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Nucleus Anywhere Intercom review: Clever Nucleus Intercom uses Alexa to help you keep watch

The Nucleus keeps video calls simple, but packs a few nice extras under the surface.

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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.

7 min read

Between Skype, FaceTime and any of Google's apps for chatting, you might think a device like the Nucleus Anywhere Intercom redundant with the smartphone you already carry in your pocket. That said, if you have elderly parents or kids to check up on, especially if they aren't so familiar with technology, a Nucleus could come in handy.

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Nucleus Anywhere Intercom

The Good

The Nucleus Anywhere Intercom makes video calls easy and connects calls without waiting for the recipient to pick up. With Amazon's Alexa, you can make calls with your voice or use the Nucleus to control your smart home.

The Bad

You don't need a Nucleus if the people you want to talk to have a smartphone. The touchscreen is underused and the call quality isn't any better than you get from a number of free apps for video calls.

The Bottom Line

Though it's entirely redundant for the smartphone-equipped family, the Nucleus works well enough as a feature-rich intercom to be worthwhile if you want to check on elderly parents or small children.

A simple touchscreen with a camera you can use to make voice or video calls, the Nucleus fulfills its duties as an intercom well. You can instantly communicate from device to device, even if one of the devices is in a different home. It also communicates with phones via the app. To top it off, the Nucleus works with Amazon's digital assistant Alexa -- allowing you to make calls and access most of Alexa's other capabilities with your voice.

At $250, the Nucleus is on the expensive side for a smart home device, but it's cheaper and easier to use than most tablets, since it doesn't have most tablet functions. Don't be fooled by the big touchscreen and Alexa capabilities into thinking that the Nucleus is a good at multitasking. It's an intercom with a few extras and that's it. Still, if an intercom would be useful in your life, the Nucleus is worth considering.

Alexa in tow, Nucleus Anywhere Intercom helps you keep in touch

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Getting ready to chat

The 8-inch touchscreen on the Nucleus Anywhere Intercom sits below a large black ring surrounding a giant camera lens. The size of the touchscreen is comparable to an iPad Mini's, but the Nucleus is much thicker. It's not meant as a device you take around with you.

The Nucleus comes with a stand so you can easily prop it up on a desk. Unfortunately, you can't adjust the angle of the stand to give yourself the best view of the room. You can mount the device on the wall, and it comes with the necessary brackets.

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You can't change the angle of the stand, but you can mount a Nucleus on a wall.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Plug in the Nucleus and it automatically boots up on its own. Enter your Wi-Fi info, then sit back for a bit while it downloads recent updates. Once it's ready, the Nucleus will walk you through a quick tutorial, then prompt you to set up an account and get started. You'll use your email address as your username, and you'll also give your name, your family name and a room name for that device.

In a nice touch, after you verify your email, Nucleus will send you a "Home Code." If you set up any other devices, you can skip straight to entering the room name by entering this code.

If you want to use it as an intercom system, you'll obviously want more than one. If you're primarily using it to check in with your elderly parents, a single Nucleus will work just fine with your cell phone via the Nucleus app for iOS and Android.

You can purchase a single Nucleus for $250 on the company's site, or buy a pack of them for various discounts. They're also available via Amazon, Best Buy and Lowe's. Right now, the product is only available in the US.

Making a call

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The Nucleus home screen shows your connected devices, including cell phones.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Use a Nucleus to call another, and you'll see the one main advantage it has over the many free chat apps for your phone: You don't have to wait for the other person to pick up to connect. Press the camera or voice icon for another Nucleus device, and the receiving device picks up automatically.

You can make a quick announcement, check on a room or chat with your elderly parents without requiring them to even touch the screen. This even works from the mobile app, so you can check on your home remotely without needing anyone there to pick up.

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Tap the privacy button to turn off the automatic pickup feature.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I like this feature, privacy implications and all, because you can turn it off. Tap the Privacy button in the lower right corner of the screen and you will have to pick up to connect any inbound calls. You can tap the Do Not Disturb icon next to it if you don't want to receive any calls at all. There's even a physical shutter you can slide over the camera if you want to be certain your privacy is secured.

I'd have appreciated the ability to differentiate kids' devices from parents -- so that parents could still make a quick announcement even if the child has privacy mode turned on. I'd also add a "Page All" feature to my wish list allowing one device to quickly connect with all of the rest.

