The inception of Switchbot began in 2016 with a simple thought. This intangible idea blossomed into an array of products designed to ease the transition to smarter living. By automating some of the tedious aspects of modern life, Switchbot aims to integrate technological developments into our homes. This review focuses on the SwitchBot Pan/Tilt Cam 2K, SwitchBot Contact sensor, SwitchBot Motion Sensor and the SwitchBot Hub Mini.
The Times They Are A-Changin’ once sang Bob Dylan. Indeed they are I say! It’s a sad fact that we don’t live in a utopian society. I often hear senior citizens reminiscing about how we once could go out of the house and leave the door open and feel safe in the knowledge that our belongings will still be there when we return. I’m a big fan of the US comedy Friends but I still feel bewildered when I notice that anyone can walk into anyone’s flat whenever they like! Even in real life, some people always enter the home from the back of the house.
For many, home security is a priority nowadays. As we live in an age where much of our home contents are technology-laden and possibly high-value, we’ve become so dependent on our devices that I’m sure we’d all feel devastated if we ever become victims of theft or burglary. The added benefit of Smartifying our homes could mean that we are one step ahead of any miscreant who may seek to “liberate” us from our possessions.
SwichBot isn’t just a home security system of products. A cursory look at their website will show you the various home automation products they produce as well. However, for this review, I’m keen to discover how well some of their products integrate into my existing home security setup.
This camera is a palm-sized, mains-powered, indoor, security camera. It has features that put it on par with similar products with the additional option to work alongside other Switchbot devices.
The body of the camera sits on a fixed base and rotates 360º horizontally and 115° vertically. There is a slot on the rotating black ball/ head of the camera that can accommodate a FAT32 formatted microSD card up to 256GB (not included). Users can also opt for the encrypted Cloud Storage option which is a paid service. Cloud storage could prove to be a prudent option if there is a risk the camera and/or SD card may get damaged or even stolen. I used a spare 2GB SD card which I had for the review. The Video Resolution is adequately sharp and clear 2K with image compression in H.264. This format is seen as a good balance between image quality and file size.
Once the SD card is inserted, the user will need to download the SwitchBot app to access all of the features of the camera. There is an initial set-up process that users need to follow. Guided by the app’s instructions, I did struggle at first as the camera wouldn’t recognise the QR code displayed on the phone screen. So, this resulted in me having to reset and begin the setup process again.
There are many useful features such as Wide-Angle Coverage, Smart Motion Detection, Smart Motion Tracking, Two-Way Audio, Sound Alarm, Night Vision and Privacy Mode (not really sure why this would be needed but it’s there if you want it!) The app can simultaneously display four pictures from different cameras if setup correctly.
I should mention that the app will only work if you have 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi.
The user manual isn’t as comprehensive as I would have liked but it’ll get you up and running fairly quickly. I feel the user is unduly required to use their intuition and guess-work when navigating the app which is one of the things that lets it down for me. For example, there is a category called Events which displays screenshots when a human is detected but when you click on the screenshot, it just displays a photo of what the camera is pointing at invariably with no human present.
The other aspect of the camera that I struggled with is retrieving saved videos for exporting to another location. While the user is able to watch saved videos on their phone with the app, there are no instructions in the manual on how to go about transferring videos to view on other devices. I had to look it up on the Switchbot website and then realised why it is not mentioned in the Instruction manual. One would ordinarily assume that you simply eject the SD card from the camera and copy the files to a computer. However, this doesn’t work. The video files are saved in a .media format which apparently is a ubiquitous format used by security cameras. To save an mp4 file, there is a convoluted process that needs to be followed.
There is a Playback category within which there are subcategories called MicroSD Card Videos, Cloud Videos and Recordings and Screenshots.
Clicking the MicroSD Card Videos displays a timeline with red markers to indicate periods when the video was captured so you can forward and rewind over the course of the day.
Clicking the Cloud Videos will presumably display the videos that have been stored on the Cloud if you have subscribed to this. Otherwise, it will display their pricing structure and give you the option to subscribe.
Clicking the Recordings and Screenshots just displays a blank screen. There are no instructions telling me what should be displayed here or how.
There is a category called Direction which allows you to set the pan and tilt rotation and angles of the camera. I found this really useful to frame the picture just how I wanted but there was a slight lag between the finger action on the phone screen and the camera rotation.
Finally there is a Features category in which you can set the Privacy Mode which will cause the camera lens to rotate into the body so it will effectively not film anything. This category is also home to Sound Alarm which when pressed will sound an alarm similar to a police siren. Night Vision can be set here too. The user is able to switch it on, off or put it on Auto. The quality of the night vision is pretty good as long as the subject isn’t too close to the camera. The 8 IR LED lamps which surround the lens can leave subjects looking washed out if they are too close to the camera. The Features category is also where you can set the Motion Detection and Motion Tracking features on or off. I placed the camera at the entrance to the home so I was really only interested in the Motion Detection. I suppose Motion Tracking is better if the camera is placed in a larger space for surveillance purposes.
As part of my existing security system, I already have contact sensors on most of the major windows and doors around the house. These sensors are directly connected to the alarm system so, for the purposes of this review, I attached the SwitchBot Contact Sensor to the one door that doesn’t.
The sensor is made up of two parts. The actual sensor (requires 2x AA batteries – supplied) and a magnet. Once again, you need to use the app to install it. It’s quite self-explanatory. The app will guide the user as to how and where to place the sensor. Once added to the list of connected Switchbot devices, the app will notify the user when the door is open, closed or left open for a pre-set amount of time. You can also fine-tune the settings with the app.
Similar to the contact sensor, the motion sensor is added as an additional device in the app. With 2x AA batteries (provided), the sensor comprises two pieces. The sensor and the mount. The mounting stand allows the user to place the sensor on a table/countertop, wall or ceiling with the use of the provided sticky pad. The sensor can be rotated and angled to the desired position when it is fixed to the mount with a generous push. After it has been set up, it will notify you via the app if any movement is detected. The user can further determine the range of sensitivity of the sensor by selecting the desired setting during setup.
The SwitchBot Hub Mini is a segue into the world of Smart living. As mentioned earlier, the SwitchBot app allows users to control multiple devices. It also works with Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and other smart assistants. If you happen to have a hoard of remote controls for all of your devices (Yeah, you know who you are!), why not consolidate them? When you launch the SwitchBot app, you are given the option to add numerous devices from categories such as Home Automation, Hub, Household, Sensor, Security, Power Switch, Lighting and IR Appliances. The list of devices and appliances within these categories is huge! It may take some time to get used to using your phone to control all of these devices. The user interface may be slightly different to what you may be used to. However, embracing this idea could be beneficial as we bring more gadgets into our lives.
There is a plethora of feature-rich home security/ automation products that are saturating the market at present. Careful analysis will conclude that each of them has a USP that differentiates it from its competitors. I feel SwitchBot is covering many bases with their range of security products, which is just part of their product lineup. The homogenising of various products into a suite that is all controlled from within one app is a savvy business model. Is it perfect? No. While the concept is commendable, I think the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) need some fine-tuning. Having a crappy WiFi connection doesn’t help much, but that’s my problem! It genuinely feels like it’s a step towards the future of things. I think SwitchBot is on the curve of an exciting future where technology is increasingly becoming seamlessly integrated into our home environment.
To find out more on the SwitchBot ranges, check out their website:
Or find the Switchbot range on Amazon here:
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