Author(s): Martin Garner
We first saw the Piper home security and automation device at International CES 2014, and it's had a meteoric career so far. The then-start-up's product won a design and innovation award at the show, and the company has since been acquired by home security services specialist iControl. The device was then launched in Europe, and I've been testing one recently.
It's much more glossy and appealing than many of the other connected home devices available. Piper was one of the first connected home manufacturers to take some design cues from the likes of Apple (in what is becoming an established trend), and Piper has extended this approach to the way the device operates.
Setting up the product is straightforward and takes about 10 minutes. After installing the backup batteries, you can download the app, create an account and connect to Wi-Fi. The company has made Wi-Fi set-up easy: the app connects the mobile device directly to the Piper unit, and you then choose from the access points that it can see.
The app has four main modes: Security Disabled, At Home, Away and Vacation. Each of these follows customisable rules for what happens if the system detects motion or a loud noise, if the temperature strays from a set range (if there's a fire, for example) or if a sensor is activated. This list of rule options expands automatically as you add more devices and sensors to the system. The motion detection sensor has a sensitivity setting to allow for pets of different sizes, and there's a bedside mode in which a button labelled "panic" enables you to activate the (extremely loud) alarm siren manually if someone breaks into your house. The unit speaks aloud to say which mode it's in, and permits two-way audio to let users chat to their pets or housemates.
The device logs events in the app and can send a push notification, e-mail, call or text message to your phone or to a trusted circle of friends. It can also be set to sound its siren and record video; video recording is event-driven rather than continuous, and the clips are stored in Piper's cloud and can be viewed on a phone.
The camera defaults to wide-angle fish-eye view, with pan, tilt and pinch-to-zoom functions. It can also simultaneously display this fish-eye view alongside three flat pictures of different parts of the room thanks to image processing from the single camera. Its video quality is respectable, even in low light.
Piper's device is able to detect motion in a room, and contains an internal motion sensor to cope with the possibility that a burglar could pick it up and smash it — if physically disturbed, the unit starts to record video immediately and uploads this to the cloud, hopefully before the intruder breaks it.
Piper's product can also act as a Z-Wave hub for other connected home devices such as door or window opening sensors, plugs and light switches, and it's possible to run several Piper units together as a system for larger houses.
The app is clean and simple, and efforts to cut out unnecessary steps have left the essentials in place and easy to use. However, as with other connected home devices, the lack of a Windows Phone app — or even a Web front-end — means that its usefulness in my house is severely limited (though a Windows Phone app is planned soon).
The Piper unit is better designed, thought out and executed than many of its competitors and, at €149 in Europe, it's also cheaper.