The $40 Million Funded Startup Canary Tested

By Ethan Ace, Published Jun 16, 2015, 08:00pm EDT

This startup, Canary, has raised $40 million total since 2014.

With Google buying Dropcam for $555 million, investors see big opportunity in security / video startups.

Canary now has a sizeable warchest for aggressive expansion.

But is Canary's product any good? We bought one to find out, testing it against Dropcam, as shown in the image below:

We tested:

  • How easy is it to set up?
  • Is the app simple to use?
  • How well does video search / playback work?
  • How well do Canary's extra features like environmental monitor and built-in sounder work?

Inside, we answer these questions and more.

Key Findings

Overall, Canary is a mixed bag, with some interesting advantages, coupled with potentially crippling disadvantages:

Advantages

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Canary offers some added features such as a built-in siren and environmental monitors which are not found in most competitive options. Additionally, its VMD performance was excellent, with few false or missed activations, resulting in fewer nuisance alerts or wasted recordings.

The ability to add third party monitoring is also a plus, found in few competitors (and notably not in Dropcam), and removes a common objection to many consumer cameras: that they must be self-monitored, leaving users tied to their device or vulnerable to break-in or other events.

Limitations

However, there are key limitations which may be dealbreakers for many users:

  • No search: The lack of any sort of search means users potentially must scroll through numerous events in their timeline in order to review clips which while they were away from their device. Adding third party monitoring to view these events is possible, but adds $10 per month for each camera.
  • No wall/ceiling mount: The lack of a wall or ceiling mount limits Canary to bookshelf/tabletop use, which may be undesirable aesthetically and negatively impact performance, if a wall/ceiling is a better option to cover desired areas.

Recommendations

Users seeking alert video only, who have constant access to their mobile device, will find Canary most useful. These users may prefer from the camera's built-in siren, as well, as it may remotely triggered to scare off intruders in case of break-in.

However, the many consumer users, who are not constantly tied to their mobile phones, may find the lack of any advanced search or export functions difficult, and be better served with Dropcam or other options.

Camera Price

Canary sells for $250, direct, or via online retailers. This is ~25%/$50 more than the $200 Dropcam Pro or Samsung SmartCam. However, these models do not include the built in siren or environmental monitoring features of Canary.

Recording Plans and Pricing

Canary offers several recording plans, ranging from free to $39.99 USD per month:

All plans include motion recording and alerts.

Compared to Dropcam, the "Never Miss A Moment" plan is priced similarly ($9.99 vs. $9.95). However, the Advanced 30 day plan is $10 less than Dropcam's equivalent subscription.

Third Party Monitoring

Unlike many competitors, which are self monitored by the user only, Canary offers central station monitoring of VMD alerts (discussed below), which may be added to any paid plan for an additional $10 per month. Free Basic plans may not use this service.

Physical Overview

Unlike most other surveillance cameras, Canary is intended to sit on a table or shelf. No wall or ceiling mount options are provided. While this is the simplest means of mounting, important for the consumer market, it limits where the camera may be installed, potentially preventing it from obtaining ideal FOV.

Setup Process

Canary setup is simple, with the mobile app walking users through creating an account and adding a camera. Unlike other cameras, which perform initial setup via USB or wi-fi/Ethernet, Canary uses a stereo cable between the camera and mobile device, with them effectively functioning as modems to transmit setup information.

Unfortunately, since there is no way to remove a camera from an account once activated, without waiting for support, we cannot demonstrate the full setup process. The process from starting the app, creating an account, and starting transmission via stereo cable, is seen below:

App Overview

The main screen of the app displays basic information regarding system status and environmental conditions. Users may tap "Watch Live" to view camera(s), swipe up to open the timeline, and down to open account/camera settings.

Live View

From the live screen, users may begin manual recording, trigger the built-in siren, or make emergency calls. Note that emergency numbers should be double checked after setup as they may be incorrect, which we review in configuration, below.

Notably missing from this screen is any sort of snapshot function. Users must use their mobile device's built-in screenshot action (home + top/side button on iOS, for example) to take snapshots. There is also no way to mute/unmute the microphone of the camera, so audio is always on.

Timeline

Swiping up on the live screen pulls up the timeline, essentially simply a list of events and associated video. While the timeline is simple to use, with few controls, there are two key limitations:

  • No search: There is no way to search for specific days or times in timeline, forcing users to scroll through them manually. Users may save events from the timeline for easier retrieval later, with each counting against their saved event total.
  • No export: There is no way to export a video clip from the Canary app. Users wishing to turn over video to law enforcement, for example, are limited to screenshots only (also limited, see above).

Configuration

Swiping down, users may access configuration. Most notably here:

  • Auto mode switching: Users may configure whether Canary automatically switches mode to Disarmed or Privacy when users are present (in the location radius configured in setup). Disarmed mode continues recording, but does not alert, while Privacy disables the camera altogether, with live video and audio unavailable.
  • Incorrect emergency numbers: Canary automatically populates phone numbers for police, emergency medical services, and fire based on the location given during setup. However, in our location, two out of three (police and EMS) were wrong. Users should be careful to enter correct numbers, or simply use 911, to ensure they can contact the proper responders in an emergency.

VMD Performance

This VMD performance is especially important for Canary, as they offer third party monitoring of these alerts, and we found it to be accurate, with very few false positives or missed activations.

Left overnight in an open office area, Canary did not alarm at all until staff turned lights on the next morning, with no triggers caused by digital noise, floating particles, or light changes. Additionally, Canary's only missed activations were in low light when the subject was beyond its IR range. In our conference room test scene (20'x30', larger than a typical residential room), Canary did not miss any valid activations.

Image Quality vs. Dropcam

Canary's camera is 1080p, higher resolution than many competitors, such as the Dropcam Pro (720p). However, video is highly compressed, with visible image artifacts and pixelization, rendering it only modestly more useful than 720p models.

Additionally, its wider field of view (147° vs. 130° in Dropcam Pro, seen below) further reduces PPF.

In this full light comparison, few, if any, more usable details are delivered by Canary compared to the Dropcam Pro, with the subject's features slightly more pronounced, and lines 4/5 of the test chart slightly more legible (ONVSR/KDNRO).

In the dark, with IR on, the difference is neglibible, with neither camera providing usable images of the subject, and only some legible letters on the first line of the chart.

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