Wireless home monitoring has suddenly hit the headlines.
The Google-owned Nest launched its Nest Cam yesterday, joining a host of similar products already on the market including the Netatmo Welcome, Netgear Arlo and Piper NV. All are looking to keep tabs on your home and family, all claim to offer their own unique advantages.
To that list you can add the Withings Home: like the others it's equal parts security system and pet voyeur, while also billing itself as a baby monitor and throwing in a dose of health tech for good measure.
So, has Withings managed to create a useful tool for 21st century living or just another webcam for the tech-head with everything?
The art of blending in
Compared to the majority of the competition, Withings Home is pretty. Really pretty. White plastic wrapped in wood veneer, it looks more like a tea light holder than a security system and will sit inconspicuously in most homes. That's a really important skill in this field, and not one that all of its rivals can manage.
It comes with a magnetic base and matching concave saucer that lets you adjust the security camera’s viewing angle without the need for an ugly bracket. The wooden section also twists, enabling you to cover up the camera lens if you don’t want to be spied on. Interestingly, though, covering the camera doesn’t turn off the noise alerts… so it'll still pick up your charmingly tuneless rendition of Wrecking Ball as you do the washing up.
Set-up couldn’t be easier - vital if you’re looking to attract normal people rather than just early adopters; it’s simply a case of downloading the app and following the instructions. You’ll know you’ve been successful when the LED hidden in the base glows green. Orange means there’s a connection issue and red is a fail.
Camera quality is another vital thing to get right on a device such as this, and for the most part the Home does a good job on this front. It has a 5MP CMOS sensor with a 135-degree widescreen view and 12x zoom, plus surprisingly good auto enhancement and infrared LED night vision. All these combine to capture good quality pictures and videos in virtually any light.
Unfortunately, video quality doesn't match that of stills, which means you may struggle to identify strange faces passing quickly in front of the camera – not ideal if you’re trying to work out who stole your telly.
As for audio, there’s a 2W speaker with a 22mm diaphragm, covering frequencies from 300 to 16,000 Hz. You also get ‘audio echo cancellation’ and ‘noise reduction technologies’ built-in. The result is perfectly acceptable and more than fit for purpose. Oh, and there's a built-in mic, so you can speak to people at home via the smartphone app. This is brilliant for confusing the dog. (NOTE TO THE RSPCA: we're joking).
App's the way to do it
As with all of these products, control of the Withings Home is via an app. And the good news is that Withings' effort is simple, attractive and easy to navigate.
Once connected – as mentioned, a refreshingly simple step-by-step process – you’ll spend most of the time ogling the Live screen and scrolling back through the day’s activities.
Every time the Withings Home detects noise or motion it records a picture or short video clip that immediately scrolls in a timeline below the live feed. It’s nicely done and makes scanning through hours of footage more entertaining that it really should be.
From the Live screen you can also take pictures, fire up a soothing lullaby and talk using the mic.
Aside from that there’s not much to it, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can check the air quality, view thousands of mostly pointless images that are automatically stored in the photo album and tweak the level of motion/noise/air quality alerts you receive.
Some may find the lack of customisation a bit limited, but for those just starting to dabble in the connected home it’s fuss free and intuitive.
So what is the Withings Home actually for? Security? It will notify you if someone unexpected is in the house and may even capture a video of the intruder, but unlike a traditional alarm it isn’t a deterrent. Yes, it will alert you that someone is in your house, but by the time you've then called the police, chances are the light-fingered cad will have scarpered. So, better than nothing, but not exactly something to bank on in an emergency.
Checking up on the pets/kids? The Home has some really nice tricks on this front.
You can record and play back up to two days' worth of activity, which is a nice feature for anyone who spends a lot of time travelling away from the family, for instance. You can choose to increase that to seven days of footage and there's also a 24hr time-lapse playback. This is highly entertaining - like watching your life in fast-forward.
But is it enough reason to buy the Home? Not for most people. It’s a lot of technology to prove the dog sleeps on the sofa and that you’re not the one leaving the fridge door open. And whether your family really want their every move to be recorded for 48hrs is probably something you should discuss with them first.
But as a baby monitor it excels. The playback and diary options let you see how baby actually sleeps and you can also tell if they were woken up by noise and learn the positions most likely to wake them up (or keep them asleep).
Night vision is excellent, the LED can be used as a soothing night light and while you’ve only got the option of playing one lullaby, you can at least decide on the duration…or sing your own using the mic function.
One of the unique selling points of the Withings Home is its ability to monitor indoor air pollution. To that end, it will alert you if the amount of VOC (volatile organic compounds) in the air reaches higher than normal levels.
It’s certainly interesting to know if the air quality in your home is less than perfect, but frankly we weren't sure what to do with the information aside from opening a window (or closing one).
Interestingly even Withings has difficulty coming up with convincing reasons why air quality monitoring is important, citing the dangers of using cleaning products and ‘assembling a piece of pressed-wood furniture.’ Scary stuff indeed.
That's not to say that it's useless: we were alerted to some particularly burnt toast. We're not sure that could really be classed as a health risk, though.
Withings home verdict
The Withings Home is slick, stylish and blends effortlessly into the modern home. Team it with a reliable Wi-Fi signal and you’ll be treated to continuous HD monitoring wherever you are.
Image quality is impressive, especially in low light, and the wide angle gives sweeping views across any room. The 24hr time-lapse playback mode is frighteningly entertaining and the Home Diary addictive.
But a question mark remains as to whether it’s anything more than a seriously good baby monitor - at an extortionate price - while its iOS-only nature will instantly rule it out for a sizeable number of people.
If you do have an iThing and a burning desire to keep an eye on your family/pets/unwanted guests, though, we'll happily recommend it.