There are plenty of home security cameras on the market, but the Piper NV doubles up as a smart home hub too. Can this do-all device ably attend to both needs? Chris Smith finds out
I’d never really considered owning a home security camera before. For many of you reading this, I imagine you’re newcomers too. However, the day the Piper NV arrived at our apartment we had ourselves an incident.
As I was setting up this tight little package and thinking about where to place it, I decided upon giving the 180-degree fisheye lens a viewpoint that encompassed our back porch. As I gazed out I realised my bike was gone.
In a heartbeat, the Piper (and the compatible door/window sensor Piper enclosed), went from something I was testing, to something I was going to use and rely on.
So what is the Piper NV?
Like many home security cameras, the Piper NV is designed to monitor your abode while you’re away. It enables you to tune into a live video feed remotely via the companion Piper app and you set rules for when it makes recordings and how it’ll alert you to motion, temperature and sound changes.
However, this Wi-Fi-powered device is unique because it couples the ability to automate other devices in your home, such as plugs, light bulbs and door/window sensors, thanks to the Z-Wave smart home hub nestled inside.
- What is a Smart Hub and how do you choose the right one?
- Smart Home technology: How to get started?
- What is a smart security camera and how do you get started?
- Amazon Echo: What is it and is it any good?
The whole package, whether you’re at home or away, is controlled via the easy-to-use Piper smartphone app for iOS and Android, enabling you to create profiles and rules depending on your schedule.
Like the Amazon Echo, we think all of this makes the Piper NV a pretty good option if you’re new to smart home tech, or looking for a simplified set up without too many hubs, cameras and gadgets cluttering up the place.
If you’re thinking of jumping aboard to shore up your home security or even keep an eye on your pets while you’re at work, allow us to share some of our experiences…
Setting up the Piper NV
Considering it includes a smart home hub, a two-way microphone, a speaker, a wide-angle HD camera with night vision mode (Hence ‘NV’), a frighteningly loud siren, along with light, temperature, sound and motion sensors, it’s a remarkably demure package with the footprint of a pint glass.
The device, which comes in black or white, looks a little bit like a PC speaker, can be used as a freestanding device, or affixed to a wall using the bundled-in mount.
Before you start, it’s worth thinking about where you want to put your Piper NV. The 180-degree panoramic fisheye lens means that with strategic positioning that it can pretty much cover an entire room.
It does require constant connection to the mains, but also takes three AA batteries. This comes in handy in case you decide to move it. Or, if there’s a power cut, the Piper will run off the back up power (although not for long).
Once it’s stationed you’ll need to download the free Piper app from your app store and follow the easy on-screen instructions that’ll help you set up an account connect up to your home Wi-Fi network. We’d estimate it took less than five minutes to get up and running and you can see a few screenshots of the process below. Remember, multiple members of the same household can log into the same account.
This is where the fun starts. Even if you choose not to connect any smart home accessories there’s so much you can do with the Piper.
Once you’ve logged in you’ll see the dashboard, which enables you do get a snapshot of everything going on. You’ll see if an alarm has been triggered, the temperature inside and outside, a tab to set up accessories, options to control settings and more.
Piper NV: Live Feed screen
Of course the first thing you’ll want to do is to tune into your camera feed using the enlarged tab at the foot of the app. You’ll see a view with a delay of less than a second.
You can use your touchscreen to move the focus of the shot in any direction and even pinch to zoom to get a close up of a certain part of the room.
There are also lots of options available through the Live Feed screen. You can adjust the brightness with the slider, or adjust on/off/auto settings for the excellent Night Mode camera that surprised us with its crispness.
If your cat is messing with your begonias again, or you want to chat to someone in the room or address an intruder, you can hold down the microphone button and make yourself heard. The Piper’s built in mic will transmit any replies (or meows) back to you.
Well in theory you can… the two-way conversation feature never worked on the unit Piper sent to us. This was a letdown, as it was a feature we looking forward to testing.
