Connected home weather station delivers hyperlocal data: Netatmo (Review)

Netatmo personal weather station
© Netatmo

I'm a bit of weather watcher by nature, and checking the current weather conditions and forecast across one or more different services (currently Wunderground, Weather Channel, and Forecast) is one of the first things I do every morning. I do that for various reasons, depending on the season and the task at hand, which may be watering the garden or chopping wood.

In the late summer I'm loooking for signs that our monsoon rains will arrive, in the fall and spring I look for freezing temps that will affect my garden, in the winter I'm seeing if I need to bring in wood for the stove, and in early summer, I'm keeping an eye on high temperatures and winds that will dry out my trees and garden quickly. I also tend to check the inside temperature of my home fairly often, so that I can keep doors and windows closed during the hot times of day, or to stoke the fire when the inside temperature is dropping.

I don't have any method of tracking long-term data and trends for temperatures, or have any other sensors, and I rely mostly on the weather services and my own internal sense of temperature to guide me, so when I was asked if I wanted to try out a "connected" personal weather station from an Internet of Things startup, which features accurate measurements and long-term tracking, I was eager to.

"Air quality and weather conditions are a daily concern for city residents around the globe. By integrating air quality sensors into an easy-to-use personal weather station, specifically designed for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch we’re able to help users improve their indoor wellness and adapt their outdoor activities – creating a better way of life for everyone." - Fred Potter, CEO, Netatmo

The Netatmo is styled as an Urban Weather Station, which is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion, as it could be just as useful in the country as in the city. The device consists of two modules, both of which are in brushed aluminum cylinders, with the larger of the two serving as the indoor station and a smaller one as the outdoor sensor. The modules don't have any external display, as the data is viewed on the iOS or Android app, or via a web interface.

Setting up the system was quick and simple, and after plugging in the main module to the wall, I just downloaded and used the app and an initial Bluetooth connection, and then connected the Netatmo to my home's WiFi signal (for transmitting the data from the devices). The indoor module offers a feature to 'sense on demand' in addition to every five minutes, so I was able to get a reading right away for temperature, humidity, CO2 levels (which can also indicate high levels of other pollutants), air pressure, and sound levels. I placed it in a central location, in our main family room, and the only limitation for placing it was the need to be near a plug for powering it.

The second module, for outdoors, paired right away with the indoor module, but was a bit trickier to get set up, because I needed to find an appropriate place and method of mounting it. The module needs to be out of direct sun and rain exposure, but within range (100m) of the indoor module. Because I live in an adobe house with tall ceilings, the eaves are way too high for me to mount this below, and there were no other appropriate spots on the house, unless I were to drill and install an anchor on the outside of the wall itself. First I tried mounting it on an outbuilding, which was less than 100m away from the other unit, but I couldn't get a good signal (perhaps because of too many walls between the two?), so I ended up placing it closer to the house on the north side of a telephone pole.

I also received Netatmo's newest addition to the weather station, a rain gauge (which won't get much use from me until our summer rains start in late July) that can measure rainfall and trigger alerts. Mounting the rain gauge was a bit of a challenge, as it has a single threaded hole on the bottom, but no hardware and no mounting instructions. I was able to scrounge up a bolt that fit the hole, and then mount the bolt vertically to a fence post, so all's well that ends well, I suppose. Because we have no rain expected for the next couple of months, I filled a water bottle and poured it slowly through the rain gauge, which was almost immediately displayed on the app.

The app and the web interface allow you to see not only the current sensor readings, but a graph of all of the previous readings as well, which clearly showed the trends for all of the various sensors.

I've read some other reviews of the Netatmo system that questioned why you would even need the device, considering the availability of basic temperature and humidity data on weather apps. There seem to me to be quite a few advantages that the Netatmo weather station has over using a weather app or a TV broadcast, of which the most basic is that you get hyperlocal data - right from your yard and your home. For instance, if the nearest weather station is quite a bit distant from you, or is in a completely different type of location than your home (on the other side of a ridge, or in a valley or on a hill), the data from the Netatmo device will reflect what's happening right outside your home.

The Netatmo device can also be used to check conditions when you're away from home, as its cloud-based service can be accessed anywhere you've got an internet connection, and keeping tabs on things like temperature and humidity at home could be useful when traveling, and alert you if something seems amiss. The service can be set up with in-app alerts, or can be configured with IFTTT (If This Then That) recipes to send alerts via SMS, or a direct message on Twitter, or to trigger an event on another connected device or service.

For instance, if you set a trigger for loud noises with Netatmo, and configure an IFTTT recipe to SMS you when that happens, the system could serve as a monitoring device for break-ins (or unauthorized teenager parties) when you're away from home. You might set a low-temperature alert to notify you of the possibility of the pipes (or plants) freezing, or a high temperature alert on the outdoors module to let you know if your greenhouse is overheating, or a high CO2 alert to notify you that you need more ventilation in the home. An alert from the rain gauge could let you know if you need to make time to water the garden that day, or if you can skip it because of local rainfall, and while I didn't see this particular recipe, I imagine you could also set up a system to automatically turn off your sprinklers while it's raining.

The Netatmo weather station also has the option to let you share access to the data with others, either a single time or an ongoing basis, and to share your data on a weather map of other users, which might be of interest to those of us that are into weather data. According to press materials, this shared weather data is part of a the company's aim "to create the largest weather and air quality monitoring network ever established."

If I could submit a wish list to make this even better, I'd ask for it to incorporate a carbon monoxide monitor, a small display on the indoor unit for current readings, a battery instead of a plug on the indoor unit, and a wind speed monitor for outside. It looks like Netatmo also offers a smart thermostat with smartphone access, and it would be great to have the weather station talk to the thermostat, although there's no indication that is possible at the moment.

The full specifications are on the Netatmo site, and the devices can be purchased through the site, but are also available from Amazon.com and Brookstone and AT&T stores. The cost of the unit is $179, which might seem costly to someone who doesn't have a use for all of the features, or can't think of a need to set up IFTTT triggers and actions, but just in the short time I've used the Netatmo device, I've thought of a number of possibilities for connecting it to other devices with IFTTT recipes.

[Disclosure: I received a review unit of the Netatmo weather station for evaluation purposes, but the opinions in this post are mine, as are any factual errors.]

Tags: Gadgets | Weather