Dropcam: Home Monitoring Made Ridiculously Easy
Being something of a home-automation enthusiast (including creating quite a few of my own custom devices- about the only time these days I actually use that Master’s degree in Computer Science ;-)), I was very interested in checking out the Dropcam Pro. So when the company offered to let me review it and let them (and you) know what I thought, I didn’t take much convincing. Particularly as I put almost every dime this site makes back into the site. So money from a sponsored article like this ends up meaning more non-sponsored, normal TIFO articles published as well. 🙂 So here we go
First off, for those not familiar, the Dropcam is basically just that- a camera that literally almost just “drops in” and works right out the box, including with robust encryption to make sure nobody but you can view the camera feed. If reports I read are correct, the co-founder of the company, Greg Duffy, was inspired by watching his dad try to setup a security camera system for his home. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. Existing solutions were typically complex on the whole and even quite bulky in some cases.
To more explicitly say what it does, basically, the Dropcam Pro is a very small HD camera with built in wi-fi capability, two-way audio (for talking and listening through it), and a slew of other features (see at the bottom of this review). What it allows you to do is access this camera from anywhere in the world you have internet (whether via a computer, phone, or tablet). As mentioned, you can even listen and talk through it, which is a handy way to talk with friends across the globe.
For me, I was less interested in that aspect of it and more interested in the home security side of things- using it as a home monitor system, and also to check up on my cats and dog when I’m away; always fascinating to see what they get up to. And if my dog happens to be chewing something she shouldn’t while I’m away, I can tell her “no” via the camera wich will no doubt confuse the heck out of her as she looks around for me. 🙂
Another great use is also as a baby or kid monitor. A quick check on existing such baby/kid monitors on the market, and let’s just say from what I’m seeing even if you want to spend a few hundred dollars, the existing video systems on the market for that purpose look like something from a decade or two ago, even in video quality, which was kind of surprising actually… But I digress.
For starters, the setup. On the amazon page for the Dropcam Pro, it quoted “60 second setup” in the description. On the Dropcam website, they aren’t so ambitious, but close. They say “setup in minutes”. Given how well the thing is packaged in the box, the latter is more true. (About a quarter of the time was just unboxing it. :-)) Once unboxed, the setup took (I timed it) 2 minutes and 18 seconds from start to completely working and viewing it from my laptop.
Clearly given the original inspiration for the Dropcam, this was a design goal of theirs, and they seem to have succeeded. The process is basically: plug the camera into your computer to initialize. Run the setup file in the file folder that pops up. Enter a username / password / email for your new/existing account. Click Next and then select the auto-detected wi-fi that is yours and put in your wi-fi password. Click Next. Wait a few seconds while the camera finishes its internal setup. Done.
From there you unplug it from your computer and just put it wherever you want, plugged in using the provided usb plug and really long usb cable. They also include a wall-mount if you’d like to mount it somewhere.
But really, no technical skills required here.
Once the camera was placed where I wanted it (in my office) and plugged in, the setup software on my computer auto-detected it and up came the admin page showing my camera feed and a little walk-through on how to do everything with the camera remotely.
I further went ahead and setup it up on my android phone with similar ease. Again, it’s very clear creating a system that “just works” was a major design goal here when they created the camera and accompanying software.
The one concern I have with such a system as this is security. I mean, I don’t want anyone else being able to see my feed; I’m not going to lie, I blog in my underwear sometimes in the summer. And nobody wants to see that. (Don’t judge, few have air conditioning in Western-Washington. ;-)).
In the end, I want this for me to check up on my office and pets when I’m away from the house. Robust security for something like this might seem like an obvious thing that needs to be included, but I’ve used such security cams in the past that had no such feature.
The Dropcam solves this by encrypting all video and audio from the camera in the camera before streaming that video out. It is then decrypted at your end devices you’re using to access it (via SSL security). Without your login, even if someone intercepts the data transmitted via wi-fi, all they’re going to get is the encrypted data, which for reference is encrypted using the same level of encryption as is common among banks and other such institutions the world over.
So not really much else to say here. The camera’s resolution is HD, the audio and other such features worked fine in testing, and the setup was as easy as advertised. Other than that, as far as constructive feedback for Dropcam, I’d say it would be nice if there was some sort of battery system add-on for this, but given this is an indoor camera, that’s probably not really an issue for most people the vast majority of the time. But, for instance, if the power went out for a bit, it’d be nice to have some sort of temporary battery system in place. Granted, I’ve now got mine plugged into my UPS power backup system, and there are numerous external USB battery backup devices available out there, so that woks. And, of course, if you don’t already have something like a UPS backup or the like, your wi-fi goes out anyways (working online for a living that’s no good so I have such backups in place); but might be nice to have an optional upgrade model that just comes with that built in- maybe auto-putting the system on standby when power is lost unless you explicitly tell it to turn on, or put it in standby unless it detects motion or something, in order to keep the battery and camera profile small. That way if you do have power backup for your wi-fi, but don’t have the camera in the same room, you don’t need a seperate power backup for your Dropcam too.
But overall, this is a great security camera system. My grandparents could install this thing and use it without difficulty, the feed is very high quality, and the feature-set has pretty much everything most could want.
As for a little more comprehensive list of those features built in to the Dropcam Pro and software, for those curious (this is not a complete list, just the highlights I think are pertinent):
- HD video
- Connects to the Internet via Dual-band WiFi
- 8x Zoom
- Night Vision
- Two Way Talk
- 130 degree field of view.
- Free iOS, Android, and web apps to access the camera from anywhere.
- Motion and Sound detectors (including the ability to auto-send emails and alerts to you, if you have it set to do so when motion/sound is detected).
- CVR timeline: When motion or sound is detected, a marker is added to your timeline so you can review activity whenever you want.
- CVR Time Display: By default, the timeline shows one hour of video. You can also view a five minute segment or an entire day.
- Go Back in Time: Select the day you’d like to view from the timeline. Use the arrow buttons to move back and forth.
- Make a Clip: If you find a moment you’d like to keep, click on ‘Make Clip’ and highlight the area you want to save on your timeline.
- Schedule times to turn your camera on and off
- Share your video stream with family and friends
- View a grid of all of your cameras
- Cloud Recording (optional) to save your continuous video stream online
- Location Awareness
- Automatic updates for the system
So there you go. It’s a nice system without much to complain about. As in past gadgets I’ve reviewed, it doesn’t make me breakfast, so I feel obligated to complain about that. One of these days some company is going to make a device that will make and bring me breakfast without me having to do anything, and even if the toast is burnt and the eggs are a little undercooked, I’m going to give it one heck of a positive review. But for now, I guess I can settle for devices that at least do what they say they’re going to do. Someday…
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