A more connected family.
As far as smart gadgets go, few product unveilings have made me as excited as when I read about the Nucleus intercom for the first time earlier this month. A video intercom with communication features for young families sounded very cool, and the mention of Alexa integration to boot is almost too good to be true.
For that reason, I did something I rarely ever do: I tracked a few Nuclei down in their first week of availability and bought them with no idea of how well they would actually perform. Does the Nucleus over-promise, or does it over-deliver? Read on to find out!
What Does it Claim to Do?
The Nucleus “anywhere” intercom is a countertop/wall-mounted video chat device that’s designed to serve as a video intercom for the home, a communication device for families on the go, and a voice-activated virtual assistant.
- Connects through WiFi/Ethernet
- 8″ ISP Screen (~720p HD)
- 5MP Wide-Angle Camera Lens
- Stereo Speakers
What’s life like with Nucleus in our home? Let’s dive in to the details…
Look and Feel
Immediately upon removing the unit from its surprisingly fantastic packaging, it’s obvious that the Nucleus is a device that looks better in three dimensions than it does in photographs. I’ve been using the black version in our home, and at about the size of an iPad Mini, it looks suitably handsome on a countertop. The glossy black finish on the front terminates into a nondescript white back panel, and the device looks attractive at every angle; in other words, you won’t feel the need to hide it in a corner like you would with some devices.
The software is very v1.0 at this point, but the focus on cleanliness and simplicity is obvious. My six-year-old immediately understood how to “call” the bathroom and my cell phone from the kitchen unit, and common controls like volume, privacy settings, and screen brightness are well thought out and easily accessible.
One cool feature that wasn’t immediately obvious to me from their marketing is a small switch on top that allows you to slide a shade in place over the video camera, which is a great privacy feature for Nuclei located in bedrooms and bathrooms.
Performance and User Experience
There’s a lot to talk about here, so let’s break this section up into a few different chunks.
Setup was pretty straightforward for me, despite one minor hiccup. To get going, simply plug your Nucleus in and walk through its on-screen setup wizard. This involves connecting the unit to your home’s Wifi, and signing up for a Nucleus account (I ran into a brief hiccup here due to an email server outage on their end). Once you’ve confirmed your account, give the room where you’re using it a name, take a pic to label it, and you’re off to the races.
I set up two units during the course of this review, and the Nucleus app saves you a few minutes in this scenario by assigning you a unique “home code” that makes expanding your Nucleus family a snap. Simply enter the code when prompted during the set up of a new unit to speed things along.
Nucleus also has an app available for iOS and Android which allows you to call or receive calls from any Nucleus in your home (more on the current state of this in a second).
Bla bla, design, bla bla, setup. Does the Nucleus actually do what it promises?
The good news is, it does a great job! Audio “calls” are loud and clear, and video “calls” are good as well. The screen on the Nucleus is about the same quality as that of an iPad 2, but viewing angles are good with a pixel density that doesn’t matter in light of your typical viewing distance from it.
Video quality isn’t as good as something like FaceTime, but it’s actually better than I was expecting, especially given the typically garbage camera modules present in other products at this price point. Expect good quality video at something like DVD resolution and somewhere around 10 frames a second. I wish there was a night vision mode here, but other than that, the video quality is fine.
Audio is loud and clear, and even though I wish there was slightly more bass present in its dynamic range, I think most families will be more than happy with it.
As an Intercom
The first thing that attracted me to the Nucleus was its ability to serve as a home intercom, a function that is sorely absent from the smart home marketplace. I’m happy to report that this works very well.
To “call” another room, simply tap the audio or video button for the room you want to talk to. Unless privacy is enabled (where tapping the screen to answer is required), the other room will briefly hear a pleasant tone, and is then automatically looped in to the audio/video conversation. The unit’s wide lens does a great job capturing a good portion of the room, and it’s especially fun to have impromptu video chats with the kids (or just spy on them in general!).
Audio works just as well, and you may find yourself using that more often for quick communication around the house (i.e: “Dinner’s ready!” or “Quit slapping your brother!”). We’re moving into a 4000 sq ft home split evenly between two floors, so I can’t wait to have more of these located around the house. It’s a game-changer.
As a Mobile Video Chat System
Nucleus also provides an interesting twist on a common feature by allowing you to use your intercoms as a video chat terminal with just about any mobile device. As with FaceTime or Skype, family members can tap an icon on their Nucleus to call a parent, or the parent can call straight to any Nucleus in the house using their simple mobile app.
It works great (surprisingly almost as fast as the home-based intercom calls), but there is currently one caveat for iOS users: You have to have the Nucleus app open to receive calls from units at home. This is obviously a bummer, but Nucleus is well aware of the shortcoming and promises us early-adopters that the restriction will be removed with a software update later in September.
As a Voice Assistant
I’d already recommend the Nucleus just based on the features mentioned above, but the folks at Nucleus have included one heck of a bonus feature: these bad boys include a fully functioning version of Amazon’s Alexa! Yes, the same Alexa and functionality you’d expect from Amazon’s Echo line.
This is a HUGE deal for geeky families like ours who have been trying to find ways to expand Alexa’s reach into more rooms. Not only does this give you Alexa’s surprisingly awesome intelligence for weather, news, and jokes, but it also gives you the ability to control other devices in your home if you’ve connected Alexa to SmartThings, Wink, or IFTTT. It practically erases the need to buy a separate $180 unit just for voice control, and it pushes the Nucleus’s value proposition through the stratosphere.
The best part? It works exactly like an Echo… I was worried that you’d have to push a button first to get things started, but you simply say the “Alexa” keyword and continue with your query. The microphone isn’t as good as the Echo’s “far-field” technology, but it works very well in my testing, even in our echo-prone kitchen.
The one thing you might miss is the Echo’s higher quality audio system; Alexa is still loud and clear on the Nucleus, but there’s a depth missing to her voice, and music played through the Nucleus (obviously not its intended function) sounds pretty tinny and flat.
Despite some v1.0 growing pains (with fixes and improvements already coming in the near term), the Nucleus is everything I hoped it would be.
Integration with Other Platforms
As mentioned, the Nucleus is surprisingly flexible, even for a product that’s only been on the market for a matter of weeks. They work with multiple units, can call/receive calls from iOS and Android, and offer a treasure trove of extensibility through the included Alexa functionality.
I would love to see some partnerships with SmartThings or similar platforms over time, as the Nucleus would work well as a motion sensor or even a hub for visual alerts from other gadgets in your smart home. Maybe one day 🙂
Build Quality and Reliability
The unit itself is built well, with only the on/off button in the corner feeling a bit wobbly. There are no notable quality control issues to mention here.
As for the service itself, I’m pleased to report that I haven’t run into a single failed call or service outage; that’s kind of shocking for a young product and company like this. It seems like the folks at Nucleus know what they’re doing!
The Nucleus is a good deal at $249 for a single unit. At only $199 when you buy two or more together, it’s a great deal. Factor in that unbelievable Alexa functionality as the icing on the cake, and I think the Nucleus is an incredible deal for any family with a smart home.
As I mentioned above, the Nucleus is everything I hoped it would be, and I imagine that it’s going to be a very popular gadget in the smart home space. It’s a great intercom, a fun communication system for families, and a wonderful voice assistant for your home. There’s some room for improvement from v1.0 hardware and software, but you shouldn’t hesitate to pick one (or a few!) up for your family to enjoy.