Tapping the grid icon shows four viewpoints, which is better if you have multiple cameras set up. However, it does enable you to zoom and focus on different areas if there’s only one to choose from.
Setting the ground rules
If the initial set up was a doddle, it takes a little longer to run through all of the options and make sure the Piper NV is perfectly tailored to work for you. This is achieved by creating situational profiles, or modes.
There’s a Home mode, an Away mode and a Vacation mode and you’ll need to set up rules for each of them by tapping the Erlenmeyer flask icon in the app. You’ll set actions for when motion, loud sounds or temperature changes are detected.
These actions include recording video, receiving a notifying you or your trusted circle or sounding the siren, which is loud as Hell.
So, for example, if you’re in Vacation Mode you’ll want to enable a lot of those actions. However, if you’re in Home Mode you don’t want the siren going off if Piper detects you going to the toilet in the middle of the night. Trust us, it’s not fun.
Thankfully, if you have pets at home, you can alter the sensitivity of the motion sensor in the settings.
The key thing to remember in this setting is to make sure you have the right mode running at the right time by adjusting through the pie chart like icon on the homescreen. If you don’t want your Piper doing anything (i.e. you know you’re going to be in all day) you can switch to Off mode.
Piper NV: Night Mode
Tucked away on the home screen is a blue flap that enables night mode. This is a single nightstand that offers quick access to any ‘events’ like the motion sensor being tripped, or whether loud noises have been heard. You can also quickly adjust connected gadgets like sensors, switches and bulbs. It also enables you to quickly trigger a deafening Panic alarm guaranteed to wake the neighbours. For when you need to react quickly, it may be a lifesaver.
Piper NV: Events
Speaking of Events, these are accessible via a triangular icon on the dashboard shows you everything that’s been going on. If motion has been detected, if a sensor is opened or even if there’s weather alert. Events are usually delivered to your smartphone as a push notification
Here you’ll also see a tab with a play button showing any recordings made by Piper. Clips are stored in the cloud, but can be downloaded to the device for playback.
The difference here is, compared to other services like Nest’s Dropcam platform, you never have to pay a subscription fee to record video and access your recordings. Dropcam’s cloud recording plans start at $10 a month, but do offer round the clock coverage.
Adding wireless accessories
Now we’ve boxed off the Piper’s functionality as a basic security camera, lets talk about how it becomes a really unique proposition; through home automation tech. This is enabled through connected, wireless accessories that complement and combine really well the camera’s core functionality.
Piper sent us a door/window sensor, a smart plug and a dimmable lightbulb, but there are others too, including a water sensor to let you know if there’s any flooding and an outdoor smart switch.
Just like the initial set-up, it’s super straightforward to add these accessories by following the clear instructions within the Piper app. Hit the blue accessories button on the app dashboard and hit Add Wireless Accessory to get started. Each compatible accessory will require a slightly different set-up method, but it’s all explained clearly.
Smart lighting and Piper
We enjoyed using the LienearLinc Bulbz Z-Wave smart lighting for our living room lamp. Instead of getting up to dim the main living room lights we’ve started to gradually lower the lamp as it gets closer to bedtime, thanks to a little slider in the Piper app.
You can schedule the light to turn on and off at different times of the day and the weekend via the automations tab. Using this it’s also possible to automatically turn on the light when the room gets dark or turn it off after a certain amount of time.
We plan to use functionality this during a forthcoming weekend away. Given our currently concern over thieves, we plan to keep the light on for a few hours a day to act as a deterrent.
This brings us back to how the camera and the home automation tech becomes symbiotic. In Stay Mode, if the Piper NV senses motion, I’ve configured a rule to Turn Bulb On, which means I no longer have to stumble to the light switch in the dark.
You’ll find your own best use cases.
The Door and window sensor
Any invasion on personal property can be unsettling, so I was glad of the Piper-branded door and window accessory, especially seeing as we’re going out of town this weekend.
It was easy to install on the door and the frame with adhesive strips, has a range of up to 65-ft (range extenders are available) and the two AAA batteries will last two years.
