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OK, but also consider the CodeAlarm ca6551sst, AutoPage C3-RS915-LCD as well
on April 13, 2012
This is a comparison review of the DEI Viper 5704V, the AutoPage CS3-RS915 LCD, and the CodeAlarm ca6551sst. I also have a DEI Viper 5901aka 5702V (the previous version of the 5704), and an AutoPage RS855 LCD.
I have always done and prefer to do all my own installs. Not only is it something that I have the skills for and I enjoy doing, but I don't like other people disrespecting my property. Nobody respects anything that's not theirs, and I like to ensure everything is done to perfection without ruining anything. If you are technical and have patience, these systems are not difficult to install by any means. It's just a matter of knowing a little bit about electricity (12 Volts DC), locating the wires in your car that you need to tap onto, knowing how to carefully remove the panels in your car without breaking anything, and using the proper test tools, connectors, and wire wrap to make a very clean install without even cutting wires or drilling holes.
After purchasing a third car, needing to upgrade the systems in my current two cars, and researching the current selection of alarms, I decided to try each of the Directed Electronics Viper 5704, the Audiovox CodeAlarm ca6551sst, and the AutoPage CS3-RS915-LCD. They are all in the same class of 2-way paging alarms with remote start, and use spread spectrum technology to communicate between the main unit and the key fob. For those of you that don't know, this technology has been around for a while, and simply means that the communications can occur on multiple frequencies. This is good in case there is interference on one frequency, the transmissions can potentially get through to the receiver on another frequency.
Besides having long range 2-way and spread spectrum technology, the other things that are important to me when selecting a security system:
*Rechargeable remote - I hated having to keep a stash of AAA batteries around for my previous security systems.
*Good manufacturer reputation - I've had good luck with my AutoPage system, and I know that Audiovox has been around for a while. I gave DEI a shot again just based on their name. I have used a lot of their accessories in the past (shock sensors, motion sensor, power door lock actuators, etc.) and have had good luck. DEI is the largest car security system manufacturer out there. DEI was founded by Darrell Issa, who is currently a congressman with a new worth of approximately $½ billion. One big problem I have with DEI is that they are very partner focused, and don't warranty their systems if they aren't installed by an authorized DEI dealer. This also means if you lose the (very un-detailed) install/wiring guide that the system comes with, you're not going to just be able to download it from their web site. So, make sure you take photos of it/make copies before you lose or destroy it. AutoPage and Audiovox both make their install guides available for download on their web sites, and I suggest you review those as well as the user's manual entirely before deciding on a system to purchase since they will give you a lot of information as to the functionality.
*Lots of customization options - one important thing for me is to be able to disable the arm and disarm chirps. Since the remotes for 2-way security systems such as these beep/vibrate to confirm that you've successfully armed/disarmed the systems, why would you want your car's siren or horn to chirp as well, unless you're trying to show off? I like to be stealth! The arm/disarm confirmation chirps can be enabled and disabled through the customization programming that's described in the install manual of all of these alarms.
*Two car functionality - All these systems support 2 cars, with varying difficulty of switching the remote from one car to the other.
*Vibrating remote - Being in a noisy place can easily drown out the high pitched sounds that the key fob makes when your alarm goes off.
I installed the DEI Viper 5901 in my older car several years ago. I purchased the 5901 and a competitive AutoPage alarm that came with a color OLED display at the same time. I decided to send the AutoPage alarm back and keep the 5901 in that car due to it having better range when comparing side by side, and the AutoPage's fob's color OLED display being impossible to see in sunlight. Had I have known the problems I was going to run into with DEI's junk 5901, I would have returned them both and purchased the AutoPage system with the non-color LCD display and with the spread spectrum technology. (Spread spectrum allows for communicating over multiple frequencies to get around interference.)
