You don't understand the feeling of violation that a theft causes until you open the door to your home and see everything moved, turned, tossed, and the muddy footprints of a stranger everywhere on your floor, your kitchen cabinets open, and even your bedspread removed and balled up in the garden. That happened to my family's mountain house many, many years ago, and I still remember the feeling of disgust over the scene as well as helplessness with all the police procedures that followed. The perpetrators were never caught, just like any minor theft that occurs in Lebanon — they only took small appliances — and we ended up installing gates and locks on all the windows and doors.

I dread ever reliving that experience so when I opened my pharmacy, one of the essentials was a security system that could help me identify any perp and at least give me clarity over what happened in my property while I was not there. Partly to reduce the feeling of violation and partly to feel like I still have some control. Soon I discovered that if I wanted to properly bring my very expensive multi-camera and DVR security system online, I'd need a dedicated IP address and separate ADSL line (because our regular connection sucks here), which are quite expensive, so I kept it off the grid.

I came across Canary on Indiegogo and was smitten. Here was a camera that could stream when needed on my existing connection and thus complement my local security system, without much fuss. Somehow, I ended up winning a Canary through a referral program and thus began the wait for the project's fulfillment. Months turned into years, and in the meantime, I got a Piper camera (here's my review), learned that there's something called Dropcam and then Nest (though I didn't buy any), discovered all the different companies making smart connected cameras, and almost forgot about Canary until my unit was shipped to me sometime in 2015. There were hurdles in getting it up and running, but now that it is, I love it. Are there issues that I wish could be ironed out? Definitely. Are they deal-breakers? Maybe for someone else, but not for me.

Specs

Camera 1080p HD Camera (3.1MP), Motion detection, Digital pan and zoom
Field of View 147° wide-angle lens
Night Vision High-quality automatic night vision (12 InfraRed LEDs)
HomeHealth Technology Temperature, Humidity, Air quality
Audio High-quality microphone, 90+ dB siren
Power 100-240v power supply
Connectivity 2.4GHz Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), Wired Ethernet, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
Sensors 3-axis accelerometer, Ambient light, Capacitive touch
Security & Data Protection Encrypted cloud storage, Secure web transfer (SSL/TLS), AES 256-bit data encryption
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Apps Android and iOS

The Good

Design Canary is very sleek and modern. It could easily pass for a speaker on a shelf and no one would be the wiser.
Auto arm/disarm Using your phone to know when you're home or away, Canary automatically changes its status to monitor your property.
Multiple users For families or roommates, this lets several users access Canary and automatically arm or disarm it through geofencing.
Wink integration It's one of the few cameras that integrate with Wink. Use it as a trigger for different Wink robots or activate its modes through Wink's shortcuts (workaround for IFTTT and Alexa support).
Bonus sensors Canary also monitors the humidity, temperature, and air quality of your home.
MicroUSB power You can use any charger to plug Canary in, even a portable power bank.

The Not So Good

No backup battery or local storage It stores videos in the Canary cloud, and it doesn't work when the electricity goes out unless you've thought of linking it to a power bank.
Delay The live video stream often lags and suffers from some delays.
No zones or facial recognition, fussy accuracy It takes a while to adjust the sensitivity and teach it what exactly constitutes a threat and what's just a shadow or light going on or off.
Doesn't play well with a lot of things No direct IFTTT integration, no Alexa support, no OK Google or Google Assistant.
Limited free plan Only 24 hours of video history shared between up to 4 Canary cameras.
Not for outdoor use The Canary Flex is, but this regular Canary camera is just for indoors.

Gorgeous hardware and design

I may have said that the Piper looked nice when I got it a couple of years ago, but that's nothing compared to Canary. The cylindrical shape is sleek and superbly built with excellent finishes everywhere. All Canary colors, be it white, black, or silver, wrap around a black plastic that goes from the top to the front and then bottom of the camera. This is where most of the electronics are.

