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

For the first time, facial recognition on a connected cam works, but does the Netatmo Welcome do enough with it to make it worth your while as a security device?

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Andrew Gebhart
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Andrew Gebhart

Senior Producer

Andrew loves writing about cool, futuristic technology. He's reviewed everything from vacuum cleaners to beer brewing robots in pursuit of the perfect smart home. He wants the smart home to make him feel powerful, and it's getting there.

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16 min read

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.

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7.0

Netatmo Welcome

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.

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.

See familiar faces in connected places with the Netatmo Welcome (pictures)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 WelcomeArcSoft SimplicamNest CamPiperSamsung SmartCam HD Pro
Price $200 $150 $200 $200 $190
Color GoldBlackBlackWhiteWhite
Field of view 130 degrees107 degrees130 degrees180 degrees128 degrees
Video Quality 1,920x1,0801,280x7201,920x1,0801,920x1,0801,920x1,080
Cloud Storage Nominal, only event snapshots kept in the cloudYes, starts at $5/month or $50/year for 1 dayYes, starts at $10/month or $99/year for 10 daysYes, saves up to 1,000 clips at no extra costNo
Local Storage Yes, 8GB SD Card includedNoNoNoYes, SD Card
Glass Lens YesYesYesYesYes
Night Vision YesYesYesNoYes
Mobile App Yes, Android and iOSYes, Android and iOSYes, Android and iOSYes, Android and iOSYes, Android and iOS
Web App Yes, limitedYesYesYesYes
2-way audio NoYesYesYesYes
Motion and sound alerts Yes - Motion, No - Sound, and Facial RecognitionYes, and face recognition with cloud subscriptionYesYesYes
Protocol integration NoNoNoYes, Z-WaveNo

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.

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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.

Outside of the basics, you can use the profile edit page to customize notifications for each individual. Select whether or not you want notifications when this person arrives. You can specify a time window for these, so you can get notifications when your spouse gets home most of the time, but not on the occasion he or she has to work past your bedtime.

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Identify unknown faces, and customize profiles on the Netatmo mobile app. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

You can also set when to record each individual. Maybe you don't want any videos of your family's adults, or maybe you want them only on arrival, but not any subsequent times the camera sees them. However, maybe you do want the camera recording whenever it sees the kids, so you can capture any spontaneous precious moments.

Each time the Welcome sees a face, it'll either associate it with one of the existing profiles you've created, or show you a snapshot with a question mark next to it to indicate that the face wasn't recognized. The idea is that you'll teach the system to know your family and friends, then the only unrecognized faces will be strangers.

Early on, expect it to have a lot of trouble recognizing your family. When you long press an unknown face, you'll have three options: identify, forget this person, or not a face. Selecting identify either lets you build a new profile, or tell the system that it was looking at someone it was supposed to know already. I never encountered a situation where the camera took a snapshot of something that wasn't a face, but after I built profiles for myself and my coworkers, I had to match a lot of unknowns to existing profiles for the first couple of days.

The system's up-front about this. Each profile shows a strength meter for how well the camera knows you. If it's only seen you once, expect the profile to show a strength of one out of five bars. As you move in front of the camera at different angles, and during different times of the day, you'll probably need to tell the system repeatedly that the unknown face it just saw was you, but as you do so, and as it sees you in different lights, it'll slowly get better and better.

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You'll have to help Netatmo frequently figure out who's who. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

Netatmo claims it can build a full-strength profile of a person in one to two weeks, depending on whether you linger in front of the camera or pass quickly. In practice, I found it did take around two weeks to get my profile to full strength, but to get it over the hump, I actually pointed the camera at my face while I sat on the couch for a couple of hours.

I haven't asked any of my other coworkers to undergo this scrutiny, instead, they've passed in front of it only as a person would when entering a home. Three weeks after our testing started, we have quite a few profiles at three out of five bars and one at four out of five.

Even up to three bars, expect Netatmo to be confused by the face as much as it gets it right. Once a profile hits four bars, it'll recognize you most of the time, but even with a full profile, I still occasionally have to identify myself for Netatmo.

Netatmo claims this is intentional. It wanted the Welcome to never deliver false positives, and always check when it was unsure. I appreciate that, actually, and found that to be true. I'd rather identify my family member again than have the Netatmo tell me Susie was home when it was actually a stranger who looks similar to Susie.

Netatmo's face recognition software misses a lot, but it acknowledges those misses instead of guessing wrong. Never once during our testing did it identify the wrong person, it simply asked for clarification.

Home and Away

Once you have profiles built, Netatmo's system will organize them into two buckets called "Home" and "Away." When the Welcome sees a face, it moves that person into the Home bucket. Again, you're ideally pointing the camera at the front door, so it can see when someone enters.

The criteria for a person to go back to being "Away" is a little less intuitive. By default, Netatmo marks a person away if it hasn't seen her for four hours. You can change that time window from 1 to 12 hours, but based on the mechanic, I found the names of the buckets a little misleading. Netatmo can't actually tell if someone's home, just if it's seen the person recently.

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Netatmo hasn't seen most of us for awhile. Screenshot by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

You can manually tell the system that a person has left after a long press on a profile pic, and there's a button at the top right side of the app to mark everyone away simultaneously. You can also set up geolocation based on your phone's GPS.

Identify yourself to the system by selecting "This is me" on your profile edit screen, and toggle on the "Use my location" option beneath that. In theory, after your phone leaves a 250m radius of the camera (820 feet), it'll switch your profile to away.