Going back to my DEI Viper 5901, it has a major flaw where once every 2-3 months it will take 100's of tries of hitting the unlock button to disarm the system and unlock the car. I usually will end up having to use my key to get into my car, setting off the alarm along with making everyone around look and/or waking up all the neighbors, and quickly reaching under the dash and pulling the system's wire to the horn/power (whichever I could get to first). Pulling the power and resetting the system will fix the problem temporarily. The Viper 5901 would also frequently have a long delay before actually arming/locking and disarming/unlocking after hitting a button on the fob. Furthermore, sometimes pushing the buttons on the fob would have no effect at all, not even a confirmation beep like the fob would normally emit when pushing a button. I've read some other reviewers complain about this as well. I also have a couple other gripes with it, one being that the car finder will simply lay on the horn solid for several seconds, rather than a series of short beeps (like the CodeAlarm and the AutoPage systems will do). The way the 5901 and now the new 5704 just slams the horn solid for several seconds is a great way of getting people near your car pissed off and getting everyone to stare at you looking for your car. Maybe if you're the type to always pay attention to where you park or live in a small village somewhere and don't ever travel to a shopping mall this won't be a problem for you. Like many people out there though I have a very busy lifestyle with a lot of ADD and distractions, so I need to have a good functioning car finder! Second, even though you would have the system set to not chirp when arming/disarming, if the battery in the fob was low, it would chirp the horn for a long duration after about a 5-10 seconds from disarming the system. This was very frustrating at night when trying to wake everyone up, including the neighbors. The fob beeps when the battery is low anyhow, so why does it need to chirp your horn in addition? Also, if by design you're going to make the system chirp the horn when the battery in your fob is low, why have it chirp when you're going to the car???? It should chirp when you're leaving your car because that's when you're most likely going to go inside somewhere that you can charge it! There's also no option to disable this. Lastly, they decided it would be smart to integrate the shock sensor into the unit on the 5901. Ridiculous! This all just goes to show how little common sense the engineers who designed this thing have.
I called DEI to mention these problems, and some cocky kid answered the phone that had no interest in my comments. They did verify that the car finder and fob battery low chirp issues I mentioned above had not been corrected, and I verified this after receiving the new Viper 5704V and testing it.
After receiving each system, I first hooked them up on the bench to test. The first test was the power draw when armed and not alarming. This is important if you're going to let your car sit armed for an extended duration, like at an airport parking lot. The Viper and the CodeAlarm each drew ~40ma when armed, and the AutoPage ~24ma. Next was the range test. With the antennas all near each other, the range was almost identical when walking around my city neighborhood. Of course, it was no where near a mile that all the manufacturers claimed - more like 1200 feet down to the end of my street. Sometimes the CodeAlarm would work where the Viper wouldn't, and vice versa. I'm sure the FCC has a transmit power limit that the manufacturers must abide by. Expect around 1000-1500 feet at the most. If you really want to get notified, you can always get a prepaid SIM card and a 12v GSM alarm from eBay so you can get a text message on your cell phone. I will tell you I can park my car half way out in the parking lot of a typical WalMart or grocery store, and be able to communicate with my car half way into the store. Range is very dependant on obstructions.
One thing to note is that these systems are not capable of full duplex communications between the system and the fob, meaning that if the system is transmitting to the fob, the system will not receive any button pushes on your fob. This is relevant in a couple scenarios. First, if your car is alarming, expect it to take up to 15 seconds of you standing there pushing the button on your fob for your system to stop alarming. This is because your system will be transmitting to alert your remote that there it is in alarm. The manufactures may have designed in periodic brief pauses in the transmission to allow for a signal from the remote to get through, and if you're lucky to press the button at just the right time, you might get your system to stop alarming sooner. In my tests, I was able to stop the AutoPage from alarming the soonest. This also applies to remote start. After your system starts your car, it will be transmitting to confirm that your car has started. You'll have to wait up to 15 seconds to be able to disarm your alarm and unlock your doors after using remote start. If I'm in a safe area, I'll usually disarm the system before activating remote start.
Another thing to note with the fob communications is that for all of these systems it may take up to 10 seconds or so for your fob to be notified of your security system going off. The fobs from all manufacturers work similar to cell phones to conserve the battery life - they only turn the receiver on every so many seconds. So, if your security system happens to be triggered right after your fob went out of listening mode, you may have lost valuable time to nab the perpetrator who broke into or crashed into your car. From my tests, the AutoPage had the slowest frequency of checks and took the longest to be notified of an alarm condition.
