Netatmo Welcome review:

Netatmo's cam faces the future, for better and for worse

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

2 stars 3 user reviews

The Good The Netatmo Welcome successfully implements facial recognition in a consumer product for the first time. It has cleverly customizable notifications based around that feature and the specs to keep up with the competition as a connected camera.

The Bad In practice, it doesn't keep up with the competition as a webcam or a security cam. The camera is slow at everything. The live feed lags, the notifications are delayed, and it takes awhile to learn faces.

The Bottom Line Netatmo still needs work, but it breaks new ground with facial recognition and shows enough prowess with that feature to be worth a look for anyone interested in cutting edge camera tech.

7.0 Overall
  • Features 7.0
  • Usability 8.0
  • Design 7.0
  • Performance 6.0

For me, the word "surveillance" conjures Orwellian images of Big Brother. The line between security and privacy can certainly be a blurry one. The Netatmo Welcome aims to keep both intact by getting to know you and your family, and letting you go about your business while it keeps watch for signs of strangers. A $200 connected camera with built-in face recognition, the Netatmo Welcome can keep track of who it's seen, and you can customize alerts based on the person triggering them.

The Welcome also packs in an appealing list of specs and features. All data is stored locally, for free, on an 8GB SD card included in the package. You can watch a live stream in full HD and it can sense motion anywhere in its 130 degree field of view, even at night via its infrared night vision.

Except, at $200, it's competing with the best of the best in terms of connected cams between the Nest Cam and Piper , and it doesn't quite stack up in terms of responsiveness, breadth of features, or options to connect it to a larger smart home. In terms of security, it's even bested by free options like Manything and Salient Eye . Working facial recognition puts the Netatmo Welcome in a league of its own, but I'm not ready to call that league the majors.

Setup and design

If you're familiar with Netatmo's previous product, the Netatmo Urban Weather Station , you'll find the look of the Welcome quite familiar. Like those environmental sensors, the cam is a tall thin cylinder with an inoffensive color that my colleague Tyler Lizenby tells me is called "Champagne Gold." He said it reminded him of a popular finish on Stratocaster guitars.

You can purchase the Netatmo online for $200 from Amazon, Home Depot, Best Buy, and the Netatmo website. It's currently available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk for £200. Netatmo assured me the Welcome is on its way to Australia in the near future, but you won't be able to purchase it there quite yet. The American price converts to about AU$262.

The Welcome doesn't stick out as a security cam. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The top and bottom of the Welcome accent the gold with white, and a black strip runs down the middle of the cylinder. At the top of the strip, the camera's lens bubbles out slightly, but as a whole, the device doesn't look much like a camera. It's inoffensive and pleasant, except at night, when a glowing red eye flips on as the camera switches to night vision.

In an otherwise dark room, I found Netatmo's bright red eye quite creepy. During the day, you can forget the Welcome is watching you. At night, you might not.

Except at night. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

On the back of the device, you'll find a slot for your micro SD card. It comes with an 8GB card installed, but you can push it in and it'll pop out if you want to swap in a larger card or a fresh one. Just know that when you do that, you swap out everything it's learned as well. So be prepared to reteach your camera who's who if you ever want to replace the memory.

You'll also plug in the power cable or Ethernet cord on the back of the device, or you can attach it to your computer with the included USB cable. Since it's not battery powered, you'll have to plug it in somewhere. It does include Wi-Fi, so the Ethernet port is just there if you prefer a wired connection.

You'll need to find a spot to plug in your Netatmo where it can watch your front door. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Getting Netatmo setup on your Wi-Fi is quick and painless. Plug it into the wall and you can use the Welcome app on your iPhone or Android device to go through the process. Plug it into your computer and you can use the Web interface on any common browser.

On the computer, you need to create a Netatmo account, then use the Web interface to identify your Wi-Fi network, enter your password if you have one, and you're done. You'll give a name to both the camera and the location for the camera, then Netatmo advises moving it to a wall outlet and pointing it to at your door.

The Web app functionality is limited. I can't teach the system that nighttime Tyler on the left is the same person as daytime Tyler on the right. Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Once you're up and running, the computer interface is quite a bit more limited than the Welcome's app counterpart. You can watch a live feed, watch and download any event recordings, and see who's home and who's away. To train the system and customize alerts, you'll need to use the app.

With the app set up, you'll plug it in and flip your Welcome upside down. After a few seconds, you'll see a blue light flashing, and the Welcome will pair with your device's Bluetooth and use that signal to find available networks. Select the signal you want, flip it right-side up, and the camera will start monitoring.

The app walks you through the setup process with pics. Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Expect it to take up to a minute after the signal starts to get a live feed, but that's just on the initial setup. After that, I found the app quite responsive. I tested the Welcome both at my home and at the office. Switching back and forth required me to hit "Install a new Welcome camera" in the Settings menu. It's a little counterintuitive, and it can only remember one network at a time, but once I knew where to go to start the process, it was just as quick getting it set up in a new location.

