Simplicam In-Depth Review

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In my quest to find the best DIY home monitoring camera, I stumbled upon Simplicam. It has very positive reviews on Amazon (4 out of 5 stars) and is currently touted as the official “Dropcam killer.” Because I couldn’t decide between the Dropcam Pro or Simplicam, I decided to get both and try them out for a few weeks (you can read about my Dropcam Pro experience here). Simplicam currently comes in two packages. The first is just the camera for $149. The second is bundled with one year of their 1-day subscription plan for $199.

I was particularly drawn to the Simplicam because of three key features that were missing from the Dropcam Pro. First, Simplicam has face detection/recognition software that really sets them apart from every other camera on the market. Not only can their software recognize a dog’s face from a human face, it can also identify individual faces that you’ve set it to recognize (i.e. your mom). This is currently in beta testing so I expect the technology to get better as they get more user feedback. Second, Simplicam has the ability to set your alert notifications based on various intervals (every instance, 10 min, 30 min and 1 hour). This is a key feature that is currently missing from the Dropcam Pro and a point of unrest for current owners. And finally, Simplicam offers a 1-day recording service that is much more practical for the average consumer.

So without further adieu, let’s get into it.

Unboxing

Similar to the Dropcam Pro, the packaging is neat, vibrant and impressive. Each layer was well thought out and everything from the camera to the wall mount is presented beautifully.

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The aluminum base is a nice touch but it could use some sort of grip on the bottom to prevent it from sliding around too much.

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

  • Simplicam HD Camera
  • Wall mounting hardware
  • 10-foot micro-USB cable
  • Short micro-USB cable
  • USB power adapter

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Set-Up

You can set-up the camera in one of two ways – the mobile app or your computer. I wanted to test out the mobile app so I went that route. Simplicam uses an app called Closeli that allows you to directly interface with the camera. The nice thing about the app is that it has all the same features as the website so you really don’t need a computer at all to modify any features.

Upon opening the app, you will see this screen if you don’t have any cameras set up.

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The app walks you through step by step and is stupid easy to follow along.

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Once you are ready to set up the camera, the app displays a QR code that you hold in front of the camera. This step syncs the camera to your account.

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And once the camera light turns green, you are ready to roll.

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The next step is setting up your user preferences. Simplicam give you a lot of flexibility when it comes to modifying your settings and alerts.

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You can set your alerts to notify you in the event of sound, motion or face detection as well as the frequency of alerts (every instance, 10 min, 30 min, or 1 hour). This was something that was missing from my Dropcam Pro so it was nice to be able to choose when I wanted to receive alerts, especially since I was using it as a security camera. In addition, it will also send you an alert if the camera goes offline for any reason.

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You can even set the detection sensitivity of the camera. In my testing, I had the camera set to notify in the event of any motion or face activity. I was initially getting false alerts left and right due to overcast and shadows in the apartment but I was able to quickly resolve this by turning down the sensitivity to it’s lowest setting (crash).

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In action

In terms of functionality, I was very impressed with the speed of the notifications. Just like the Dropcam, the app sends push notifications to your phone much like a text message.

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Once you swipe open the notification, it automatically plays back the event so you can see what triggered the activity alert.

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You can even filter the events by motion, sound, or face detection which is useful for sifting through all of your footage. The orange bouncy ball icon represents motion activity while the yellow man icon means it recognized a person.

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In terms of picture quality, the camera records video in 720p which produces clear video in good lighting. Additionally, the 107-degree field of view is wide enough to cover an entire room if placed properly. While not a wide as the Dropcam Pro’s 130-degree field of view, it’s still wide enough for most applications.

The below picture is a snapshot of live feed on my iPhone over 3G. Because the video is being streamed through their server, a 1-2 second delay is normal and should be expected.

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And this is the same live feed on my computer. Definitely clearer on the computer but that’s no surprise.

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Night vision is a little more fuzzy but still decent for home monitoring purposes.

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And this a screenshot of the camera at 4x zoom. In my opinion, most people will probably want to stay in full view mode and forgo the zoom feature all together. However, this is still a nice feature to have.

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One issue that I did encounter is that the camera needs a lot of light in order to function without the use of night vision. During my tests, I had the Simplicam set up next to my Dropcam and the Simplicam stayed in night vision mode for the entire day while the Dropcam switched efficiently between settings when appropriate. Even with all of the lights turned on in my apartment, it still stayed in night vision mode. This may not be an issue if you get a lot of natural light in your apartment during the day so it’s just something to keep in mind.

Lastly, there is the Siri-esque push to talk feature that allows 2-way communication through the camera. Again, there is a 1-2 second lag with this feature but you can still easily hold a conversation with someone on the other end without any issues.

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And completely unrelated to any thing else, I really got a kick out of this app rating notification so I wanted to share it with you all.

