Not only did my girlfriend and I just buy a new house — we also brought her pet poodle Wookiee to live with us.
Now, we want to make sure we protect both.
So when we heard about the Canary — a $199 smart home camera billed as the “all-in-one home security system you control from your phone” — we were eager to give it a try.
That’s doubly true since homeowners’ insurance companies like State Farm are apparently also willing to give you a break on your rate.
The verdict: The Canary is pretty good, and makes us feel a little safer about leaving our puppy home alone. But it also drove us a little crazy, in the end.
Here’s how the Canary sings.
This is Wookiee. He's living with us in San Francisco now, but for the last few years, he's been living out in the countryside. We were worried about how he was adjusting.
Enter the Canary. Born from a wildly successful IndieGoGo campaign, the Canary is supposed to combine a strong design sense with everything you need to keep your home safe.
Also important to know: Canary has optional-but-not-really plans that limit how much video you can store. When you first get it, it comes with a free 7-day trial of the most expensive plan, but after that, you have to pay. You can still use Canary without it, but you lose a lot of video storage functionality.
In real life, the Canary isn't quite as svelte as it looks in the ads. But it's got a cool, unassuming design that makes it look more like a Bluetooth speaker than a surveillance rig.
In fact, it's pretty inconspicuous sitting on the ledge in our kitchen. You could theoretically have a Canary in every room in your home, but we only have the one.
Setup just takes a few minutes. Just plug it into the wall, open up the official Canary app, and it walks you through the rest. The only slightly tricky part is that you need to plug the yellow cable -- oh, canary yellow, I get it -- into your phone and the Canary itself as a security measure during the set-up process.
But enough about the hardware -- the app is the main event. At the most basic level, Canary lets you tune in live from your phone to see what's going on in your house. In this screenshot, my girlfriend checks in on me from her office after I added her to the household in the Canary app.
It has a one-way microphone. So, say, when my girlfriend looks in on me, she can hear me (and the dog, if he's getting into mischief), but I can't hear her. Here I am making a heart for her when I knew she was watching (awwwww).
Note the two panic buttons on the bottom, here. The one on the left gives you a three count, and then sounds what it says is a 90 decibel siren -- not recommended for everyday use. The one on the right helps you dial the local police, fire department, or hospital, in case the camera catches something bad.
But you can't watch it all the time. That's why Canary has a smart monitoring feature, where it sends you an alert when something's moving.
Click it, and it brings you to an archived video clip of the action in question. You can even double-tap the screen to zoom in on these archived clips. It's great when I'm wondering just what Wookiee has gotten into. Computer, enhance.
Truthfully, these alerts can get a little irritating. Yesterday, little Wookiee was restless and paced all over the house, meaning that I got tons of alerts, constantly. Canary's app gives you a way to tag what's happening in any given clip, with the promise that it will get better about filtering out false positives like a dog pacing around.
There's also a low-light vision mode, which renders the world in black-and-white but is otherwise fairly decent at keeping tabs on the house in the dark.
...even if the low-light mode makes the Canary itself glow with what can only be called a sinister red.
One of the cooler features is how Canary arms and disarms. By using your phone's GPS, it can tell when you're around and when you've left the house. So when you're home, it still records and archives clips, but you won't get notifications anymore.
But trust me, it's still recording. One morning, I unwittingly got dressed out of the shower while arguing with the dog in front of the Canary, to my girlfriend's vast amusement.
The last cool thing Canary does is keep track of the temperature, humidity, and air quality of the house. It's good for those moments when you, as a concerned dog dad, worry that Wookiee is freezing or burning up.
The real problem with the Canary is that it almost makes it too easy to micromanage the dog. You get to thinking 'oh, I'll just check in on the dog.' It becomes too easy to constantly check in, making us even more neurotic. Especially when our phones are blowing up with those alerts that he's walking around.
The other day, the dog wasn't on the camera for a solid three hours, making us more than a little worried. Turns out, he was sleeping downstairs. If you're less neurotic than I am, the charts and timelines may be helpful -- but I worry they're slowly driving me insane.
Also, the Canary service seemed just a little unreliable. It's possible that it was more the fault of the WiFi in my house, but sometimes the video would stutter, even during recorded clips.
The whole experience has gotten me really curious about Google's Nest Cam, which does a lot of the same stuff as the Canary, with a slightly different take. For instance, it doesn't do highlights; it records everything to Google's cloud.
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