Dropcam Pro In-Depth Review

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Aside from my love of cooking and bikes, I also dabble in technology every now and then. Okay lets get serious, I LOVE technology. If it’s tech related and makes my life simpler, I have to have it. And although this is technically a food blog, I do most of my cooking in my kitchen which is in fact part of my home. Ergo, by relation this this review fits perfectly within the bounds of this blog.

A few weeks ago, we had a little scare at the apartment so I decided to start researching DIY home security options. After a considerable amount of time surfing the interwebs, I decided that the best option for our apartment would be a home monitoring camera for several reasons. First, because we live in an apartment complex, we can’t just punch holes in our walls to install a legitimate system. Second, because we plan on moving apartments soon, a portable option just makes more sense. And lastly, I didn’t want to be stuck in any long term contracts. To be perfectly clear, I was specifically looking for a solution that would give me instant mobile notifications AND video capabilities. Most DIY solutions out there only give you one or the other, not both. The Dropcam Pro seemed to fit my requirements without breaking the bank so I went ahead and pulled the trigger on one from Amazon.

The most popular and successful camera currently on the market is the Dropcam Pro by Nest. It comes in at $199 but you may be able to find it a little cheaper on Amazon’s Warehouse Deals. It’s currently the best selling home monitoring camera on Amazon and has pretty decent reviews (4 out of 5 stars). And because it’s a Nest product, it’s compatible with their range of other products such as their thermostat and Nest Protect. Nest labs was also recently acquired by Google so we can be sure to expect great things from them in the future.

Unboxing

The packaging of this camera is attractive and well thought out which is definitely a good sign of things to come.

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Everything is packaged in neat little layers with the camera at the very top and the rest of the cords and accessories underneath.

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Pictured below is everything that’s included in the box.

  • Dropcam Pro HD Camera
  • Wall mounting hardware
  • 10-foot USB cable
  • USB power adapter

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Overall, first impressions are pretty good. The camera is certainly well made and the aluminum stand is sturdy yet easy to move and position. I also liked how they included the mounting screws and wall anchors for ease of set-up.

Set-Up 

Setting up the Dropcam is insanely easy. You can set-up the camera in one of two ways. Either connect it directly to your computer or do it wirelessly through the Dropcam app on your phone or tablet. Because I happened to have my computer with me at the time, I opted for the computer route.

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Once connected, you are presented with this welcome screen and a step-by-step guide to configuring your camera. The first step is creating your account which takes all of 10 seconds.

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After that, you are taken to this screen where you select your network. Because this camera is compatible with dual band routers (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), it can operate on either frequency.

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Once you are connected, you can begin the personalization process. You can do this via your computer or directly through the Dropcam app as well. However, I recommend doing it on your computer because you have way more options online than compared to the app.

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First, you will want to set your alert notifications. You can set it to notify you in the event of motion, sound, when the camera goes offline, or all three.

Note: When they say “instant” notifications, they only mean the first time an event is triggered. After that, it only sends notifications in 30 minute increments. But more on this later.

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Next, you can set the schedule for the camera by either time or location. For example, if you own a store and only want it to record during non-business hours, you can easily set the schedule to turn on and off at specific times. However, if you have unpredictable schedules like us, you may not find this feature very useful.

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The next feature is setting your camera to turn on and off based on your location. You can set your location (i.e. home, office, store, etc.) and the app will use the location feature to determine when you come and go from that location. In theory, this is a great feature and a very practical since I sometimes forget to turn the camera off manually when I get home. But in practice, I have yet to get this feature to work properly. In my week of testing, the camera turned on and off when I was roughly 1 mile away from my set location which is obviously not very useful since I could be at the store down the street and the camera would still be off.

After some research on their website, I did come across this little blurb that helps explain why this feature can be temperamental.

The Dropcam app uses your iPhone’s ability to triangulate its position based on the cell towers in the area. This method is not as pin-point accurate as using GPS, however it is much less processor intensive and saves on battery life.

Because cellular reception can vary greatly from region to region, you may have to experiment with this feature to find out the best address or location to set to control your Dropcam.

For example, if the Location is your home, Dropcam will not necessarily turn off or on if you go to a neighbor’s house or are a block or two away from the home Location, depending on how cell towers are configured in your area. You can experiment by selecting an address slightly closer or further from your home to see if the location is more sensitive.

So while this was one of the many draws of this camera, I found this feature to be pretty useless in practice. It may be because I live in the city where cell reception isn’t the greatest so if you live in the burbs, you may get better results.

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Next, you can go in and customize your camera settings including the status light, night vision, and microphone volume.

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You can also set your alerts by location or time the same way you did your camera settings.

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Now one of the most interesting features of this camera is the ability to set “activity zones”. Once you have your camera in place, you can go about setting “zones” which you can turn alerts on and off for. For example, if you only want the camera to alert you when your front door opens/closes, you can draw a box around the door and set the camera to ignore everything else outside of that zone. Pretty neat feature in my opinion and certainly helpful for detecting movements for specific parts of your home.

