When you think of security cameras, you may often think of bulky, expensive devices that are difficult to install and configure. But, this is no longer the case. Today, you can get a very sleek, compact, and lightweight camera for a decent price that is easy to set up and use. If you’ve been curious about getting your own security camera (the easy way), give the $200 Dropcam Pro a serious consideration.
We certainly did. We bought this unit for our review. And now, as lucky MakeUseOf readers, you will have the chance to win it!
About the Dropcam Pro
The $199.99 Dropcam Pro is a small, WiFi enabled, security camera for personal use. The primary goals with this device is to provide a quick and easy way to “check in” on wherever the camera is placed while keeping setup easy and the price reasonable. It’s worth noting that the Dropcam Pro doesn’t record or save any footage locally. It produces a live video stream, which is encrypted and relayed through Dropcam’s servers.
Dropcam provides two versions of the same camera — the non-Pro version is $50 less expensive and they both perform the same task but the Pro offers better specifications which can improve your experience. Dropcam also provides a handful of useful cloud features to accompany your Dropcam device.
The Dropcam Pro has a few competing products, such as the Logitech Alert 750n Indoor Master System with Wide-Angle Night Vision and Belkin NetCam HD. The Logitech Alert retails for $299.99 is a more traditional security camera setup (and likewise much more costly) but offers generally the same set of features. However, the Logitech Alert 750n system isn’t WiFi enabled and requires the use of a pair of Homeplugs (powerline adapters) to transmit data.
The Belkin NetCam HD is much more similar to the Dropcam Pro in the sense that it’s wireless, and retails for $129, but it is missing a few features such as Two-Way Talking — more on that later.
The Dropcam Pro sports the following specifications:
- Dimensions: 4.5 x 3.15 x 3.15 inches
- Weight: 5.7 ounces (162 grams)
- 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second with H.264 encoding
- 130 degree field of view
- 8x zoom
- Low light vision with high-power IR LEDs
- Audio input and output
- Intended for indoor-use only
- Dual band 802.11b/g/n
Packaging and What’s Inside
When opening the packaging, you’re immediately greeted by the camera, the metal frame, and a wall mount. If you take out the packaging separator, you’ll also find a USB cable, a pretty strong power supply (2 Amps), and a few screws for use with the wall mount. You’ll also find a card with instructions on how to get the camera set up and going.
The camera itself is actually very small. It’s not a whole lot bigger than the lens itself — the rest of its size comes from the metal frame which holds it up and angles it the way you want it to. Besides these two items, using the USB is required — either to connect to a computer for power or for configuration, or to the provided power supply so that you can move it to just about anywhere in the house. The metal frame is superb — it’s very strong, and it holds the camera at all angles without budging from the camera’s weight.
Setting up the camera was both easy and difficult. Dropcam advertised that it’s possible to configure the camera with your smartphone via Bluetooth, but the Android app ended up telling me that this isn’t supported yet. Boo. The instructions also say that you can plug the camera into a PC or Mac and then open the new folder that appears and run the appropriate setup file. Which sounds great, but my computer had issues recognizing the camera as it kept saying that the drivers weren’t able to install correctly. I ended up having to go to the Device Manager to “uninstall” the camera, reboot my computer, and then try again.
Either way, it worked eventually and I started the setup file. This launched a website (which I wouldn’t be able to reach any other way) that would configure the camera, similar to how the Chromecast does it. However, unlike the Chromecast, the webpage communicates with the camera via the USB connection — whereas the Chromecast first created its own WiFi network that you had to connect to in order to configure it. I hope Dropcam would incorporate this method in future products, because then I wouldn’t have to worry about malfunctioning USB drivers or the fact that I have to use Windows or Mac OS X.
Anyways, once I got to this website, the process went much more smoothly. I was able to connect the Dropcam Pro to my WiFi network, and then unplug the camera and position it somewhere else. Once the website detected that the camera was online again, it sent me straight to a tour of the video feed interface.
In case you couldn’t tell yet, Dropcam doesn’t use an app to view the video feed from the camera, nor does it transmit the feed directly via WiFi. Instead, the camera uses its WiFi connection to send its video stream to Dropcam servers (encrypted with AES, of course). By doing it this way, you can access your video stream from any computer via a web browser, as well as from any smartphone via the Dropcam app. Long story short, doing it this way allows you to easily access the video feed from outside of your home, which is the point of this camera.
The video feed interface is very useful and capable. You can pause the feed, go back 30 seconds, adjust the volume of the sound being recorded by the camera, and view the feed in full screen mode. You can also digitally zoom in on a certain spot, and then click on the “Enhance” button to have the camera zoom in optically so that you get a higher quality view. You can also enable two-way talking, where the interface enables your computer’s microphone and plays it through the speaker in the Dropcam Pro.
I’ve tried this out and while it works, it doesn’t work very well. The video feed lags by a few seconds because the data isn’t sent directly to your computer or smartphone. It has to go through Dropcam’s servers first before it’s directed to your viewing device. So it’ll feel like a very long, boring, and tedious conversation. So, while it’s theoretically possible to talk this way, it’s more ideal for if you want to say hello to a pet rather than a person.
You also have a few camera-specific settings at your disposal. Within the settings, you can disable the status light, toggle HD video, enable night vision or set it to Auto, rotate the video 180 degrees, enable audio, tweak the microphone sensitivity, enable camera scheduling by time and location, and toggle whether the camera detects motion and/or sound events that are then marked in your recording history.
Depending on your subscription to Dropcam, you can also record up to 7 days or 30 days of footage. This costs $9.99 per month and $29.99 per month, respectively. With this service enabled, you can view the archive and create a clip of any length that you can download to your computer as an MP4 file. I find this particularly useful if you want to easily show someone a short piece of a recording. You start out with the cloud recording package as a 14-day free no-obligation trial, which gives you a sneak preview to all of these features.
Since the Dropcam doesn’t record footage to local hard drives or SD cards, you won’t have any access to video footage if you aren’t subscribed to the cloud recording feature. That service alone costs $99 or $299 a year depending on the level, which may be a significant additional cost.
While setting up the camera wasn’t possible via the mobile app, dropping in with one is easy to do. The app even supports most of the same features as the web interface, including zooming, two-way talk, and most of the same settings. If you’re on the go, it’s a perfect way to check up on the house. The mobile apps are available for Android and iOS.
All in all, the Dropcam Pro is actually a very nice camera to use. It provides great quality, a respectable amount of additional features, and the cloud-end of the Dropcam services are easy to use and stable. It may not be the absolute cheapest option of the bunch, but I feel like the price is well worth the features and polish. I really don’t have any complaints about the camera, except that the setup process could be done a little bit differently to make it easier and more likely to work. Like I mentioned above, I’d prefer the same setup method as Chromecast as it’s already fairly similar. Additionally, the price is still a bit expensive considering it’s a fancy webcam with some nifty extras. Ideally it should be priced $50 less for both products.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy — while I’d prefer for it to be cheaper, it’s useful and should last you for a long time!
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