Review: Netatmo Tags for Welcome Smart Home Camera
While Netatmo is probably still best known for its Urban Weather Station system for monitoring temperature, rainfall, and wind, the company has also been actively working on expanding its Netatmo Welcome smart home camera that it introduced last year, adding improved facial recognition along with enhancements such as FTP and Dropbox storage for users who would prefer to save videos to their own server or the cloud. Now, in addition to software enhancements, Netatmo is building Welcome into a home security hub with its new Netatmo Tags ($99), a set of durable door and window security sensors that tie into the Welcome system.
Tags are sold in packs of three, and require a Welcome camera (sold separately) to act as the hub for the system. Each tag is built from a solid, waterproof construction and uses two AA batteries that are sealed inside, and include adhesive strips so that they can be easily mounted on a door, window, or some other object that you might want to monitor the movement of, such as a piece of furniture. The batteries promise a one-year lifespan and each tag can be placed up to 260 feet away from the Welcome station.
The premise behind tags is a relatively simple one: each Tag acts as a vibration sensor so that it can detect when the object it’s attached to is moved. This provides not only the ability to sense when a door or window is being opened or closed — or tampered with — but also allows the system to determine whether a door/window is opened or closed based on the last motion that was detected. In simplest terms, a tag is calibrated with the door or window in the closed position, and then vibration motion is tracked to determine if the door was last opened or closed. It’s a simple idea and while it’s possible to fake it out if you try — opening a door unusually slowly, for instance — we found that it generally works quite well for typical use.
Tags are configured and accessed through the same iOS app used for Netatmo Welcome, although we found the pairing process to be a bit more cumbersome than we would have liked, although users familiar with adding modules to the Netatmo Urban Weather Station will find the procedure very familiar. Setting up each Tag requires turning the Welcome upside down to put it in pairing mode, and only then inserting the batteries into the Tag so that it initiates a pairing with the base Welcome station. Further, this process has to be repeated for each Tag, and it’s complicated further by a lot of spring tension in the battery compartment — you’ll need to play a bit of finger gymnastics to hold the battery lid closed while turning the locking knob with a screwdriver or the included tool. Fortunately, once everything is set up, Tags works well — the pairing process only needs to be done once, and the batteries will only need to be changed about once per year, but it was definitely a bit more involved than we originally would have expected.
Once a Tag is paired, the app will take the user through assigning a name and a category for it and then provide some guidance on how to best mount the Tag on your door or window. After your Tags have been installed, you’ll be prompted to calibrate each one, which requires leaving the door or window closed and the Tag untouched for up to two minutes. Once your Tags are calibrated, they should then just begin working to notify you when a door is open or closed or when unusual vibration is detected. Detailed configuration settings for each Tag are also available to adjust activity and open/closed state sensitivity as well as when to receive notifications and when to record video from the Welcome camera.
Netatmo Tags are an interesting enhancement for Netatmo Welcome camera users, and if you’ve already invested in the Welcome camera and are actively using it, properly deployed Tags can add a nice extra layer of security, especially since Welcome can’t cover every possible entrance. The price tag also isn’t bad for users who already have a Welcome camera — you’re basically paying $33 per Tag, although you’re currently forced to purchase them in packs of three.
On the other hand, Tags are a much tougher call for users who are not already in the Netatmo Welcome ecosystem, as it remains a closed system in an era when Apple HomeKit is unifying most other home automation accessories. For instance, Elgato’s Eve Door & Window sensor sells individually for $40, and with recent firmware updates it can provide triggers into the HomeKit system to send notifications or activate any number of other HomeKit-compatible accessories, whereas Netatmo Tags are currently limited to broadcasting notifications and triggering recording with the Welcome camera (IFTTT integration came to the Welcome camera earlier this year, but is currently not available for events based on Tags). By itself, we like what Netatmo Welcome offers, but we feel Tags will only appeal to users who have already deployed Welcome as a main component of their home automation strategy; users with broader needs will likely be better served with HomeKit compatible sensors.