Review: Netatmo Weather Station and Security

As attention shifts to security and the environment, Stephen Dawson looks at Netatmo’s latest offering in the weather monitoring and integrated security spaces.

These Netatmo devices are a little out of left field for me. They aren’t for audio, professional or consumer. Nor for video, either. Instead, they’re for people who want to keep an eye on their environment. In this case, the environment is the local weather, and people in your immediate neighbourhood.

What are they?

We have two devices here from Netatmo. The first is a weather station – it works both indoors and outdoors. The second is an outdoor security camera. Both are designed as sensors, if you will. You use apps on a smart phone to see that data from the weather station and the video feed (and alerts) from the camera.

It seems that these devices have been around for a while. I noticed both cartons are copyright marked for 2016. And both specify that they are compatible with iPhones from 4 to 6 (the weather station) or 4s to 6s (the camera), and with Android 4.0 or 4.3 (weather/camera). Or later. The weather station is even compatible with the late, unlamented Windows Phone. Is that a problem? It speaks more to me of a mature product that doesn’t need altering.

Both also have the tagline on the box: ‘Created by Netatmo in France, Made in China’.

The Netatmo Weather Station has two main parts. Both are vertical aluminium cylinders around 46mm in diameter. One is designed for outdoors. It stands about 107mm tall and weighs – well, a few tens of grams. It has a slot on the back for affixing to a wall screw. It also comes with a strap for wrapping around a pole, should that be the preferred placement.

This is powered by two AAA batteries (supplied). Because it’s designed for outdoors, the battery compartment is well-sealed with a gasket and two large-headed screws which can be tightened by finger.

The indoors unit looks similar but is 155mm tall. It has a Micro-B USB socket on the back. A wall socket power adaptor is provided.

Both units have a vertical slot on the front which allows air to enter for analysis. The indoor unit measures temperature, humidity, air quality, ventilation and sound level. The outdoor unit measures temperature, humidity, air quality, pressure and, well, ‘weather’.

The security camera is for outdoor work. It incorporates a floodlight and is meant to be affixed solidly to a wall. It keeps an eye on things and sends you alerts via its app when things are awry. Specifically, it recognises the appearance of people, animals and cars and can alert you when they appear. It will also recording the video of these events to an SD card.

Setting Up

As is the way of app-based hardware, documentation is minimal.

I started with the weather station. Its quick start manual showed how to set up the two physical bits. In particular, it made it clear that they should be kept out of direct sunlight. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Professional weather stations are traditionally placed in a ‘Stevenson Screen’, a wooden box that allows airflow but protects the instruments from direct sunlight which would heat them and thereby render temperature measurements invalid.

I installed the Netatmo Weather app and fired it up. It connects to the taller unit first via Bluetooth – it’s all pretty much automated, you just say ‘Yes’ on your phone a few times, then it upgraded the firmware of the unit. It was fast to download it to my phone, but took a good couple of minutes to transfer it to the device via Bluetooth. Then it rebooted the station and went to the Wi-Fi selection page. That’s all standard stuff: choose one of the access points, enter the password. Following that, the app told me to load the batteries in the outdoor unit and install it. Which I did. It seems that the outdoor unit is wirelessly connected to the indoor unit.

I also needed to register with Netatmo through the app. It’s free. And that was it.

The Security station was a bit more complicated because it demands permanent installation outdoors. It also needs to be wired into the 240 volt mains, because it’s not only operating a camera and the necessary communications, but also it runs an LED-based floodlight.

That said, it’s fairly straightforward and the hardware mounting instructions in the included manual are quite clear. It is designed for wall mounting at a heights of between 2.5m and 4m, with the unit angled downwards at an angle of 30º. That gives it the best view and allows it to cast light most effectively from the floodlight. So, you’ll need a ladder and some basic tools. Apparently the unit is supplied with a SD card for recording video. It seemed to be pre-installed. I could find no obvious way into the case to check, nor could I see a slot or tray for holding the thing. Later I found that it was recording, so I’m fairly certain that it’s in there.

Because the security camera is wired in, you will also need an electrician or someone appropriately qualified.

Once you’ve done the hardware, you follow the instructions in the app. It connects briefly to the camera via Bluetooth – so you have to be close to it – and you feed it suitable credentials to log onto your Wi-Fi network. After a few minutes it was up and working.

Later I found that it had upgraded its firmware, recording the fact as an ‘Event’.

Using the Weather Station

The app divides your phone screen in two. The top half is for outside, the bottom for inside. It’s formatted somewhat differently for tablets. It combines data from the sensors with information drawn from one of the online weather information providers, such as AccuWeather. Rather than me explain them all, just check out the screen shots.

Over time the measurements are kept and graphed. Don’t like the data? You can calibrate temperature and CO2 level within the app, if you’ve got suitable (reliable) equipment.

One of the cool things is that the app feeds back your data to its database. Anyone using the app can see the (outside) temperature at your place. You can, of course, switch that off. It looked to me that there were 19 other people scattered around Canberra using the Netatmo Weather Station. My one concern was that their displayed temperatures were all a couple of degrees below mine. It wasn’t clear how often the map was updated.

I wrote that last night, not long after I’d set up the system. I guess there was a settling-in period because by the next day, my outside temperature was well in alignment with the others around here and remained so throughout the day.

You can also purchase two additional gadgets: a rain gauge and an Anemometer (wind speed gauge).

Using the Security camera

I performed a temporary installation, placing the unit on top of my carport, directed towards the back door. A few bricks held it securely in place.

The app shows you an image through the camera in the top of the screen. This is normally just a still, but you can tap the ‘play’ button and it will stream video to the app for about thirty seconds. Meanwhile, whenever the camera is triggered (you can set up the triggers, and the area that is monitored), it records a to the SD card. This is retained until the space is required again at some point in the future.

A list of trigger events is shown in the bottom half of the screen. Tap on one of these and you’ll be shown the video of the event. You can also download the video of an event to your phone. The video lands in a new Security folder within your standard Download folder. It uses MP4 and was compatible with all the video players on my phone. A one-minute long clip was 24MB in size. The resolution was 1,920 by 1,080 pixels.

A couple of words of caution. First, be careful where you put the camera and where you point it. I had it so that a window, some six metres away, was in its ambit. It triggered a number of times because my wife went into the room and it spotted her through the window.

Second, you need a fast Internet connection. It seems that when you monitor the live stream on your phone, or play back something recorded by the camera on its SD card, it goes via the Netatmo servers out there somewhere in cloud land. That means the video goes from the camera to the cloud, then gets bounced back to your device. That means a delay.

How long? This is probably the last review I’ll do before NBN lands in my area. The green cables are going in up the street as I type. But for the moment, my download speeds are usually around 5.5Mbps and upload is around 0.9Mbps. So for me the lag was considerable. Typically it was ten to twelve seconds. Don’t expect real-time monitoring on ADSL.

Also, the system is smart enough to recognise the slow connection, so it reduced the video to 360p resolution, sometimes flicking up to 720p. But if you download a file to your device, it is at original resolution – 1080p.

When I was away from home, I generally got a better resolution, usually up to 1080p after a few seconds. We live in a weird world where cellular data is often faster than wired.

You can sign up to use the well-known cloud service Dropbox for backup of your videos. I don’t use Dropbox so I didn’t check this out. If

Conclusion

The Netatmo Weather Station and Security were easy to set up, easy to use and highly effective. With NBN the Security unit ought to be even better. What surprised me was, as I drew near the end of writing these reviews, were the surprisingly low prices of them.

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