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Canary review: A sophisticated home-security system packed inside a camera

Michael Brown | June 11, 2015
The Canary I've finally had a chance to review isn't as sophisticated as the Canary I wrote about when its manufacturer was crowdfunding its development. That doesn't mean it's a bad product--it has a strong price/performance ratio for a $249 home-security system--it just means its developer's ambition exceeded its grasp in a few key areas. And in some other areas, the developer wasn't ambitious enough.

Canary automatically disarms itself when you return home, but it will continue to record video clips when its motion detector is tripped. This would be useful if someone breaks in while you're home, except that it doesn't send anyone an alert. If you don't like the idea of Canary recording clips of you walking around your home naked, you can put the system into Private mode and it won't record anything.

Canary's motion sensor is very sensitive. My cat triggered it while walking past even though the Canary was 15 feet away. Shifts in ambient lighting that caused its infrared night vision kick in were another common source of false alarms. You can tag such clips with categories such as "pet movement," "sunlight," or "moving fan" to help the Canary filter such clips. This won't reduce the number of false alarms, but at least the messages won't be so, uh, alarming. If it's just your cat on the prowl, for example, all similar clips in the future will be labeled with "pet movement detected...."

Home health monitoring

Canary will also evaluate the health of your home's environment, as measured by its temperature, humidity, and air quality. The temperature measurements are a good way to monitor the efficiency of your HVAC system; I was happy to discover that mine was able to keep the interior temperature to within one degree of the thermostat's target even though it was 103 outside on the day that I checked it. The Canary's humidity sensor is very sensitive, recording a slight spike when I took a shower in the morning, even though my bathroom ceiling fan was turned on. Consistently high humidity inside your home could lead to mold growth. Knowing you have such an issue, you could defend against it by deploying a dehumidifier.

I'm not as sure what to make of the "air quality" measurements, though. Canary says its device can detect indoor air pollutants including carbon monoxide, methane, ethanol, cigarette smoke, and cooking odors, but its reporting tool doesn't actually identify any of that. It just shows a running line graph with three ranges: Normal, Abnormal, and Very Abnormal.

Canary says its device will "immediately notify you of any abrupt changes in your home." A sudden increase in humidity, for instance, could indicate a burst water line. A temperature spike could mean that there's a fire. A malfunctioning furnace might lead to a spike in the amount of carbon monoxide in the air. Most homes have legally mandated sensors for the latter emergencies, but you won't hear those alarms if you're not home. It would be great if Canary, like the Leeo Smart Night Light, used its onboard microphone to listen for those sounds and sent you alerts if they're triggered.


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