By John R. Quain
Pros: Accurate object recognition, on-board storage, no monthly subscription fees, bright flood light
Cons: Awkward installation, more expensive than the competition, doesn't play well with other systems (yet)
Security cameras were one of the first Internet connected products for the home, and today there are scores of different models available all offering roughly the same features. Netatmo Presence is an exception, combining an outdoor flood light with a camera that boasts automatic object recognition.
The oblong $300 Presence houses an array of LED lights with a camera perched underneath. The floodlight is powerful enough to illuminate a porch and area of up to roughly 60 feet beyond your front door. The 1080p video camera can detect cars, people, and animals, allowing owners to set it to only alert them when, say, people are spotted.
While the price of Netatmo Presence is higher than that of competing models, such as the $179 Kuna Craftsman outdoor security camera and light, Netatmo doesn't require an additional subscription fee to get live alerts. (A Nest Cam subscription, for example, costs $100 for just 10 days of recordings.) With the Presence, you can receive notifications and video playback on your smartphone, store clips on the camera, or have recordings sent to a Dropbox account or FTP server.
Netatmo's clean, Bauhaus-style design also makes it an attractive accoutrement to any modern or contemporary home. On the other hand, if you own a carpenter's gothic Victorian, it may look a little conspicuous.
The weatherproof Netatmo Presence comes with a mounting kit and wiring that will accommodate any existing outdoor light fixture. The company also includes an 8 GB microSD card, but you can swap it out for a larger one up to 32 GB.
The camera has a 100-degree field of view, which is narrower than some surveillance cameras like Piper but it means there's less of the distorting fish-eye effect. The camera has a full HD 1080p resolution with a 4 megapixel sensor, clear enough in my tests to tell who was at the back door. It also has infrared night vision that can see as far as 50 feet without the floodlight. And there's a built-in microphone for recordings or for listening in live.
To use Presence, you need to make a Wi-Fi connection to your home network (setup is done via a free app). The camera supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, and while some devices I've tested in my home's basement frequently dropped the connection due to a weak signal, the Netatmo Presence maintained its link to the network over several months of testing.
Unlike some Web cams, you can use a browser on your laptop or computer to tap into the Netatmo camera. However, the free Android and iOS apps for smartphones are simpler. The camera is not Apple HomeKit compatible or designed to work with systems like Samsung SmartThings; it will, however, work with IFTTT.
Anyone who has ever changed out a light fixture can install the Presence. It's designed to replace a front or back door light, although it could also be placed any place where there's a wired fixture, such as a light outside a garage door.
I used the Netatmo to replace an aging, weather-beaten floodlight with a motion sensor next to a back door. The old lights seemed to be continually triggered by falling leaves, wind and rain, leading to what would amount to false alerts. To improve my peace of mind, I wanted to see what—if anything—was really lurking around out back. With its object detection software, the Netatmo Presence promised to do just that.
Turning off the power to the original fixture and loosening a few screws freed up the old outdoor light. Simple enough. And there was nothing fussy about the electrical wiring, so making the connection was also straightforward.
However, unlike a standard fixture, the Netatmo model has three components, which means you need a level of coordination usually reserved for tasks like juggling grapefruit. There's the back plate and wiring, a positioning plate, and the rectangular LED light and camera component that uses an adjustable U-shaped bracket to swivel the light and find the best position for the camera. The included instructions indicate how you can hang the LED part, gingerly, off of the initial placement screw, but I found it too easy to knock the light off of this dangling perch. I did manage to successfully install the light by myself in less than 30 minutes, but if you want to avoid cursing and swearing, I suggest finding another pair of hands to help you out.
There were two other complaints about the installation. Putting the Presence over an existing round or hexagonal outlet can leave large open spaces around the edges where dirt and insects can get in. Netamo should include a couple of insulating gaskets with the camera to cover such contingencies.
The second gripe had to do with the overall design. While it is stylishly modern, the main positioning screw is not as secure as it could be. A couple of weeks after the initial installation, constant pounding from wind and rain managed to loosen the bracket so the camera ended up pointing downward at the ground. I simply repositioned and tightened it up again, but it could be a problem if it's installed on a second home hundreds of miles away.
The Netatmo camera immediately proved its worth. The detection software, which can be set to look for cars, people or animals--or all three--proved to be accurate and enlightening. The camera revealed a family of deer I already knew lived nearby, but it also illuminated a nocturnal newcomer, a rather rotund raccoon.
The camera also correctly spotted people, such as my neighbor stopping by, and cars that pulled into the driveway. It did equally well during daylight and nighttime hours, correctly categorizing each alert. And while the company only rates its detection range for about 65 feet, I found it worked at distances greater than that, depending on how the camera was positioned.
Alerts popped up promptly on my smartphone. Clips played back clearly, and I was able to switch to a live view when necessary. Zooming in did result in an expected loss of detail (recordings were often in 720p or lower resolution), but I could still identify people and animals. How these features perform, however, will depend on the speed of your home network, its connection to the Internet, and the reliability of your phone's data connection.
More important, you can tailor the camera and lights to meet your specific needs. For example, the software can be set to minimize alerts by only warning you when people are detected. You can also set the floodlight to go on when something is detected, like a standard motion detector, dim the light, or keep it off for subtle surveillance. To further reduce unnecessary warnings, you can select a specific alert zone to eliminate, say, a tree that sways in the breeze.
Overall, I found the Netatmo Presence app easy to use, with a clear timeline that accurately identified video clips. So if you want to watch Rocky the Raccoon, you can replay it over and over, or just skip down to that recording of a stranger's car pulling into your driveway.
A considerable amount of thought clearly went into the Netatmo Presence, from its fashionable design to its object detection to its e-mail alerts should an unknown device attempt to tap into your video feed. At $300, it is one of the most expensive outdoor security cameras on the market but the fact that can cut down on false alarms and doesn't require a monthly or yearly subscription to send alerts and save video recordings means that over time you'll save money.
-John R. Quain has written for The New York Times, Men's Journal, Digital Trends and other publications. His last story for GearBrain was "Your next TV? Wafer thin and talking more."