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In Action

The Dropcam works as expected right out of the box. Once you have everything set up properly and to your liking, you can place it wherever you see fit. Can you spot the Dropcam in this picture?

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One of the most attractive qualities of this camera is it’s 130 degree field of view at 1080p resolution. Images are crisp and clear and the wide angle allows you to cover and entire room if placed properly. In good lighting, the camera performs beautifully with little delay. This however is obviously dependent on your network connection. Because the video is streaming through their servers, a short 1-2 second delay is expected.

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The most useful feature of the camera (and the reason most people buy it) is the notification feature. Whenever the camera senses any motion or sound (based on your settings), it will send you an email notification as well as a push notification to your phone much like a text message. In the picture above, you can see the grey hash marks on the timeline indicating when the camera detected activity. This is especially useful when playing back footage because it indicates exactly where an event occurred rather than you having to watch hours of nothingness.

Note: I did run into some initial issues with the push notifications. For some reason, after a few days the notifications stopped sending to my email or phone. However, customer support was very quick to address the issue and followed up in a reasonable amount of time to resolve the issue. They even threw in another month of cloud recording for free for my troubles!

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This is what a typical email will look like. It will include a small image of why the alert was sent but it’s usually not very helpful unless you have the recording service to look at the actual video feed.

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And once you open the camera in your app, you can see a live stream of what’s happening.

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I’ve included a few examples of the image quality on both your mobile device and computer so you can see the difference. Clearly, the quality will be better over Wi-Fi on your computer vs 3G/4G on your mobile device but the feed is still surprisingly good either way.

Live streaming on my iPhone through 3G. Not terrible but not great. I’m sure 4G would be quicker and clearer.

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Camera with night vision on. You can see that the the IR lights really work well and the image quality is still quite clear.

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Streaming in low-light without night vision. You can see that the image is quite grainy but still not awful considering the conditions. Like all cameras, the more light the better.

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Streaming with a good amount of natural light. This is where the image quality really stands apart from other comparable cameras out there.

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And here is a small clip of actual footage so you can get a feel for how the camera actually performs. I will most likely be sleeping on the couch tonight for putting this video on the interwebs for all to see but it was a necessary evil.

There is also the two-way talk feature that some may find useful. Because the camera has a built in two-way microphone, you can carry on a conversation with people near the camera from your mobile device or computer. Some users have noted that it’s especially useful for yelling at their pets when they are misbehaving or even scolding their children when they bring unwanted guests into the house. Again, just like the video feed, there is a 1-2 second delay that is expected.

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Lastly, there is the digital zoom and enhancement feature. While in live view, you can zoom in up to 8x on a specific part of the frame and digitally enhance it.

The picture below shows the Boston Sunday Globe at 8x zoom without enhancement.

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And this is what it looks like when you digitally enhance the image. Not a huge difference but at least you are able to make out the letters a little better.

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Service Plans

As usual, all good things come at a price. And for Dropcam, it’s definitely a hefty one. With the purchase of a Dropcam, you always get free live streaming, alerts, camera scheduling, night vision, two-way talk and automatic updates. By adding the optional Cloud Recording, you can get 7 or 30 days of recorded footage, set activity zones, make timelapses and save/share 3 hours worth of video clips.

Their plans are as follows:

7-Day Plan 30-Day Plan

$9.95 per month

$99 per year

$29.95 per month

$299 per year

 

The real cost ultimately comes from the monthly/yearly cloud video recording (CVR) subscription. Just like buying a smart phone, the data plan is where they get you. The cheapest you will pay is $8.25 per month if you go with their $99 per year package. It’s comparable to a Netflix subscription but way less entertaining unless you enjoy watching re-runs of your pets sleep during the day. Thus, the real cost of the camera + a year subscription is really $298 for the cheapest option. However, unless you have a need to see a whole months worth of video footage, the 7-day plan is more than enough for the average consumer. I would even say it’s too much. However, you do get 50% off recording plans for each additional camera.

For those concerned with video storage and streaming security, here is the blurb from Dropcams site:

When Dropcam is on and streaming, it sends encrypted live footage to the cloud for motion and sound detection. Your video then streams securely from the cloud to your devices for viewing. If you have CVR service, your footage is stored securely on our cloud servers so you can access it anytime, anywhere.

Bank-level security ensures your live and stored footage is safe from unwanted viewers. That’s right. No one can see your video without your permission. Your video is encrypted on your camera and transmitted to your devices using 2048-bit RSA encryption.

Another pro of having cloud storage vs. local storage is that in the event that something bad were to happen (i.e. break-in, flood, fire, etc.) you wouldn’t lose your video footage and would have something to give to the authorities.

FAQs

I decided to do this in-depth review for a several reasons. First, most other reviews out there that I’ve seen don’t take into consideration a few glaring limitations that I discovered after I purchased the camera. Second, I had to search around on multiple websites to find all of the information that I’ve compiled here. Thus, I’ve summarized a list of the most frequently asked questions and reasons for negative reviews on Amazon. Hopefully these answers will help you make a more informed decision.

