Netatmo Welcome review: The smart camera that knows who’s home
Like it or not, the Internet of Things is here. Manufacturers are making it easier than ever to sync up household items with the internet, and, with the release of Apple’s HomeKit, the connected home is closer than ever. In addition to intelligent thermostats, radiators and music-playing light bulbs, the Internet of Things has instigated the rise of smart home security cameras.
Effectively CCTV cameras with web access, these devices broadcast video over the internet, making it easy to snoop remotely on your home using an app or a web browser. Now, with Google entering the market – and others, such as the Netgear Arlo, also chipping in – the popularity of smart cameras is about to explode.
It’s at this juncture that the Netatmo Welcome joins the frame. The company’s existing products are aimed at the connected home and include a weather station, a thermostat and the UV-tracking June wearable, so the Welcome fits in perfectly.
Most domestic security cameras provide CCTV-style monitoring and motion-triggered clip recording, but the Welcome goes one better, adding facial recognition to the mix. The result? The Welcome can keep track of anyone entering your home – and even record footage when it sees certain people. Need to know when your kids are back from school or when your partner comes home? The Netatmo Welcome promises to keep you updated.
But is the Welcome a gimmick – or a useful tool for everyday life?
Netatmo takes an interesting approach with the Welcome, and that extends to the product’s hardware as well as its software. Unlike the battery-powered cameras of Netgear’s Arlo, the Netatmo relies on mains power. That comes with its own pros and cons.
Although it can record video continuously, which the Arlo can’t, the Welcome’s placement is dictated by power points, so it’s more difficult to use outside or tucked in unobtrusive corners. It’s lucky, then, that the Netatmo looks great; you’ll be more than happy to have it on show.
Rather than the plastic finishes of its competitors, the Netatmo is predominantly constructed from sleek, gold-anodised aluminium, harking back to the original iPad Mini. The Welcome looks equally at home on worktops, mantlepieces and window sills.
Inside, the Netatmo Welcome uses a similar method of capture to most IP cameras. It employs a CMOS sensor capable of recording 1080p video in H.264 format, and its lens has a 130-degree field of view, which is good enough to cover a room or a hallway.
Setting up the Welcome is simple, but it would be easier still with more thorough instructions. Users can use the supplied USB cable to connect the Welcome to a laptop and use the software to join it to a wireless network, then switch over to mains power once the process is complete. The camera won’t broadcast any images unless connected to the mains, but Netatmo doesn’t make this as clear as it should.
Alternatively, you can use the Welcome’s free mobile app. After connecting the camera to the mains and firing up the app on an Android or iOS device, flipping the camera on its head engages “pairing mode” for easy connection. Finally, if you prefer to use an Ethernet connection, the Netatmo comes with a port at the rear.
The Welcome’s 1080p videos are crisp, and in poor light it switches to infrared LED mode. Footage captured in the dark is particularly impressive – especially since the camera uses only a single infrared LED to provide night vision. It’s only in direct sunlight that the Welcome struggles.
The Netatmo can suffer from overexposure, which causes problems with facial recognition. This is most common in brightly lit hallways and kitchens, which, problematically, are precisely the places you’d want to put the camera. The camera records audio, and sound is crisp enough to follow conversations.
Recording is optional, but the Netatmo will record HD-quality footage to the supplied 8GB microSD card. This means – unlike the Netgear Arlo, which records clips to the cloud only – you don’t have to download clips manually if you want to hold on to them, something that makes the Welcome a more attractive proposition.
Users can upgrade the Welcome’s amount of storage simply by replacing it with a larger card. As for watching the footage? You can play it back via the portal website or the Welcome app on your phone.
The Netatmo’s video streaming and capture is only half the story, though; the main draw is its ingenious facial-recognition software. So, how does this work in practice?
The Welcome works by continuously capturing faces and asking the user to tag them manually. This way, the software is able map and overlay the images, building an increasingly detailed model of each face. There’s room for a maximum 20 recognised people in its library – more than enough for most households.
It reflects the amount of information it has for each face with a strength indicator – the higher the strength, the more likely the person is to be recognised. After more than 20 taggings in different conditions, I found incorrect identifications were rare, and usually triggered by poor lighting.
You can monitor the Welcome camera in a browser, but using the iOS or Android apps is just as easy. A timeline makes it simple to keep track of your videos, and it clearly marks each facial recognition “event” with an icon. If you’ve set the app to record movement, it also provides quick playback of the footage that has been saved to the microSD card.
It’s possible to adapt the Welcome to its surroundings, too. Switching on Away mode when the house is empty, for instance, makes the Welcome extra sensitive. Alternatively, you can set up the camera to do this automatically, by analysing how long it has been since no movement was sensed.
It’s easy enough for users to modify the behaviour of the camera depending on who it recognises. For example, you can ask the Welcome always to record footage of certain people when it recognises them, or simply to send a simple notification.
And that’s not all. It’s also possible to tailor the notifications you receive, meaning you can decide how much or how little you want to know. Netatmo thinks the Welcome will be used to check when children arrive home from school, when cleaners get to your house and more – and we’re inclined to believe it. The Welcome can also be set to notify you when a stranger is in the house.
Although the IP camera market is rapidly growing, the Netatmo Welcome sets itself apart from others with its attractive design, ingenious facial-recognition technology and easy-to-use app.
At £200, the Netatmo Welcome is considerably pricier than Google’s £159 Nest Cam and Netgear’s £180 single-camera Arlo package. But the Netatmo does things differently to those systems, and it deserves recognition and consideration for this fact.
The only drawback? Unlike the Netgear Arlo, the Welcome can’t be used outside, but Netatmo has a solution to this. The company’s forthcoming Welcome Tags, which attach to your doors and windows to detect entry, attempted break-ins and other motion events, are built for indoor and outdoor use, and they work in conjunction with the Welcome camera to provide an entire smart security system.
When combined with the imminent Welcome Tags, the Netatmo Welcome could be one of the best overall solutions for home monitoring. All that’s needed next is Apple HomeKit connectivity.