What if you had a device that could create automatic time-lapses delivered to your phone every day while also giving you weather data for your home? Meet the BloomSky.
I'm a huge weather geek. For my 12th birthday, my mom got my 1,400-page tornado book autographed by the author. So, when a device came along that married my love of weather with my love of photography, I was naturally intrigued. The BloomSky takes an at-home weather station and adds a camera to it. The camera takes a picture every 3-5 minutes starting about 40 minutes before sunrise and continuing about 40 minutes after sunset. After that, the app automatically generates a time-lapse of the day for you to view. Neat, right? Check out the full specs below (note: I'm reviewing the original Sky as opposed to the Sky 2. Why? The Sky 2 removed the UV sensor and added an option for Bluetooth setup along with some minor tweaks. At triple the current price of the original, I'd recommend sticking with the first generation.)
- Operating temperature range: -13°F (-25°C) to 149°F (65°C) (Note: battery charges between 32°F and 113°F)
- Relative humidity measurements: 1-99%
UV exposure range: 280 nm - 400 nm (UV-A, UV-B)
Absolute pressure range: 260 - 1260 mbar
Photometric sensor for controlling camera exposure
Ultra-wide-angle fisheye camera with 170-degree field of view and 45 degrees of tilt
Rechargeable lithium-ion battery with approximately two-week life
Can be recharged via a power adapter or with solar panel
Design and Setup
It's a catchy little device. About the size of a softball and mostly shaped like one, the BloomSky looks kind of like a big, robotic eyeball. The only moving part is the camera, which can rotate about 45 degrees to your desired position, allowing you to get a shot of nothing but the sky or include some land in it as well.
Setup was super easy. After giving it an initial charge, the app guides you through connecting it to your home Wi-Fi, after which, you take it outside, stake it in the ground, and connect the solar panel. Easy as pie. In practice, the solar panel has done a great job at keeping the device topped off; most days, it charges it fully, and I've yet to see the battery drop below 90 percent. That's important, as I wouldn't want to pull the device out of the frozen ground every few weeks to charge it; half the fun is the sheer convenience.
The app is pleasing and well designed. In it are three tabs. The first, "Favorite," shows you your BloomSky devices as well as any bookmarked devices. It also shows you the weather for wherever you are in case that's not near your device, grabbing the conditions and an image from a device in your location or using another data source if there isn't one nearby.
When you tap on one of your devices, you're taken to a detailed screen of data headlined by a current image. You'll see the current temperature (including last update time), hourly forecasted temperature, high and low temperatures for the day, dewpoint, relative humidity, UV rating, wind and rainfall data (if you have the optional Storm accessory), five-day forecast, your last five time-lapses, a list of users who have favorited your camera, and battery status. You also have the option to export time-lapses or the current image. The page is well organized and easy to read, making taking all the data in at a glance quite simple.
The second tab, "Explore," allows you to do just that, showing you a map with all the BloomSky devices in your area and their current reported temperature. You can also switch to a list view that shows a thumbnail from each device's camera. It's a cool way to browse around your local area, and in practice, I found enough devices nearby to get a nice mental image of conditions.
The last tab, "Menu," contains your account and device settings. Here, you can add new devices, calibrate the location of your current devices, adjust notifications, change units, and perform some basic IFTTT integrations.
You can also view all your time-lapses and graphs of historical data on the web dashboard, as well as data tables of all measurements if you want to analyze the numbers yourself.
In general, I found the BloomSky to be quite accurate when comparing it to more dedicated weather monitoring equipment. In particular, BloomSky did a good job of ensuring the thermometer is properly shielded so as not to be affected by direct sunlight. If you follow their instructions regarding placement of the device (avoiding areas like asphalt that radiate heat, etc.), all but the most discerning weather enthusiasts should be satisfied.
Photos and Video
But of course, the marquee feature of the BloomSky is the automated time-lapses and ability to pull shots from the camera whenever. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a mixed bag. While BloomSky advertises the camera as HD, you can only export images and video from both your phone and camera at 640 x 640 (about 0.4 MP). The same holds true for the Sky 2. This limits the device from being something you could get professional footage out of to more of a novelty to be appreciated by those who just enjoy imagery.
If you're ok with the resolution limitation, the BloomSky does a good job of controlling exposure throughout the day to get balanced images that still convey the changing relative amounts of daylight. Dynamic range is only so good, though, so you're likely to have some blown highlights if the sun is in the frame, as you can see above. The images also have a distinct fisheye look to them. What I found more annoying, however, were the informational overlays and the company watermark. There is no way to turn off either of them. Personally, I'm of the mind that if I paid for a product, I shouldn't have to accept the company's name watermarked on it constantly.
The time-lapses are of a similar quality; again, if you buy this device, it's for the novelty of it. That being said, having a time-lapse delivered to my phone a little after sunset every day was a lot of fun, and I looked forward to seeing what was going on in my local world. If you have the right expectations, it's quite enjoyable. Nonetheless, I would gladly pay double the price for a version with an improved camera that could create proper HD time-lapses and imagery.
One more small issue you'll notice above is that snow occasionally covers the lens, though it always seems to melt off by late morning or early afternoon at the latest.
What I Liked
- Easy setup.
- It's addictive and fun seeing the conditions and time-lapses from wherever you live.
- Totally automated. Once you set it up, you just enjoy the daily data.
- Great app and web interfaces.
What I Didn't Like
- Resolution and image quality are below average.
The BloomSky is a novel if not slightly frustrating device. If you understand its limitations and come to it with appropriate expectations, the experience is smooth and enjoyable, however. And at $99 for the original model, I think it's worth it. You can purchase yours here.