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I have the silver anodized aluminum model, an exclusive to Indiegogo at the time, and it looks more like a speaker than a camera. I've set it up in my pharmacy now and it fits incredibly well with the decor, despite me not trying to hide it or assimilate it. If I could find a way to get the cable through the shelves and put it right next to those deodorant cans, no one would notice it. On a bookshelf, in a TV room, or on a hallway console, it would blend right in.

canary-decor

The finish and build quality are top notch. There are no unsightly seams and no cracks, and there's no way to twist or bend the hardware. This is a robustly built camera and for the price you pay, you better receive something this well done.

The top of the Canary houses the speaker which, as far as I can tell, doesn't do anything just yet. Two-way communication was promised but hasn't been implemented yet, so for now, that's not an element you will use. It's also a touch-sensitive pad that's used to put Canary into pairing mode.

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The front hides the wide-angle camera lens and two holes, one of which is for the microphone and the other, I assume, for one of the sensors. You won't notice any of these unless you look at the Canary from an angle with the light hitting it just right. Otherwise, you can't tell there's a camera lens in there. Incognito surveillance.

canary-camera

The back of the Canary is where the Ethernet, MicroUSB, and 3.5mm plug can be found. You can use it over WiFi so the Ethernet port is only there if you prefer a wired connection to your router. The 3.5mm plug is a legacy element that was used in the early days of Canary to establish a connection with your phone for the first time. Now, that's been dumped in favor of the touch sensor on the top.

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As for the MicroUSB port, that's how Canary gets its power. So you can essentially plug it into any MicroUSB charger. The genius part here is that you can use a power bank with pass-through charging as a middle man between your charger and the Canary, thus implementing a backup battery system for the camera when there's a blackout. Otherwise, Canary just goes offline when there's no electricity.

The bottom of the Canary is where the LED status light is located. It lights up red when Canary is armed in Away mode, goes white when you're in Home mode, and turns off when Privacy mode is enabled.

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There's no MicroSD or USB slot to enable local storage on the Canary camera, which is a bit of a shame and forces you to rely on the company's membership plans to have access to everything recorded.

And finally, this camera is not rated for outdoor use. Only the smaller newer Canary Flex can be installed outdoor and used either on battery or on electricity, while withstanding the elements.

Tedious early-adopter setup

Setting up the Canary in 2015 was a headache-inducing mess. Something would fail at each trial, either my slow connection or the crucial firmware update or the recognition of the 3.5mm plug — yes, you had to establish a 3.5mm wired connection to your phone... I tried several times over a couple of weeks, then gave up, packed it, and put it in my gadget storage closet. (Sidenote: there are dozens of weird and/or cool gems there, some forgotten, some still popular, some just not working anymore.)

Then a few months ago, I was in the process of buying a house and thought about security, which reminded me that I had a Canary somewhere. So I decided to give it a second chance; maybe setup had been improved. Well, lo-and-behold, it was a lot easier to get the camera to connect and update. But, sadly, I couldn't see the live view and I wasn't getting any event notifications. Something wasn't working.

But since I'd gone through the trouble of setting it and I didn't feel like packing it up again, I left it running in the pharmacy and forgot it existed until a week later when I got a notification on my phone from the Canary app telling me that motion had been detected. I... wut? I launched the app and wouldn't you know it, it was perfectly working: the live view, the recorded videos, everything.

I've since had to reintroduce Canary to a new WiFi SSID about a week ago and setup was a breeze. And both Artem and Ryan have gotten Canary units recently and their experience was much faster and more streamlined than mine. So it looks like my case was either an exception or a problem with early hardware (I have one of the first batches of Canary) or software (the app has been updated several times since 2015 and the setup process has been greatly improved).

All of this to say that if you've heard or read about issues with Canary's setup, you're most likely looking at old reviews. Also, it's a sign the developers aren't neglecting the software and are always working out the kinks.

