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Netatmo Healthy Home Coach, First Take: A stylish and usable air quality monitor

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Written by Sandra Vogel on
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Netatmo Healthy Home Coach

$99.99 at Amazon

The effects of poor air quality are often in the headlines: statistics point to premature deaths, while forward-looking major cities bring in vehicle bans. Much of the discussion about -- and action to improve -- air quality centres on outdoor environments, but air quality inside buildings can be even worse. With the growth in interest on this topic, it's no surprise that companies involved in smart home automation are keen to get involved.

Enter the Netatmo Healthy Home Coach, a device that tracks a range of metrics and delivers its findings, along with advice, to a smartphone app.

The Healthy Home Coach is aimed primarily at the domestic market (just look at the product's name), but there's no reason why an office -- and in particular a small office or home office -- shouldn't benefit too.

The kit stands alone from any other Netatmo kit, and is compatible with Apple HomeKit.

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The Healthy Home Coach interfaces with iOS and Android apps.

Image: Netatmo

The hardware part of the equation is a monitoring station that's a 15.5cm tall bronze cylinder with a 4.3cm diameter. It's small and nondescript enough to fit neatly into range of decors. You can connect multiple monitoring stations to the free smartphone app that's the software part of the equation. Alternatively, one station can be moved around as needed -- although it's mains-powered, so will need to be sited near a socket.

The app is required for setup and to peruse detailed hourly monitoring reports. Reports can also be made on demand through the app, while a gentle tap on the top of the monitoring station will cause a vertical strip down its front to glow, the colour giving an overall indication of the 'health' of the space around it.

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Setup is straightforward, with the app walking you through the process. If you're confident setting up wireless gizmos, you should have no problems. Still, the hardware box includes almost no paperwork about setup, and newcomers to the concept might feel they need a bit more hand-holding.

Setup includes naming the monitoring station. This will be particularly useful if you want to have more than one station, although it's perfectly possible to move a single station between locations. Setup also requires you to select between three profiles: whole family, baby or asthmatic. The choice affects calibration of the metrics that the station monitors, altering the levels that are considered 'healthy'.

Metrics

What people want to learn from a home based monitor like this will vary. Netatmo's policy, the company told me during a briefing about this product, is to measure metrics that people can take action on relatively easily.

So it measures humidity, noise, temperature and carbon dioxide -- the latter being a measure of 'air renewal'. With all windows closed and no ventilation, the level of carbon dioxide will rise. This can have a negative effect on ability to concentrate and also make people feel tired. Just opening a window can help.

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The app's suggestions can verge on the trite.

Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

This advice doesn't always focus on altering the prevailing conditions, and the suggestions can feel rather trite. When the temperature in my front room went over 27 degrees on a warm day over the late May Bank Holiday, the advice was to stay hydrated and wear appropriate clothing.

A rollback feature in the app shows how recordings have changed over time. This can be useful in looking for the causes of some conditions after the fact. For example, was a bad night's sleep caused by a high temperature that could have been mitigated by opening a window? The app can also send notifications when thresholds are breached, serving as a call to action.

The intention to deliver useful home monitoring information is a good one, and Netatmo has produced both a stylish monitor and a usable app. Yet I am a little nonplussed by the utility of this £90 device. I'm paraphrasing here, but to be told 'the air is stale, open a window', or 'if you're warm, remove a layer of clothing' feels like the kind of common sense that doesn't need a fancy IoT gadget.

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