SureFlap Microchip Cat Flap Review
Around three years ago I reviewed the PetPorte SmartFlap, thanks to an urgent need to implement some sort of feline door policy. At the time there were two products that looked like they’d do the job, and I chose the PetPorte pretty much arbitrarily.
Three years may not seem like a long service life for a catflap, but ours regularly endured a battering reminiscent of the siege at Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers.
This sort of wear and tear is enough to repair, but it refused to scan one of our new arrivals so its days were numbered. SureFlap were kind enough to send me one of their demo systems, which comes complete with a fake door and RFID-tagged toy cat – please note that these are not standard equipment, although that toy cat did prove extremely useful in testing.
To their credit, SureFlap will send you a range-test kit if you experience detection problems, which is a sort of plastic slide-rule arrangement with an RFID chip embedded in it.
Looking at the units side by side, you can see that the PetPorte’s catty aperture has about an inch extra clearance at the bottom, which might be important for tubbier moggies. Also you can see that whilst the PetPorte is secured with threaded bolts into captive nuts, the SureFlap uses self-tapping screws into the plastic housing, which I’m less keen on. It doesn’t feel as secure when mounted, and probably wouldn’t tolerate many removal and refittings. Having said that, it’s not something you undertake that often (about once every three years, in fact!)
Fitting the SureFlap takes only a few moments – here you can also see the optional ring adaptor which allows it to be fitted in the standard circular hole cut in a double-glazing panel. The SureFlap takes 4 AA batteries which the manufacturers say are good for 12 months’ worth of feline ingress. This differs from the old PetPorte which had a mains supply and a battery backup, which I personally prefer, but probably only because I’ve already gone to the considerable faff of running power to the middle of a double-glazed door. I can se how the battery-only approach might appeal to more people. The SureFlap will blink its red low-battery light at you when the batteries are becoming depleted.
Training the SureFlap to recognise a new cat is as simple as pressing the learn button and then hoofing the cat in question through the opening. The latch will clatter to indicate that the process was successful. The SureFlap had no difficulty learning our two cats, one of which had defeated the PetPorte. The SureFlap doesn’t impose any arbitrary time limits on you either, which means you can take your time – the PetPorte only gives you 30 seconds, which can be a frantic experience for both pet and owner. You can repeat this procedure up to 32 times, although if that’s important to you it’s probably time to take a good hard look at your lifestyle.
The SureFlap’s dead-bolt is quite a sturdy affair, stronger than the PetPorte’s equivalent. So far none of the local furry hooligans have managed to force it. You can see that it has the traditional four-way control like a regular normal flap, with the settings being no access, in and out, in only, or out only. The SureFlap enforces microchip control in the ‘in’ direction only. Frankly, compared to the PetPorte’s complicated scheme of pressing and holding buttons for various magic lengths of time and watching for specific LED flash patterns, the mechanical four-way latch is a godsend. Also it offers a “going out only” mode, which is useful on rare occasions, which the PetPorte does not. The SureFlap does not have an ambient light sensor, so it likes the night-time option of the PetPorte, but that’s not something I ever used, personally.
Our calibrated test cats report no problems with the SureFlap, indeed Boris has perfected the art of using it as an offensive weapon: he’ll let the neighbourhood ginger tom chase him through it, having perfected his timing to the point that his nemesis face plants into the plastic door as the bolt closes behind him.
It is mildly disappointing that cat-access control technology seems to be pretty much stagnant. The promised PetPorte computer interface never materialised, and there is currently no such option for the SureFlap either. I outlined to the nice SureFlap lady my vision of cat flaps with bidirectional detectors, 6LoWPAN mesh wireless connections and iPhone control apps, and she in turn made a decent stab at pretending that she didn’t think I was completely mental…I guess the high-tech cat flap market isn’t quite there yet. Having said that I now have a defunct but mostly functional PetPorte in bits on the bench, so watch this space…
In conclusion then, the SureFlap is simpler to operate than the PetPorte, has a stronger locking mechanism, and is slightly cheaper to boot. It lacks the mains powered option and the night-mode capabilities of the PetPorte, but succeeded in registering RFID tags that the PetPorte couldn’t. Another bonus is that it doesn’t have the large protruding ‘porch’ that the PetPorte does, which makes the surrounding door much easier to use for humans.