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Canary smart camera review: Hands on with the early warning system

The Good

  • No subscription required
  • Stylish casing
  • Easy set up

The Bad

  • Bulky dimemsions
  • Over-sensitive
4

We review Canary, the latest smart security camera to enter the ever-crowded Internet of Things fray. 

Smashing its Indiegogo crowdfunding target back in 2013, the Canary is easy on the eye and promises an even easier set-up process. 

At the moment, it’s very much a standalone security service. Unlike NestCam and the SwannOne range, it’s not being sold as part of a modular smart home system. It promises to just do security and do security very well. Here’s how we got on. 

Canary: What is it and what’s the fuss?

Canary is a smart security camera that can be remotely controlled from your phone. 

The name comes from the proverbial ‘canary in the coalmine’ that warned tunnelers of danger – the idea is that this Canary will sit in your home and warn you of intruders – or simply let you know when everyone’s getting home from work. 

Like many devices of its ilk, the Canary records HD video in the daytime and at night. It’s festooned with an array of sensors which promise a comprehensive home security solution, firing notifications and short video clips straight to your phone. 

A key selling point of the Canary is that there’s no subscriptions required to use the service; you can record and store up to five video clips without having to pay any more. 

Canary’s makers promise that a string of software updates will make it even smarter; the idea is that eventually it’ll learn to adapt itself to your daily routines and get better at keeping an eye out for anomalies. 

Design: Is it a kettle? Is it an air freshener? 

The Canary is a sleek, almost cylindrical object that’s dominated by a glossy black plastic strip on the front; this houses the camera along with a multitude of sensors which measure things like room temperature, humidity and air quality. 

We like its nondescript style; it doesn’t really look like a security camera. Visually, it’s got more in common with a coffee machine, a shampoo bottle or one of those presentation cardboard tubes that bottles of whisky come in. 

Compared to other cameras on the market, the Canary is a chunky mother. Measuring a towering six inches, it cuts an imposing figure. 

The size combined with the absence of any flexible stands or mounts could mean that getting it into a position that best commands the best view of a room or hallway could be tricky.

Set up and getting started: Experiment with positions 

Much like Nest Labs’s NestCam, Canary has gone out of its way to make the set-up process of its security camera as effortless as possible.

Right now, you can only set up Canary with an iOS or Android device. There are plans for a desktop player in the pipeline, but at the time of writing this wasn’t ready for us to tinker with, so we’ll have to update that as and when it’s live.  

But before you download any apps, you’ll need to pick a spot for your Canary. Ideally, you’ll want to be able to put it somewhere where it can get the best possible view of the room you’re setting it up in. Pro tip: If your TV screen is in the Canary’s field of vision it’ll detect motion there, so maybe don’t do this. 

You’ve got the option of connecting it to your router via Ethernet or WiFi. The latter option obviously means you’ve got a bit more freedom in terms of where you can install this in your house, but wherever you’re setting up, you’ll need to think about mains power. 

The supplied micro USB-USB cable is a metre long. As most folks routers are set up close to their front door (an evolutionary hangover of the landline phone era) this is a happy accident if you want a security unit chiefly for keeping tabs on who’s coming and going. But if you want to place the Canary somewhere higher up, you’re going to need a bigger boat longer cable. 

Once all the plugging in is done, your Canary will power up and emit a bright green glow from its base. With your phone or tablet connected to the same network, open the Canary app and get cracking with the set-up process. 

This is a simple case of following the simple on-screen instructions, picking which WiFi network to connect to and creating your Canary profile. 

Profile your family

Canary will eventually start to build up ‘digital signatures’ of family members, recognising faces, gait, posture…

Like Tado’s smart heating system, Canary uses geolocation info to work out when you’re ‘home’ and once it’s satisfied that you are, it’ll stop jabbing your phone’s notif bar to tell you something you already know.

You do get a weird kind of existential brainwreck when you get a notification on your phone telling you you’re home, when you’re home. This doesn’t happen very often at all to be fair, but when it does it’s a little strange. 

As well as making a profile for yourself, you can also invite everyone you’re living with to make a profile too. In the settings menu there’s an option to invite people. This will see a template email with app links fired out to the recipient. They can then install the relevant app (iOS or Android) and get access to the same live camera feed as you.

Basically, this means you can’t ever live with anyone who’s got a Windows Phone. 

When you are out and about, the app gives you a window into your home by serving up a real-time video feed. As well as this, you can review a timeline of previous events throughout the day and find out when people got in from work and school. 

Disarmed and dangerous

By default, as soon as Canary recognises that one of the profiled family members is home, it’ll automatically switch to ‘Privacy’ mode. This will kill the camera and microphone completely, so you won’t have to worry about it recording you when you’re settling down to have dinner or watching TV. 

This is also useful for folks who want to check in on when the kids are back; if Canary has detected their presence, you’ll see a little house symbol next to their name on the app’s main page.

As well as ‘Privacy’ mode, there’s ‘Disarmed,’ which will basically see any motion trigger a recording, but you won’t get a notification about it on your phone. ‘Armed’ is full-on, notify-me-about-everything mode. 

To give folks at home an at-a-glance idea of its status, the LED at the Canary’s base will glow either green or yellow or switch itself off, depending on its state of readiness. 

If you want to override any of automatically toggled modes, you can manually switch between Armed, Disarmed and Privacy at will. Just be aware of the fact that others who’ve got access to the app can do the same and have the ability to rescind your commands too. 

