GADGET REVIEW: Panasonic Smart Home

If you're not a gadgety person, you might want to skip this blog :)

I'm a BIG gadget lover and really like smart home products that enable you to implement a DIY system of some kind at home. They generally land up being a lot more cost effective in terms of installation and often work just as well as the systems that cost 10 times more and wired in your home by an installer.

My house doesn't have conduiting for a wired home camera monitoring system (and I don't have drop ceilings to lay down cables), so for about 10 years I've been using IP cameras. These are stand-alone internet based cameras that use your Wi-Fi to stream images. Fortunately Wi-Fi technology and IP cameras have improved over the years and they work quite well. I have 10 cameras at home that all use my Wi-Fi to broadcast images to my phone and home computer. The down side to this system is that it's quite taxing on my Wi-Fi network and congests the pipe for other other things I want to do (such as stream Netflix etc). Also, the cameras only work well in rooms where you have strong Wi-Fi.

This is where Panasonic's new Smart Home comes in handy.
It uses the premise of wireless home monitoring, but is not reliant on your existing Wi-Fi network to connect to the cameras as it creates its own Wi-Fi signal that is a closed system just for it's cameras (however, it will need to tap into your Wi-Fi to broadcast the camera feed out of your home to your phone. There is no LAN option for the hub to connect to your network). It's ecosystem connects more than just cameras, because in the box you also get a motion detector and a glass pane detector (that picks up if a window breaks). There's also a cordless phone system attached. Overseas the system also comes with a smart plug socket, but these haven't yet been configured for the South African market as far as I know.

hubIt's all run from a central hub that emits the Wi-Fi signal (runs on the DECT system of transmission). It's definitely got a strong signal and can pick up the cameras through a wall or two, but I did find that if I placed the hub at one end of my house it couldn't pick up it's camera at the other end. My personal Wi-Fi covers a much broader area of my house so at this stage I would have to say my own IP cameras are more effective as an all-in-one solution. For the Panasonic system to replace my IP cameras, I would need to have more than one Panasonic hub in my house so that it can reach it's cameras throughout home. The problem with this is, the hubs work independently of each other so cannot be somehow daisy chained. Another slight disadvantage of the current hub is that it can only connect a maximum of 4 cameras. Should you want more cameras, you would need to get a second hub.

You view and control the entire system via the app on your phone (android or OS) and Panasonic have made multiple updates over the past few weeks to get it running smoothly. The app is quite intuitive and is easy on the eye. My only concern, and this affects the rating of the system as a whole, is that when trying to get the app to remotely connect to the hub I often get a connection error, or it takes for forever to connect to the system. This means you cannot always simply view your cameras within seconds of opening the app. I'm hoping subsequent software updates will eradicate this glitch.

When the app works, it works well. Using the software on your phone, you can arm or disarm the entire system and configure the settings too. It pushes through alerts to your device the moment the alarm is triggered.

Should you decide to run two hubs in your home I'm not quite sure how it would work with the app. Bearing in mind the app will only connect to one hub, you would theoretically need a duplicate version of the app on your phone to run the second hub.

So what's the conclusion? If you are not presently running any system at home then the Panasonic Smart Home is a reasonable "out the box" solution. They do need to still focus on:
1) Allowing more cameras to connect
2) Somehow having a signal range extender for larger homes
3) Giving the hub a LAN port so you can connect it directly to your router without using your home's Wi-Fi
4) Sort out the app connectivity to the hub so there are no connectivity errors.

The Panasonic Smart Home is a great first attempt and early adopters will love it. The more mainstream consumer might want to wait for version 2. At the time of publishing this blog the price point and stockists was not clear (I'll update the blog when it becomes available).

This is not a sponsored blog and Mark is not a technical guru. He's simply a pro-consumer enthusiast who likes playing with gadgets and reporting on them in a "non-geek" language. The Panasonic Home System was provided by Panasonic SA for the purposes of a long term demo with no promise of a review.

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