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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.
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.
More often than not Halley's food arrived as scheduled and in the correct amount. I even received a prompt, related alert telling me "Halley was fed 1 1/4 cups of food at 6:15 am/6pm." But the food never once fully dispensed into the bowl. Instead, a significant portion remained in a hard-to-reach space between the food reservoir and the bowl.
Halley eats Nutro "Small Bites," rounded small pieces of food that conform to Petnet's guidelines for chow. Even so, this was a consistent problem.
A Petnet representative told me I could schedule two consecutive feedings to prevent the problem, which might also be more likely to happen if you're dispensing close to the 1 1/2-cup maximum meal portion. Since Petnet had suggested we feed Halley 1 1/4 cups per meal, I tried reducing the feedings to 3/4 cups. But a lot of food still remained in the feeder where Halley couldn't reach.
I also tried with a couple additional types of food of different shapes and sizes -- same problem. At one point, the food collecting in the feeder caused a jam and Halley only got some of her food.
Petnet is aware of this issue and offers a ramp device to angle the SmartFeeder roughly 12 degrees for free -- just enough to push the food forward. This contraption helped, but it isn't included with your purchase so you'll likely need to rig your own wedge or reach out to Petnet's customer service to get their version. This Amazon user's video review of the SmartFeeder from March 2016 relied on binders underneath the product to create a wedge. While these clever workarounds do the trick (more or less), there's still a significant flaw with the SmartFeeder's core design.
I also experienced a couple of odd glitches during testing -- the SmartFeeder dispensed food at the right time, but the timestamp on the related alert was off by 3 hours. The Petnet app controls the timezone automatically, so I'm not sure why it thought I was in the Pacific time zone for those two feedings.
On another occasion, Halley didn't get any food and no related alert appeared to let us know there was a problem. (This is when it would be handy to have a camera monitoring feedings.)
Petnet said this was likely due to a firmware update that could have caused an outage and interrupted feedings. Related to that, customers don't have control over when software updates are pushed live, so it could potentially happen unexpectedly during your pet's feeding. A representative told me Petnet normally issues firmware updates at night when most SmartFeeders aren't in use. But that certainly wasn't the case with Halley's 6:15am breakfast feeding.
On the occasion that we're late getting home, I wanted Petnet's $149 SmartFeeder to swoop in and handle Halley's dinner for us. The added benefit of nutritional data and suggested portion amounts also appealed to me. But the dispenser and related app integrations just weren't consistent enough.
I definitely don't want to worry that my dog didn't get fed because of a scheduled firmware update, however infrequent. I also don't want to have to buy a Nest Cam to confirm whether or not a feeding happened -- or shove a binder under it to create the right angle for proper food dispensation. Skip Petnet's SmartFeeder and look instead to another Wi-Fi feeder or simply stick to the old fashioned method -- feeding your pet yourself.