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Peq Watchdog review: Weak home security with room to grow smarter

The Peq Watchdog bundle offers basic home surveillance but opens the door to a wider smart-home platform.

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Brian Bennett
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Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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On the surface the $199 Peq Watchdog kit appears to be a home surveillance solution that's stuck in the past. Its included camera lacks many of the fancy features you'll find in cheaper competitors from Dropcam and Belkin such as built-in motion sensors or two-way audio. The Peq's artificial eye can't even capture images and video in HD, since it tops out at a grainy VGA resolution.

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5.7

Peq Watchdog

The Good

The Peq Watchdog kit is a breeze to setup and deploy plus supports the wider Peq smart home platform and compatible products. The user interface is clean, attractive, and uses a customizable, rule-based engine.

The Bad

The Watchdog bundle is expensive plus its camera lacks internal motion-sensing and audio of any kind, and it has low VGA resolution. Peq also charges a $10 monthly fee and the mobile application doesn't support in-app notifications.

The Bottom Line

As a basic domestic surveillance kit, the $199 Peq Watchdog bundle misses the mark but has the potential to grow into a complete smart-home solution.

Don't be too quick to count out the Watchdog though because the bundle also connects to a wider world of smart home gadgets which the backers of Peq hope will power the smart home of the future. Other attributes which offset the Watchdog's shortcomings are a simple setup process, a rule-based action engine, and presence modes to better command smart home activities and alerts.

All of this makes the Peq Watchdog compelling to those who want the bare bones to build a complete and homogeneous smart home system in the near future. Of course you also have to swallow the $10 per month subscription to use any Peq product, the only smart home solution which demands this. Otherwise, products like the Dropcam Pro and Belkin Netcam HD+ are more flexible and offer better deals right out of the box.

Inside the Peq Watchdog kit is a door and window sensor, camera and network hub. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The parts in the box

Though the Peq store hawks numerous add-on products and devices, inside the $200 Watchdog kit you'll find three basic pieces of smart home hardware: a main Hub unit built by networking specialist Netgear, a Door & Window sensor and a Wi-Fi camera. Peq sells many of these gadgets separately too, specifically the camera ($130) and Door & Window sensor ($35).

Unfortunately, unlike other connected-home platforms you can't buy the networking hub on its own. For instance Peq offers a Starter Kit bundle which includes the Hub plus Door & Window sensor for $120. The trouble is there's not a lot you can do with this no frills kit, at least if you're keen on seeing what's happening within your abode remotely. Adding the camera to the mix, however, brings the total cost up to a steep $250, which makes springing for the Watchdog a no brainer.

Peq Watchdog's bark is bigger than its bite (pictures)

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So-so security

So what exactly can you accomplish with the Peq Watchdog package? Unfortunately in terms of home security, pretty much the bare minimum. To my surprise only one of the bundle's sensors qualifies as an active, smart device. You'd be tempted to think the camera is the one with the brains in this outfit, I know I did, but sadly that's not the case.

Indeed while other more sophisticated products from Dropcam and Belkin boast cameras which also contain motion sensors, the Peq imaging device does not. Essentially a dumb, unblinking digital eye, the Peq optical gizmo must be told when to snap pictures and record video by another device nearby. In this case it's either the bundled Door & Window sensor or a Peq Motion sensor that'll set you back an extra $45.

This might not sound like a big deal since you can have the door or window sensor stand in for the motion detector and act as a tripwire for the camera. In this arrangement the Watchdog gets the job done, specifically if you merely want the Peq camera to take pictures and video when something foul is afoot. And granted there certainly aren't many events more sinister than an unplanned door or window opening, especially when you're away.

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Keep an eye on many sensors in your home through the Peq interface. Brian Bennett/CNET

Those expecting the Peq Watchdog kit to capture pet escapades or the shenanigans of your children on the sly, however, will be very disappointed. Aside from the Peq camera's lack of internal motion-detection (or the ability to pick-up or transmit sound), the imaging device has a low VGA resolution at 640x480. The images and video I took with the Peq system were fuzzy and washed out compared with material snared by full-HD Wi-Fi cameras such as the Dropcam Pro and Belkin NetCam HD+ .