Geofencing, auto-arming and disarming

The first Canary feature I fell in love with is its auto-arm and disarm based on geofencing your phone. It works superbly. When you set up your camera, you will assign it to a specific location, see a map of the geofence around it, and have the choice to add members to that location.

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You can have several independent locations in the app. Note: that "Unused" location is a remnant of my tedious setup phase and I can't delete it unless I email support and ask them. There's no way to remove it inside the app. Silly.

Once your camera is up and running, the app will keep a tab on your phone's location and the moment you step away from the geofence created around the location, it will set the camera to Away mode. When you return, it will come back to Home mode. This works with multiple users too, so if at least one member is home, the camera disarms itself and if all members are away, it arms itself.

canary-settings-location-members canary-settings-location-modes

I've been keeping a close eye on when my Canary sets itself to Home or Away through the magic that is the Wink app connection. (We'll get to that in detail later.) I let Wink notify me each time my Canary's status changes to get an idea of when and where exactly Canary switches to home and away mode. The takeaway? It works reliably and it's impressively accurate. The only time when it didn't arm/disarm properly was once after an update to the Canary app. I guess it needed to be run once to launch its background process.

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Wink: Oh-oh looks like I left the pharmacy early on October 6 (left)! Like clockwork (right).

Away, Home, and Night Modes

I've been talking a lot about Home and Away and Privacy modes in relation to Canary. What exactly are these and how do they work?

When at least one member of the household is inside the geofence set for a specific location, the Canary unit(s) linked to that location will go into Home mode. You can leave Canary on, recording videos each time it detects motion and either notifying you or not, or set Privacy on to stop Canary's prying eyes.

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Home mode can be set to keep the cam on (left) or to allow for privacy (right).

When Canary is set to private, you can't even launch the live view mode, which I find understandable but a bit annoying. If you're home and you want to take a glimpse at a Canary unit that you've set to automatically go private in Home mode, you will have to trigger Away or Night mode to be able to see the live view. An override there would make more sense.

Night mode is an extension of Home mode in that it is only enabled during specific hours when at least one member is home. This lets you, for example, keep the garage camera on when you're home and sleeping or monitor odd movements in your home during the night. It's worth keeping in mind though that notifications will not override Do Not Disturb mode on your phone unless you specifically put an exception on Canary's app.

The most important mode of all is Away. You don't get a screen like the ones above because these don't make sense in this context. Instead, there are different levels of notifications that you can personalize to your own household and liking.

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Night mode settings (left) and Away mode's different notification controls (right).

First, you can ask Canary to notify you when it's been offline for more than a few minutes. This means that there's a power outage (Canary completely off) or your internet connection is down (Canary working but unable to reach the server to upload any video or notify of any event).

Second, the motion sensitivity slider lets you specify whether you want a notification for each and every shadow and reflection or just for more flagrant movements. All videos will still be recorded, regardless of the slider's setting, but you will just receive notifications based on how sensitive you want your monitoring to be.

canary-settings-location-notifications-connection canary-settings-location-notifications-motion

Third, you can set notifications for Canary's other sensors. These include the temperature, humidity, and air quality. So you'll get a notification when the air quality is abnormal or very abnormal, when the temperature drops or rises above a set level, or when your house becomes too humid or less humid than normal.

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Monitoring with Canary

Canary app

At any time, you can open the Canary app to view the status of the camera, watch live, or change any of the settings. The app is similar whether you're using Android or iOS, so it's not anywhere near Material Design-compliant. It does, however, look rather modern in its own kind of way.

Canary – Smart Home Security
Canary – Smart Home Security
Developer: Canary
Price: Free

The main screen is where you'll find a blurred image of the last event captured by your Canary and in the middle a "Watch live" button that turns to "Set to private" when privacy is on, as well as the different sensor readings. The top displays the selected location. The bottom has an icon with the current mode, the different associated members' avatars, and a "View Timeline" button.

