Device Reviewed With: iPhone 5, iPad mini
Integration with iPad/iPhone Rating:
Hardware Design Rating:
Re-Use Value Rating:
+ Attractive, well-designed camera
+ Excellent picture quality
+ Easy to setup
- Yearly service plan to use all features
- WiFi range could be much better
- Slow support
Dropcam is a small wifi enabled camera that can be used as a home security camera, baby monitor, or just to watch a dog sleep while away from home. As long as it's in range of a wifi router, the image can be viewed from anywhere.
I was introduced to the Dropcam at CES this year. It's an attractive package, both the hardware and the app. With the service plan it also includes some really interesting features not generally found on app-enabled web cams.
The hardware part of the Dropcam consists of a small camera shaped a bit like a 1/2 size hockey puck. The camera has a mini USB connection to allow the device to get power and to connect it to a computer for setup. The base that the camera fits into is very sturdy and fairly easy to mount. Though neither the camera fitting into the base nor the base fitting into the wall mount instill much confidence in their security.
Setting up the camera is easy and inventive. When plugged into a USB port, the camera looks as though it is a USB drive and has the software application needed to configure it right on board. Setup was quick and almost painless. I've found the first major restriction of the Dropcam is that it have a relatively short wifi range. The setup software requires that the wifi connection be extra strong to complete the programming. Once programmed, the wifi connection range seems to be a bit more forgiving. But it still seems to fail to connect where other devices wifi devices I have connect without issue. Contacting Dropcam support was of little help with a two week wait for reply.
Once the hardware is ready, the Universal iOS Dropcam app is needed to view the camera. Once signed into a Dropcam account, connected cameras will pop right up. The camera can be viewed them from there or further configured as needed. It must be noted that the picture quality of the Dropcam is the best I have seen in the half a dozen or so wifi cameras I've tested. It's advertised at 720p and it not only looks sharp, but the color and contrast are very good as well. The camera also allows viewers to listen in to what is happening near the camera and even talk back via the app.
The iPad app is far and away easier to use over the iPhone version. The iPhone version of the software could use an update to bring it closer in features and ease of use to the iPad app.
The basic Dropcam service, which is free, allows connection to Dropcams over the Internet -- wifi or cellular connection -- from anywhere. Dropcam can also send push or email notifications of the configurable motion alerts.
A Plus plan ($9.95/month) gives one of the best features of the Dropcam, cloud-based DVR of video from the camera for up 7 days. This gives the ability to rewind what the Dropcam saw, view motion events, or view a specific time in the past 7 days. A Pro plan ($29.95/month) extends the DVR feature to 30 days recording. Both paid plans offer a discount for multiple cameras on one account, but extra charges do apply.
The app on both the iPhone and iPad does need a few obvious features. For instance, there's no pinch to zoom on the camera image. Instead, the zoom region must be chosen from one of 5 zones to zoom in on in the Settings app, and it's static from that point. Also, the camera must be connected to view the cloud based stored video with the DVR feature: an odd omission there.
Small issues aside, the Dropcam is the best app-enabled network camera I have yet tested. The software issues in particular I expect to be resolved over time. The monthly fee is a bit steep, but considering what it's actually doing, understandable.
Overall, the picture quality and the great app make the Dropcam a great network camera, even without the fairly expensive DVR service.