On test: Netatmo Personal Weather Station
E&T gets hands-on with a home technology package for when the TV weather forecast just isn’t enough.
These two sleek cylinders – one for indoors and one for outdoors – bring an Apple-like unboxing experience, easy setup and tech bragging rights to the world of weather monitoring. The cylinders measure temperature, humidity, air pressure, noise and CO2 levels. You can add extras: Wind Gauge (£89.99), Rain Gauge (£59) and extra Indoor Modules (£59).
All the data is sent wirelessly (range of up to 100m) to a smartphone app. But now the Netatmo Personal Weather Station has added Amazon Alexa support, you can also use voice commands to request a personalised local weather report.
The weather station looks great and offers a thoroughly modern unboxing experience: white box, minimal instructions and a companion app that guides you through the process. It's a pleasantly straightforward, ungeeky process.
First you download and install the Netatmo Weather Station app, available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. You'll need a free Netatmo account which just requires your email address and a password.
Then you power up both of the weather station cylinders: the tall indoor one plugs into the mains, the smaller outdoor one takes batteries. Then you pair the indoor module with your app via Bluetooth, which worked very smoothly, and then via app you connect Netatmo to your Wi-Fi network.
As soon as they are paired, the app takes charge of the setup process. It started off by downloading new firmware to the weather monitor, which took five minutes. The app keeps you informed throughout, giving you confidence in the process.
We then used the app menus to add the outdoor module and a rain gauge and wind gauge. The rain gauge is large and lightweight. It looks attractive enough that you wouldn't mind people seeing it. You may even want them to. This is a talking point: tech with bragging rights.
The wind gauge is smaller and denser; again setup is simple but you need to open it with a screwdriver to insert the batteries. For accuracy, you're instructed to mount it away from obstacles and as high up as possible (ideally 10m but you can tell the app its height if it's lower). It's disappointing that neither of the gauges come with mounts: you have to buy these as accessories. For this price we'd expect them to be included.
Bespoke weather reports
Then we turned our attention to the app. It's well laid out and gives you all your weather data in one place. Perhaps the nicest feature is an information button that overlays the screen with an explanation of each piece of data. This makes it incredibly easy to learn to navigate the app.
The top half of the screen gives you outdoor data: temperature, air pressure, humidity. Swipe left or right to get rainfall and wind data plus estimates of outdoor air pollution (NO2 and PM10) in your area.
In the middle there's a seven-day weather forecast. Then the bottom half of the screen gives you indoor temperature, CO2, noise and humidity. You can also turn your phone sideways for graphs of each piece of data that the Netatmo measures.
One of the most intriguing features of the app is its weather map. We were expecting a traditional map with pictures of clouds over it, but instead this is crowdsourced, real-time monitoring. You can see the outdoor weather stats from every other Netatmo in the area (zoom out to see them across the world).
It’s intriguing and something that many will love – weather buffs, children doing school projects – but like an activity tracker with graphs of your steps and sleep that you soon stop looking at, we wonder if the novelty will wear off.
Real-time data from your own gizmo blurs with other data in the app. You go seamlessly from the actual weather now to the forecast for tomorrow. This is user-friendly but perhaps not quite signposted enough.
Now with voice commands
To use Alexa voice control with the Netatmo Personal Weather Station you'll need a compatible gizmo like the Amazon Echo (£149.99) or Echo Dot (£49.99) but the Alexa service itself is free. You don't even need an Amazon Prime account.
Alexa setup is easy and includes its own app. Then search for Netatmo Weather in the list of potential Skills to add this as a feature. This worked smoothly. Then we had to get to grips with what to say. Like all Alexa skills, you have to learn how best to phrase the question.
We found the response hit and miss. "Alexa, ask Netatmo for the weather" often just gets you one reading, for example the CO2 level indoors, which is not the most useful piece of information. Then she says "Can I help you retrieve any more information?" which lets you ask for temperature and more.
"Alexa, ask Netatmo for blah" format often got the response "You do not have a weather station called blah" instead of the requested piece of information. And sometimes the language used in Alexa's report sounded stilted. Rather than saying the wind's direction is 55 degrees, she'd say the wind is blowing at "55 angles".
"Alexa, ask Earth Station Quin for the temperature" (that's what we'd called ours) usually got the temperature reading straight away. But sometimes Alexa just pulled down generic weather reports. And sometimes she just plain didn't understand.
Our very favourite glitch though was asking "Alexa, ask Earth Station Quin for the rainfall" and getting the reply "I can't find rainfall songs by Queen".
"Alexa, ask Netatmo for Help" is your fallback plan. She then outlines how to ask a question. The process of learning the syntax was more enjoyable than frustrating though. We enjoyed mastering it. And while it doesn't replace the full weather report offered by the Netatmo app, it is fun to be able to ask Alexa the weather. And if you had her hooked up to smart home controls you could then tell her to turn the heating on or off.
To buy or not to buy?
No-one really needs a personal weather station, especially when it's easy to get accurate weather data from the cloud, to an app or via Alexa, for free. But if you are a technophile or weather geek then the Netatmo Personal Weather Station is an excellent choice that's easy to set up and the app is a pleasure to use. The Alexa Skill adds an extra layer of convenience. It's pricey though, especially if you add the extra gauges. It's worth shopping around for the weather station as we've found it online for as little as £120.
Alexa Weather skill
Even without your own personal weather station, you can ask Alexa about the current and upcoming weather locally or in any major city, using data from AccuWeather.
Oregon Scientific WMR89
Measures and logs a week's weather, with forecasts and a USB link so you can save the data to PC. The price includes indoor and outdoor sensors and wind and rain gauges (wireless range up to 100m).
Great value for a desktop gizmo that comes with wind and rain gauges (wireless range up to 100m). Maplin sells very affordable extra sensors perfect for weather geeks.
Reduced to £49.99 maplin.co.uk