Let me get this out of the way up front -- my husband and I spoil the crap out of our dog, Halley. We buy her overpriced toys she sometimes shreds in minutes; we relinquish large sections of the couch to her when we watch a movie; we generally find it charming when she covertly rolls in a mud puddle...
And, like all pet owners, we also care a lot about her health and strive to balance her high energy demands with the right amount of quality kibble.
Enter Petnet's SmartFeeder. Not only is this $149 product designed to hold up to 7 pounds of dry dog or cat food and auto-dispense designated amounts on a fixed schedule, the related app also weighs in on how much you should feed your pet. It even offers up a "Food Report Card" with a detailed nutritional profile of your pet's chow.
I know $149 is a lot to dish out for a food bowl, but we're just the type of overzealous dog people to consider it. My week-long testing experience didn't at all match up with the SmartFeeder's promises, though. Inaccurate dispensing, feeder jams, an odd design that made it difficult for Halley to reach all of her food and an occasionally glitchy app seriously damaged the SmartFeeder's initial appeal. Consider an alternative product or wait for Petnet to improve its current design before you buy.
Inside Petnet's SmartFeeder
Petnet's SmartFeeder is a Wi-Fi food bowl for dogs and cats with an automatic dispenser and a related Android and iPhone app. Pour up to 7 pounds of dry food in the reservoir and close the lid -- Petnet stipulates that the food should measure between 1/8 and 5/8 inches in diameter and the SmartFeeder can dispense between 1/16- and 1 1/2-cup portions per feeding. Because of its dispensing limitations and smaller bowl size, this product is recommended only for small or medium-sized dogs under 50 pounds.
Installation is simple -- follow the guide to connect the food bowl and its stainless steel insert to the rest of the SmartFeeder. Your purchase includes an 8-foot "chew resistant" power adapter, but it can also run on rechargeable battery power for roughly 7 hours. The feeder is fairly large at 15.32 inches tall, but it has a modern design that looked good in our home. And its lid has childproof-style locking tabs that you slide out to open, ensuring that your pet won't be able access it easily.
App configuration was similarly straightforward. Download the app, create an account, verify your account through your email, assemble the SmartFeeder using the step-by-step instructions and enter in details about your pet. This includes the specific brand and type of food your pet eats, as well as how often you feed them and how many cups you give them per meal. You can adjust the amount manually, but the app will also offer a suggested quantity using the details you provided earlier.
Petnet also works with Nest Cam Indoor. Nest Cam customers who also subscribe to the optional Nest Aware video recording service can view video footage of their pet eating in the Petnet app. While you can opt-in to receive alerts when your pet's food is dispensed, this Nest integration is supposed to offer a second level of confirmation that your pet was fed.
This all sounds pretty good, but how does the SmartFeeder compare to other pet feeders in terms of price and features? The category varies widely from $10 food and water dispensers that aren't smart, but will refill the bowl when it's empty to $100+ smart feeders like Petnet's.
One interesting SmartFeeder competitor, the $110 RolliTron RolliPet Pet Feeder, actually has a built-in 720p high-definition camera. So instead of buying the $149 Petnet SmartFeeder and the $200 Nest Cam Indoor separately, RolliTron theoretically offers similar functionality from a single device -- and for less money overall. I haven't tested RolliTron or any other smart pet feeders yet (aside from the Petnet SmartFeeder), but it certainly seems like an interesting alternative device.