Securing your home is important. Doing so with the latest high-tech gear for an affordable price feels awesome. And that’s exactly what you get with the Canary home security system.
Thus far in life I’ve been fortunate enough to have never had my house broken into. But someone did break into my car once while it was parked right outside in my driveway. It was unsettling enough that I became very interested in exploring the best home security systems.
Before getting a Canary I tried one other DIY home security system. It was a bit cumbersome and complicated and took me quite awhile to setup. I had to get a rather ugly hub setup and connected (via an ethernet cable) to the Internet and had to setup a bunch of sensors around my house (think doors and windows) which looked unsightly and ripped off paint when removed. And the app that came with this system was unintuitive and annoying; it alerted me every time I opened any door in my house. In the end, I ended up leaving the system disconnected; it’s elements continue to sit around my house like a security system graveyard.
And that experience is exactly why I was excited to check out Canary. It was advertised like the epitome of a simple and easy to use home security system and you know what? It is.
The system is smart enough to know when you come and go and therefore arms and disarms itself accordingly. When activity is detected your phone receives an alert which you can act on and video of the event is automatically recorded. You can also watch what’s happening at home live. After the mostly easy setup is complete, everything just works.
The Canary is a white cylinder with a black vertical stripe running down it’s front. Underneath there’s a light that glows (to indicate status) which you can see thanks to the bottom being a bit raised from the surface it sits on (but just in the front). The black stripe hides the 1080p HD camera which sports a 147° wide-angle lens (with auto night vision).
I very much like the look of the Canary. The classic black and white color scheme is bold and yet it can melt comfortably into any home’s decor. It would look chic in an upscale NYC penthouse and it would look cool in a hipster’s studio apartment. I love the way it looks in my home.
Except for the black power cord jutting out like a massive rat tail, that is. I would have preferred a white cord for sure which would have helped the entire gadget blend a bit more seamlessly into the surrounding walls, but this is a nitpick more than a real problem.
Setup and Installation
Getting the Canary setup is immeasurably quicker and easier than the other security system I just mentioned. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the unboxing is what took me the longest.
Let’s work backwards (for a change). You set the Canary on a level surface which has a good view of your home. Or, if you have multiple Canary devices you can setup them up all around your home. For smaller houses (or for apartments) one Canary will definitely suffice. I tried mine out in the kitchen, first, but then moved it to a location that showed more of my home. The only caveat is that you’ll need to place the device near an outlet.
Before you can get your Canary placed, you’ll need to give it access to your home network. Download the app and follow the instructions — nothing tricky there. But there’s a little yellow cable that came with the Canary which connects to your phone (or tablet) via the audio port. This was the only frustrating part of the Canary setup experience for me. It took three or four attempts to get the devices to sync up — and to be honest I’m not even sure what I did differently that made things work. Once this minor hurdle was in the rearview, nothing else got in my way and the rest of the Canary experience was flawless.
The Canary App
The Canary app is well designed and a pleasure to use. This is important because so many connected-home apps — from security systems to smart sensors and smart lightbulbs — have been very poorly designed in my experience (WeMo comes to mind). A well-designed smarthome app is the exception, rather than the rule, in my experience.
When you open the app you’ll have the option to see a live view from the Canary’s perspective 9unless you have privacy mode enabled; more on that later). You’ll also see a breakdown of the current temperature, humidity and air quality inside your home.
Across the bottom of the home view is a line that says “View Timeline.” This is where you can see any activity that has taken place.
Just above that you’ll see everyone who has access to the Canary system. You can add the photos of all your family members to make it a bit more personalized; otherwise it will show a circle with each person’s initials.
Alerts and Recordings
I really like the Timeline view in the Canary app. It’s simple to navigate through and interact with.
At the very top of the timeline is the option to select a day to view. It defaults to “today” but clicking on it will give you some dates in a mini-calendar view for quick access. Next to this there are three icons which let you sort by 1.) all events, 2.) armed events or 3.) bookmarked events.
The default view lets you scroll down through every logged event in chronological order. You’ll see when a person arrived home, when the system was armed, when activity has been detected and when Canary entered privacy mode.