Question Answer
What platforms can the app run on? Currently you can download it for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire.
The camera says it’s “wireless” but I see a cord coming out the camera in every picture? The camera is wireless in the sense that it uses Wi-Fi. In other words, it does not need to be plugged into an ethernet port for internet access. It does need to be plugged into a power outlet though.
Do I need to get the optional cloud recording feature? Technically speaking, no. But to get the most out of the camera, I would highly suggest getting the subscription based recording service. Otherwise, this is just a glorified webcam.
Can the camera pan left and right or zoom? The camera can not pan left or right but it can digitally zoom.
Can I save video and images to my own sever/hard drive? Nope. The subscription service is the revenue driver behind this camera so all video can only be saved to their cloud server.
Can I change the alert settings to send push notifications every time something triggers the camera? Nope. It only sends an alert the first time activity is detected and then at 30 minute intervals after that.
Does it record at all times when the camera is on? Yep. Everything is being recorded unless you turn the camera off from your computer or app.
Can I use this outdoors? Nope. This camera is not weatherproof so it’s recommended for indoor use only. However, there are some third-party cases that may do the trick.
Does it have an internal battery? Nope. However, I have seen people use this with a portable battery pack.
Can more than one person view the live stream? Yes. You can share the feed with an unlimited number of people (or even make the camera public). More than one person can view it through their phone app as well.
Can more than one person recieve alerts? Yes, you can add as many email addresses as you like to receive activity alerts. However, only the primary account holder will receive push notifications on their device.
How much bandwidth does one camera use? Dropcam states that it uses at least 0.2 Mbps of upload bandwidth per camera. They recommend 0.5 Mbps of upload bandwidth per camera.
How many GB of upload data does one camera use? If you have it on 24/7, it will use roughly 60GB of upload data.

Summary

If you skipped everything else above and came straight to this section, here’s the rundown. Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this camera. First, I’ll summarize the pros.

  • Video quality is excellent, both regular feeds and night vision.
  • Set-up is a breeze.
  • App/Computer interface is intuitive, quick, and responsive.
  • Zone alerts is a very neat feature to have.
  • Responsive 24/7 customer support.

In theory, this camera should be the gold standard for all other cameras to follow. However, there are several issues that have yet to be addressed that really hinder this camera from living up to it’s full potential.

  • Monthly/Yearly plans are expensive and not as flexible as competitors. It would be nice to have a 1-day recording plan like their competitor Simplicam.
  • No local storage option. This is a con for most people but I knew that when I purchased this.
  • Location based alerts are spotty at best.
  • 30 minute alert time frame is a major design flaw.

All in all, this is a great camera packed with useful features, but only if you get the recording package. Otherwise, it’s just a glorified webcam. The picture quality is excellent and the camera (for the most part) works right out of the box. However, as mentioned above, there are some limitations that I would like to see addressed. First, providing a 1-day recording option at a cheaper price point would certainly entice more people to subscribe to the service. Most people who buy this as a home monitoring device only need to view and save the past 24-hours in case of a real alert and have no real need for a weeks worth of footage. Second, in place of location alerts based on cell tower triangulation, you could have the camera turn on/off based on the Wi-Fi connection at a set location or even Bluetooth proximity to the camera. It would certainly be more accurate and save processing power/battery life. Lastly, the ability to set the alert frequency (vs only 30 minute intervals) would be awesome. Let the consumer decide whether or not they want to be bombarded with notifications. If Dropcam can address these issues, they would alleviate most of the issues that consumers are currently facing with this device.

Obviously, nothing will replace being proactive about your safety (i.e. locking windows and doors). If someone really wanted to break in to your home, they are going to do it. This camera won’t deter a potential thief but at least you will be notified instantly so you can contact the police and you will have video footage in the cloud that you can give to the authorities. So is it worth it? To me it is. I can forgo my two Starbucks grande mocha frappuccinos every month in exchange for peace of mind.

Something else to note, as Dropcam becomes increasingly popular, people/potential thief’s have begun to recognize them and their function (just YouTube Dropcam thief’s). Luckily, the great folks at Dropcessories have designed some pretty cool accessories like this neat tissue box or cute teddy bear pictured below to conceal your Dropcam. Considering that most nanny cams/security cameras out there these days are not very technologically advanced and have terrible ratings on Amazon, you’d be better off investing in a Dropcam and one of these accessories to monitor your home.

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And with that, thanks for reading and let me know if you have any feedback by leaving a comment below!

If you are interested in buying one for yourself, click the link above and a small portion will go to maintaining this site!

Disclaimer:  I am in no way affiliated with Dropcam, Nest, or Google. Dropcam did not pay me to write this review. I did so because I believe it will help others make an informed decision based on their needs. This Dropcam was paid for by our own hard-earned dollar bills.

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