Weekend Weather Word #6 – Netatmo Personal Weather Station

Me, a prepaid MasterCard containing my Christmas bonus, all the stores airside at Schiphol Airport, and a five-hour layover. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of a perfect storm. Perfect storm for the credit on that Mastercard, that is. But wait a minute, this is a weather blog, why the hell am I spamming it with content like this? Well, first of all, this is MY blog, so I make the rules! 😉 Secondly, one of the products that found its way into a dangerously overloaded shopping bag was a Netatmo Personal Weather Station. You see, as much as I like the resources the internet puts at my disposal, there’s nothing like having your own data source available, one where you know EVERY detail about the microclimate, etc.. And with me doing a significant amount of my forecasting, etc. at work, Anything other than a web-connected weather station was out of the question. Besides, I’d had my eyes on this weather station ever since I was still a phone support advisor at Apple. However, as much as I wanted to try this thing out, by the time I got home, the desire to catch some sleep was much stronger.

The next day, after copious amounts of coffee, I was able to get the whole thing up and running. The content of the box is fairly limited. You get the indoor base station, an outdoor sensor, a power adapter and cable for the base station, as well as a wall anchor, a mounting strap, and two batteries for the outdoor sensor. The weather station itself is pretty inconspicuous. In fact it is just an aluminum cylinder with a plastic base and top, and a long translucent “window” on the front. The same goes for the external sensor, which is basically just a smaller copy of the base station, think mini-me. You can also get additional indoor sensors, as well as a wind or a rain gauge. For the time being, I’ll stick to the base layout, however.

Setup is pretty straightforward. Download the netatmo app for the mobile OS of your choice. Netatmo gets some bonus points here, as it actually offers an app for Windows Phone, a mobile OS that should definitely be better supported than it is at the moment. Alas, for me it is off to the iOS app store, where dedicated apps both for iPhone and iPad are available, something that still isn’t industry standard. Then it’s just a question of plugging in and syncing the base station with your mobile, and setting up an account with netatmo. Then, all that remains to be taken care of is the mounting of the external sensor. It should be out of direct sunlight and in a dry spot where rain can’t reach it. Well, it had to settle to being strapped to a support for the balcony railing in my case, it’s the best I had available.

Since the netatmo Weather Station does not feature a display, all the intelligence of the system is confined to the app. And what can I say, the amount of data you have at your fingertips with the app is amazing. You get all the standard data you’d expect, indoor  and outdoor temperature, humidity, and air pressure, although the latter is something that only very few consumer grade weather stations offer. The really sweet stuff happens with the indoor sensor. In addition to measuring humidity separately from the outdoor sensor, it measures the volume of ambient noise in the room it is installed in, and the CO2 concentration, which gives you a pretty good indication of the air quality, and whether it is time to open the windows. At the same time, the app provides you with information about pollution levels outside as well. Oh, and not only is this information displayed, it is updated every 10 minutes, and stored on Netatmo’s servers, (I hope they’re virtualized! 😉 ). This means, you also get a permanent record, something sorely missing with “conventional” consumer grade weather stations.

If the station can keep a network connection, that is. Yesterday morning, after little more than 36 hours of operation, my Netatmo station suddenly dropped the connection to the server and the mobile apps. What’s more, even repeated attempts to re-enter the WiFi details failed, with varying error messages. The same thing happened when I tried to re-run the entire setup assistant. I was finally able to get the station back up and running after running the setup process and overwriting the network information using the MacOS installer. So far, the network connection seems to be holding, but I’ll keep an exe on it over the next couple of days anyway. If this issue repeats, it could pose a serious problem.

Getting back to the positives, another sweet feature of the app is the Netatmo weathermap, which shows the values registered by other Netatmo weather stations on a map, enabling you to see not only local differences in microclimate, etc., but also track warm or cold fronts as they move through the country. As of the date of this review, I’ve had the station up and running for less than twelve hours in a weather situation that can best be described as “booooooring!”, I cannot say much about the practicality yet, but it’s definitely something to have access to an entire network of stations, something hitherto reserved for either national weather services or commercial players.

The big question with every weather station is accuracy. Well, as I’ve just written in the last paragraph, the station has been operational for less than twelve hours, and especially the outdoor sensor spent a good part of that time cooling down and acclimatising, after being set up indoors. In general, though, the values seem realistic enough, and outside temperatures are now in line with those reported by the official Cork weather station. Similarly, air pressure appears to be in line with official observations, meaning that it has taken up permanent residence at 1033hpa. Humidity seems a bit on the low side, but that might be due to the microclimate at my location. I’ll keep an eye on that over the coming months.

There are a few drawbacks that I’d like to mention in this review as well, though for the most part, they are minor. The first drawback affects the data export capability of the app, or rather, the lack thereof. Don’t get me wrong, you can export the data gathered by your station as a .csv file from the Netatmo web portal, once you log in from a desktop or laptop computer. However, with many people ditching traditional computers in favour of powerful tablets like the iPad Pro, why not offer this capability in the tablet versions of the app as well? The second drawback mostly affects Apple users, though I’d love to hear how things look on the Android side. That is the integration with other Apple devices. Why is there no app for the Apple Watch included with the iPhone app? And, more importantly, why is the app not compatible with Apple’s HomeKit platform? It would be a perfect fit, especially given the wealth of information the app provides. I get that those are small drawbacks, and they certainly aren’t a game changer for me, however given that Netatmo presents itself as a premium brand, I would expect that the company makes the necessary effort to integrate with all major standards.

All this leads us to the bottom line. Was it worth it? Well, I spent none of my own money on it, so there’s no risk involved for me anyway. Seriously though, the data provided by the Netatmo Weather Station appears to be pretty damn accurate, and the availability is excellent, since it is all routed through Netatmo’s servers. Of course, not everyone is a weatherhead, and if all you need is the temperature and humidity, and maybe an indicator if bad weather is on the way, then a simpler weather station might be more up your tornado alley (Sorry, I just HAD to do it!). if you want detailed information and recording of weather data, together with some reliable data about indoor air quality, then the Netatmo Weather Station is definitely a product to consider.

Some of the images used in this review were obtained from the Netatmo Press Kit. They are credited accordingly in the respective captions. The title image is part of the press kit as well.   Photos: Masaki Okumura and Marion Leflour

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