As Matter closes in on becoming a reality for smart home users, there are still a few categories that it doesn’t support, that HomeKit does, namely cameras and video doorbells. However, HomeKit also still has limits to what categories are covered, and on this occasion, we’re looking at one such device – the Aqara Pet Feeder C1. This product has been available in China for nearly a year, but it’s only now getting an official international release, and whilst pet feeders aren’t supported in HomeKit, because the Aqara app supports Siri Shortcuts AND because many Aqara devices will work with both the C1 and HomeKit, you can get close to a full HomeKit experience. On that basis, we feel a review is justified!
When it comes to a device like this – some people feel it takes away one bond between owners and their pets – however, there are definite benefits, as well as limitations; for example, a device like this can be of massive benefit to people with limited mobility, reducing something that could be a daily task, into something that only has to be tackled once every couple of weeks, when refilling the tank is required. It can also help with keeping track of your dog’s feeding regime if they are on a diet, for example. With the C1 issuing food in a constant and regulated manner, it also takes a lot of guesswork out of whether you’re feeding your dog too much or too little. It also helps keep a dog regularly fed if they’re left on their own when an owner may be at work.
The first limitation is that it only works with dry food, so if your dog is set on tinned dog food or fresh meat, this will only serve to supplement main meals. The other limitation is the height of the bowl and the size of the dog food it can cope with. This really is designed for smaller dogs, and more accurately, for cats, as the bowl is quite low to the ground. The kibble used can’t be too large either.
Still, if you think this can in any way benefit you and your pet, read on…
PACKAGING | CONTENTS
Aqara has its packaging down pat right now, so you know what to expect right from the front of the box. The device itself is large, so the box is substantial too, but with everything inside well protected by polystyrene, there are no worries regarding damage in transit.
As this is not HomeKit compatible, it only states on the front that it offers “voice control via Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and more…” which essentially means that none of the three platforms actually support pet feeders as a category, but due to the Aqara app’s powerful inter-platform automations, it still makes the device easy to use, especially so for Siri via Shortcuts. It also works with IFTTT, if you’re still one of the paying holdouts for that platform.
As with nearly all Aqara devices aside from hubs, the C1 uses Zigbee 3.0, and as such will only work with newer Zigbee 3.0 hubs. So, the original M1 hub although for once, the G2H gets a look in. Of course, if you purchase the Chinese C1, you get access to more compatible hubs, but you lose Amazon and Google connectivity.
The contents of the box include the main C1, a stainless steel bowl, a plastic bowl tray, a power cable, a pack of desiccant, and the manual in a variety of languages.
THE PET FEEDER C1
The C1 comes in a few parts with the main section being the motor and food tank. On the front is a shute from which pet food issues, along with three buttons. There’s also a small blue LED when powered, to indicate the status of the device. Both sides have largish markers that you press when you want to remove the large translucent tank for cleaning, and the back simply features a coaxial port for powering the device. The coaxial cable is covered in a knitted mesh of (I assume) nylon thread, with one end having a coaxial plug to fit into the C1, and a USB-A plug on the other end. There’s no power brick supplied.
The underside is home to a battery compartment and a speaker, which I’ll look at a bit more later. The three batteries required for the C1 are the D type/LR20. The inclusion of a battery option is useful in the event power goes down, although assuming you’re only away for the day, it’s hard to imagine a dog struggling after only missing a couple of meals in most cases. I didn’t test the C1 with batteries.
The lid at the top of the C1 is held in place with a couple of spring-loaded catches that you press in to release it. On the inside of the lid is a small compartment where you place the package of desiccant. This is designed to keep moisture at bay, and keep the food fresh. The good news is that the lid also seems to keep the smell of the food contained.
The inside of the food container is where you find a couple of cogs, each with ‘paddles’ attached to them. The top cog has three paddles, which move the food along, so eventually, they fall through a hole to the lower section. The lower section is divided by the second cog, which has six paddles that divide up the food into portions. The lower section has a cutout so that when a ‘portion’ reaches it, that portion of food falls through a chute and into the steel bowl below.
The stainless steel bowl sits inside another plastic bowl that connects to the underside of the C1, thereby holding the bowl in place.
The C1 has three buttons on the front, above the dog food chute. The first of these is for pairing, resetting or checking the connection status of the C1. The second, with a ‘fish’ icon, is to issue a meal (based on how many portions make up a meal as designated by the owner in the Aqara app). The Third and final button, once pressed, allows you to record audio designed to let you know when food is being issued. The first button has limited use, as once it’s paired, there’s little use for it. This also applies to the third button, so only the middle button will see any use, and even then, with automations, either involving directly issuing food or having a wireless button or sensor trigger a feeding event, even this button won’t see too much action, as useful as they may be on rare instances.