And while the Peq camera can see in the dark thanks to its infrared emitters and is even rated to operate outdoors, these abilities are blunted by the fact that Peq's optional motion sensor module is made for indoor use only. Similar in size and shape to the SmartSense Motion Sensor by SmartThings, the square and tile-like Peq gadget is wireless, portable, but not rugged or water resistant. So unless you want to risk damage (or theft) of the accessory I suggest you leave everything indoors.

For an extra $45 the Peq Motion adds motion sensing. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Alerts really matter

Another weakness in the Peq platform, and more importantly with the Watchdog kit's usefulness as a home security system is how it handles alerts. In contrast with Dropcam and Belkin Wi-Fi cameras , the Peq mobile application doesn't support in-app push notifications.

To be fair the system does have the power to send homeowners SMS texts along with emails triggered by events within the home. That said, nothing cuts through the clutter of clogged email inboxes or even lists of texts quite like a systemwide phone alert. Also consider the fact that Peq limits you to 20 text messages per day, though the bucket for emails is bottomless.

A simple way to help address the alert issue would be to provide some form of siren module or alert function. For instance ,SmartThings sells the Fortrezz Siren Strobe Alarm ($49) for its connected home platform. Similarly, the Piper home security kit will sound an ear-splitting alarm when suspicious events happen.

Frankly it's a feature I wish more was more common in security-minded smart home packages. If I take the trouble to deploy smart sensors throughout my home, not to mention a camera, the least a security system could do is reliably wake me up if trouble strikes at night.

Peq does offer a generous cloud-based storage policy for photos and video the camera records. Included in the mandatory $10 per month subscription fee is storage space for up to 20 video clips (about 16 seconds each) and 40 images a day. Of course both media are low resolution and Peq will delete everything of off its servers every 30 days. You do have the option to download photos and video directly, though only to mobile devices using either the Android or iOS version of the Peq mobile app.

The Door & Window sensor knows when entryways open and close. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Optional Peq add-ons

It's hard to judge the true appeal of Peq however, unless you acknowledge its aim to become a full-blown smart home platform. Yes, Peq has aspirations which go way beyond simple domestic security. Smart Home Ventures, the company behind Peq also sells additional devices which integrate into the Peq system such as plug in modules to control dimmable lamps or other small appliances ($60 and $55, respectively).

Peq also sells a fancy Smart Thermostat for $130. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You can also buy a Peq Smart Thermostat (built by CentraLite) for $130 which costs significantly less than fancier models from Nest ($249) and Honeywell ($279) but lacks advanced skills such as geofencing, motion detection and local weather reports.

Other pieces of the Peq smart-home puzzle include the aforementioned Peq Motion sensor ($45) which not only keeps an infrared eye out for hot-blooded intruders but also pulls double duty as a digital thermometer. There's a water sensor as well ($50) which looks out for plumbing problems along with a carbon monoxide detector ($90) designed to sniff out the presence of deadly CO gas.

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Adding devices to the Peq system is easy. Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

Setup is a snap

One thing I must say I like about the Peq system is its painless setup process. You have two methods for installing the hub and adding devices to the smart home network. One is through the Peq website interface and the second is via the Peq Home mobile app (available for Android or iOS tablets and smartphones).

No matter which option you choose, the interface provides simple wizards that walk you through the installation procedure step by step. I especially like the detailed video tutorials embedded at the head of each device category install menu. For instance if you'd like to set up a small appliance or a lamp, just watch the video first then begin the slide-based instructions. Peq also lists an estimate of the expected installation time too.

Thanks to all the virtual help I was able to quickly hook up the Peq Hub (physically connected to my home router over Ethernet) then activate and deploy the camera and Door & Window sensor. Linking to the Hub via Wi-Fi wireless networking, each install operation was fast. In the case of simple gadgets like the Door & Window sensor it only took a few minutes to forge a successful connection. More complex devices such as the camera needed about 20 minutes. And since Peq is a complete smart home solution, I also added the Peq Motion sensor, water sensor, and a bedside lamp module as well -- all a cinch to get up and running.

