when the alarm goes off you might have to relay in a separately powered horn (spliced into and relayed to the 12v line of the siren but powered separately since the Vinker unit probably won’t be able to provide enough current to both horns and may fry).
I realize this write-up was a little all-over-the-place, but as I said in the beginning there wasn’t a lot in the way of reviews when I looked for this thing. The stuff I mentioned is stuff that I figured would have been helpful to know beforehand.
All in all, it seems to be a pretty decent alarm system, especially for the price.
Strong points from my perspective:
- Out of the box, you can pretty much plug things in (even without programming anything) and have a working alarm system.
- Phone functionality – it works quite well – better than I’d actually expected.
- Price. Really hard to beat, comes with all the essentials, and we have more door sensors than we need (becoming free backups and/or free batteries).
- Key fobs – they weren’t something I was actually *looking* for in a system, but since it removes the need for an entry-delay on the alarm they’ve really grown on me.
- System is pretty configurable when it comes to durations. There’s nothing missing from my “wish list” here.
- Doesn’t need smartphone apps or internet junk to work or enable functionality. It’s a nice little standalone system.
- Manual offers examples and links to YouTube videos to help clarify instructions. I watched a couple of the videos and they’re nice and straightforward.
Weak points from my perspective:
- Only 3 feet for the horn cable seems rather short.
- No “normal” arm button on the main unit.
- Being able to split the master control unit into a separate “brain” (that can be hidden away) and keypad/speaker (that can be mounted near the door) would make me feel a little better security-wise.
- Voice can be a little bit hard to understand. Vinker should consider spending $5-10 on fiverr.com to get a native english-speaking voice actress to read everything.
- Manual could use a couple revisions to make things easier to understand and a full chapter to clarify all the “defense area” stuff.
Some of those might seem a little nitpicky, but Vinker’s got a solid little alarm system here. It’s a little “rough around the edges” in some areas, and with a little tweaking they could probably get something that really feels like a polished high-end system.
That said, even as-is I think it was definitely a good buy.