Become that nosy neighbor you always wanted to be with the Netatmo Presence

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Become that nosy neighbor you always wanted to be with the Netatmo Presence

There’s a fine line between security and being creepy and I think the Netatmo Presence is on the right side of things. This porch light/security camera melds the best of an automatic LED floodlight with an outdoor webcam, offering you a way to keep tabs on things even if you don’t want to leave the relative safety of your basement bunker.

Designed by French company Netatmo, the Presence is a very simple, very usable device. To install it you pull off your old lamp and metal “strap” that connects to the gang box, connect the wires to the small modular connector supplied with the Presence, and attach the new strap. Finally you simply screw in one large hex bolt and turn on the light. As long as your light is on the system will work.

The kit works with old pancake-style gang boxes (although you might want to waterproof things or simply replace it with a new gang box that’s more to code) and it requires no special skills to install as long as your home and electrical system are fairly new. It took me about 10 minutes to install the system with a flat-head and Philips screwdrivers and some caulking.

Once it’s up and running the system works surprisingly well. It records all of the video footage inside an SD card in the light and this footage is then streamed to your phone via the free Netatmo service. Netatmo only stores still shots of every alert that shows up on your phone and notifies you, depending on your settings, whether a person, animal, or thing enters the scene.

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The video is excellent in daylight and the IR sensor picks up a usable black and white image at night. As you can see above there are two views. One is a timeline view that shows little snippets of activity inside the scene and, when you turn your phone sideways, you see the entire scene enlarged. The camera has an audio feed as well. You can set special zones inside the app allowing you to get notifications only if someone encroaches on your territory.

The real value of this system is that the camera is nearly undetectable. While it’s not impossible to see the camera iris hidden behind a piece of dark glass, from a distance the Presence looks like a really bright floodlight. You can set the light to turn on at dark and turn off when it senses the first rays of sunshine or you can have it blind approaching ne’er-do-wells as soon as it senses motion. Either way you’re going to make friends with moths and other creatures of the night.

The Presence has a few interesting features. Aside from being able to record to a built in card, you can send videos it captures to a Dropbox folder or FTP server. It doesn’t have a speaker so you can’t talk to people out on your front porch from inside but the human vs. animal detection is surprisingly good and you’ll be pleased with the overnight notifications simply because the system doesn’t go off if, say, a tree branch waves in the frame.

I’ve been watching our front driveway since thieves stole all for tires off of our Honda Fit a few years ago and, although Dropcam’s interface is superior, the Presence seems like an excellent solution for keeping an eye on things. The low-light viewing works just fine and the notifications are far more granular and useful than Dropcam’s.

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A few caveats, however. First, the light is very bright to the point of blinding. Set at its highest level you’re basically going to ruin everyone’s night vision if they end up looking right into the Presence. Second, the odd styling isn’t for everyone and, once you get closer to the light, it’s easy to see that there is more there than meets the eye. It’s not exactly the sneakiest camera floodlight in the world but it comes close to being undetectable at a distance.

The $299 camera is up for pre-order on Amazon know and will ship in November. It’s a simple solution to a big problem – home security systems are usually either too complex or too difficult to install – and this one is neither. It’s a fully functional outdoor light and an outdoor camera and it offers great tools for monitoring your domain and/or watching the neighbors as they go about their business. Remember: everyone needs a hobby.

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