Withings Home WiFi Video Camera Review
Too much form for too little function
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When I first heard Withings released a home security camera, I thought the move was a bit bizarre. Why would a wearables and health tech company want to make a security camera?
After living with the Home (MSRP $199.95) for a few weeks, my initial reservations were confirmed. For a company that makes a wireless blood pressure monitor, the Home feels like a misfit in the company's product lineup. And its most notable health feature, the air quality sensor, seems rather tacked on.
The Home is not without merit—the hardware is rock solid and well designed—but the software on this little thing leaves much to be desired.
While the Home is an outlier, it's not the company's first camera. The company also sells a Smart Baby Monitor, which has a much smaller focus than the Home. This change in priority makes sense since most of the baby monitor's features have been incorporated into the camera.
In addition to a speaker that can play a lullaby (you know, in case your singing voice isn't up to snuff), the Home has a microphone (for monitoring noise), night vision, a 135-degree field of view, and multi-colored lights that make the base of the camera glow as a night light in lullaby mode. It'd be nice if you could remotely swivel the camera with your phone, but you can't have everything.
The headlining feature—aside from the camera—is the air quality sensor, which scans for volatile organic compounds (VOC's) in your home. These ambient chemicals can come from things like household cleaners, refrigerants, and wall paint. Yet, this sensor won't detect smoke or carbon monoxide, so it can't replace your home's smoke detector. To me, that seems like another missed opportunity for Withings.
Complaints aside, the Home is one of the most beautiful security cameras I've seen. The wood accent that wraps around the camera makes it look stylish and ornamental, like something you wouldn't mind having out in the open (unlike most security cameras). The wood accent also easily slides off the camera; Withings plans to release other accent styles in the future.
While the Withings Home has some great hardware, it lacks the right software and integrations to match—and that's really where the meat is. The Withings Home app displays a live feed from the camera, along with a timeline of stills and GIF's for the moments the camera detected sound or movement.
From the live feed, you can see the noise level of the room where the camera is, as well as an air quality indicator. At the bottom of the screen there are two buttons: one that allows you to speak through the speaker on the camera, and another to activate the lullaby feature.
Thanks to the microphone on the camera itself, you can use the camera as a two-way communication system—or just yell at whoever is robbing you.
The lullaby button brings up a timer for setting the duration of the melody. You can also choose the volume of the song and the brightness of the night light, which you can also set to glow a designated color; there's even an animated rainbow option.
The air quality screen will display a live bar graph of the current amount of VOC's in your home. And in settings, you can choose a VOC threshold in parts per million (PPM) that, if crossed, will send you an alert.
While these basic features work well, I ran into a serious problem shortly after setting up the Home: The app wouldn't connect to the camera. I couldn't figure out what the problem was and finally had to unplug the Home to restore the connection.
Thankfully this problem never reoccured, but I still found these little annoyances throughout the user experience. For example, notifications of sound or movement in your home are an important security feature, but when you're the one causing them (you know, because you live there), it can get pretty aggravating.
Instead, the app should be able to use your location to know when you're home and then mute notifications, but this feature doesn't exist. And that's really the biggest problem with the Home. There are so many little missing features that, if they existed, would dramatically improve the overall experience.
Another example is the lullaby feature. While you can adjust the colors and volume of the night light, you cannot choose a different lullaby song, or even record your own voice for a custom melody. You're probably better off lulling your infant child with your own voice, anyway.
As for the two-way radio feature, you can't adjust the volume of the speaker on the camera. In my tests, it was pretty difficult to hear audio coming through the speaker unless you're within a few feet of it.
Even the air quality feature is problematic. There would be random, aberrant spikes in VOC readings that had nothing to do with my cleaning or cooking activity. These spikes only seemed to occur when I was home, perhaps due to air moving around when I walked from one room to the next.
It's really unclear at what point these VOC's become a legitimate health concern—if at all. You will get an alert when there's a spike, but then what? Should you just open a window, or do you need to call the fire department? Seems like a lot of unnecessary stress.
Then there's the lack of support for smart home systems like SmartThings or Wink. Security cameras are a no-brainer for these systems, but the fact that you cannot integrate the Home means you can miss out on simple, but powerful, integrations.
For example, if your security camera detects movement, SmartThings or Wink could then turn on lights in your home to deter burglars. But until such integrations are created for the Home, these possibilities are only a pipe dream.
Barring my initial connection issues, the Withings Home camera worked well for the few weeks I had it. The core features are (mostly) helpful for security purposes, and the peripheral functions—like the time-lapse video and multi-colored night light—are also pretty neat.
In its current form, the Home would make for a great baby monitor, especially with the lullaby feature. Its hardware design is also much more stylish than other baby monitors and cameras on the market.
Hopefully a future software update will add some of the Home's missing features. It's a great piece of hardware—now it just needs the software and integrations to back it up.
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