Netatmo Welcome review: An HD security camera with face recognition

netatmo-welcome-hero.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good
  • Average user rating
    1.0

Pros

  • Competent HD security camera
  • Face recognition
  • Customisable notifications
  • No additional subscription costs

Cons

  • Face recognition training takes some time
  • No wall-mounting or battery power options

When I installed Netatmo's Welcome at home, it was initially a tough sell to the family: "It's a security camera that recognises faces and detects movement, records video and sends clips to an app on demand -- you can watch and listen live too." That might sound a touch creepy, and no doubt, in the wrong hands, it could be. But if you're a working parent and you want to check that your kids are safely home from school, or that an aged relative is OK, or you're on a business trip and want to make sure your house is secure, this could be a wise investment of £199 (inc. VAT).

Welcome joins Netatmo's other smart connected devices, the Weather Station and Thermostat, but doesn't currently integrate with them in any way -- you'll need separate (mobile or web) apps to interact with all three products.

Welcome's key competitor is Google's similarly priced Nest Cam, and Netatmo is keen to point out the advantages of its product: face recognition; no subscription fees; fine-grained privacy settings; and video stored locally rather than (potentially insecurely) in the cloud. Face recognition is Welcome's key feature, but unlike Nest Cam (and some other similar products), there's no two-way audio support (so you can't tell the dog to get off the sofa, for example).

Let's see how the Welcome turned out in practice.

Design

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Netatmo Welcome: front. Image: Netatmo

The Welcome is a small 45mm-diameter (1.8in.) cylindrical device standing 155mm (6in.) tall, with a shiny metallic-gold finish and a white plastic base. The gold cylinder is punctuated by a black strip housing the 4-megapixel HD camera's glass lens, which has a 130-degree field of view, an LED that glows red in night-vision mode and a microphone.

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Opposite the lens strip, towards the bottom, are the connections: a MicroSD card slot with an 8GB card supplied (you can swap cards in and out if you wish, at the inconvenience of retraining the face recognition; otherwise older video is overwritten when the card fills up); a Micro-USB port for the AC adapter; and an RJ-45 Ethernet port for internet connectivity (wi-fi connectivity is also supported).

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Netatmo Welcome: rear. Image: CNET

The Welcome is designed to stand on a flat surface near a power outlet (there's no wall-mounting facility or battery-power option), pointing towards a door (or other key point in your house), without too much backlighting (which would reduce the face recognition efficiency). Its sleek, unobtrusive design doesn't immediately shout 'security camera', which goes some way towards offsetting the positional restrictions.

Setup

You can set up the Welcome either using a mobile app (iOS or Android) over a Bluetooth connection, or via a web app on a desktop or notebook computer over a USB-to Micro-USB connection. In the former case, the camera is powered by the AC adapter, while power is supplied via USB in the web app/PC scenario.

With a Netatmo account created, the mobile app downloaded and Bluetooth activated on your smartphone or tablet, you simply turn the Welcome upside down until the LED flashes blue to establish a Bluetooth link. You can then select the camera's network connection (wi-fi or Ethernet), flip the camera upright again to deactivate the Bluetooth link, and begin monitoring. Setup via a PC-based web app on a USB connection won't require the Bluetooth performance, of course.

In use

Once set up, the Welcome continually monitors your chosen 130-degree field of view without recording anything until it detects an event -- be it motion, or a (known or unknown) face. You can view the live feed and listen to (one-way) audio, with the quality of the video automatically adjusted depending on your internet connection speed.

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Live video on the Netatmo Welcome web app. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

When an event is detected, a video clip is recorded to the on-board MicroSD card, while a notification comprising a preview image, a description and a timestamp is sent to your Netatmo account's timeline. If you're using the web app on a PC, you'll be able to monitor the live feed and view or download any recorded events (the latter in full-HD resolution, regardless of your connection speed). Face recognition training and notification customisation, however, must be carried out via the mobile app.

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User profile page and recognition query confirmation in the (iOS) mobile app. Images: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Welcome's face recognition training happens 'on the job', as it were: detected faces are initially marked with a '?' icon in the timeline, which you can tap-and-hold to identify and, over time, build a profile. As Welcome sees more of a particular person, so the recognition -- theoretically -- improves. In practice, it takes quite a while for the system to consistently get it right -- something that's indicated via a 'profile strength' bar. In our four-strong family, quite a lot of time during the first week or two was spent assigning question-mark events to supposedly 'known' profiles. Over time, though, Welcome will learn who's who, leaving only genuine newcomers to generate unknown-face events. Occasionally, the camera will 'recognise' something that isn't even a face, in which case you can exercise the 'not a face' tap-and-hold option (reporting such errors will help Netatmo fine-tune its face recognition algorithm).

You can identify up to 16 people in the Welcome app. If your cast of characters changes, you can instruct the system to 'forget' a person or persons, which erases all recognition data and recorded video. Other dashboard options for a known person include profile editing and manual designation that he or she 'has left' the building.

Welcome will determine whether someone is 'away' automatically if it hasn't seen them for a certain period (4 hours, by default), or by using their phone's GPS -- assuming they have the app, are logged in to the camera's account and have checked 'this is me' on their profile. You can also fine-tune when notifications are generated for different people (on arrival, and between certain hours) and when video is recorded ('never', 'on arrival', or 'always').

You can tell Welcome how to handle notification and video recording for unknown people or events too. Unknown faces can always be recorded, or only when no-one is at home, while the choices for motion detection (notification and video recording) are 'never', 'only when nobody is at home' or 'always'.

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Live video and notification customisation in the (iOS) mobile app. Images: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

Beware that there's no administrator/user hierarchy, so anyone you allow to log into your account can access all of these controls.

One thing we noticed during testing was that the camera gets distinctly warm in operation. This is because, as Netatmo explains in its FAQ, the camera's aluminium body is also the processor's heatsink. Although it's designed to run warm, it's not advisable to place the Welcome in direct sunlight or near a heat source.

Conclusion

Netatmo's Welcome is a clever security camera with a key selling point in the form of its face recognition technology. The latter is not perfect, but at least it errs on the side of caution by flagging faces as unknown rather than giving false positives. Over time, as Netatmo gathers more feedback, tweaks its algorithm and issues firmware updates, we'd expect the face recognition to improve.

The notification options make this a flexible system, and there's a useful facility to declare the house 'empty' with one button-press, automatically putting Welcome into its highest alert mode.

Security features are good, including local rather than cloud-based video storage, plus encryption of the Micro-SD card's contents. But what if a burglar discovers the camera and steals it in an attempt to avoid detection? Although we didn't test this, Netatmo tells us that, as it's being unplugged from the mains, Welcome uploads the most recent still images of faces to the company's servers. You can then, after passing the requisite checks, retrieve the data and hopefully identify the villain.

Later this year, Netatmo will release accessories for the Welcome in the form of weather-resistant, wireless-connected, motion-sensing Tags that you can place on doors, windows and other objects up to 100m (300ft) from the host camera. A pack of three tags will sell for £99 (inc. VAT).

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Dimensions & Weight
Width 1.8 in
Depth 1.8 in
Height 6.1 in
Header
Brand Netatmo
Product Line Netatmo
Model Welcome
Packaged Quantity 1
Video Input
Max Digital Video Resolution 1920 x 1080
Features Face Recognition
Camera Type network surveillance camera
Networking
Network Interface Ethernet 10Base-T/100Base-TX, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Interfaces
Type LAN
Cable Details
Type USB power cable
Power Device
Type power adapter

Topics: Security, Reviews

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Where To Buy

Netatmo Welcome

Part Number: NSC01-US

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