Monitoring your home is both a comforting and frightening proposition.
On one hand, it’s nice to know the most possible information about your home, and feel secure even when you’re not there.
On the other hand, the idea that something in your house is watching you is a little creepy.
I saw both sides of the coin while testing out two Netatmo devices: Welcome, a camera with facial recognition capabilities, and Healthy Home Coach, a smart climate monitor.
Here’s what it was like.
Let's start with the Healthy Home Coach. This device is about six inches tall and less than two inches wide. It plugs into a wall outlet and is able to monitor climate, humidity, air quality, and noise. The Home Coach costs $99.99.
I've had the Home Coach in my living room on the floor next to my couch for several weeks. It's slim and unobtrusive, so most of the time, I forgot it was there completely. The device only comes in copper, which looks a lot like rose gold in person.
Netatmo favours Apple-like finishes (brushed metal in silver, gold, and copper) and modern designs for all its smart-home products, which includes a smart smoke alarm, an outdoor security camera, security sensors for doors and windows (much like Notion sensors), a weather station, a smart thermostat, and more.
You'll need to download an app in order to get the information the Home Coach is collecting. You can name your device within the app based on what room it's in -- mine is just called 'living room' -- and watch as the device starts tracking different metrics.
You don't need to be at home for the device to collect information, and you don't need to manually sync your device with your app every time you want an update on the air quality. Once you set up the device and pair it with the app, it's essentially doing all the work for you.
Tapping the top of the Home Coach will cause it to light up and show you the current state of your home. A green light means it's healthy.
Opening the Home Coach app on your phone will pull up your dashboard, which shows you the current reading for every metric in your home.
Within the Home Coach app, you can also check what's been going on inside your home over the past 24 hours. This is a nice feature, because it helps you keep track of what happens inside your house when you're not there, or while you're asleep.
But the Home Coach app will also send you push notifications if anything spikes. I most frequently got alerts that my living room was too noisy (usually whenever I had the TV on loud, was talking on the phone, or chatting with my roommate) and that the air was too dry.
The app tended to scold me anytime something was amiss, which I didn't love. Here's what it said when my living room got too noisy for its tastes: 'High sound levels create a stressful environment. Try and lower the sound level to bring serenity to your home.'
Overall, using the Home Coach was more helpful than I was expecting. It was low-effort on my part, and I learned things about my apartment that I'd never realised.
I was pleasantly surprised by how consistently good the air quality was in my living room, but disappointed by how dry the air typically is. While that's normal for New York City in the winter time, the Home Coach helped remind me to turn on my humidifier more often.
I find that most smart home devices have too many features or invade my privacy too much. But since I don't have a thermostat in my apartment or any way to gauge whether I'm breathing in polluted air, the Home Coach filled a void that I didn't even know I had. Now, I can't imagine not being able to track that information.
In theory, Welcome is a very cool device. It's just as good-looking as the Home Coach with its gold anodized aluminium exterior and small size. And it's easy to set up, although it requires a second app called Security. The device costs $US199.
Welcome is intended to sit on a surface facing the entrance to your home. But in deference to my roommate -- who didn't seem thrilled at the idea of being filmed -- I put it in my bedroom. That's when things got creepy.
When I opened up the Security app for Welcome, I realised that the camera had been watching me for the last several minutes. I wasn't doing anything embarrassing -- I was just cleaning my room while watching a movie -- but I was uncomfortable with the fact it had been recording me without me realising it.
Welcome has facial recognition built in, which seems like a cool feature. It can identify faces and lets you label them, so in the future, it will tell you when it sees someone familiar.
But after a while, I started to get freaked out. It knew my face now, plus it was watching me.
I was able to tweak the settings to record only when it detected motion and only when I was away, but its default setting was to record me immediately upon setting it up. I was just folding clothes and moving around my room, but what if I had been changing? What if I was checking my bank account online? Could someone hack into the app and watch me?
(The answer to the latter question is, no, probably not. Netatmo says the videos that are sent to my phone are end-to-end encrypted and are stored on an SD card within the device. Remove the SD card and videos go along with it.)
Regardless, the creepy, 'Big Brother' feel was too much for me.
I also found some shortcomings with the facial recognition: I was watching the movie 'Carol' while testing it, and it kept telling me Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara were in my house. While not a real problem, it was a funny quirk of Netatmo's facial-recognition capabilities.
I lasted only a few hours with Welcome plugged in and turned on. After a while, it started to make me so nervous that I unplugged it and put it inside a dresser drawer.
The Welcome device did its job too well for my taste. It captured too much and recognised too many faces (including some that were only two-dimensional). And its abilities were too sophisticated for me: the wide-screen video is 1080p, plus the camera has excellent night-vision capabilities.
In a tiny New York City apartment, this was more technology than I could handle.
My problem with Welcome is likely a larger problem with smart home cameras like Nest Cam, Canary, and others like it: At this point in my life, I just don't need or want that level of security.
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