Invite any family members with a smartphone to create a Netatmo account and tag their own profiles, and they can also turn on geolocation. Each family member you invite can access the system separately on their own device, but be careful about sharing your camera liberally. You have to add someone for them to get access, so the initial barrier to entry is sensible to me, but once someone's in, you can't limit what they can do. That person will have full control over the camera and the profiles just like you.

Again, Netatmo claims this is intentional. It wants the system to be about sharing with your family as opposed to spying on them. I agree with the logic, I'd just be cautious about trying to give your neighbors any sort of "backup" access. You won't be able to mark their profile as backup in any way.

Once your family has the app and access to your camera on their own phones, they can all turn on geolocation to make the Away bucket more location based than time based. Except, I had a lot of trouble getting geolocation to trigger at all on my Android based Samsung Galaxy S5. My colleague Megan Wollerton, with her iPhone 6 plus, did get geolocation to successfully trigger once.

The Home and Away feature would make more sense if this aspect of it was polished, and perhaps it will be in a future update. For the time being, "Home" and "Away" are just more catchy ways of saying "seen recently" or "Not seen recently."

Security performance

All of the indoor home security cameras we've tested

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It's a shame the Home and Away feature proves inaccurate in practice, because you can smartly customize the security notifications of the camera based on whether or not someone's home.

The Netatmo Welcome can send you push notifications in three circumstances: when someone known arrives (as in it's seeing them for the first time in a few hours), when it sees an unknown face, or when it detects motion.

After you identify yourself, you'll also get a unique notification reading "Welcome Home!" when it sees you for the first time in awhile.

You can be notified of unknown faces always, or only when no one's home. Similarly, you can set the camera to record on motion detection, and notify on motion detection -- never, only when nobody is home, or always.

It's a smart system that fits with the theme of being more alert when you're not around, and keeping your privacy intact when you are. I just wish it had a few more detailed options. For instance, I wish there was a way to turn off notifications for a person or group of people. If either parent is home, I don't need push notifications. If it's just the kids and the babysitter, I'd still want the system on high alert.

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You can get different notifications based on whether you're home or away. Screenshots by Andrew Gebhart/CNET

More problematic is the speed and accuracy at which notifications are delivered. Watching the live feed, you'll notice about a 10-second delay. The same delay occurs with alerts. The Welcome is smart enough to frame recordings to start a couple of seconds before the trigger and run a couple of seconds after, so you'll still be able to see the whole event. In an actual emergency, though, that 10 seconds could make a big difference, and if a burglar is wary enough to recognize the camera and unplug it after breaking in, you won't be able to see any footage until the camera's plugged back in. If it's smashed, that footage will likely be lost for good -- a potentially big downside to keeping all recordings saved locally.

The Netatmo Welcome proved mostly reliable in terms of alerting to and recording every trigger, but it wasn't perfect. Even with the camera set to high alert -- all people marked as away and all notification options turned on -- we were able to fool the motion sensor by moving very fast or very slow past it.

It did catch us more than half of the times we tried to fool it, but better security cameras like the Piper NV will catch you every time, and there's no way to adjust the sensitivity on the Netatmo Welcome.

The Netatmo Welcome is a sentry that tries hard, but is a little slow on the draw. It's slow to pick up motion and slow to learn faces. It'll sometimes miss triggers, and it's very slow picking up that a face is even present, especially at night.

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The Welcome's full of promise, but a little slow on the draw. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

When I walked past the camera after hours, I got alerts that it had sensed motion, but it had a lot of trouble telling that it was a person, let alone that it was me. As a result, Netatmo's dedication to privacy backfired a little bit.

I took the camera home to test it over a weekend. I told it I didn't want it recording me, and it had a pretty good idea of who I was at this point, but I wanted it recording motion and sending me relevant notifications whenever I wasn't home, and always sending me a notification when it saw an unknown face.

Because of the way the Away system works, and because it's slow to pick up faces, it went into high alert mode 4 hours after I went to bed. That's fine, since I would want a sentry to perk up at night. But when I woke up for a mid sleep glass of water, it sensed motion, but couldn't tell it was me, and it recorded me walking sleepily around my apartment in my PJs.

Thankfully, my coworkers deleted their accounts before they saw this footage. In a lot of ways, that could have been much worse, and it shows that Netatmo still has some work to do to polish the Welcome. It's promising, but not quite there yet on security or privacy.

The verdict

I have a lot of respect for what Netatmo is trying to do here, and at every step, it airs on the side of caution. If it's not sure it recognizes a face, it'll say it's unknown and let you identify it. I appreciate that, as it's a little more work on your part, but you won't get false positives from someone that looks like your spouse. Unfortunately, it's always slow and sometimes unreliable. It has trouble picking up any face if you move past it quickly, and it might not even register that there was motion.

The Welcome has an appealing concept here, to be sure. Record any strangers, get notifications when the kids arrive, and tighten security when no one's home. The Netatmo Welcome swings for the fences, as no home device has successfully implemented face recognition before. Simplicam tried, but mixed people up frequently. Netatmo comes much closer, and might get there soon with future updates. For the time being, it's a fine option if you want to be on the cutting edge and play with facial recognition. If you want the best connected cam or security cam out there, you can find a lot of better options, specifically the Nest Cam and Piper NV .

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7.0

Netatmo Welcome

Score Breakdown

Features 7Usability 8Design 7Performance 6
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