Each system has a "warn away" function that relies on the dual stage shock sensor they come with. When a lighter touch on your vehicle is detected, the siren/horn chirps quickly. I find that the "warn away" is pretty much useless, and is frequently set off by loud motorcycles driving by. The warn-away feature is complicated by the fact that the shock sensors that these systems come with only have a single adjustment, rather than a separate adjustment for each stage. So, you can't customize your sensitivity for full alarm vs. warn away and you may end up with lots of warn away pages/beeps if you like your shock sensor sensitive. You might be better off either not using the warn-away, or purchasing a separate shock sensor (they are cheap) just for the warn away function to be adjustable. In my case I installed a front and rear shock sensor in my daily driver for better coverage of my car. In my car that I installed the AutoPage system in, I had to rig the warn-away wire over to the full alarm input to get better sensitivity. I also had to use a DEI504D shock sensor with the AutoPage system due to the bug mentioned below and the fact that it has better sensitivity than the AutoPage OEM shock sensor.
--Pros and Cons of the Systems--
First, I'm very jaded against DEI with the bad experience I had with my 5901. Furthermore, the issues I had with the battery low warning chirping your horn/siren when you go to your car, and the car finder have been carried over to the 5704V. The other disaster with the 5901 was that the shock sensor was integrated into the 5901, which limited your installation locations. Thankfully, due to enough complaints, DEI did not carry this dumb idea over to the 5704. The only thing that was nice about having the integrated shock sensor was that you could adjust the sensitivity from your remote, vs. having to potentially pull apart interior panels to adjust your shock sensor. If these companies could come up with a standard to be able to adjust the shock sensor sensitivity from the system itself rather than the shock sensor, that would be great!
The DEI 5704 has the most fine tuning options of any of the systems, as well as programmable output wires. The vast majority of people will not need to make use of these, and furthermore, you need to purchase a DEI Bitwriter to program many of those options. They could have just put a USB or serial port on the main system, but DEI wants to sell you an additional piece of hardware. Some of the Bitwriter options include remote start run time by the minute, smart start temperature, and siren duration by the seconds. You can also customize the key fob icon for each of the Aux outputs to Trunk, Window, and Sunroof with a Bitwriter. For me, I would rather not have the above problems, not have to buy a Bitwriter, and slightly less customization capabilities.
In regards to the key fobs, the fob for the 5704 is the same as the one used with my older 5901. One complaint I had with that was that the rubber cover over the USB charging port only lasted a few months before disintegrating. Of all three of the fobs, none have an extremely noticeable vibration capability. During an alarm, the CodeAlarm and the Viper had the most noticeable vibrator, with the AutoPage being slightly less. I can tell you from the Viper that I've had mixed results with the vibrator alerting me. The problem is that none of the fobs actually vibrate and sound at the same time. Rather they sound, then vibrate briefly, then sound again. The piezzo buzzer on the AutoPage fob, however, is at least twice as loud as the one on both the Viper and the CodeAlarm. In fact, I find myself having to use the AutoPage's fob while it's in my pocket sine it's so piercingly loud.
The Viper 5704 and the AutoPage CS3-RS915LCD both have mini USB connectors on the key fobs. The CodeAlarm has the more modern style, micro USB charging connector. If you're an iPhone user, you're going to have to have multiple chargers in either scenario. If you're an Android user, you'll be happy with the CodeAlarm's fob since it's nice to have one universal charger that will work for your phone and your key fob, not to mention there will certainly be lots of your friends and coworkers that will have a micro-USB charger lying around if needed. The fobs that come with the AutoPage and the CodeAlarm both have painted fronts, and expect them to wear quickly. The plating on the CodeAlarm and AutoPage's fobs have both disintegrated pretty well over several months. I wish they would just leave the paint off and leave them rubberized black plastic. The silver paint on my Viper fob is half gone exposing an ugly greenish plastic underneath. Finally, I found with all the fobs, that it's very easy to accidentally hit one of the super large lock/unlock buttons when they're moving around in your pocket. One thing with the AutoPage, if you hit the lock button while the system is already armed, it triggers the car finder and will beep your horn - annoying. With the CodeAlarm, you have to hit a side button to trigger the car finder, which is difficult to do by accident. If you manage to hold down the unlock button, that ends up being a trunk release, if you have that functionality in your vehicle.