It was a lot harder to get the Peq Smart Thermostat working properly but that's because I had to shut down the power to my home's AC unit, remove my existing programmable thermostat, then swap in the new Peq temperature control system. It just proves that all the handy install wizards and walk-throughs in the world are a poor substitute for basic electrical experience. That said, like the Nest, this thermostat doesn't require a C wire which some home central air systems, like mine, lack. That can make it easier to install, just be sure your HVAC circuit is robust enough to handle the thermostat borrowing power. If in doubt, call in a professional installer.

Performance and usability

I'm happy to report that by and large using the Peq system on a daily basis is just as easy and painless as its setup. Both the website and mobile apps use a clean tile-like interface complete with big icons for various sensors and devices placed around the home. Occupying the main slot is a live video feed from the camera, followed by (in my case) the thermostat, a bedroom light, a back-door sensor, and a motion sensor I installed in my living room. That's where I also placed the Peq Camera. Lastly was a water sensor which I dropped next to my hot water heater, a trouble zone in the past.

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Make rules to command your smart home. Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

After all my home gadgets were deployed I quickly set up a few rules to command my fledgling Peq network with more automation. For instance I made it so that anytime a motion or door/window sensor detected activity while I wasn't home or otherwise indisposed (i.e., in away, vacation, and night modes), the system sent me a text message plus an email.

I also told the camera to fire off pictures and a video clip when the living room motion sensor detected movement. Additionally I had Peq turn on my bedroom lamp during night mode under the same conditions. The idea here is to use all of Peq's tools to wake me in the absence of a real siren or alarm function.

Thankfully Peq implemented all my custom settings reliably and with speed. Seconds after my back door opened unexpectedly or unsanctioned motion was detected, I received a text. The same sort of agility happened when the kiddos barreled into the living room at the crack of dawn, tripping on my bedroom light and forcing a cascade of buzzing to crest across multiple devices simultaneously (Android tablets, my phone and smartwatch, etc).

Of course no smart home solution I've seen is perfect and Peq is no exception. Aside from the rather unsophisticated camera, my main gripes reside in the Peq Home mobile application. Specifically, while you can both create and activate rules of action through the online website, the mobile app only allows you to toggle them on and off.

And for all the apps' attempts to flaunt a smooth, modern look, it often demonstrated buggy behavior. For instance I decided to add the optional lamp module which in the install wizard offers a choice to either designate it as dimmable light source or one with a simple on/off switch. Even though I selected the latter, it appeared as dimmable once I completed the set up.

Furthermore the dimmer (represented as a slider bar) responded slowly to my fingertip swipes. The slider acted erratically too, swinging wildly up or down as the lamp ramped up or turned down its power usage. To be fair, you can circumvent the whole issue by adding your lamp to the Peq system as a plain appliance and by selecting the non-dimmable option.

Conclusion

The Peq website certainly talks up the benefits of its smart home platform, from greater convenience of home automation to the extra piece of mind you'll enjoy through increased home security. That's why I expected a lot from the Peq Watchdog kit. Priced at $200, the bundle definitely isn't cheap, especially considering the original Dropcam ($149) and current Belkin Netcam HD+ ($130) Wi-Fi cameras cost much less. Now factor in these competing models' built-in motion sensing, audio recording, and sharper HD resolutions.

Up against this is the Peq Watchdog's lo-res VGA camera, no audio capture skills, and complete lack of an internal motion sensor. Frankly they are flaws that are hard to forgive, especially in a stand-alone home security bundle. Being part of a larger Peq vision for the smart home, however, you do have options for a fix. For instance if you add $45 to the Watchdog kit's $200 by also buying the optional Peq Motion sensor, one of my main gripes with the Watchdog disappears. That said, the camera would still take grainy photos and video and can't record, let alone transmit, audio.

It also seems risky to me to commit to any smart home solution that is closed since this emerging product category is constantly changing and evolving. I'd further stress that Peq is asking customers to literally bet on its chances of success by charging a $10 monthly fee. If you're in the mood to gamble I suggest doubling down on the SmartThings platform which is wide open to developers and gadget makers to adopt.

So ultimately I'd avoid this particular Peq security package until it either gets a much better camera or drops significantly in price. In the meantime both Dropcam Pro and Belkin Netcam HD+ or smarter choices.

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5.7

Peq Watchdog

Score Breakdown

Features 4Usability 7Design 6Performance 6
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