The main entries are, of course, the activities detected while the system is armed. Each of these activities shows a time stamp so you know when it occurred, give you the option to bookmark the event (so you can easily find it later), lets you play the associated video and lets you (and your family members) leave comments.
If you only have one Canary setup in your home, the timeline will look a bit tedious as you’ll see the same vantage point for every event. I’m sure it would be a lot more interested with multiple Canary devices setup.
The quality of the recordings is awesome. It’s clear — in the day as well as at night — and the audio is nice and crisp. Because of the wide-angle lens on the camera you do get a bit of a bubble effect — similar to a GoPro with a little bit of distortion. Mainly, lines curve a bit. It’s great for what it is because you get the fullest possible view of the room or rooms you are monitoring.
Both noise and motion can trigger alerts and the sensitivity can be adjusted in the settings. You can, for instance, choose between ten levels of motion sensitivity. The instructions on the settings page say, “If you receive too many unwanted notifications, for motions like reflections or trees, adjust the slider to be less sensitive. If your home is often empty, try adjusting the slider to more sensitive to receive more notifications.”
It’s nice that you can play around with the settings like this. On the default settings I got alerts for a light that turned on while I was out because it was on a timer and for a cat that jumped on a table. I also routinely see video of myself entering the house whenever I get home.
When an alert is triggered you’ll have the option to sound the 90db siren (that’s LOUD by the way) or to call the local authorities. There’s no need to enter those emergency numbers, either, as they are auto-programmed into the app (though you could change them if you wanted to).
Privacy Mode and Security
I like the fact that there’s a privacy mode on Canary. When it’s enabled you won’t see any activity alerts while you (or another member of your house) is at home. You also won’t be able to see a live view.
Whether or not you want to enable privacy mode is up to you. If you pick your nose while in front of the camera, it will be captured for the rest of your family to potentially see. But I’m sure there will be some people who don’t care at all whether their whole life is available on the Canary (like single people) and might get some entertainment out of being on camera or being able to see a live view of another room.
Canary also does everything they can to ensure your data and content remains secure. They use AES 256-bit symmetric-key encryption, host content on a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), employ secure HTTP access (HTTPS) using TLS/SSL, and more. Effectively the only people that could conceivably view your content are your family members are certain Canary employees — although the website says very few employees even have access. Using a Canary is basically as secure as a device like this could be.
Storage Space and Premium Upgrades
Canary’s box says that one of it’s benefits versus other security systems is that there isn’t a required monthly or annual (additional) payment. That’s true, but the keyword there is required. You get just enough storage to scrape by with the free Canary plan: access to the previous twelve hours worth of events and notifications. If you want more, you’ll have to pay up.
For $4.99 a month you’ll be able to see two days of history, get unlimited downloads and bookmark twenty clips. For $9.99 a month you’ll get seven days of history and one hundred bookmarks. For $29.99 a month you’ll get thirty days history and unlimited everything else.
To be sure, you can get by on the free plan. But you don’t have mush cushion if you want to save content after something major happens. For true peace of mind, you probably want to get hooked up with a higher plan, which for most people will probably be the seven day history plan.
Part of me is a little bummed that this isn’t a one-and-done purchase. It feels like getting an app and then having to pay for “gold coins” to unlock the full features using in-app purchases. But another part of me knows that storing a lot of HD video is expensive — and that this is the world we live in now where companies sell us added benefits. Frown.
In conclusion I’d say that using the Canary has been pleasant and that I’d highly recommend buying one. There was a little glitch for me during the setup (with that yellow cable) but that was nothing compared to the value I feel this provides. I’m hooked on what the Canary does, how it does it and the “just right” feature set. It’s simple to the core and yet powerful enough to truly protect a home. I feel completely confident leaving my house in Canary’s hands for an upcoming trip. Without a doubt this is the best home security system I’ve encountered: in my home or otherwise. It’s more than a camera that lets you see what’s happening at home and it’s less difficult to setup than systems with myriad sensors. In short, I kind of love it.