The world of connected things keeps growing. The AcuRite Pro Weather Center with AcuLink Remote Monitoring and App (US$199.99) is an Internet-connected weather station that just so happens to have its own iPhone app for keeping an eye on your home weather conditions even when you're away. This review is aimed more at the app and connectivity features of this device, but you'll learn a bit about the actual weather station as well.
I have to admit that this is about the most unique item I've ever written a review about for TUAW, but the Pro Weather Center is truly an Apple-compatible accessory. The device is actually made up of three major components: a 5-in-1 sensor that is mounted outside, an Internet bridge, and an LCD display that provides a constant readout of conditions and forecasts.
The sensor features many of the things you'd associate with a weather station -- a cup anemometer, a rainfall sensor, a thermometer, a wind direction vane, and a hygrometer for measuring humidity. It's constructed of a solid polycarbonate and should last for years. The station is powered by four AA batteries augmented by a small photovoltaic panel during daylight hours.
Inside the house and up to 300 feet away is the Internet bridge, a small
Wi-Fi radio device operating on the 433 MHz spectrum that is plugged into your router. The bridge is set to one of three channels (A, B, or C) selected on the sensor as well, and literally requires no setup other than being plugged into power and Ethernet, and then pushing a "Register" button for three seconds.
The final piece is really the icing on the cake if you're using the iPhone app for monitoring -- it is the "tabletop display console," an attractive battery-powered,
Wi-Fi connected backlit LCD panel that displays all the various weather readings.
The Pro Weather Center does require some setup work, as the sensor must be mounted in a location that's not blocked from free exposure to wind and rain. For about $20, I purchased galvanized metal pipe pieces that worked perfectly to form a sturdy mount placing the sensor about 7 feet above ground level. The sensor must be aligned so that it points due south, both for wind direction accuracy and to receive the maximum sunlight on the photovoltaic panel.
Once all the parts are in place, you can tell if the Pro Weather Center is working by checking the LCD panel. If readings for temperature, humidity, and wind direction and velocity are starting to show up, things are working fine. At this point, you can set up a free account on the AcuRite website for the AcuLink service, which is the heart of the iPhone app. I did have one issue with the Internet bridge device -- when it's working properly, the twin blue lights blink like mad constantly. I ended up covering them with electrical tape.
If you're wondering if a $200 weather station can be accurate, the answer is "yes". I have some additional weather gear installed and was able to verify that the readings were almost identical in all cases.
There are a number of ways you can read your weather data remotely. First, by logging into AcuLink.com and calling up your account, you see a dashboard displaying widgets for the various instruments on your station. Each widget contains a button for setting up an alarm, so if you wish to be notified via text or email message whenever measurable rain occurs or a temperature limit (high or low) is reached, that's quite easy to accomplish.
The free AcuLink app displays the same information, but in an iPhone-friendly manner. To be honest with you, I was a bit confused about what to call the app. The company calls it Acu-Link in the App Store, but then calls it the "My Backyard Weather" app in the description. On the company's website, the service is called AcuLink. Sounds like there's a bit of a branding problem there...
The app could use some work. First, it's not sized properly for the iPhone 5 screen, so there are big black gaps at the top and bottom when viewed in portrait mode. Next, the tabbed pages -- there are six, one each for temperature, humidity, wind, rainfall, pressure and forecast -- require a physical tap on an oddly-placed refresh button that's on each page. It would make much more sense to either have the pages automatically refresh when opened or use the iPhone-standard "pull to refresh" gesture.
Each one of the tabbed pages includes three separate buttons for current conditions, records (such as record cold or hot temperatures for your station), and settings. As with the website, When the iPhone is changed from portrait to landscape orientation, the app displays a "dashboard" that can contain up to five widgets. However, I never was exactly sure just how to add another widget to the dashboard -- that type of action needs to either be explained in a built-in help file or just made so obvious that any user can figure it out.
One final note -- if you're a fan of Weather Underground and want to add your station to their growing network of personal weather stations, it's a snap to do so. Once everything's working with your site, you just need to create a personal weather station on Weather Underground, then put the station identification (mine is KCOHIGHL29) into the proper spot in the AcuLink website settings. Literally seconds later, your station appears on the Weather Underground maps with current temperature and wind direction marked, and your station's readings are captured for posterity -- and science.
AcuRite has developed a personal weather station that's not only affordable and easy to install, but incredibly well-connected with the world. The AcuLink iPhone app could definitely use some work, particularly in both bringing it into the world of the iPhone 5 and newer models, but also in terms of making the user interface more amenable to iOS users.
- Low cost, accurate, and easy to install personal weather station
- Internet bridge device makes connecting the weather sensors to the world as simple as pushing one button and changing a few settings
- iPhone app is perfect for catching up on home weather conditions when you're away
- iPhone app could use some work to update it for newer devices, make UI more iOS-like, and make it universal (iPhone and iPad)
Who is it for?
- The weather buff who wants constant access to home weather conditions from anywhere there's an Internet connection and would like to keep automated, detailed records of the weather