Canary Is Great for Home Security, But Wings Not Fully Formed [Review]

September 7, 2016

2:00 pm

A few years ago when Canary hit Indiegogo, the company had a humble goal of raising $100,000 from backers. Fast forward to the end of their campaign, and the team raised just shy of $2 million, or close to 2000% higher than their goal. Not only did this make the home monitoring and security device one of the most successful campaigns on the crowdfunding platform, they have gone on to raise three venture rounds with a total value of $41.2 million. Needless to say we had to get our hands on their current gen hardware to see how their concept matches up to the hype.

We tested the Canary over a couple of months and across a few different environments to to see what works best in a home with two people and two dogs. Overall it works incredibly well for monitoring and basic air quality data, but we found a few of the advertised features were missing. Let’s unbox this beautiful thing and dig in:

Features and Specs

The Canary is filled to the brim with features, and unfortunately a few they over promised on. However, it’s two primary functions, home monitoring and air quality monitoring, work incredibly well. As far as the camera goes, it records in 1080p HD, and it is crystal clear. We’ve tested more than a dozen top of the line security devices in the past year alone, but so far Canary stands apart with the quality of the recording in daylight as well as nighttime.

The audio capturing also works as well. There is a slight delay between app viewing and reality, but we mostly assume that’s due to the increased video quality. And in the event of an emergency, regardless of where you are, the device will enable you to make a localized emergency call rather than based on the location you currently are.

Users, Motion Sensor, and Busy Homes

For basic specs, the Canary makes it both incredibly easy to setup and give everyone in your home access to it. But… and this is a big but, if you have pets or kids you may run into some difficulties with notifications when placing the Canary in a common location.

It’s not so much difficulties, but knowing that when you are gone, your pets will activate the motion sensor and you’ll be notified. If you have kids, expect the same. Personally I find this to be beneficial, letting me know when my very lazy dog has decided to actually leave her regular chair to then move to the couch. Their sensitivity slider will also help reduce the amount of notifications you get as well, so it’s best to play around with it to find a setting that works best for you. For those that have an empty house during the day, notifications will probably play a much different role, and you probably never want to see one. But, that’s why you’d get the Canary, right?

Recording and Bookmarking Videos

Even without a subscription the Canary will record and make retrievable up to 12 hours of footage within a 12 hour window. In addition to being able to download a few videos for free, you can also bookmark a few clips so that it doesn’t automatically delete them. For those looking to download or bookmark more clips, there are several subscription options to up the amount of storage you get.

Intelligent Mode Settings

Beyond the great design, Canary stands apart due to its intelligent mode settings. Most devices only have the option to track motion during certain windows of times, but with Canary you get three options that are based on your being home or not. Either it’s due to you being on wifi or connected to the device through bluetooth, Canary knows when you are home and when you leave. This allows it to go from home mode to away mode, activating motion sensors and notifications automatically.

You can also turn these off if desired, but sort of takes the point out of it. For home mode, you can turn off both notifications or recording, which allows you to wake around in the nude without forgetting you’re on camera. You do it all the time, it’s ok, we get it. As for night mode, this only activates when you are home. Beyond night vision, this can go into privacy mode and not record, or record based on motion triggers. Even when in privacy mode, the air quality monitor will still be active, so you’ll still have some monitoring in place.

Home Health Monitoring

Though not as extensive as the Foobot, Canary let’s you know when something is off with your air quality. Beyond temperature and humidity, Canary’s sensors also aggregate pollutants on a chart showing normal, abnormal, and very abnormal quality. The sensor picks up pollutants such as isobutane, hydrogen, methane, ethanol, carbon monoxide, cigarette smoke, and cooking odors.

Feature Wish List

Unfortunately the initial Canary doesn’t have two-way audio, so you can’t speak back through it. It’s not a biggie, but a nice-to-have. With that said, there also doesn’t appear to be an audio trigger to start recording either, which would also be a nice feature to add in addition to motion capture based triggers. This is becoming more common and can be found in quite a few basic DIY security cameras.