Tapping on the current mode lets you manually toggle Canary to any mode you prefer, including setting the location to private or not.

canary-app-home-main canary-app-home-modes

You can swipe up and down on the main screen to launch the 2 other aspects of Canary: location and settings (top) and timeline (bottom).

canary-app-home-settings canary-app-home-timeline

Here are some of the settings and options you can personalize inside the app that I haven't shown you yet.

Canary plans and membership

Previously, Canary had a few varied plans to cater to different users. A free plan used to net you access to the past 12 hours of videos and events, 3 video downloads to save locally to your device, and 5 video bookmarks to keep stored in the cloud even if they're older than 12 hours. Then you could pay to extend your video and event history to 2 days ($49/yr), 7 days ($99/yr), and 30 days ($299/yr).

Now, Canary has changed its approach a little and is offering Membership. Free users benefit from 24 hours of shared history between all their Canary cameras (so if you have 1 you're better off, 2 nothing changes, 3 or 4 you're actually down a few hours per cam) with unlimited bookmarks and downloads. That latter part is awesome because you can now keep as many videos as you need.

Paid plans have been streamlined into one: $9.99/month or $99/year for 30 days of video and event history. So the cheaper option is now gone and the expensive one has been significantly discounted. Canary also offers a few benefits with Membership including an extended warranty, a live agent to talk you through everything if you're a theft victim, and an insurance deductible reimbursement up to $1000.

The new plans were supposed to launch in November, but the app is still showing me the limitation on bookmarks and downloads as a free user. I suppose it'll need an update to reflect the changes once they're fully in effect.

Live view

Whenever you need to check up on your home or the location where you've placed a Canary, you can launch the live view and start watching live...ish. I often felt some lag and delay when viewing Canary, but I attributed it to my slow connection. Turns out that Artem experienced the same thing with his Canary unit on his more than great connection. In his tests, Canary was off by about 10 seconds in its live view compared to Nest, which is rather unacceptable for something you might be using as a live monitor.

canary-app-home-main-watch canary-app-live-view-day canary-app-live-view-night

"Watch Live" when privacy is off (left). Zoomed view in early morning (middle) and at night (right).

The good thing though is that although the camera doesn't physically rotate, pan, or tilt, you can still see a large part of a room thanks to its wide-angle lens, zoom in and out, and focus on a specific area.

canary-app-live-view-1 canary-app-live-view-2 canary-app-live-view-3

Live view, near sunset time: full (left), slightly zoomed (middle), fully zoomed (right). Oh that's me!

From the live view, you can sound the siren or call any of your set emergency numbers should you have the need to. I haven't personally tested the siren because I like my ears the way they are and I don't like annoying them for nothing. Regardless, a 90dB siren should be loud enough.

The missing option here is an on-demand recording of the live view. Maybe you're seeing something that Canary hasn't picked up on or maybe you want to manually record a video of a specific moment. Right now, the app doesn't allow you to do that.

Home Health

The other thing you can keep an eye on are the different home sensors. Canary measures temperature, humidity, and air quality all the time, so you can see how things have been changing over the past 12-18 hours.

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It's useful, but Canary doesn't say what air pollutant it's detecting. A specific notification for carbon monoxide or methane for example would be well appreciated. Other pollutants like cooking odors are less crucial if they rise, at least in my opinion.

Video events

Any time Canary is recording (Away, Night, and even Home mode when you allow it to), it will save a video when the motion sensor is triggered. Videos don't appear to be limited by time: I've seen ones that span several minutes. However, you will only receive notifications of motion depending on the slider sensitivity setting you chose. If you only want to be notified of major motion moments, you won't get a notification about any of the small events that occur even though they'll all still be there in the timeline.

