SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap Connect review
Welcome to the Internet of Catflaps (IoCf)! Here even the most prurient of cat-owners can keep up with - and control - the comings and goings of their feline friends in the best way short of replicating ones of those documentaries where the filmmakers strap a miniature GoPro to each cat's collar to see where they wander.
There are two physical components to the Microchip Cat Flap Connect: the cat flap itself and the glowing cat-eared Hub, which plugs into your home router so you can control the flap. You control the hub - and therefore the flap - using an Android or iOS app (or through a website if you're on your computer).
You can use the Microchip Cat Flap Connect without the Hub, but all you can do is train it to recognise your cats' microchips - up to 32 in total, so ideal for the aspiring Eleanor Abernathy - so that it lets them in/out and not, for example, next door's cats or the cute but thieving fox cubs that have been strolling through our garden.
The Hub and app gives you much finer control - and keeps you informed. You can see at any time whether individual cats are inside or outside (unless your daughter's let them back in through the patio door, of course). You can make the door only work one-way, locking them in or out - for example to keep them inside when they come home during a heavy rains. The control you'll likely use most of all is the curfew, where you set a time that after which, any cat that comes in, stays in.
If you have any indoor cats, you can add them too so they can get back if they escape out the kitchen window.
Lastly, you can spy on your cats. For the particularly prurient, you can get notifications every time one enters or leaves. If you just want to keep an eye on each's behaviour, you can see the times it uses the door.
Sure Petcare quotes vet and animal behaviourist Jon Bowen, as telling us things about our cats that we might not notice.
"It is easy to see that our dog isn’t feeling well from his behaviour; he might become reluctant to go for a walk, or can’t manage to go as far," he says. "Cats are harder to keep track of and technology like the Microchip Cat Flap Connect enable us to see patterns in behaviour that could be an early warning of health problems such as arthritis."
Personally, I'm just happy to know that the cats are coming into the house at various times during the day rather than spending all day outside scrapping with next door's cats.
The company also quotes Bowen for the benefits of the curfew, saying that "setting a short nightly curfew can reduce the risk of a road traffic injury or to cut down the number of roosting birds a cat catches."
SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap Connect: Price & Availability
The Microchip Cat Flap Connect costs £109.99, with the Hub costing £49.99 - or both for £149.99 direct from Sure Petcare. That is officially A Lot Of Money for a catflap - but perhaps worth it if the curfew mode appeals, or your cats have particular medical conditions where you want to control or view their use of the flap.
If you don't want the app and the control that comes with it, Sure sells the DualScan Cat Flap for £99.99 or the simpler Cat Flap for £79.99, which doesn't allow for indoor-only pets. The Microchip Cat Flap Connect and Hub then, is twice the price of this.
Out of the box, the Microchip Cat Flap Connect can be fitted to most exterior doors. For a window, you'll need a £10 adapter with screw holes - which you can also use for wall installations if you don't want to just stick it to the wall with No More Nails. For a wall installation, you'll also need tunnel extenders, which cost £7 each or you can buy as a 17-22cm set for £24.99 or a 27-32cm set for £35.99 (which is what we needed for our new extension). They're essential to stop your cats hurting themselves as they go through - but the cost feels high for what are essentially pieces of shaped plastic tubing.
Installation and set-up
Fitting the Cat Flap is as easy as any catflap. You then insert four AA batteries, and introduce each cat in turn by pressing a button on its top and encouraging the cat to use the flap. At which point your cat will ignore you and attempt to wander off. Once you've achieved this, you have to repeat it with all your cats. It's a frustrating exercise - but this is a design flaw with cats, not Sure's product.
Flap and cats installed, you plug the hub into your router - watching its cute ears light up. You install the app - or visit the website - and create an account. Or that's how it should have worked. Instead neither the iOS app on an iPhone 8 Plus nor the Android app on a Huawei P20 Pro would let me login, so I had to use the website. The next day, I could use the apps - and from a quick trawl of social media, it appears there are occasional connection problems.
Once in the website, I could create a profiles for my household - ie overall control of the catflap include the curfew - and individual cats. You can add their name and image to make tracking each easier - and also add their gender and health information. What you do with that information, I'm not sure - perhaps it's useful if you have friends staying while you're on holiday and you've given them access to your account?
Connection issues aside, the app is slick and simple to use. It also alerts you if the door is running out of batteries, and on the subject of power, it's worth noting that the door has a manual four-way lock for allowing/stopping each direction - which can be very useful if a powercut leaves you unable to change settings using the hub.
SHOULD I BUY SURE PETCARE MICROCHIP CAT FLAP CONNECT?
Like many Internet-of-Things tech, the Microchip Cat Flap Connect and Hub seems over-engineered, a solution in need of a problem. It's expensive, especially if you decide to put it through an exterior wall in your extension.
But ultimately, it could be worth it if your or your cat's personal circumstances justify the cost. The curfew will appeal to owners living near roads where people bomb it along at night. App-based control over locking will be incredibly useful to people who can't bend down to turn a manual lock every night. Just don't be that guy who uses it to just spy on their cat.