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Face Recognition

Obviously, this is the feature most people are curious about. So what’s the difference between Face Detection vs. Face Recognition you ask? With Face Detection, you’re notified if a face is detected within the camera’s frame of view. Closeli lets you know it’s “someone” as opposed to a shadow, pet, car or other movement. With Face Recognition, you can be notified who is in the frame of view (i.e. spouse, friend, yourself, etc.). You can also be notified if someone you don’t recognize is home. And best of all, you can set your Simplicam to automatically stop recording when certain people are recognized.

Note: This feature was just released a few days ago on iOS so if you don’t see it on your app, make sure you have the latest version. Also, this feature is only available to cloud recording service subscribers.

On your app, you will see a little man icon on the bottom right with an orange “beta” tag.

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Once you select that icon, you will be taken to this screen where you set begin the set-up process. 2015-01-24 12.07.56

You are then taken to a screen with a short how-to video to see how it’s done. It’s not completely necessary to watch the video since the app takes you through the process step by step but it’s still helpful to get a sense of what it will ask you to do.

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Next, make sure to stand roughly 10 feet away and that the camera has a clear view of your face. Once you are ready, select the “ready” button and listen for the audio instructions.

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It will first ask you to look directly at the camera for a few seconds. Then, it will tell you to turn slowly to the left and then to the right as it record different angles of your face.

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Once the app completes the registration process, it will allow you to keep/change your profile picture and add a name to the face.

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You can change the picture by taking another one with your phone or you can even select any picture from your library.

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Selma didn’t like her preset picture either…

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You can add up to 10 people to your account which is probably more than enough for an average household. Plus, the neat part about this software is that as you keep using this feature more and more, it will improve upon the facial recognition of people you have stored in the app.

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And with the added facial recognition feature, you can set your camera to notify you when the camera recognizes a registered person. So instead of the camera sending you alerts when it sees someone, it can now tell you when it sees a specific person. Pretty cool, huh?

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Lastly, you can also set it to stop recording when it recognizes certain people. So if you’re walking around your house on a Saturday morning in your underwear, it will (hopefully) stop recording.

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In my week of using this feature, it seems to be hit or miss. This feature is still in beta so it’s expected that there will be hiccups along the way. Below is one of several attempts at getting the camera to recognize me. Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10 it would only alert me that the camera detected an “unrecognized person”.

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There is also an “improve recognition” feature which allows you to confirm videos that you are present in to help the system learn your face. We’ve only been using the feature for a few days so hopefully with more use it will get better.

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Service Plans

Just like almost everything else out there, there is a service plan for this camera. With the purchase of the camera, you get live streaming, two-way talk, notification and night vision. However, with the optional recording plan, you also get face recognition/detection, cloud based video storage, and the ability to save/share 1 hour of video clips. Below is a table of their current offerings:

1-Day Plan 11-Day Plan 21-Day Plan
$4.99 per month
$49.99 per year
$13.99 per month
$139.99 per year
$22.99 per month
$229.99 per year

 

A major draw of Simplicam is that they have a 1-day recording plan which is the perfect length of time in my opinion. One of my gripes with my Dropcam Pro was that you could only choose between a 7-day plan and a 30-day plan. Most people using this as a security camera only need the last 24-hours of footage so I think they addressed a lot of peoples concerns by offering a 1-day plan. Also, if you opt for the $49.99 per year option, you are actually only paying ~$4.17 a month. Not a bad deal if you ask me for some peace of mind.

FAQs

A lot of these questions and answers are the same when compared with the Dropcam Pro but I thought it was worth noting here since there are slight differences between the two.

Question Answer
What platforms can the app run on? Currently you can download it for iOS and Android
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 WiFi. 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, including face recognition/detection, 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? Yes! You can set it to notify you every time an event occurs and at 10 minute, 30 minute, and 1 hour intervals.
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.
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? 400K – 500K bps on average. Close to 1Mbps if there is a lot of activity going on.

Summary

So if you skipped everything else and came straight here, here is the quick and dirty run down.

Pros:

  • Very quick and simple set-up process
  • 720p resolution is clear in well lit settings
  • Computer/app interface is well thought out and easy to navigate
  • 1-Day cloud recording option is awesome
  • Ability to set frequency of notifications is also awesome
  • Customer support is friendly and responsive

Cons:

  • Camera needs a lot of light in order to switch from night vision mode
  • App occasionally doesn’t recognize the camera
  • Face recognition needs improvement

All in all, I feel that Simplicam is definitely on to something here. Being first to market with face detection/recognition software truly sets them apart from their competitors. They come in at a more attractive price point and offer more appealing recording packages for the average consumer. However, their real draw and point of focus is their facial recognition feature which they will need to perfect if they plan on holding on to any market share.

And with that, thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions/comments!

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

Disclaimer:  I am in no way affiliated with Simplicam. Simplicam 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 Simplicam was paid for by our own hard-earned dollar bills.

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