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Review: The Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell ticks three boxes for me


There’s been one rather glaring omission in our smart home setup: a doorbell cam. That’s because I was waiting for three boxes to be ticked, and the Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell ticks all of them.

First, HomeKit compatibility. For me, that’s pretty much non-negotiable when it comes to any smart home kit. The benefits of having everything controlled through one app, or by Siri, is compelling enough that I’d rather wait than have something which requires me to use a separate app …

If it’s a device I really want, and I’m not willing to wait, then I’ll accept something compatible with Siri Shortcuts as an alternative – but in general, if it doesn’t support HomeKit, I’m not interested.

Second, subscription-free. A lot of smart cameras are tied to a cloud service provided by the camera company, forcing you to pay a monthly fee to access recordings. I already pay for two cloud services – iCloud and Dropbox – and am not willing to pay for a third, single-application one. Netatmo achieves this through local storage and support for Dropbox and FTP servers, discussed in the In use – accessing recordings section below.

HomeKit Secure Video isn’t supported yet, but Netatmo promises it will be in a future update to existing doorbells.

Third, mains-powered (hardwired). Our existing bell was a mains one, so I wanted to take advantage of that rather than something which would require me to replace batteries. The Netatmo is designed as a straight swap for a wired bell.

Appearance

The unit measures around 5 inches tall by 2 inches wide by 1 inch deep. If your bell is mounted on your door, it works as-is. Many wired bells are, however, off to one side – including ours. That means the camera needs to be angled in toward the door, and the kit includes an angled mounting plate which adds some depth.

It’s a reasonably stylish-looking unit, divided into thirds. The upper section has an obvious camera, a blue status light and a small infra-red emitter aperture for night use. There’s a relatively small Netatmo logo beneath the camera.

The middle section is the speaker: the unit supports two-way audio. Finally, the bottom section is the push-button bell, which is silver with a small bell icon.

Overall, it looks modern and a bit techy, but is still pretty pleasing to the eye.

Specifications

The camera is a 2MP one recording 1080p with HDR, and infra-red for night vision. I can’t comment on the latter as we live in an apartment, so the camera is looking into a hallway which is lit 24/7. Similarly the IP67 waterproofing, as our camera is indoors.

The field of view is 140 degrees diagonal, and the camera is sensibly in portrait orientation. You get a 3/4-length view of someone as they actually press the doorbell, and a full-length view as they take even half a step back.

Wi-fi is only 2.4GHz (802.11b/g/n), but that’s true of quite a lot of our smart home kit, so we have a second SSID for 2.4GHz, and our router is set to merge the two, so that’s no issue for us.

You get two-way audio, motion detection, people detection (but not recognition as yet) and custom alert zones.

Storage is on an embedded (included) SD card, and you can currently also record to a Dropbox account or any FTP server. iCloud support will follow.

Installation and setup

The Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell is compatible with most wired doorbell setups, accepting both mains power and any low-voltage bells in the 8V to 24V range. From what I can tell, this is the vast majority of hardwired doorbells.

Netatmo claims that the device is suitable for DIY installation, but the reality of that may depend on your existing doorbell setup. In our case, the wiring runs through the inside of a wall, and liberating enough wiring to make the connection was non-trivial, so the company sent one of their pro-installers.

This was not a notable success, in part because the installer struggled with a couple of the wiring aspects, and in part because it turned out the setup was incompatible with iOS 14.3. Resolving that required another installer and using an old iPad running an older version of iOS. A further problem required the Netatmo Security app to be removed and reinstalled.

Hopefully those are just teething troubles! To be fair to Netatmo, this mostly seemed down to one installer: if the second one had done the job, and we’d known that an older version of iOS was needed, it would have been a lot more straightforward.

In use – doorbell and motion sensor

Once the setup was finally complete, however, all was well: the doorbell camera immediately appeared in the Home app, and all our HomePods started acting as chime repeaters. That’s overkill in a home the size of a central London apartment, but could be useful in a large house.