Moving the camera around the office was easy enough. Unplugging it and plugging it back in didn't cause me to lose any settings, or force me to set it up on Wi-Fi again. Though ideally, you won't need to move the Welcome much once you get it set up.

Finding a perfect location for it might be tricky, depending on your home setup. It's meant to watch your door. Netatmo's instructions specifically warn against pointing it out a window or anywhere with too strong a backlight. You can't attach Netatmo to a wall, so you'll need to find flat surface for it where it can reach a plug and see the door without too much interference from backlight. Here's where the pleasant design proves a little inflexible.

Be selective about where you place Netatmo. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

As it runs, Netatmo also gets a little warm to the touch. The instructions mention this, and reassure you that it's normal and won't ever get hot enough to cause damage. I found this to be true. I left it running for more than a week straight. It'd get pretty warm after just a couple of hours, then would level off. It's disconcerting, but not a safety issue.

Features

Get the camera pointed the right way, and you can watch the live feed and dive into Netatmo's many useful features. The camera films constantly, and records when it senses motion or sees a face. The 8GB card can supposedly hold up to 100 clips at a time, and will roll out the old ones when it starts getting full.

The Welcome has nominal cloud storage. Nothing is kept there except a single screen capture of each event, so you can get an idea of what happened even before hitting play. It's a fine approach, as Netatmo avoids the fees of competitors like the Nest Cam and Arcsoft . It's also meant to add to your privacy. Footage of your family is kept locally, for you and yours only.

If you want to keep a clip, you can easily download it to whatever device you're using. It's a nice extra touch that will make it easy to save and share any adorable or funny moments the camera captures.

You can watch the footage in full HD. The Welcome supports up to 1080p video, but I let the resolution adjust automatically based on my signal speed, and it would often take a few seconds at relatively low definition to catch up and show me a clear picture. Even then, in supposedly full HD, it never looked quite as good as the images from the Nest Cam.

The Welcome matches the Nest Cam with a 130-degree field of view, and night vision. Though it rounds out its feature list with a motion sensor, it falls short of the field by not having audio alerts or two-way audio.

Netatmo Welcome ArcSoft Simplicam Nest Cam Piper Samsung SmartCam HD Pro
Price $200 $150 $200 $200 $190
Color Gold Black Black White White
Field of view 130 degrees 107 degrees 130 degrees 180 degrees 128 degrees
Video Quality 1,920x1,080 1,280x720 1,920x1,080 1,920x1,080 1,920x1,080
Cloud Storage Nominal, only event snapshots kept in the cloud Yes, starts at $5/month or $50/year for 1 day Yes, starts at $10/month or $99/year for 10 days Yes, saves up to 1,000 clips at no extra cost No
Local Storage Yes, 8GB SD Card included No No No Yes, SD Card
Glass Lens Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Night Vision Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Mobile App Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOS
Web App Yes, limited Yes Yes Yes Yes
2-way audio No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Motion and sound alerts Yes - Motion, No - Sound, and Facial Recognition Yes, and face recognition with cloud subscription Yes Yes Yes
Protocol integration No No No Yes, Z-Wave No

The Netatmo Welcome also falls short of the Nest Cam and Piper as a building block of a larger smart home, at least for now. Piper doubles as a Z-Wave hub, and can talk with any accessories that uses that signal protocol. The Nest Cam can talk with the Nest Thermostat and since Nest is owned by Google, it might be a part of Google's recently announced larger smart home centered around Brillo.

For now, Netatmo stands alone. You even need a separate app for the Netatmo Weather Station and the Netatmo Thermostat. Eventually, the company hopes to integrate the three, and in the near future, the Welcome will get a sizable amount of friends thanks to IFTTT.

According to a company representative, the Welcome will have its own IFTTT channel starting in September, so your options for wider smart home integration will suddenly become plentiful.

And on the real selling point of the camera, the facial recognition, Netatmo separates itself from the competition in a good way.

Facial recognition

We have seen facial recognition on a connected camera before. The Arcsoft Simplicam has it, though it was in a beta stage when we reviewed it, and it definitely still felt like a prototype. You'd stand in front of it and turn to each side -- mug-shot-style -- so it could map your face, then it could supposedly recognize you from strangers. Except, it would get mixed up readily. We have a couple of bearded males in our CNET Appliances office, and the Simplicam would frequently confuse one for the next.

Netatmo takes an entirely different approach to facial recognition. For one, you don't start off your profile with a mugshot. After it's plugged in, it'll automatically start looking for faces. You can stand in front of the camera for awhile if you'd like -- that'll probably help it get to know you faster -- or you can just point it at the door and go about your business.

The question mark means Netatmo didn't recognize me. Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Once it finds faces, you'll see a snapshot pop up with a question mark next to it. You can see the snapshot on the computer interface or the app, but you can only teach the system about the face it saw and customize notifications for each profile via the app, so you're better off switching away from your computer at this point and pulling out your phone.

Tap on the face, and you'll be directed to the video clip it recorded of that person. Long-press the face, and you can identify it and start building a profile. For mine, I gave the system my name and let it use its own snapshot as my profile picture. You can swap in a different pic of your own for the profile shot if you prefer.

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