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

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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.

5.7 Overall
  • Features 4
  • Usability 7
  • Design 6
  • Performance 6

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.

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.

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.

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).

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