Review: Netatmo Urban Weather Station
As we've noted in quite a few past accessory reviews, the single biggest challenge faced by talented third-party iOS developers is finding the right price for their latest creations: the marketplace is filled with smart ideas that have either been priced or executed poorly, reducing the impact of what might otherwise be great new products. French developer Netatmo's Urban Weather Station ($179) is yet another prime example of a really nicely designed accessory that will regrettably remain niche entirely due to its sky-high pricing.
Inside the Urban Weather Station package are the two primary wireless components—nearly identical-looking 1.7”-diameter tubes that are 4.2” tall and 6.1” tall, the former for placement outdoors, and the latter for use indoors. Each is crafted from a mix of silver, Apple-style aluminum and “UV-resistant high quality” white plastic, with a battery compartment on the bottom and a pill-shaped stripe running up the front. Netatmo includes four AAA batteries to power the outdoor unit, which can be placed on the ground or attached to a wall with packed-in mounting hardware, while the taller indoor unit uses an included USB cable and internationally compatible wall adapter for power. Should you want to self-supply batteries to power the indoor unit, you can, but you’ll more likely want to just place it somewhere in your house near an outlet and not worry about swapping cells.
Netatmo got almost everything right in the aesthetic and user experience designs of the Urban Weather Station units. Critically, the system is extremely easy to set up thanks to an iOS app that walks the indoor unit through the process of connecting to your 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi network and the outdoor unit, without any hiccups whatsoever in our testing. Moreover, the tubes look great no matter where you place them, and feature charming little touches such as a soft illuminating light on the indoor sensor’s front pill, and a depression on that unit’s top to manually update both sensors’ readings. You’ll occasionally hear a light hiss from the indoor unit as it samples the air, but it’s otherwise quiet, and the front light stays off unless you manually activate it.
Despite a month of exposure to both nearby precipitation and Fahrenheit temperatures ranging from near freezing to the low 70’s, the outdoor unit continued to look and work properly during our testing, save for one time when wind knocked it over; turning it upright resolved the issue. While it would be great for Netatmo to include a weather protective rigging of some sort for the outdoor unit, and a battery indicator to let you know how much power it has left, most users won’t experience issues with the product so long as they follow Netatmo’s instructions to place the outdoor unit someplace where it won’t be rained upon.
The Urban Weather Station’s free app is also nearly unimpeachable. Beautifully designed with clear numeric indicators for indoor and outdoor temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and air quality, the app consists of two panes, one that can be swiped upwards to reveal more indoor information—carbon dioxide and noise levels, plus a range of recent indoor temperatures—or downwards to show seven-day forecasts for temperature precipitation, wind speed, and sunshine. The air quality and noise measurements are not often found in inexpensive weather stations; you may well find that the former sensor alerts you to the need to open a window or door to get some fresh air in your room or home; explanations for all of the readings are built into the app, and push notifications are used to alert you to major issues.
It’s no overstatement to suggest that Netatmo’s app is one of the best-looking reference apps we’ve seen on the iPhone and iPod touch, limited only by its continued lack of iPhone 5/iPod touch 5G elongated screen support. There is, however, full iPad support within a Retina-quality and slightly different layout, and even the unoptimized interface is easy to use on Apple’s latest pocket devices. Few companies so perfectly balance so much data in easy to digest graphical, numerical, and text forms; Netatmo really did an impressive job with this. Better yet, you can access your Weather Station’s data from outside your house without any real effort; just load the app on your iPhone from afar, and the most recent information comes up. Additional social sharing features allow you to let friends or a cloud-based aggregation network see your weather measurements, if you want to share them.
Apart from the lack of tall screen support, the app has a couple of other small rough edges. Although they generally worked as expected, push notifications occasionally lagged well behind the actual dates when events took place, seemingly coming at random—on a Saturday, events from a prior Monday or Wednesday would pop up on screen as if they were new. And an otherwise handy automatic graphing feature that records all of the sensors’ prior data values defaults at a highly zoomed in view, requiring you to pinch your way outwards to do any sort of useful tracking. These are small issues, and we wouldn’t describe them as deal-killers, just things that could benefit from tweaks.
Netatmo’s biggest problem with the Urban Weather Station is unquestionably the $179 asking price. Great product design and a great app can’t overcome the fact that only a very small number of people would ever consider paying nearly as much for this accessory as for an iPod touch, given that basic indoor/outdoor weather stations can be had for less than $30, and standalone options priced at this level tend to have all sorts of other things built in—a $180 La Crosse model, for instance, includes a full color display with a digital photo album built in. Putting aside all of the free and inexpensive iOS weather apps out there, the vast majority of standalone weather stations we’ve seen fall in the sub-$50 price range, and although they may not have air quality or noise sensors built in, you’d really need to be a weather enthusiast to consider spending so much for an accessory like this. Consequently, the Urban Weather Station regrettably merits only a limited recommendation: it is impressively executed in virtually all regards, but the price is way too high for the functionality it offers. If you’re willing to pay $179 for it, however, you’ll be very pleased by the overall quality of the accessory and the app.