Review: Netatmo Welcome

Security cameras are something that always catch my attention because of the fact that a couple of scumbags broke into my condo and stole a bunch of stuff from my wife and I. Which is why I have security cameras that are accessible via the Internet which trigger when they sense motion. But the camera that I am reviewing is very different. The camera is the Netatmo Welcome and it looks like this:

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It doesn’t look like a camera does it? That’s on purpose as it’s not going to be noticed as a camera by anyone who sees it. Not only that, it’s made of aluminum which dissipates the heat that the camera generates (which is normal according to Netatmo). And before anyone asks, gold is the only color available.

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On the back are are Ethernet port in case you don’t want to or cannot use the camera via WiFi, a USB port that allows you to connect it to your computer to configure it and power it, as well as a slot for a MicroSD card which stores video. It’s 8GB and is included in the package and you can swap it out for a larger one if you want more storage.

As mentioned earlier, the camera operates over Ethernet or WiFi. I chose the latter and setup was almost dead easy:

  1. Download the Netatmo App which is available for iOS or Android phones and tablets. I chose the former.
  2. Plug the power cable into the camera’s USB port and then flip the camera upside down. This makes the camera discoverable via Bluetooth. Eventually, a blue light will appear on the camera.
  3. The Netatmo app will eventually find the camera.
  4. The camera will then find available WiFi networks and instantly pair with the one you choose including getting the required password from your phone.

At this point I should have been done. But it would not connect to Netatmo’s servers despite the fact that I had an Internet connection. It threw an error message that made a cryptic reference to not having VPN access on my router. I eventually figured out what it was talking about (click to enlarge):

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This is a configuration page from my router and the circled area is for VPN (Virtual Private Network) Passthrough. It was off by default on my router. Clearly this camera requires it to connect with Netatmo’s servers. Once enabled, it connected and worked fine. Though I did some reasoning and detective work for me to figure this out. There was nothing in the documentation that pointed to this as a requirement. Netatmo may wish to do something about that to make life easer for their users.

So, once connected and working, the Netatmo Welcome camera has a bunch of features:

  • It has facial recognition so that it can identify individual people once you create a profile for each person. It took about a week of usage before that worked reliably (though it was a bit slow at times) for myself and my wife because it has to “learn” people’s faces. You can accelerate that to a degree by helping it via the app to recognize faces and associating them the right profile. I did note that it learned my wife’s face (who has a lighter skin tone) faster than it recognized mine (which has a much darker skin tone). You can identify up to 16 people and the app can show you the current state of each profile in terms of its ability to recognize an individual.
  • When you leave home, it recognizes that by using the GPS function on your phone to compare the location of your phone in comparison to the location of the Netatmo Welcome. The camera considers anything that goes outside a short distance of the camera’s location as you having left home. Thus there’s nothing that you have to remember to turn on like most other cameras. Alternately, the Netatmo Welcome considers the home to be empty if it hasn’t seen anyone it recognizes for four hours, or you can simply use the app to tell the camera that nobody is home.
  • The camera pushes notifications to your phone in almost real time via their servers when it detects motion, recognizes someone, or sees someone that it doesn’t recognize. I also got alerts when the camera was no longer connected to my network or when it connects back to it. All alerts tended to arrive within 2 minutes of the event happening.
  • It’s built with privacy in mind. All video is recorded to the MicroSD card in the camera and stays there. You can also configure the camera to selectively record people. For example, I had it set not to recored video of my wife and I and it set to record any motion or any unknown faces or any motion that it detects. One advantage of this is that you don’t need to pay to store videos and the like in the cloud like you do with some other camera vendors. Nor do you have to expose your data to a third party.
  • It can sense motion anywhere in its 130 degree field of view, even at night via its infrared night vision which worked quite well in my testing.
  • The Welcome supports up to 1080p video. However, the quality of video that you see depends on the Internet connection the camera’s end as well as the quality of the Internet connection on your mobile device. The better the connection on both ends, the better the video.
  • If the camera is unplugged, it will upload the last image it sees before power runs out to Netatmo. The logic is that if a thief recognized that the Netatmo Welcome is a camera and unplugs it, you get an image of their face.

The one thing that I have to point out is that placement of the camera is a key factor as to how well it works. It’s meant to watch your door and the instructions specifically warn against pointing it out a window or anywhere with too strong a backlight. That was a problem for me as I have a light near the door to my condo that clearly interfered with its ability to recognize faces. I changed the bulb to a softer bulb and the ability for the camera to recognize my face improved somewhat. Another issue is that you can’t attach Netatmo to a wall which means that you’ll need to find flat surface for it where it can reach a plug and see the door. For some users, that might be an issue. But if you can get past that, the use case is pretty compelling. You can know at a glance who is coming and going from your home and it’s largely automatic. That makes it unique when compared to other Internet enabled cameras. I think that will appeal to a broad group of people

The Netatmo Welcome is $219 Canadian and it is available at Best Buy in Canada. If you’re looking for a camera that has a bunch of unique features including privacy, the Netatmo Welcome is worth a look.

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