  

An overly-sensitive soul

Learning what these different modes do is crucial to getting the most of the Canary, because it’s more sensitive than a teenage Morrissey fan. 

In the fully Armed mode, it seems like literally anything will set it off, passing car headlights, the shadows of trees, molecules subtly shifting in the air, you name it. Thankfully, update that’ll let you roll back the sensitivity of this jumpy guard dog is in the pipeline. 

Until then, there is a feature that’ll let you tag clips the Canary records with things like ‘pet movement’, ‘moving fan’ and ‘motion outside’, so you can train it to ignore non-essential motion. Of course, if you feel that life’s too short to spend your evenings tagging random false positives, you can just ignore this.  

How good is the video quality on Canary?

The Canary’s camera unit is capable of recording 1080p Full HD video, boasts a 147 degree viewing angle and thanks to a pair of infrared LED clusters and an ambient light reader, it can shoot video at night too. 

Whether your phone’s screen is big enough to properly display this is irrelevant – the app shrinks live feeds down to a small window, although if you download the files for offline playback, you should be able to watch clips in landscape orientation through your regular video playing app. 

While there’s currently no desktop player, you can watch clips on your laptop or monitor if you download files from Canary’s cloud servers to your phone and then export them to your desktop. You can easily do this in the app by opening a video on the timeline, tapping the menu icon and hitting the download option. It’ll then start processing the clip and it’ll notify you once it’s ready for consumption. 

For some reason, despite the Canary’s spec sheet boasting 1080p Full HD, the clips we exported to our desktops via the mobile apps were 720p HD. Whether this is due to the processing down-res the footage to 720p is unclear. There’s no settings within the app that’ll let you change video quality either. 

The Canary sports two clusters of infra-red sensors which imbue it with night-vision powers. You can see here how good it actually is at proving clear and detailed video when the lights are off. It’s very quick to switch between day and night mode as well. In fact, it’s near instantaneous. 

While the headlights of a passing car can sometimes trigger an unwanted notification, the Canary is clever enough to not mistake this for your ceiling lights and mistakenly switch back to day mode. 

 

Canary’s extra security services: Call the cops, sound the alarm 

On top of the excellent night vision, Canary’s got a couple of extra theif-busting tricks up its sleeve. 

The first of these is a 90dB siren. If you’re away and Canary tells you there’s some unwanted intruders in your home, you can trigger this from your phone. There’s a three second countdown before the Canary blasts out an incredibly loud and annoying siren. Trust us when we say it’s incredibly loud and annoying. 

This is ideal if you want to scare any burglars away, but if you’d rather try to get them caught by the fuzz, you can hit the emergency call button instead. This is essentially a shortcut to your phone’s dialler and basically is like having 999 on speed dial – although the settings let you enter whatever numbers you like. 

Feel like checking the temperature?

On top of all of the security features, Canary’s got a side line in creatre comforts. The ‘HomeHealth’ page will give you temperature as well as air quality and humidity readings. 

Sadly as there’s no way to pair Canary with things like Nest Protect or Honeywell’s Evohome via a third party platform like IFTTT (If This Then That) and there’s no plans to change this either. Support for Wink in North America is in the pipeline, which is good to know, but doesn’t exactly help buyers here in the UK. 

How much data will Canary chew up?

The Canary site doesn’t detail how bandwidth-hungry those HD video uploads are, making it hard to say. We tested our review unit out on an unlimited 100Mbps broadband service, so we’re unable to tell how folks on capped data plans might be affected. 

You’ll need an upload speed of at least 1Mbps to use the service, so if you’re on a crusty old ADSL package with a 10 or 40GB cap, this is probably not for you. 

Spokespeople for Canary were unable to give us a full breakdown like the one that’s available on Nest’s site, but we were told that typical usage will range from 1-4GB of data, depending on what modes you keep the device on. 

To be honest, we wouldn’t recommend that anyone sign up for a capped broadband plan in this day and age anyway, but if you really have no choice, it’d pay to be sparing with your uploads. 

How much is a Canary subscription?

As standard you can review clips recorded over the last 12 hours on your phone. If you want to be able to download clips for offline archiving, then you’ll need to sign up for one of the additional payment plans. 

An entry-level 2-day plan extends the basic timeline to 48 hours. For those who want to take a longer glance back into the past, there’s more expensive 7-day and 30-day plans. You’ve got the option of paying for a year up front or paying monthly, depending on how you think you’ll use it. 

Here’s how the Canary pricing structure breaks down (converted from US prices):

  Monthly Annual
Standard Free Free
2-day £3.24 £32
7-day £6.45 £64
30-day £19.64 £194

Canary verdict: Living room for improvement

The Canary is a solid product which is stylish, sturdy and very easy to set up and get to grips with. 

The reliance on GPS information, auto-mode switching and tagging to nix false positives is a little annoying at first, but doesn’t take long to get used to. Future updates promise to see the Canary get smarter and make better use of the data it collects. 

It’s encouraging that since Canary has launched in the UK, we’re already seeing what we hope is the first of many updates hit the platform. 

Other areas for improvement are the apps – it can often take several seconds for the live video feed to load over WiFi on. Video quality could be better too. We were disappointed to see that backup video clips were only available in 720p HD and hope that we’ll get to capture moments in glorious Full HD in the future. 

Specification

CamerasHD camera
Night visionYes
Motion sensorsYes
Dimensions152.4x76.2x76.2mm
Weight396 grams
Storagen/a
Remote back upYes - up to 5 videos/unlimited
ConnectivityWiFi, Ethernet
Mobile appiOS, Android

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