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Nest Cam review: a slightly pricey way to secure your home

Nest Cam review: a slightly pricey way to secure your home

The camera's best video monitoring tools, while useful, might be too costly for some

A new app will unify control of all three of Nest Labs’ products.

A new app will unify control of all three of Nest Labs’ products.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With Nest's motion-sensing camera, that prevention will put a dent in your wallet.

The Google-owned company, which makes a smart thermostat and smoke detector, recently launched its first home security camera, the Nest Cam. It offers higher-quality video and smarter motion detection than its predecessor, the Dropcam, which Nest acquired last year. But with a bunch of similar cameras on the market, some of which come with cheaper or even free cloud storage plans, the Nest Cam is not necessarily a smart buy.

After testing it for a couple weeks, I found the camera effective at detecting certain types of motion. But whether it's worth the US$200 -- and at least $10 per month extra for access to the recorded video, which is important to make the product really useful -- depends on your security needs and the type of activities you want to monitor.

Of course, the Nest Cam could more than pay for itself if it thwarts a break-in attempt or helps identify someone who vandalizes your property. But aside from that, for a single person like me, who lives alone without pets to keep an eye on, and whose apartment doesn't look out on the street, the Nest Cam may not justify its cost.

You should also consider rival products, like the Canary camera, which costs $250 but has a free recorded video plan, or the Simplicam, which costs $200 including its cheapest one-year recording subscription.

Still, the Nest Cam could make a nice gift for my parents, whose dog routinely jumps onto their bed when they leave home. And the camera has a speaker, so you can comfort -- or scold -- your pet via the microphone on your smartphone.

What it does

The Nest Cam records video, stores it in the cloud, and lets you watch it later on your smartphone or desktop. You can also watch the video live, which means you don't need a cloud subscription. The camera sits atop a small stand that swivels and also comes with a wall mount. It requires a Wi-Fi connection and needs to be plugged into a power outlet.

Detecting motion and sound is what the camera is all about. If it detects motion in its field of view, or picks up a sound, you'll receive a notification on the Nest app when that happens.

The camera includes free access to live video. That means you can always peek at what's happening in your home at any given moment. But to get the most out of the camera, you're going to want a Nest Aware subscription. That lets you review the recorded video from the past 10 or 30 days, depending on the plan you choose. The 10-day option costs $10 per month, while the 30-day option costs $30 per month. The subscription price gets cheaper for additional cameras.

Out of the box, the Nest Cam comes with a free 30-day trial that lets you see all the video recorded over the past 10 days, and lets you use other features like the ability to save videos locally, and receive motion alerts for particular areas in the camera's field of view, called activity zones.

After the 30 days, if you don't purchase a subscription you'll still get the alerts and live video, but you'll lose access to the video history and other features. That means motion alerts will only really be useful if you open the app right when you receive one, and the action's still happening. Otherwise you might be sitting at work wondering what just happened back home.

Set up, mobile app

I had a few problems setting up the camera. It's supposed to take only a minute to set up the Wi-Fi link and connect to the Nest mobile app. But at first, the review unit I was provided wouldn't connect to Wi-Fi, or it would connect and then drop out minutes later.

I tried moving the camera to a few different places in my apartment, and was able to maintain a good connection on my desk. Nest has a troubleshooting page on its website that explains the various types of wireless interference the camera might experience based on where it's placed in your home.

Once the camera makes its Wi-Fi connection, the main way you'll be accessing it is through the Nest mobile app. You can see what the camera sees, select the image quality and configure other settings. You can tell the app whether you want to be alerted for sound events, motion events, events in activity zones, or all of the above.

The app will let you set the image quality to 360p, 720p or 1080p. The 1080p mode is sharp but had a tendency to lag, so I usually had it set on 720p. I was using the app on an iPhone 6.

You can set a schedule so the camera automatically turns off and on at certain days and times. You can also manually turn it off and on from the app.

My experience with the app was decent but not great. After opening the program it usually took a few seconds to connect to the camera. It would also take a few seconds to re-connect whenever I switched between the history, live video, and settings pages. The app also had a tendency to make my phone feel hot if I watched video for several minutes.

In addition to the mobile app, there's also one for the desktop that has additional functions, like creating activity zones. You can also save video clips to your hard drive, or post them on social media sites like YouTube or Facebook. The desktop app also lets you create time lapse videos.

Not all motion triggers alerts

Testing the camera, I received plenty of alerts to notify me of my own motion, or the motion of others, in front of the camera. But I wanted to receive alerts for other types of motion, and that didn't always work. For instance, I wanted to get alerts whenever I received mail at home, so I created an activity zone over a section of floor near the garage door, where the landlord slides my mail.

But with or without the activity zone activated, I never received a notification. I even tried sliding mail under the door myself -- no dice.

To Nest's credit, this may not be an error. Nest uses facial detection technology, because it figures people will be most concerned when there's a person in their home. So you're more likely to get motion alerts for something that looks like a human face.

Nest says the camera can filter out "unimportant" motion, like light and shadows moving across flat surfaces. The company also says its paid cloud service will let Nest better update and refine its motion detection over time.

Sometimes I was grateful not to get the motion alerts. On one windy day, I had the camera aimed at my sliding glass doors leading out to the yard. Not once was I alerted to the large tree swaying in the wind.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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