The fob for the AutoPage is almost identical to the CodeAlarm (they both must be using the same manufacturer for the remotes), but the navigation is completely different. Getting to 2-car mode with the CodeAlarm is much easier - just press the F button, then lock and unlock together. With the AutoPage, you have to go through the menu, which can be tricky (though it's at least a menu vs. having to memorize some random key sequences). For the Viper, you have to hold down the F button as well to change to car 2. I like how you can also customize the color on the Viper's and the AutoPage's fob's backlights. As far as battery life goes, you should get at the very minimum around 5 weeks or more per charge on any of the fobs depending on usage.
From experience with the key fobs, the plastic LCD display covers get scratched and blurred very quickly from being in your pocket, bag, etc with other keys and items. At the same time you get one of these systems, get some good quality screen protectors with STRONG adhesive so they don't peel up. When you get the systems, they come with a cheap plastic sticky protector on the fob's display. Peel that off and keep it to use as a template to cut screen protectors. Put it on top of a screen protector, and trace around it with a fine tip marker (I use the fine tip Sharpies). Cut out inside the line you drew. It's not going to be perfect, but it's better than eventually having a blurry and scratched display. Oh, and make sure you clean the grease, etc. off your fob's display with rubbing alcohol before applying the screen protector.
For the remote start functionality, they all behave pretty similarly, though I've only tested the CodeAlarm in practice. The only two difference I see are that first, you have more one more option with the AutoPage to avoid accidental starts. With all of them, you can at the very least set them so you need to hit the start button twice within a few seconds. Second, with both the AutoPage and Viper, you can have temperature controlled starts, with the AutoPage able to be set at 0 degrees F, and 15 degrees F, and Viper only 0 degrees, but the Viper customizable to 10 degree F increments if you also have a Bitwriter. The Viper can also start your car at a high temperature for cooling, where the AutoPage only has a low temperature. The viper might be helpful for you if you happened to need to leave a pet in the car in a hot climate. For me, I would never use temperature controller start, and I would carefully consider whether or not you would use it before making a decision based on this.
So far, I've had no major issues with the remote start functionality of the ca6551sst. I tested it in combination with an iDatalink transponder bypass, as well as a DEI PKALL, but it took many, many tries to get the PKALL programmed, so I didn't trust it. With both bypasses I had to increase the crank time since they're slow to send the code, but the ca6551sst let me easily adjust that. And that leads me to one more difference in the remote start - the Viper and the AutoPage have several more options for crank time than the CodeAlarm, but again that hasn't posed an issue for me with the CodeAlarm.
As far as the alarm functionality goes, the CodeAlarm has an enormous win over the Viper and AutoPage, and that is that if you use the horn for your alarm, when your alarm is triggered it will optionally (by default) hold on your horn with random brief pauses! This definitely is an attention getter - wow! Personally, I don't hook up the included sirens, I only use the horn since I don't like to drill a hole through the car's firewall to run a wire for the siren. Sometimes you can find an unused wire in your car to use for the siren, or just be able to slip a wire through an existing hole through the firewall.
As with my Viper, when disarming the CodeAlarm I've found that once or twice a week it will take 1-2 button pushes to disarm the security system, where each time I'm standing within a few feet of the vehicle. Fortunately it hasn't been the 100's of times it would take with the Viper.
One other issue I have with the CodeAlarm is that there is a "ground while armed" wire on the CodeAlarm that I use for a secondary warning LED that I mounted on the dash of my vehicle. Unfortunately, it's also on during remote start even when the system is disarmed. Because of this, it stays on until I put my key in the ignition, turn it to on, and press the brake to release the system's control over the starter. This means I'm going to have to get a relay that will cut off ground to the LED during remote start. The Viper on the other hand has 4 programmable outputs that you can set either to validity, link to arm, link to disarm, link to arm/disarm, or remote start only. They're all controllable from the fob. It's nice that they have these built in, but you'll need a Bitwriter to program and fob icon and the latch time away from the default of 30 seconds if you're planning on using them for window rollup and/or sunroof closure. The AutoPage has 3 programmable outputs, and you can program the timer from 1 second to 2 minutes without any sort of add-on. For the CodeAlarm you'll need an external timer relay.
