BloomSky Sky2 Weather Camera Station review

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THE GOOD: The BloomSky Sky2 weather station captures HD photos and stitches them into time lapse videos. Its sophisticated sensor array is powered by a solar panels and connects to other smart home products using IFTTT. Each device links to a large network of globally deployed units.

THE BAD: The system is large and conspicuous. It doesn’s send alerts for many of the weather events it can sense. It officially only operates across 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Weather nerds will love the BloomSky Sky2’s unique combination of sensors, HD camera, solar panel, and IFTTT support but those with a casual interest in meteorology should pass in favor of a cheaper alternative.

The $300 BloomSky Sky2 Weather Camera has a list of features that will impress even die-hard weather geeks. It offers the usual array of climate sensors found on weather systems popular among amateur meteorologists and science educators. It can detect temperature, wind speed, rain and air pressure, plus it draws its electrical power from the sun. What makes the BloomSky Sky2 truly unique are its HD camera, its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, its companion mobile app and the way it ties in with other smart home gadgets and services.

The Sky2 is expensive even if it’s priced competitively against traditional options from weather station specialists Davis and Acurite. Buying a kit like this only really makes sense if it’s in your job description or you have a serious weather fetish and money to burn. Ordinary people with merely a casual interest in local atmospheric conditions are better off consulting a mobile app or choosing a less expensive device such as the $179 Netatmo Weather Station. It doesn’t have a camera or solar power, but the Netatmo is a snap to deploy, and monitors your home environment too.

Design and features

With a roundish body, the BloomSky Sky2 reminds me of giant eyeball that’s bristling with sensors. About the size of your average grapefruit, this model replaces Bloom’s older BloomSky Plus device but is physically identical on the outside. Just like the first Sky, the Sky2’s most noticeable feature is a large camera on its face. The camera has a fisheye lense that lets it see a wide 170-degree field of vision. You can pivot the camera, which sits on a curved hinge, to point straight upward or angle it down about 30 degrees.

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Next to the Sky2’s camera are instruments that sample relative humidity, ambient light, air pressure and temperature. Below the camera is the weather station’s moisture detector. A field of copper circles of various sizes, the sensor detects the occurrence of rain but can’t measure the amount of rainfall.

For that you’ll have to spend an additional $140 for BloomSky’s Storm accessory, which features a tipping-cup rain collector. The Storm has hardware to measure both wind speed and wind direction, to,o plus UV light levels, which the Sky and Sky2 units can’t track.

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The competing $180 Netatmo Weather Station can’t detect UV light but it does support these features, though they’re not bundled in the base kit. In fact in the case of Netatmo you’ll have purchase separate ($80) Wind Gauge and ($100) Rain Gauge add-ons. Netatmo sells the mounting kit separately too for $25. Not so with the Sky2, which comes with its mounting equipment included. To sum up, that’s $440 for the Sky2 and the Storm, and $385 for the complete set of Netatmo gear.

Both the BloomSky Sky2 and Storm sit atop custom plastic poles that double as stakes. You can either drive them into the ground or place the units inside steel mounting brackets that you fix to an outdoor surface. In my case mounting the Sky2 wasn’t too difficult since BloomSky supplies the mounting bracket and screws. The Sky2’s solar panel easily and securely attaches to this bracket as well.

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Unfortunately BloomSky doesn’t provide the same sort of hardware with the Storm kit — it costs $40 extra. That forced me to improvise with what I had on hand: a metal flowerbed, a deck guardrail, plastic twist ties and the two flexible “U-Bolts” in the Sky2 box.

By comparison the compact, wireless Netatmo Weather Station is a breeze to set up.

Additionally Netatmo’s kit includes an indoor module built to log characteristics of the environment within the home. BloomSky initially bundled a similar gadget but has since killed the product.

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The BloomSky Sky2 Weather Camera Station connects to your home’s Wi-Fi, which allows you access to its sensor info via a companion mobile app anywhere you enjoy a live wireless network. The app, available on iOS and Android, is limited to current weather conditions but it does project a basic five-day forecast. For a full data history, BloomSky hosts a dashboard website that automatically backs up all information the weather station collects. There you can download raw data in spreadsheet form, too.

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Of course the Sky2’s most striking feature is its HD camera (1,920×1,072 pixels). While not a true video capture device, the imaging system snaps a color photo every 5 minutes and then stitches them together into time-lapse videos. These videos span daylight hours and their length depends on whether the Sky2’s optical sensor detects sunlight. One big disappointment though is the actual transmitted video resolution is SD quality (640×640 pixels). Hopefully in the future you’ll be able to record at the camera’s full HD resolution.

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I do like that BloomSky has created its own IFTTT channel, which enables the Sky2 to interact with popular smart home products and services. IFTTT is a free web-based automation service that often punches through the walled gardens many companies build to protect their interests and prevent cooperation among gadgets viewed as or sold by the competition.

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For instance ,I created an IFTTT applet that turned on my lights, one Lifx Color 1000 smart bulb in my case, when the Sky2 first detected rain. When blue skies return another applet turns the bulb off, triggered when the BloomSky Storm’s UV sensor notices ultraviolet rays move from level “1” to level “2” (scale of 0 to 11).

Unfortunately at the moment there’s no way BloomSky’s offering can send push alerts if the wind gusts beyond a certain speed. Neither will it provide a heads-up when current rainfall is about to hit flash flood proportions. Anyone who has experienced unexpected water in the basement would appreciate that. The Sky2 and Storm can’t detect lightning strikes either, a feature that many old-style personal weather stations offer.

Another drawback is that the Sky2 is only designed to operate on 2.4GHz Wi-Fi wireless networks. If your home system uses a hybrid setup such as the Google Wifi, which constantly swaps between 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, you’re out of luck. This latest Sky2 model though has a Bluetooth radio, which BloomSky says makes the initial setup through the mobile app smoother.

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Like Netatmo’s weather gadget, the Sky2 links to a network of Sky and Sky2 systems already deployed at large. The bonus here is that these stations offer the added value of captured video and still images in real time. It’s also interesting that while BloomSky only officially sells its devices in the US, judging from the map within the app, these weather cameras appear to have spread globally.

Why buy a BloomSky?

The answer really depends on how much of a weather junkie you happen to be or if your occupation benefits from keeping a constant eye on local conditions. I’ll wager most people don’t meet these criteria and would be satisfied by a simple mobile weather app such as those from Weather Underground, AccuWeather and others. They’ve become quite advanced over the years and now even provide hyperlocal forecasts based on crowdsourced info, data pulled from deployed personal weather stations or both.

Those who would love to monitor rainfall and temperatures within their backyard or garden but prefer not to deal with lots of complex parts and hardware to set up, the $180 Netatmo Weather Station is the right choice. When you factor in all its extra modules you will pay more for the Netatmo system’s convenience. Of course for techie folks who really get a kick out of weather events, it’s hard to top the BloomSky Sky2 Weather Station’s unique combination of traditional measurement instruments, smart home integration and bird’s-eye view.

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/XwQqfT)

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