In Vacation Mode, I’ve been able to set up a number of rules for when the sensor is opened. The NV Piper will begin recording video, I will be notified by a phone call, people in a Trusted Circle (set up via the app’s settings) will also be notified and the 105db siren will immediately go off.
Hopefully, that would be enough to deter.
Smart Plug keeps it cool
When reading this article, you may have wondered why temperature variances are all that significant. Well this is where the smart plug adaptor, which enables you to turn any electronic device on and off, can come in handy.
If, in Away mode, it begins to get a little hot, you can program a smart plug (which just looks like a travel adapter) to turn on a fan to cool them off. Likewise, if it gets too cool you can flick on a heater.
As you can see from the screenshot, you can set temperature thresholds to act as you desire. The only trouble here is, that in our experience, the temp readings weren’t always that accurate.
This is just one example of a potential use for a Smart Plug. Personally, I have a habit of forgetting I’ve left my record player spinning when leaving the house and have burned through loads of needles. I plan to hook it up to my player from now on.
Smart Switches are also available to help you to control outdoor appliances, like lighting fixtures… or perhaps even the Jacuzzi pump! OK, wishful thinking there.
Piper NV: price and availability
There are also bundles. A Piper NV with a choice of 3 accessories costs $399 (about £325), while the whole home Ultimate bundle with 5 accessories of your choosing (you can mix and match) costs a whopping 979 Euros (£772). Accessories cost between £31 and £36. More are likely to become available/compatible over time.
Again, one of the major selling points is the lack of subscription fee.
We’ve enjoyed our time with the Piper NV so far and believe it has been a valuable addition to the tech arsenal in our home. The all-in-one solution certainly beats having multiple cameras and hubs and the way accessories seamlessly fit in with the main features is well thought out.
It’s a great entry point for shoring up your home security and something that will only get better over time…
Living with Piper NV: is it any good?
Dennis was an early adopter of the Piper NV and has been living with it for over two years. We asked him about his likes and dislikes.
- Name: Dennis Woronuk
- Location: Calgary Alberta, Canada.
- Occupation: Engineer
When did you get the Piper?
I was one of the crowdfunders on Indiegogo so I got one of the very first units in January 2014. I have four, two of the originals and two of the NVs spread across my two homes. The Canary product raised about 3-4 times as much on Kickstarter, but doesn’t come anywhere near to the capabilities of Piper.
How do use it?
I use it mainly for security. I had a break in in December 2014 and the Pipers were instrumental in capturing the thieves. I was travelling in Texas and started receiving calls and messages from the Piper saying there was an intrusion. Sure enough, I look on the captured video and there they are! I was able to describe them to the police and they were apprehended.
How is this better than a traditional security system?
Sometimes with alarm companies it takes them about 15 minutes to send the signals to 911 because they’re doing other things. With a Piper I was notified instantly and able to make the call myself.
Have you tried out some of the smart home automation?
I have a lot of home automation tech from Honeywell, Belkin and WeMo so I haven’t yet enabled the Z-Wave hub on the NV. But I’m looking forward to the arrival of IFTTT (If This Then That) integration so I can use them together.
What are some of your favourite Piper features?
It’s such a well-engineered product, whether it’s mounted on the wall or desk. The user interface and functionality is so well thought out. I use the Away and the Vacation modes a lot and even when I’m on an airplane I can set up a Trusted Contact to monitor for me. Every once in a while, I’ll look at the video cameras, but I don’t have pets or children around. Sometimes I use the environmental monitoring because it can get cold up here in Alberta and it’s good to have a fall back for my Thermostat. It’s also great to severe weather alerts, which is a nice feature that you wouldn’t even think of being there.
Is there anything you’d like to see improved upon?
People complain about the lack of a web interface, but I don’t find that a problem. I use it through the app on my iPhone and iPad. Some people say cellular capabilities would help, if an intruder cut your internet access, but then you’re talking about a whole new price point.
- Now read our verdict on Samsung SmartThings.