MY FIRST 30 DAYS WITH CANARY

WHAT IT IS

Canary falls into a growing category of connected, smart products. While the category is still nascent, I believe the opportunity is huge provided companies can agree on communication standards, but that’s a topic for another post.

In terms of Canary's consumer value prop, the company aims to democratize home security. Occupying a footprint that is slightly larger than a soda can, the Canary device is packed with sensors that capture motion, temperature, humidity, and air quality. While the amount of technology packed into Canary is impressive, what shouldn’t be discounted is the fact that Canary has also achieved a truly portable home security solution (with no mounting required).

As is common in this emerging category, the product is paired with a service (an optional, paid cloud recording service lets you save clips for varying amounts of time), and a companion app (currently supporting iOS and Android). When a potential threat is detected, Canary enables you to respond to threats by activating an alarm, helping you place an emergency call within the companion app or you can dismiss the threat. Canary’s functionality and promise can be best fulfilled if you help it learn by tagging activities upon receiving/reviewing notifications. 

 

PROS

  • Lots of tech in a small package
  • Discrete
  • Great audio and video quality
  • "Smart" capabilities enhance basic utility and provide long-term value
  • Highly portable

CONS

  • Customer support could be improved via FAQs
  • Service uptime experienced quite a few hiccups during initial period
  • Too many manual reboots required during initial period
  • Level of detail provided in tracked metrics aren't all that useful in their current incarnation
 

HOW IT WORKS

SETUP

For me, setting up Canary was a mostly easy task. Download the Canary app, plug in the Canary device, and follow the directions within the app to connect to your network (can connect either via Wifi or Ethernet cable).

After establishing a connection, the app will need to talk to Canary and this requires connecting the included auxiliary cable from the Canary device to your smartphone’s headphone jack (iOS and Android supported today). This is where things went frustratingly wrong for me.

After you plug in the cable, you are prompted to make sure the volume is turned up to 100% (which I did). The devices begin “talking” to each other and in the app, you see a progress meter. I would get to 33%-40% complete and then the progress would stall and eventually time out. After spending 45 minutes trying to troubleshoot on my own (there weren’t many questions listed on the FAQs), I finally emailed support and the next morning I got a reply. It turns out the culprit was the volume limiting setting in my iPhone. Once turned off, l was able to complete setup and in minutes my Canary was 100% functional. I don’t know how many others have volume limiting enabled on their iPhone, but I wish this small but (for me) significant detail had been included somewhere (either on the FAQs or in the app). 

USE

I’ve been using Canary for the past 30 some odd days and it has performed well for the most part. As with any fledgling product, there have been some bumps in the road, notably when I first started using the service (and at setup, as already noted). When I first started using Canary, I was manually rebooting the unit weekly as I experienced semi regular issues with the unit becoming unresponsive to arming/disarming within the app. Instead of performing the desired action, I’d get an error telling me Canary was offline. I’d either be stuck with Canary remaining armed or not being able to arm itself when I left home if I didn't reboot. However, since a firmware update two weeks ago, I’m happy to report things have been noticeably snappier and more reliable.

One of Canary’s tenants is that it will learn the “normal rhythms of your home,” resulting in fewer false alarms (read: annoying notifications every time your pet walks in the viewing area). For these first 30 days, I’ve resisted using the learning feature preferring to just see how much activity Canary picks up. I can safely say, it’s been active. When Canary detects movement, it notifies you in the app and you can view the corresponding video clip.

Apart from logging the daily rhythm of my household, I’ve also explicitly set out to test out Canary’s capabilities as a home security device. Playing the role of intruder, I was curious how quickly Canary would notify me and how quickly I could respond to this undesirable situation. In my experience, there is a lag of about 10 seconds between when I entered a room and when I got an alert from Canary. And of course, loading and viewing the clip causes a further few seconds delay. If you want to advance the clip, you can drag the slider forward or back and generally the app is fairly responsive at resuming playback, with minor delays usually (3-5 seconds over an LTE connection). I'm guessing the delays are due to the reliance on the cloud (vs. direct IP streaming) but if this is to be a true home security solution, I’d like to see the response time improved. In a smash and grab situation, I bet thieves could be in and out in 10-15 seconds and thus sounding an alarm isn't going to scare anyone but my guard dog. 

The Canary app includes geofencing parameters that automatically arms/disarms itself, which is useful and overcomes a common scenario among users of traditional home security systems – at a certain point, some users simply stop using their systems. According to Canary’s Indiegogo site, they noted 2/3 of those with security systems don’t regularly turn them on. Not having to think about this step ensures the system will continue to be used (when its presence fades into the background) and more importantly, it will fulfill its purpose: keeping us safe(r).

But what about video quality? I can confidently say the quality of the video is great. The wide angle HD camera captures clear video (and the microphone likewise picks up clear audio), but honestly, I consider video quality table stakes. I’ve got both the GoPro Hero 4 and Dropcam, which sport great video quality, so my bar is high. Canary employed infrared LED lights to help it see in the dark and the quality is quite good. My only experience with cameras that incorporate night vision is my Dropcam, and they’re close, quality wise.

As mentioned, Canary is packed with sensors to measure air temperature, humidity, and quality. The temperature has been interesting but I admit I’m not sure how to take advantage of humidity and air quality readings. Canary’s website claims, “ensure your home maintains a healthy humidity,” yet I’m not sure what a normal humidity range should be so I don’t know if the humidity in my house is good or bad. Regarding air quality, Canary’s website also tells me I will be able to “understand the quality of the air you breathe.” Presently, Canary will visually tell me the room’s quality via a stoplighting cue (red/yellow/green color) but what I would love to know is what is causing poor air quality – e.g., carbon monoxide. Additionally, since this is supposed to be a smart device, I’d love it if it would display a trend line showing historical values or even better, a historical avg. based on time of day. And lastly, I’d love to be able to see an expanded history (up to a month, and a year over year comparison). This seems like a pretty basic feature to me. I hope this feature is coming, since an image on Canary’s Indiegogo site detailed this ability.

 

VERDICT

Canary completed a wildly successful crowd sourcing campaign (raising $1,961,663 or 1962% above its stated goal of $100,000), and in large part, the company has delivered a great v1 product. Canary’s value prop hits the sweet spot balancing utility, ease of use (minus my setup issue), and solid design to help combat problems with traditional systems. It’s a minimally invasive, portable solution sure to delight home owners and renters alike. If the team can continue to improve the experience and add features, there is plenty of upside ahead.

Should you get one? If you’re in the market for a home security solution, it certainly deserves your consideration. For one, it’s a great alternative to the popular Dropcam because it doesn’t scream, “I’m a camera and I’m recording you.” Canary also includes an alarm, which is handy (I could yell at an intruder using Dropcam's two way microphone option, but there is no alarm). It’s also a highly portable solution that should appeal to renters or anyone that can’t install a traditional system. Canary is also great for anyone looking for minimal installation/setup (i.e. not interested in mounting sensors on every window, door, etc.). Lastly, the Canary app supports multiple devices, which is great if you have multiple entrances to your place of residence. I hope to report back on how this works soon (as I think I'll be buying a second one). I'll also update this post in another 30 or so days. I'm going to spend this time actively tagging activities to see how well Canary learns and I'll share that with you.

Where to buy: http://store.canary.is/

Price: $249

Color options: white / black / silver

 

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT

  • Add support for more viewports – web, tablet
  • Enable expanded history and implement trendlines
  • Better educate consumers on optimal humidity (give ranges) and isolate what is causing poor air quality
  • Improve time between notifications, video playback, and user response (sound alarm, emergency call, dismiss)
  • Improve FAQ section/support area