Hands-on review: Canary Flex, a versatile outdoor security system for modern homeowners

screen-shot-2017-06-16-at-10-51-57.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good
  • $199.00

Pros

  • Battery life | Modern design | Good camera quality | Sensitivity customization | Solid construction

Cons

  • The microphone leaves much to be desired | Irritating alert chimes | No alarm
screen-shot-2017-06-16-at-10-51-57.jpg

What is Canary Flex?

When you consider home security, especially outside options, most of the time hard-wired cameras come to mind. However, with the explosion in mobility and Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices inside the home, the industry has quickly modernized with everything from flood lamps equipped with internal cameras to hidden plant pot surveillance.

The Canary Flex, one such device, calls itself the "outside of inside, plugged in or wire-free, weatherproof HD security camera." Suitable for both inside and outside use, the Flex is the smaller and more versatile sister of the $169 Canary All-in-One indoor security camera system.

We've previously taken a look at ManyThing, a DIY internal camera system which uses old iPhones to set up your home network. However, the Canary Flex prides itself on being workable in different conditions and environments, so let's take a look at how it performed.

Design and specifications

The Canary Flex comes in a small, compact box. The packaging surrounding the camera itself is mildly annoying, as it takes a minute or two to realize it will not simply pop out; rather, you need to use your palm to roll the device out of its enclosure.

screen-shot-2017-06-16-at-10-51-00.jpg

With inspiration stemming from sleek, modern, futuristic concepts, the security camera is a white, solid plastic oblong small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, complete with a black glass oval which contains an HD camera.

The Canary Flex's dimensions are as follows: 11cm height, 4.8cm diameter, and a weight of 240 grams.

Top ZDNET Reviews

The device's microphone and speaker can be found on the top and there is a charging port at the back, where you will also find the manual power button. The bottom is weighted with a hefty magnet for use with the accompanying stand, a 360-degree swivel base.

The magnet is strong enough that you can turn the Flex upside down at any angle and it will remain stable and attached to the base as it takes a rather sharp jerk and a fair amount of strength to dislodge. If you do not want to use the Flex on a flat surface, the base has an internal curve and space for a screw (included) to be used to mount the Flex onto a wall.

The Flex stand is also lined with rubber to prevent surface damage.

The Flex contains a speaker, microphone, HD video camera with an 116-degree wide angle lens, 3-axis accelerometer, and PIR motion sensor. The device also comes with an AC power adapter and 2.4m cable.

An interesting aspect of the Flex is the inbuilt, rechargeable 6700 mAH lithium-ion battery, which makes the device suitable for outside use when there is no outlet nearby.

Setting up the Canary Flex

Hook the device up to a mains unit to start and allow the battery to fully charge. You then need to download the Canary app. The security camera is compatible with both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, as well as Apple TV and Apple Watch.

To turn the Canary Flex on, you need to hold the power button for one second then release when you see the spinning LED light on the front of the device. The Flex will also automatically turn on if you connect it to a power supply. To turn it off, you hold the same power button for around five seconds until you hear the 'shutdown' noise.

In order to pair your Flex to a mobile device, you need to enable location tracking, open the application, and choose "Add new Canary." I've often found with IoT home devices that pairing can take a few minutes, but it took no longer than 10 seconds to complete in this case.

You then need to select your home Wi-Fi network and input its password.

Once this element of setup is complete, you can choose whether or not your Flex will be housed indoors or outdoors, and you can also name your device -- handy if you have more than one security device operating at the same time.

Before you can begin using your Flex, the device will check and install any available firmware updates. While it is updating, the Flex's front circle will spin yellow and a chime will sound when the update is complete.

You are also required to choose your service -- either a premium subscription or, what you would think, would be a free option.

However, there is no basic option to select during setup; instead, you must either pick the paid option or choose a 14-day free preview.

A rather cheeky way to entice users into subscribing, but considering that you do not have to hand over any card or bank details -- and instead just use the premium services for two weeks -- you cannot complain too much.

Users must then press the back button to restart. This isn't made clear in the app's instructions and Canary would do well to include it in the future -- I spent a few frustrating minutes attempting to test the device without any joy before trying this tactic.

Overall, however, setup takes no more than a few minutes and is, on the whole, very clear and easy to accomplish.

screen-shot-2017-06-16-at-10-51-32.jpg

Performance and functions:

Whether indoors or outdoors, the Canary Flex needs to be placed outside of direct sunlight to avoid overheating. Be aware that if you want outside coverage, you cannot place the Flex inside of a window -- it is in or out, or activity will likely not be picked up.

Once you've chosen battery or mains power -- which can be switched at any time -- connect and take a look at the app. Make sure you take the time to check the quality of your Internet connection, or you risk footage lags and poor streaming.