Canary's timeline shows events like different members entering and leaving the geofence, automatic mode switches, as well as the videos recorded when some activity is detected. You can scroll through the entire timeline, change the date, flip to see only Away events, or filter by videos you've bookmarked.

canary-app-timeline-videos canary-app-timeline-date canary-app-timeline-bookmarks

Videos can be played and bookmarked directly in the timeline, or you can open the specific video page to get more options like share, tag, comment, download, delete, as well as watch live, sound the siren, or call an emergency number. The video playback bar shows black stripes to correspond to the actual suspect activity.

canary-app-video canary-app-video-2

Tagging is supposed to help Canary learn from your house and your environment so that it can improve its recognition and reliably notify you of suspect activities without bothering you with small incidents. I have only recently started using these manual tags so I can't fully attest to their efficiency in teaching Canary. However, I can tell you that when I adjusted the sensitivity slider to my liking, I stopped receiving notifications about minor activity events.

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The one aspect of the experience that I don't like is the video download procedure. It takes a ridiculous amount of taps and screens to actually get a video saved locally to your device. You first have to go to the overflow menu and request the download, approve the download (remember, the app hasn't been updated yet to reflect the new unlimited downloads for free users), wait for it to process and tell you it's ready, then go to the overflow and tap to download, say Okay, and finally find the video in your gallery app.

Absolutely ridonkulous. How about a download button that you tap and it just downloads?

Accuracy, picture quality, performance

I have been using Canary for a couple of months in my pharmacy and despite the hiccups during setup, the experience has been good so far, albeit with a few interesting quirks.

I set Canary to Away before opening the pharma to simulate an intruder event. Notice the length of the video (Canary saves as long as needed), the slight audio/video offset, and the weird repeats at 33" and at 1'10".

You'll notice from the samples in this review that the video always starts a few seconds before the detected motion or event that triggered Canary, which is nice because you want a little bit of context and you may pick up on something happening there that Canary didn't.

The only place where I have a free electricity plug is by the door and since the pharmacy is located near the street with a pedestrian sidewalk, finding the sweet spot for Canary's position and the app's sensitivity slider took a long time. If I placed it perpendicular to the street, the wide-angle camera would pick up on a lot of passing traffic, taillights, and walking people. If I turned it toward the inside of the pharmacy, the night vision light got off-put by the large nearby white shelves, causing a purple hue.

Purple hue caused by too much nearby white on the shelves. The "activity" itself is just a flying bug.

If I lowered the sensitivity slider too much, I wouldn't get any notification of any suspect event. And if I raised it, I would get bombarded with a lot of notifications for insignificant stuff. Like the lights turning on and off.

Canary got triggered by the outside lights turning off.

Eventually, I figured a sweet spot of all those things so that Canary only sees the front door and a glimpse of the outside, but still has a perfect view of most of the pharmacy without any white balance issues at night.

Still, Canary's motion sensor is too sensitive and picks up on the smallest of things. Shadows, lights, reflections, outside sound, flying bugs, they all trigger the camera to record, even if I don't get a notification for many of these.

Car leaves its parking spot in front of the pharmacy, plus some noise outside.

I realize I'm not using Canary like it's intended, in the context of a home where outside motion isn't an issue in many settings, but still if you're placing a camera near your main door which has a glass window, it will be triggered by any and all things.

Regardless of the different manual tags and so-called smart learning and the sensitivity slider, Canary could really use some intelligent features. Zones would make it easy to define spots where you don't care about any perceived motion. People recognition could make it so the camera is only triggered when it knows a human was near it and not an insect, or it could at least let you filter events by those with people in them. Facial recognition could make it easier to limit notifications only to intruders.

Other cameras have been doing or have just started doing these sorts of things so it's time for Canary to catch up with them.

Wink integration

Honestly, I would have preferred if Canary implemented something other than a Wink integration. But the way this is set up is actually okay. You do not need a Wink hub to use Canary with the Wink app, that's the most important aspect of the whole story. You can just install the app, create an account, authorize access to your Canary, and you'll see and control the status of your camera(s) from the app.

