The internet of things.

This blog is typically reserved for discussion around innovative tools and practices in education. However with the huge impact that the ‘internet of things’ is making on our lives, I am very excited at the positive impact that devices like the Canary can bring into our homes and lives. This post is a review of the Canary security device, available from www.canary.is

I have been using the Canary for about 2 weeks. It is a small and unobtrusive cylinder which can be discretely placed in your home. It contains a wide angled lens, and a very loud siren that can only be activated by you, from your smartphone. The camera is activated by movement, you are notified of this movement within seconds and you decide on the best way to proceed, all done remotely via the app.

Other security systems might be more effective at stopping an intruder with the automation of a siren upon a break in, but these automated alarms often amount to nothing more of a nuisance as the information available can be incorrect, and simply lead to a ‘false alarm’.

Police connected systems are very expensive, and really response time would likely be ineffective to stop an intruder. So I like that Canary have re-approached this challenge, they are redefining the way that we monitor our homes and if they get things right they can bring piece of mind at a very low cost (currently $249).

It has been made clear that the Canary device and accompanying app are kind of in a beta period. Updates from Canary’s brilliant blog have been great, “We will continue to push app updates—to improve the experience, fix bugs, and add features”. The Canary website and communications from the team have been very informative, it is clear that you can put faith into this brand.

This placement meant the Canary covered the main living area. I considered lying the Canary down in the help, but it really needs to be placed standing on its feet.

The setup.

Setup was very easy, I chose to connect my device to the Ethernet port although Wi-Fi is an option. I downloaded the app on my iPhone, created my Canary account and followed the on-screen prompts. All up, this took about 5 minutes.

I was a little disappointed to read the minimum specs of “1 Mbps upload recommended”. My internet speed tests come in at an upload of 0.86Mbps. I’m no expert in this field but I am fairly sure that this is considered standard for residential properties the world over. Therefore surely it is Canary that should be working within my limitations, not me within theirs? (is the video always captured in HD? If so can SD be an option?).

This upload issue will likely account for why the “Watch Live” feature simply doesn’t work. The watch live feature is displayed on the home screen of the app. At any stage I should be able to take a look into my home via the built in camera, a killer feature, but after 3 to 5 minutes of waiting before a jittery image begins to appear, this feature should be shelved until it works.

This also shows that I am at home with a check by my name.

This also shows that I am at home with a house by my image. ‘Watch Live’ does not work for me.

Having said that, the system does perform excellently in most other areas. I really like that Canary puts itself into “Armed” mode when I leave the property. I added my wife’s phone, which was a very simple procedure, and now the Canary uses both our phones to evaluate its mode. Initially I was concerned that this geofencing of both our iPhones would impact on the battery life of the phone, but I am pleased to report that it is not noticeable.

The camera quality, even at night, is excellent. I placed my device in the main living area and the wide angle lens covers the entire open living area. The app is so simple and really well designed. It keeps a timeline of video activity and air sensors for me to preview at anytime.

Activity detected!

I received this notification about 45 minutes into my working day. I was a little alarmed as I waited for about 1 minute for the video to load into the Canary app. It turns out the activity was light reflecting on the ceiling from my next door neighbours car.

It occurred to me that the Canary must be always recording, because the said activity happened about 3 seconds into the 20 second clip. (A little more info from Canary surrounding video capture would be really useful).

The second notification came in about 2 hours later, this time it was a shadow being cast through the window. On the first day I received another couple of notifications, all of which were very minor movements in my home due to shadows. Rather annoyingly I also receive a notification when the Canary enables the Ambient Light sensors (its own night vision). Fewer notifications would be better.

The app has a really nice feature where I can “Help your Canary Learn”. So now I spend a few minutes each day waiting for video to buffer so I can mark it as “Everything OK” and labelling the activity as “Shadow” or “Reflection”.

My only concern here is by about day 4, I stopped checking the alerts as they were just so regular, surely defeating the whole purpose! I would value a future update whereby a threshold for the movement can be set.


This video shows how ‘over’ sensitive the motion detector is on the Canary home security system.

Privacy.

Probably the single most important thing for me is that these very personal video snippets of me in my home are kept private. The app functions in 3 modes – Armed mode, Disarmed mode and Privacy mode. Armed mode and Disarmed mode are effectively the same thing, except I receive notifications to my phone in Armed mode. Therefore Disarmed mode is still recording me, even when I am at home, and that is ok. I get that there might be times when this is useful, especially if I want to check in on kids. But for me when I am at home I like to place the device into Privacy mode. What is annoying though is that when Privacy mode is enabled, the Canary will not re-arm itself when I leave my home. I hope that Canary will add this feature in a future update.

Despite the canary.is website being clear and very informative, I would really like to know a little more about what is happening with the video and audio footage that is being captured. Is there a disk inside the Canary? Does the footage constantly move up to a Canary server or just when activity is detected? I personally found the Privacy Policy to be not that clear.

Home monitoring system.

This is probably a better description for the product. I like the temperature and humidity sensors. However the air quality sensor needs a little more explaining, for example would it pick up on a gas leak or carbon monoxide presence? Overall though the piece of mind brought by such a simple ‘set and forget’ device is awesome.

A snapshot from the Homehealth part of the app.

A snapshot from the Homehealth part of the app.

Conclusion.

There is room for improvement, and I don’t think I am the only early adopter waiting for the Canary app updates to arrive. I am also excited to see if Canary bring any other complimentary hardware to market. Some kind of super-slim door sensors would probably completely ‘secure the deal’ making the device a true security system.

I was not expecting to be as impressed with this device as I am, especially at this early stage of their rollout. It is a winner because of the user experience, the design, and the fact that once you see it in action, it makes perfect sense. I just hope that the company continue their hard work and innovative vision, and if they do, I can definitely see a Canary in every home.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the review! It’s always great to hear feedback from our early backers and supporters.

    You should know that we’re working hard on the software and firmware updates for Canary, so all aspects of the product are going to keep getting better and better over the coming weeks and months.

    I can also help address a few of your points, more specifically.

    Currently all video streams in HD 720p, but we’re working on allowing streaming quality to change depending on your connectivity level. We want our users to have the best-in-line video quality to know exactly what’s going on in their home, but understand that not all users will have the bandwidth.

    We’re also working on a feature that will be released very soon that will allow Canary to switch from Privacy to Armed mode automatically.

    As for privacy, Canary only uploads video to the cloud when necessary – i.e. when there is activity detected or if you are using Watch Live. We use bank-level security, and all video and audio coming from your Canary is immediately encrypted before being sent to the Canary cloud.

    Looking forward to making Canary even better.

    Zach

    • Doug Loader

      Hi Zach, thanks for dropping in! It’s great to hear about the updates and thanks for making an awesome product.

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