South Africa is a land of extremes, particularly when you look at the weather ‘patterns’ that wander around above our fine country. If you live on the coast, you’ll experience the fabled ‘four seasons in one day’, insane winds and oceans that are attempting to eat people on shore. Also: humidity. If you’re inland, there’s the chance of snow, hail in large enough chunks to decimate pipes for suburbs around and the storms. Oh the storms…
Of all the hazards listed above, the one that most concerns Stuff are storms. And lightning. Because we’re based in Johannesburg and we’re lost more tech than we’d care to remember to the fury of nature unleashing itself without warning, usually sneaking in through a phone line to fry power supplies, processors, motherboards and modems. Not that this is confined to Gauteng, lightning can strike anywhere – sometimes even twice, no matter what you’ve heard.
If we’d had our hands on the Astrophobe Lightning Protection System, we might have lost fewer devices to telephone-line-facilitated overloads bought on by storms. The Astrophobe (interesting name, not sure why you’d want to be avoiding stars but anyway…) is designed to detect storms in the vicinity and automatically sever the connection between your expensive PC tech and the phone line just itching to pass large amounts of current into its sensitive bits.
Which is a useful function for what looks like a plain white box. The Astrophobe can be mounted on the wall, out of the way, acting as a link between your phone line and modem/router. We’re not exactly enamoured with having to add another device to the chain that provides our land-based internet, because of the added troubleshooting complexity if something goes wrong, but it’s easy to slot into and remove from your network at least.
Function Over Form
The Astrophobe is uncomplicated in terms of design and use. The plain white box – which is hard plastic – has ports for telephone cable on both sides, as well as a power input, and an LCD display with two buttons on the top. Settings are changed with the two buttons, to the sound of the most annoying chime we’ve heard in ages. Users can set storm detection distance, alerts, reconnection times, detection sensitivity, false alarm sensitivity and false alarm control as well as EMI suppression.
So does it work to disconnect your line? The answer to that is: certainly. The more interesting thing is how it does so. The Astrophobe detects electromagnetic impulses (EMI) in the atmosphere, so it is able to detect storm activity before you’re even remotely aware of it. Unfortunately, some home appliances also generate EMI and this can result in false positives and an internet disconnect. But, during our time with the Astrophobe, we didn’t encounter any issues like this. We’re not in the habit of using high-end compressors at home, after all. The result? A safer modem and less worry about replacing components for the seventeenth time.
What’s The Use?
Which is all well and good but the Astrophobe isn’t really an essential. If you’re that worried about losing electronics then it’s a simple matter to unplug a router from the wall and phone line. Of course, Astrophobe is extremely useful if you’re the forgetful sort but lightning strikes close to home tend to stick in the memory.
And, if you’re subject to a storm and haven’t got a UPS system at home, the Astrophobe becomes useless. To their credit, they acknowledge as much in the included manual and recommend that you use a UPS to keep the little white box live during a power outage. But an internal battery would have been a far more elegant solution to this problem, one that wouldn’t require buying more kit for the home.
We all forget things and the Astrophobe can help you save electronics when your mind is elsewhere. It’s also a handy-to-have if a storm crops up while you’re elsewhere and unable to intervene to save your precious PC. But at no point is it really a have-to-have, despite being South African-made. Still, it’s easy to set up, use and does the job you procured it for. Get it if you’re in need of some extra protection.