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Why would you want that? Well, first, this lets you schedule your Canary to go into Home, Away, and Privacy modes. The official app doesn't support that: it's either manual or automatic with geofencing.

Second, you can create "Shortcuts" to trigger a certain mode. These shortcuts aren't just useful inside the Wink app, but they can be linked as "that" actions in IFTTT, thus allowing you to say something like "Alexa trigger Away mode on Wink" to arm your Canary, or trigger Canary's privacy mode when specific people are home, and so on...

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You'll notice the "OK Google" command in that last screenshot. When I first set this shortcut up about a couple of months ago, it was working perfectly. I could arm and disarm my Canary with an OK Google command and that gave me hope for Assistant and thus Google Home integration. However, OK Google commands haven't been working in Wink for the past few weeks and there's no explanation as to why. Canary isn't to blame here, but a nice feature could be lost on it if Wink doesn't fix the OK Google command issue soon.

And finally, if you do have a Wink hub, you can use Canary's status as a trigger or as an action in different Robots.

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I showed you earlier how I got Wink to notify me each time Canary changed its status so I can keep a tab on its geofencing accuracy, but there's a lot more you can do. For example, each time my Canary goes into Home mode in the working hours at the pharmacy, Wink disables the motion sensor and the door sensor notifications so that I don't get a pop-up on my phone each time the door opens and closes or someone moves inside the pharmacy. These however are enabled when Canary goes into Away mode at night so that I get notified of suspect movements.

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There are so many possibilities there, but a lot of limitations too. You can't tell Wink to trigger a recording on Canary when a sensor detects some activity, and the Wink IFTTT integration is very limited. As a "that" in the If This Then That, Canary can only be used as a reaction in your home automation system and not a trigger. So you can't use its excellent geofencing skills in home/away IFTTT applets, you can't ask Alexa what the current status of your Canary is or when the last recorded event was, and so on. I'd love to see these kinds of integrations.

Not for everyone, but pretty darn close

Honestly, based on my first horrible setup experience with Canary, I didn't expect much. I had dismissed this camera as another failed crowdfunding project but giving it another chance paid off well. Over the past couple of months, I've been using Canary along with Piper and recently Blink in my pharmacy to test them out. And the difference is clear as day: Canary wins by large strides.

Piper is silly enough that it doesn't turn itself back on when there's a power cut and the backup battery is empty. The power outages are so frequent in Lebanon that three new AA batteries run out every couple of weeks, so I got tired of purchasing new batteries. Result: each time there's a short power interruption, I have to walk over to Piper and manually press the button to turn it on, which renders it useless as a monitoring system when I'm away. Utter ridiculousness.

Blink is... well it just is. I don't know what to say. The app is so limited and the features are so crippled that I don't even know if it's worth the trouble (review coming later, by the way).

I don't have a Nest, Netatmo, Arlo, or any other camera to compare against — we're actually working on a wider comparison of all of these, stay tuned — so I can only speak of my experience: Canary works.

There are kinks, like the delay when live viewing, the sensitivity notifications, the absence of smart monitoring features for zones and people, the non-functional speaker, the lack of proper integration with many smart home services (Alexa, IFTTT, Assistant, etc), and so on. But these, as interesting as they are, aren't even near crucial for me. The outdoor and backup battery issue are solved with the upcoming Canary Flex, whereas the limited bookmarks and downloads won't be a problem when the new Membership takes effect.

Right now, Canary turns itself back on and automatically reconnects no matter how many power and internet outages you have — and it doesn't use a lot of data to boot. It reliably takes videos of each and every event triggered by the motion sensor. It lets you watch live when you're away. And most importantly, it consistently knows when to set itself to Away or Home mode, regardless of how many users are in a household. These are essential features for me and should be on top of any home monitoring kit, and Canary nails them.

Buy Canary: Amazon $180, Canary store $199