A new player in smart cameras offers up tilt and pan control, but really needs to work on the app experience. What makes the Aqara Camera Hub G3 good today?
Our homes aren’t the same as they used to be, and that’s something that doesn’t take much effort or thought to realise. Smart lights, smart speakers, smart TVs and so on and so on mean so much around the house is now labelled as “smart”, but what does that even mean, and how do you control them?
The obvious approach is by your phone, and then maybe through your voice. Call out and your home can stack signals and routines, making actions happen based on concepts you’ve programmed, but these aren’t the only options available to you.
As the smart home evolves, it’s also our faces and hands that can gesture for things and stuff to happen. While your face mightn’t launch a thousand ships like Marlowe wrote, it could be the thing to open a door, or even lock another. So how do you do this, and is the technology available now?
A new player in the world of the smart home in Australia could have something for that, as Aqara launches not just a security camera, but a “camera hub”.
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What is the Aqara Camera Hub G3?
Not quite a hub, but definitely a camera, the Aqara Camera Hub G3 is a PTZ security camera for the home that comes with ears and painted on sleepy eyes when it’s off, as smart home brand Aqara tries its hand with a subscription-free approach to securing the smart home.
The G3 camera isn’t the only smart home gadget Aqara makes; there’s also a G2H and G2H Pro camera, curtain and rollershade controllers, door locks, a light bulb or two, and several detectors for smoke, gas, motion, vibration, water leaks, temperature, and so on and so on.
Like many things related to the smart home, the idea is to equip your home with the smart versions of things you need, and then work with the system to join the dots, allowing bits and pieces to talk to each other so your home can do things for you.
What does it do?
With the Camera Hub G3, doing things for you is both for security and for home control.
Much like other security cameras, you can turn the Aqara G3 Camera Hub to monitor for familiar faces, pets, and intruders, and have that information pop up with an alert. It can also track things that are familiar and act on them, such as when you come home and you want to do something — like turn on the lights — or even make a gesture to the camera, and have an action play out because of that.
The Aqara Camera Hub G3 will talk to pretty much every system, playing nicely with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s HomeKit, Zigbee, and even the IFTTT platform, basically making it work with pretty much every other smart home system you might encounter in Aussie shops. Handy.
One of the more interesting features is that it’s largely a subscription-free approach to the smart home, doing away with a monthly or even yearly cost of gadgets these days, and instead just letting you link it up with what you have. Gone is the monthly or yearly cost, and instead you just plug it in, set it up, and away you go.
The Camera Hub G3 needs to be permanently powered — no battery here! — and can rotate in its spot, tilting up and down, too. That’s the nature of a Pan-Tilt-Zoom “PTZ” camera, similar to what Canon made with its PowerShock Pick, but unlike that compact, there’s no battery in the Aqara G3. You’ll need to keep the USB Type C port plugged in and powered to use this.
Do that, though, and you’ll find 360 degrees of camera aiming, several degrees of tilting, plus support for night mode and object tracking, all available in 2K video, running at 2304×1296.
When you don’t want the camera to be doing anything, it’ll even shut up shop, tilting the camera so far down that it’s hidden with only a sleeping face left on the camera. Cute.
Does the Camera Hub G3 do the job?
A bit of a jack-of-all-trades as far as security cameras go, we’ve not seen a local player try what Aqara is doing in this model. This isn’t just a security play for the home, but also a smart home controller.
Security alerts are the obvious feature, but gesture support and face recognition mean you can set the Aqara Hub to monitor for specific things, and make smart gadgets do other things. A gesture could be linked to a curtain being lifted, while a face could unlock a door. That sort of thing.
What does it need?
But being a jack-of-all-trades comes with some catches, because it’s the basic things the Aqara Camera Hub G3 seems to mess up at.
You can’t turn the LED off forever, only at times. You can’t program your own motion mode by selecting what you want to track and where, and you can’t crop your field of view to a specific area.
And notification videos don’t have a cloud option, only a microSD option or save to your phone, basically making the Aqara security camera system a net-controllable one, but not necessarily a cloud one. This isn’t quite the Arlo competitor, or even the Google Nest Cam competition Aqara may think of itself as.
Aqara has also left out pre-built automations, so you kind of have to do everything yourself. Uploading a picture or two of your family for the camera to track is easy enough, but getting it to send an alert or record a video becomes you learning Aqara’s own take on If This Then That, which is easy enough, but time consuming. Prebuilt automations would be super handy here, but they just don’t seem to exist in the Aqara app.
It’s not just the app that struggles to do things, but also the feature set. Namely what the camera presents itself as when you take it from the box.
Open the box for the Aqara G3 Hub, and the camera arrives with cute little silicone cat ears pre-installed, almost like what the Arlo Baby offered. That’s all well and good, but there are no kids mode options in the app.
For instance, while you can track people and dogs and cats and such, you can’t set the camera app to monitor for kids crying or if the temperature is too hot. It’s not a camera for the nursery or your kids room, even if the silicone ears suggest otherwise.
It’s kind of surreal, almost as if Aqara had an idea of what it was going to do, and didn’t follow through. The company could probably add it with new software, and it could probably fix most of these complaints on software, but the fact that this is the G3 — presumably the third generation — and we’re still not there, well that’s something Aqara needs to think long and hard about, especially for the G4 version.
Is it worth your money?
At $195, Aqara’s Camera Hub G3 provides an interesting approach to security the smart home, especially given it is largely subscription-free. In an era where everything seemingly has a subscription to make a little extra money from you with long-term support, this sort of approach is foreign and unusual, which makes the Camera Hub G3 worth it, at least on paper.
It isn’t perfect, though, and Aqara really needs to work things out. Better functionality in the app, support for a battery variation, and if you wanted to, a cloud option would be really appreciated. We love the idea of a microSD card for storage, but it should really be a choice: store locally, or store on Google or Dropbox. Or maybe even both.
A battery would help make this even better, too, allowing you to set the camera up outside to do that little bit more. Pick up on faces, on objects, provide tracking and identification and so on and so on.
These are just examples of things Aqara needs to work on. We love what the company is trying to build out, making the security camera more than about simply security, but about controlling the smart home in its entirety.
The idea of a whole home concept is here, but it just needs to be finished. Fortunately, it’s a solid idea, and you just get the feeling that in G4, Aqara will be so much closer.
Yay or nay?
Right now, we’d have a hard time calling the Aqara G3 Camera Hub the best security solution, because it’s not. The bones of a great idea are here, but it’s only a neat idea for some rooms, not all.
At a little under $200, the Aqara Camera Hub G3 may be a best fit for small homes without a big need for security. The idea of security doesn’t seem as well developed as home controlling, though we suspect in time that will change.
Overall, the Aqara system does seem like something that will grow with you, but we’d wait until the feature set is more polished until we outfitted the entire home in gadgets made by the brand. It’s a positive start for holistic smart home technology, and we’ll be watching Aqara eagerly.