Where’s the Web App?

The other issue we found was that there is no true web app for the Canary. On their site you can login, but it only gives you account information and basic information about the device (online, air quality). So if your phone or tablet dies, your out of luck. Same goes for power outages and internet outages. If either goes down, there is no battery backup in the device to keep it recording or to send data back into cloud storage. Based on most other solutions, this is the norm for entry-level DIY security. There is also no interface buttons on the device at all, but we’ll get into that in a moment.

Optional Subscriptions

The standard, no subscription option works great for regular users, but if you are going to be out of down or have people in and out of your home, the 2-day or 7-day options are extremely affordable.

2-Day subscription ($50 per year)

  • Extends 12 hours to two days of cloud storage
  • Unlimited video downloads
  • 25 bookmarks

There is also a 7-day ($100) and 30-day ($300) subscription plan, and each allow for month-to-month as well.

Where’s The Beef? Missing Features

While testing the Canary, we did find two rather odd issues tied to advertised features. Right on the box it says there are several sensors, two of which are capacitive touch and a 3-axis accelerometer. However, after looking through the user guide and help sections, there are no mentions of either.

For the touch feature, the only real confirmation beyond it being an advertised feature was a Twitter exchange from 2015 saying the button was not yet active, but is on the top of the unit itself. As for the accelerometer, it either is not active or may just not even be in the device itself.

According to some of the earlier documentation, the accelerometer is supposed to notify users when the device is being mishandled (aka robber trying to turn the camera off or smash it), or an earthquake sets off a lot of motion to it. We both shook the device heavily, knocked it off a shelf, and… Well you look and tell us if you think an accelerometer should have picked up odd physical motion activity. (PS – This is the app we used to test vibration)

We were tempted to crack it open and see if other sensor was noticeably there, but we feel due to the lack of documentation and tests conducted that it wasn’t necessary.

Update

An earlier version of this review overlooked a key notification update. This year a new option was included to alert users through a mobile notification when the unit goes offline after a few minutes. We were also informed of an example (video below) that may highlight the device’s accelerometer, but it is difficult to say whether it was set off from visual motion or a sensor. Ideally the device would have some sort of reading or separate notification identifying what caused the camera to begin recording.

Design

For us, what really sets Canary apart is its beautiful design. Cameras in general are just plain ugly. They have some sort of swivel or tripod, and wires, and sensors… the Canary packs everything within a sleek casing. It features a combination of a matte black finish with a shinier black, and an ambient light at the bottom. It also comes in a white finish, with the shinier plastic black middle as well.

Unlike almost every other recording device on the planet that uses a red indicator light, Canary uses an ambient light. If actively recording, it’s on. If the device is having issues connecting to the internet it’ll flash red. Simple as that! To learn more about their story and some of the design mentality, you can read our profile on the company.

Pros and Cons

Highs

  • 12 hours of free cloud storage
  • Great night vision
  • High quality video footage
  • Air quality sensors work well

Lows

  • No battery backup
  • Accelerometer doesn’t appear active
  • No capacitive touch
  • No alert when powered off
  • No web app

Overall Thoughts

Should you buy the Canary? Yes, especially if you are looking for a solution to track both air quality and video monitoring day or night. However, throughout our testing we did find something rather odd which came down to the accelerometer. It’s supposed to let you know when the device is violently moved about or even an earthquake, but there were zero notifications or indications that these are tracked. However, beyond that strange shortcoming, it’s primary functions work incredibly well.

We give the Canary 4 out 5 because the device does primarily what it’s supposed to, has a great design, is priced competitively to the popular Nest (similar offering); however, it has some shortcomings that are difficult to overlook. Between the two inactive or missing sensors that are advertised as part of the device it took a few extra dings. If they activated either sensor or stopped advertising them, the device would easily receive higher marks. Until then, Canary works incredibly well and looks amazing with any modern decor, but needs to be a bit more transparent on features.

Price: $199 plus optional subscription

Where to buy: Canary, Amazon

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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@)elliotvolkman.com or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.

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