Using the device outside in rain or snow should not pose you any problems. At the time of this review, the UK obliged in sending me a rainstorm. If a device can be used outside it needs to be able to handle poor conditions, and due to the camera's IP-65 rating, there was no damage despite incessant rain.

The app is well put together with simple menu and viewing options. There are three main modes you can select for the Canary Flex:

  1. Away: When you leave the house, the camera can be left constantly running. If motion is detected you will be sent a push notification.
  2. Home: The 'Home' mode can be customized to ensure your privacy or to record activity at different levels of motion sensitivity. You can set the app to alert you when activity is detected, or to record automatically without alerts. Alternatively, you can disable the camera entirely.
  3. Night mode: While you sleep the Flex can be set to private or you can set a schedule for when the Flex should monitor for activity with or without alerting you.

Within these main modes are a number of customizable options. For example, selecting Privacy mode will turn off both the camera and microphone. In addition, you can tap into Motion Notification settings to set the level of motion sensitivity you want. You may not, for example, want to be alerted every time your cat comes into the yard or through the door, so you can tap and adjust motion sensitivity with a simple slider.

I was able to set the sensitivity at roughly the middle to ignore my cat, but catch the mailman. I also found that background noise and repetitive sounds were generally ignored.

You can add members to the Canary app, such as family or friends, which are accepted as people who are allowed to be on your property and should not set off your motion detector if they are logged in. You then have the option to set an automatic switch between "Home" and "Away" when accepted members leave the home.

The home screen displays the location and device name you are watching, a watch live button, battery percentage, current mode, Wi-Fi connectivity status and a view timeline tab. While watching live if you have more than one device, you can swipe across to switch between different streams.

If any motion is detected, you are alerted remotely through your mobile device. The Flex app will also automatically start recording the so-called "Event" on a timeline which logs all recent activity.

Users can watch the event live, call emergency services, and if you have the Canary All-in-One, set off a siren. The original Canary contained a siren which was loud enough to wake up half of your street -- and scare off any intruders -- but the Flex does not have this capability.

An upgrade on the original Canary is the option to zoom in on areas of interest through tapping twice or pinching your screen, and you can also watch in either portrait or landscape mode.

On the event screen, you can also watch recorded activity, export and delete videos, bookmark events, or use the "Emergency call" button at the bottom of the livestream.

When you set up the Canary, the app will automatically populate an emergency contacts list, of local police, fire departments, and medical services, based on your location. However, you can tailor your emergency contact list with your own preferences if you wish.

If you click on the "Timeline" tab, you can review recent video events, watch videos you have bookmarked as important, keep track of any member activity, and monitor mode changes.

The HD camera footage in both day and night is of good quality considering it's small size and I have noticed no discernable difference between the Flex and the original. To give you an idea of a recorded event and the quality of video, here is a video of break-ins below:

When it comes to recorded footage, data is encrypted with AES 128-bit and sent to the cloud, waiting to be saved or shared. Canary also makes use of SSL/TLS certificates for a more secure web transfer and has also been certified by ICSA Labs for IoT security.

Video shared on social media or downloaded is compiled in MP4 format -- although you will be greeted with an annoying whistle when your video is ready to share.

When you're ready to post, Canary will automatically add the hashtag #caughtbyCanary, which at the time of writing is full of amusing wildlife and child antics rather than criminals.

Verdict:

The device is small enough not to stick out like a sore thumb in your courtyard and garden, and for the modern homeowner, this could be a worthwhile investment. Whether or not you choose to sign up to the premium service, on-the-go alerts to thwart would-be burglars can put your mind at rest.

The battery life, which lasted several days before a recharge, is acceptable considering the sensors and recording functions of the Flex.

It is a pity there is no alarm, and as I find this one of the most interesting features of the Canary security system, the Flex would likely be best used as an accompaniment to the main product.

You will also need a stable Internet connection to make the home security device a worthwhile investment. Canary recommends a minimum upload speed of 1Mbps, and I happen to agree. If there is signal interference, consider switching the Flex access point or switching to a dedicated network if you have many other IoT devices on the same network or you risk disruption.

I would also like to see a way to change the alert tones in future as, at least to my ears, they are somewhat annoying.

Pricing:

To purchase a single Canary Flex, you can expect to pay £199 ($199), with the option of black or white models. A starter pack, which includes the All-in-One original indoor Canary and a Flex will cost you £309 ($339).

There are two kinds of membership options available to Canary users. The first, free service, will save events and footage for 24 hours and caters for up to four devices. The premium membership, available for £7.99 per month, includes 30 days of recorded history, unlimited downloads and devices, and no data caps.

You can also purchase additional mounting accessories to extend vantage points and blend into garden surroundings.

Topics: Internet of Things, Security

Top ZDNET Reviews

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Where To Buy

Canary Flex (Black)

Part Number: CAN600USBK
Price
$199.00

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All