The AutoPage is the only one of the three that doesn't have warning LEDs on the antenna, and comes with an external LED. This is important to me since the antenna can draw attention to the antenna's location. If someone is smart enough, they could break into your car and if they rip off the antenna quick enough, you would never get a page. On the other hand though, not having LEDs integrated into the antenna could be a drawback for the install since then you have to find a place to mount your LED, and potentially have to drill a hole somewhere. For me, I purchased a small black plastic project box, drill a hole in it, mounted the LED in, and mounted the box in the car using double sided 3m sticky mounting squares found at Walmart.
One other note is that the CodeAlarm has no car temperature check functionality, whereas both the Viper and CodeAlarm do. Also, as alluded to above, both the AutoPage and the Viper have extra programmable outputs if you want them to close your windows, sunroof, etc. The CodeAlarm only has one programmable output, though on the Viper and AutoPage, those outputs have various limited functionality. I suggest downloading the manuals for more info.
In regards to support, I did contact DEI three times - twice by phone, and once by email. I definitely have to give them credit as they answered me each time in a timely fashion by phone and email. I tried calling AutoPage, and was not able to get through on their consumer phone support number. I also tried emailing AutoPage, and I never received a reply. I did not try contacting CodeAlarm's support.
In summary, I think any of these can be winners depending on your requirements, likes, and dislikes. The AutoPage has everything the CodeAlarm has and then some, except for the random horn honk feature when alarming. The big thing that I really like about the CodeAlarm is definitely the random horn honks - that would really get people's attention in a parking lot full of cars where most people have learned to tune out car alarm honking. However, the AutoPage does have a slightly better fob with a more powerful vibrator and much louder sound which is really important to me. I also like how the AutoPage will let you change the fob's background color whereas the CodeAlarm will not, not that this should be a deciding factor. I would only go with the Viper if for some reason I didn't mind purchasing a Bitwriter, needed an extreme customization option, or the high temp auto start capability.
Personally, my favorite is the CodeAlarm. I like the random horn honk feature, the micro USB charging port for the FOB, the fact that you can use a jeweler's screwdriver to release the wires that you don't need form the harness rather than cutting them (in case you move it to another car or decide to use a feature someday), and that it's virtually bug free except as noted with taking 1-2 extra unlock pushes on the FOB once in a while.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that all three have the ability to link to optional cellular based add-ons that you pay subscription fees for so you can get alarm notifications, start your car, unlock your doors, etc. from a smart phone. AutoPage calls their's C3. DEI/Viper calls theirs SmartStart (not good reviews here on Amazon), and CodeAlarm (Audiovox) calls their add-on 220Carlink. The DEI/Viper and the AutoPage both have GPS tracking available. The subscription fees vary, so do some homework.
---Major Bug with AutoPage System Received---
Finally, I must mention that the AutoPage CS3-RS915 LCD systems apparently have a manufacturing bug at this time. I purchased two from different resellers, and they both had this bug. The majority of the time, triggering the warn-away stage on the shock sensor will subsequently trip the 2nd stage/full alarm for the majority of the time. Other times it behaves normally for a while until the unit is power cycled. Or, if the unit is power cycled, it will start misbehaving again. Sometimes when the 1st stage is tripped, the LED's for both stages go into a frenzy for a minute or so, though the alarm never gets triggered. When I remove the blue wire from the shock sensor harness (the 2nd stage trigger), the 2nd stage doesn't get triggered. When I have the system set in shock sensor test mode, it behaves fine. It also works fine when paired with a DEI 504d shock sensor. So, the problem appears to be a combination of the main unit and the shock sensor. This problem could go unnoticed since unless you are paying close attention, the only symptom one would see, depending on how and what you were doing when you set your shock sensor's sensitivity, is that occasionally it will either take much less of a shock to set the system off (if you set the shock sensor sensitivity when it was behaving normal), or it will take a much harder hit to set the system off (if you set the shock sensor when it was acting up). Personally, I hate the warn away feature since it's an annoyance, and I always pull the warn away wire out of the shock sensor's harness (the green wire in this case), so it's not a big deal. It's still a bug though that makes me doubt AutoPage's quality control. I actually ended up using a DEI 504d shock sensor (relatively cheap) with one of these, and RMA's the other.
If anyone else out there reads this review that has one of these system, please test your shock sensor out over a few days time and leave a comment here letting us know if you're experiencing the same issue. You will see this issue as it will be impossible to just trigger the warn-away feature of the shock sensor. With a light hit, the green LED will light first, followed by another blink of the green LED, then the red LED.