When the doorbell rings, the main chime and HomePods ring, and all iOS devices get a popup alert. You can tap the alert to see a live view of who is at the door and, if desired, talk to them via an intercom function.

You still get full functionality when away from home, which is when the intercom is most useful: you can speak to the person at the door and make whatever arrangements are needed. Since our smart lock also works remotely, that includes the ability to let a friend into the apartment while we’re out. The combination is pretty powerful.

In addition to doorbell alerts, you also have the option to get motion and people alerts. At present, the system is intelligent enough to recognize people, but not to identify them. That will come when HomeKit Secure Video support is enabled.

In our apartment, the people alerts aren’t very useful. There are five apartments on our floor, and the people alerts are triggered anytime anyone emerges from either of the two elevators, or any of our neighbours leaves home. I’ve therefore opted to switch this off, but it would be useful for anyone whose front door only or mostly looks out onto their own grounds. The app does support custom zones, so you can screen out any view you have of the street, neighboring properties and so on.

In use – accessing recordings

The Netatmo Smart Video doorbell stores video recordings onto an included 8GB SD card embedded into the device itself. You can then access these recordings over wi-fi from within the app, either just to view or to download.

Local recording does, of course, have one potential drawback: an intruder could steal the doorbell itself, and thus take away the recording. That’s probably not too great a risk in reality. First because if a bad guy can spot a doorbell camera in the first place, they are likely to stay clear. If they know anything about them, they will know that most upload recordings to the cloud, so stealing the doorbell is pointless.

Second, Netatmo uses a security screw which requires a supplied tool to open the unit in order to remove it from the wall. Sure, a bad guy could physically rip it from the wall, but that wouldn’t be easy, so we’re into ‘easier to go rob the guy next door’ territory here. Most security works on this basis: not making something impossible, just making yourself a more challenging target than the next guy.

However, if you to have cloud storage too, you can configure the app to use one of your existing accounts, so I have mine set to copy the recordings to Dropbox. Although I don’t have people alerts on in the app, any person seen does trigger a recording. Filenames are date, time, reason for recording, and an ID.

The doorbell itself automatically overwrites the oldest recording once the card is full, but if you’re automatically downloading to your own cloud account, you’ll need a way to manage this to avoid using lots of storage on video of your post being delivered.

For Dropbox, recordings are stored in Apps/Netatmo/<Your doorbell name>/01-2021 (with a new folder name for each month). I simply set the folder as a sidebar favorite in the Finder, so the recordings are one click away and I can delete them after a few days.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Netatmo also promises HomeKit Secure Video support. I’ll update as and when that happens.

Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell: Pricing and conclusions

In the US, the system costs $300. That prices it significantly above the Logitech Circle, at $200.

The main advantage of the Netatmo is local storage. That means you don’t need to use any cloud storage if you don’t want to. That said, as long as you have at least a 200GB iCloud subscription, then cloud storage for HomeKit Secure Video is free for a single camera – it’s a side benefit of your subscription without counting against your storage quota.

If you have more than one camera, don’t have a 200GB iCloud subscription or prefer to use Dropbox, then the Netatmo comes into its own. You don’t have to use any cloud service if you don’t want to. You can still access recordings via wi-fi using the iPhone app. But you can choose to connect it to Dropbox, or even to your own FTP server if you like.

The setup and installation issues aside, it works well. I tend to get a lot of deliveries at the best of times, but even more so during pandemic lockdown, so being able to see who’s at the door is handy. But it will be most useful when we can once again resume our normal lives, when the ability to speak to callers remotely – to tell them where to leave a package, for example – will be very handy indeed. It’s especially powerful in combination with a smart lock, where you’d be able to talk to someone and then let them in, all from your iPhone.

A secondary benefit, of course, is security – providing recordings of anyone who came near your home without ringing the bell. All in all, I’d say a doorbell cam is a handy piece of smart home tech, and the Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell will justify the premium over the Logitech for some subset of users.

The Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell is available direct from the company’s website, priced $299.99.

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