IN THE AQARA APP
The Aqara app has a fairly clear user interface for controlling aspects of the C1; The main page shows how many grams of food your dog has been fed for that day, with a button below to issue one meal (in my case 5 portions). Below that is an automatic feeding plan, which can be deactivated if you wish. By default there are three meal instances; in the example above, you can see meals set for 9am, 1pm, and 5pm, with how many portions shown for each meal.
You can add further meals, with the ability to customise how many portions are issued for each meal. How the owner determines how many portions of dog food make up one meal relies on a few factors, like the size of the pet, the weight of one portion, and so on.
AUTOMATIONS & SIRI SHORTCUTS
In terms of automations for the C1, in some ways, they are a little limited, but as it only has one function – to feed your pet – it’s hardly surprising that automations are sparse. It’s really down to how other devices are used as triggers for the C1, essentially, which can be quite interesting. In the Aqara app, you have an IF section and a THEN section, so assuming an automation uses another Aqara device for the IF part, in the THEN section, you have two options for the C1 – Feeding (for) once, and Feeding plan. For the former, you can customise how many portions are given out. This could be used in instances where, along with the regular feeding plan you may have set up, you can create a separate automation to issue an extra ‘meal’ as a treat for your dog, as and when you want. The latter option simply allows the feeding plan to be turned on or off. Once again, this could actually be useful, so if you happen to take your dog out with you on a day trip, the last thing you’d probably want is the C1 issuing meals when there’s no dog to eat them.
If you have an Aqara Camera Hub G3 (review HERE, video HERE), you can make use of its built-in AI functions to trigger automations, as it not only has pet tracking but pet detection too. For example, if you don’t want to use the pet feeding plan for more flexibility, you could create an automation whereby the G3 turns on Pet detection between, say, 11:30 and 13:00. If a pet is detected between these hours, it triggers an automation to issue a meal. Once the meal automation is triggered, it would then turn off pet detection until the next meal time.
If you prefer not to rely on automations of this type, but also don’t fancy having to reach for the meal button on the C1, you can also use any of the numerous Aqara wireless switches to trigger an automation, after all, the C1 is quite low to the ground, so reaching for that button, even for someone totally able-bodied and healthy may become annoying. The great thing about using these kinds of buttons is that they’re already HomeKit compatible, so using them is ‘almost’ like controlling the C1 as though it were a HomeKit device.
Finally, if using neither pet detection nor wireless buttons appeals, you can always rely on Siri Shortcuts to do its thing, which simply requires you to create a simple feeding event ‘scene’, which is then converted to a Shortcut that has a specific phrase used to trigger the automation.
IN DAY-TO-DAY USE
Even though Aqara provided an international version of the C1 to me, I actually purchased the Chinese model when it came out nearly a year ago, so I’ve had plenty of time to get used to any potential issues. In short, when it comes to functioning properly, there are no issues to report and it stays connected all of the time, with no disconnections at all in the time I’ve been using it.
There are a few downsides, but they’re more based on the way it is designed to work, rather than any faults or bugs. So, as already mentioned, the C1 is designed for small to medium dogs, and cats. As the bowl is quite low, even for a medium-sized dog, there’s the potential for neck strain (if that’s a thing for dogs) when trying to eat from the bowl. In my case, we now only have one dog who would be classed as medium-sized, so I ended up placing the C1 on a small stool, which is fine. The bowl was also a little too low for our beagle that recently passed away, but then he did have problems with his neck anyway. For short-legged dogs like Daschunds or Corgies, it probably wouldn’t be an issue, as well as puppies and of course cats, so it’s not a fault with the C1 as such.
There is a limit to the size of dog ‘biscuits’ that can be effectively used, so anything more than 12mm in diameter does have the potential to make the motor stick, if one of these biscuits gets stuck in a certain way, so once again, you need to plan accordingly to avoid such problems.
The third minor issue is with the custom audio recording feature. Either the volume of the recordings is far too low, or the speaker simply doesn’t have enough power to playback the audio to make it useful enough. Additionally, when the audio plays, it tends to get drowned out by the sound of the biscuits hitting the steel dish, so it seems poorly thought out in my opinion. This means that the third button really wastes space and where a third button for a different function could be used, like turning off the Automatic Feeding Plan, for example. Recording audio to your phone and transmitting it to the C1 could be an option, but as it uses Zigbee, the file could take time to be sent over.
All in all, I think given that these have existed for a while, it’s good that we now have a smart version, even if the ‘smarts’ are mostly focused on devices triggering it, as a lot of the time the device is autonomous, essentially. What is good is the ability to control it remotely, and even monitor it from wherever you are, as that’s not really something you can do with the ones that, whilst smart, aren’t ‘connected’.
Hopefully, as this is connected to Aqara hubs that will get either an update for Matter, we would only need this device category to be added to Matter to enable it to work more widely, so even though it’s not HomeKit compatible, it really doesn’t make a lot of difference.