Products + Test-drives

Is home security system Canary worth a try?

By Lucy Cohen Blatter | August 18, 2015 - 11:59AM

If you've taken the subway over the last few months, you may have noticed ads for the wireless security system Canary. In the name of satisfying my commute-induced curiosity (and keeping our apartments secure), and given the hard urban-living sell, I gave it a test drive to see whether the system is truly a worthy addition to a New York City apartment. Here's what I found:

Cost: A single device, which is sleek and modern — in other words, easy on the eyes — and comes in white, black or grey, costs around $250. (Full disclosure: Canary provided the device free of charge to BrickUnderground for a test-drive.)

Set up: Even for someone who's a bit tech-phobic (I tend to leave the technology set-ups to my husband), this was pretty easy. Between the  app download and the device and wi-fi hookup, the process took about 20 minutes  total. You need an empty outlet, though, to plug in the device, and the only free space I could find was on my kitchen counter—not the best location, obviously, but for the purposes of a test-run, it had to do.

Once connected to the wall and my wi-fi,I could immediately view a live, wide-angle shot of the room (though there's a delay of several seconds). I could also see the temperature, humidity and air quality on the home page (see photo below).

How it works: Canary tracks air quality, motion, temperature and sound. You'll get notifications when the device detects activity. All videos of detected activity are saved to your "timeline."

From the Canary app's home screen, you can tap to view your live video feed or swipe up to see the timeline of past recordings. You'll have access to events from the last 12 hours and up to five bookmarked videos on the Canary cloud for free. Then there are payment plans: For $4.99 per month/$49 per year, you'll get two-day timelines, 25 video bookmarks and unlimited video downloads; for $9.99 per month/$99 per year, you'll get 7-day timelines, 100 video bookmarks and unlimited video downloads and for $29.99 per month/$299 per year, you'll get 30-day timelines, unlimited, video bookmarks and unlimited video downloads.

There are three modes: Disarmed, Armed and Privacy.  When the phone is "armed," you'll receive real-time alerts if there's a change in activity. When it's "disarmed," Canary is recording events and saving them to your timeline, but it's not constantly sending you alerts.

In Privacy Mode , the camera and microphone are shut off completely, and nothing is being recorded, monitored, or sent to cloud.

You can manually change from disarm to arm or  you can set it to auto-mode switching and set it to arm when you leave and disarm when you come back home.

Pros and cons: It's been fun to keep an eye on what happens in my home, especially since I have young children and a babysitter who stays home with them while I work. In fact, when I found myself missing them while at work, I'd go into my timeline to see them eating lunch or playing. It was also doing double-duty as a "nanny cam" (though I did warn my babysitter that it was on).

The video quality is also really crisp, even in "night vision" and the sound quality is good, too. But the device doesn't pan or tilt, which means your view of the room is limited to a certain (not huge) area.

The biggest downside we noticed was just how sensitive the thing is. We received alerts (within the app) every time the device detected activity, which was basically every time anyone walked into the kitchen. Considering there are often people in my apartment when I'm not there, this started to get annoying, and I found myself ignoring the alerts—not so great had there been a real emergency. 

I got a lot of these notifications in my timeline. At left: Me, just making breakfast, but apparently setting off suspicions.

Apparently, though, it just takes time for the Canary device to adapt to the usual comings and goings and people who frequent the place (tagging them helps that, but that can be a time-consuming process). That means theoretically there will be fewer false alarms the more you use it.

Also, at some point I accidentally set off the emergency alarm (a piercing 90-decibel sound), scaring the bejesus out of everyone at home. I have no idea how I did it (or even that I did it until my babysitter told me). Apparently it turned off after 30 seconds.

Another problem I found: You can contact local emergency services or set off the alarm with the touch of a button, but you have to do that yourself. To me, it would make sense if these things happened automatically (because if you went out of range or somehow missed the alert, you might be too late). Of course, considering how much the device alerted me the last couple of days, there could be some seriously annoying false alarms.

Also if the device gets unplugged, it won't work, so if a burglar saw the device they could simply unplug it.

Is it worth it?  For me, I think this is actually better as a nanny cam/baby monitor/way to keep an eye on what's going on at home when you're not there and you've got kids or pets.

Living in a doorman building, I don't worry too much about security — maybe I'm naive — so if you're in a non-doorman building, this may be a plus. My friend, who owns a second home in the Catskills, suspects someone may be breaking into her garage when she's not there (which is a lot of the time), so I've suggested the machine to her.

Bottom line: Despite all the aforementioned issues, Canary is worth a look especially for second homes or if you're away from your non-doorman apartment building a lot and want to be able to check in.


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