Canary All-in-one Security Device: Review

Disclaimer: The author was a crowdfunding backer of this product.

I've never been a huge fan of home alarm systems, monitored or otherwise. So often false alarms result in their owners simply leaving them disarmed, or forgetting to arm them when they go out. The neighbors ignore the as well for the same reasons. Monitored systems provide little more for the money, just having someone call you when it goes off if often not helpful, especially if plagued by the aforementioned false alarms.

Of course, many still find some comfort in the perception of security, or deterrence. I'm not up to speed on the statistics on the deterrent effectiveness of traditional alarms, but to my mind video surveillance is far more effective. This would seem to bear out given the rapid growth in home CCTV installations. It is here that Canary steps in.

Canary was founded on a simple principle: A single affordable plug-in device that that can provide a comprehensive security solution for home users. So, what does this look like in the final product? 

Hardware

The device itself is about the size of a medium sized water bottle. It stands free on any flat surface, providing there is a power socket nearby, and is packed full of features. The obvious ones for a security solution are the HD night vision camera and microphone, and the 90db siren. But on top of that are temperature, humidity, and air quality sensors, accelerometers to detect tampering, and Wifi or wired Ethernet connectivity.

 Canary comes in three color options

Canary comes in three color options

The atmospheric sensors can be configured with thresholds, and will send alerts through the smartphone app when they are exceeded. This allows the device to act as a fire alarm as well (heat and smoke), or simply to provide monitoring for extremes if you are concerned about pets or disabled residents while you are out.

Initial setup of the device is fairly straightforward. Once the Canary app is downloaded onto your smartphone, you'll be required to create an account. This step is mandatory as all communication with the device is via Canary's cloud servers. The next  step is t add a new device using the app, which will then step you through a simple process to  activate the device and securely associate it with your account.

Software

As with many smart devices, a smartphone is required as all the device functions are surfaced through the app. Android and iOS are supported. A key benefit here is Geo-fencing. Once the members of the household have been added to the devices location, a Canary will auto arm and disarm. That is, once the last member leaves the house, the device will arm and disarm as soon as any member returns. No more worrying to set the alarm, or forgetting to turn it off. Additionally, the state of the device is indicated clearly by the color of the soft glow underneath

In the armed state any variance from what the device deems to be 'normal' will trigger an alert to the members' respective phones , and start video recording to the cloud. You can immediately review the recorded clip, or initiate a live stream from the camera to see what is going on. To me, this gives a much greater level of comfort than simply having an alarm go off and getting a phone call. It is trivial to see the situation, and either trigger the alarm right from the event view, call the police, or simply tag the event with one of the various event types (eg: pet movement, sunlight, fan movement, etc.). You can also create your own event types for regular visitors, cleaners, and so forth who would naturally trigger an alert (unless you set the, up as household members of course).

The disarmed state is where Canary has a point of difference. You can choose to continue to record events, without notifications. The selling point here is that you can capture life events (child's first steps for example) that you may otherwise miss. I felt it a bit creepy having my every move in the room recorded, so opted for option 2; Privacy mode. This disables the camera and microphone anytime anyone is home, which is a boon for the privacy conscious. A third option has recently been added, night mode. This allows for alerting of events while at home, such as the kids sleep walking, or something more sinister.

Canary claims that the device learns from your tags whether certain recurring triggers are actually normal, and can improve its alert behavior accordingly. This may be so, but I've tagged what must be hundreds of events triggered by our very small dog jumping on the couch to no avail. 

Thankfully you can also adjust the 'sensitivity', which alters how often alerts will be generated for a given triggering event. This effectively reduces the false positives to a reasonable level. Now arguably false positives are an issue as it encourages users to ignore alerts, but I feel it's an acceptable compromise given how quick and easy it is to check what is happening. Often it's just a matter of looking at the thumbnail in the alert to see what triggered the recording (oh there's the dog again) without even needing to play the video.

Costs

As for ongoing costs, you can take a single Canary as-is and it will work with no ongoing fees. Events will be saved for 12 hours, which can be plenty enough to see what happened and take action, and a handful of events can be saved long term. Alternatively, you can take up a Canary Membership for US$99/yr (single device) up to US$199/yr (four devices). These will unlock 30 days of recording, unlimited saves, and bonuses such as 2 year extended warranty, and insurance rebates (for select locations and insurers). Given the package discounts for 4 devices and membership, enough to cover a large home, you'll likely still come in under the install cost and ongoing fees of a monitored alarm system with considerably more benefits and flexibility.

Security

Canary employs end-to-end encryption between the device, the cloud, and the smartphone. This means viewing videos on an open network won't expose any data to would be snoopers. 

As Canary owns the firmware they can, and do, push out updates over the air. Conveniently the update event is recorded in the timeline and visible through the app, so you can see when updates have come down. I've found updates to be fairly regular, which already puts them way out in front of most device vendors. The centralized control afforded by the cloud architecture also offers a notable security advantage in that if the device is offline, the cloud service sends you an alert. The timeline in the app will helpfully show when the device went offline, and when it comes back on.

Interestingly, Canary is the first device to be certified under ICSA labs new IoT security certification. The device passed with flying colors, as described in the detailed report on the ICSA labs site. Further to this, I have not been able to find any reported exploits or vulnerabilities to date.

Conclusion

The only flaws I can pick with the product to date are the continuing false positives from my dog, which are largely mitigated by the settings and ease of review, and some issues with the live stream function. The latter seems to stem from latency, which for me is particularly high to the Canary infrastructure (For reasons of geography). Buffer times have improved though as Canary has improved their infrastructure, so watch this space. Playback of recorded events seems unaffected, and is more than adequate to get value from the device.

Canary Website: https://canary.is/

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/canary