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Close the physical shutter for an added layer of privacy.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Calling from device to cell phone isn't instant. In fact, if you've recently closed the apps on your cell, it won't go through. You need to have the Nucleus app open, at least in the background, to be notified that someone's trying to reach you.

You can also connect to other Nucleus users via a remote connection. Remote connections don't have access to all of your home devices, and don't connect instantly. In settings, you can share an individual device by sending a unique code to a friend over email. Once that person enters the code, you're prompted to approve the connection, and then you'll see each other in the remote tab.

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The difference between a remote user and a home user is the primary account of the device, not its location.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Note that the difference between the Home tab and the Remote tab on Nucleus has nothing to do with physical location. You can set up your parents' device in their home with your account and you'll still be able to instantly connect to it from any of your Nucleus devices.

Call quality

When you make a call, the clarity of the video and sound will largely depend on the speed and stability of your internet connection. Even at its best, don't expect crystal-clear HD. The connection is serviceable. You'll be able to see and hear what's going on.

Weirdly, during testing, when I called a room with no one in it, I'd occasionally hear squeaking feedback for the first couple of seconds of the call. During one test, that squeaking feedback grew in intensity to the point that I had to end the call. I never noticed that problem while chatting with an actual person.

A smarter intercom

Not only will the Nucleus let you check on your family, it doubles as an Alexa device. Link your Amazon account in settings, and you'll be able to give voice commands to Amazon's digital assistant without pressing any buttons. Like Amazon's always-listening speaker the Amazon Echo, the Nucleus responds to your voice commands and can hear you even from across the room.

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Say the wake word "Alexa" and the Nucleus will listen to your commands.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Say the wake word "Alexa" and you can set a timer, check the weather, make a list, control your smart home and play music. Alexa can do a lot and a Nucleus gives you access to most of those talents.

Amazon's speakers stream music from a number of sources, including Spotify and Pandora. Because of licensing issues, the Nucleus can't stream from third-party sources like Spotify, but it can stream music from Amazon Prime and the rest of Amazon's linked streaming services.

Set up a Nucleus with Amazon, and you'll even see it in your Alexa app. Be aware that the Nucleus doesn't work with Amazon's ESP feature. If you have multiple Echos, ESP prevents more than one from responding if both units hear a command. Because the Nucleus doesn't have this, you'll want to be careful about putting it too close to an Echo to avoid overlapping responses.

If you activate Alexa's Nucleus skill (Amazon's term for Alexa's optional functions) with your voice or via the Alexa app, you can make a partially hands-free Nucleus call. You need to use the invocation words "tell Nucleus." For example, you'd give the command, "Alexa, tell Nucleus to call the office" instead of just saying "Alexa, call the office." This way you can begin a chat with a remote family member without either of you touching the device.

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You can also tap the Alexa button once it's listening to give additional commands.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You can't hang up with a voice command, so it isn't actually hands-free. And you can only give the command to a Nucleus directly -- an Echo won't start a call for a Nucleus. Nevertheless, the integration is thoughtfully done and works well, greatly expanding the Nucleus' capabilities not only as an intercom, but as a personal assistant and smart home controller.

I wouldn't recommend a Nucleus over a $180 Echo and especially not over a $50 Echo Dot. The microphones on the Echo devices are more responsive -- those on the Nucleus aren't bad, but they won't hear you over any background noise. The Echo also has better sound quality for music. The Nucleus is roughly on par with the Dot in sound quality, but you can plug the Dot into your own speakers for much better sound.

Plus, the Nucleus doesn't add much besides its intercom feature to the experience of Alexa. If you search with Alexa, it won't display results on the screen.

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The Nucleus works directly with the Ring and Alexa, but through Alexa, a Nucleus can control a ton of additional smart home gadgets.

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The Nucleus also works with the Ring Video Doorbell, though the integration is still in beta. When I tested it, it worked fine. If someone presses the button on the Wi-Fi-connected doorbell, the Nucleus rings, and you can have a video chat with your delivery guy from your Nucleus intercom.

The verdict

Don't buy the $250 Nucleus Anywhere Intercom just for Alexa, for the Ring or for the touchscreen. Add those features to its primary function of making video calls and you still have a device that's much less useful than a smartphone.

However, if you have family members you want to check up on, especially if that auto-answer feature would come in handy, then the Nucleus makes more sense, and those extra integrations put it over the top as a solid purchase.

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7.1

Nucleus Anywhere Intercom

Score Breakdown

Features 8Usability 8Design 6Performance 6
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