dropcam-Pro

Initial setup experience 

It’s clear from the moment I started unpacking the dropcam that the setup process had been given significant attention. I know that handsome packaging doesn’t automatically equal a good product/experience but it’s at least a positive indicator that the experience I’m about to have with the product will be a good one.

Getting things going happened in (literally) a few easy steps. I positioned the tiny camera unit into the metal stand and connected the microUSB power cable to the bottom of the camera. I then plugged the other end of the cable into my PC and followed the clear instructions to complete both the camera (wifi connection) and Dropcam account setup (I signed up for the basic CVR plan as well). I say clear because I’ve tinkered with other cameras/vendors and found this experience to be vastly superior to the previous products. Earlier offerings from other vendors felt like the products were intended for an enthusiast that was willing to tackle a learning curve to use the product. The Dropcam had the feel of something customized for the unfamiliar or “regular consumers”. A subset of the usual features for an IP cam but those features have been honed. My benchmark was my next door neighbor. He’s retired (to set your expectations for generation) and couldn’t setup/maintain the Foscams we put in his kitchen if his life depended on it. He tackled the entire setup of the Dropcam by himself with no issues.

From the time I took the camera out of the box till the time that I had a feed coming through the mobile app was a little less than 10 min.

Hardware

Camera size
As you can probably tell from the promo shots, the camera (minus the stand) is actually fairly small. Its puck-ish style and small size lend to more creative options for placement. The only real limit becomes access to power and wifi.

Power cord 
The device comes with a crazy long microUSB cable. What’s noteworthy isn’t the length of the cable (insert junior high joke here) but the fact that it uses microUSB. That means that should i lose the cable that came with it, I can get by using any one of the multitude of cables I have for my phones/tablets, etc. In turn, that eliminates the problem I had with a previous product where the power pack died and it took ~30$ to get a new one.

Metal stand – The stand that is provided in the box looks too thin to be sturdy but that’s an illusion and also why I stipulate “Metal” at the front of this piece of the review. It’s thin but very sturdy and heavy. All of those features are functionally valuable and that value becomes clear once you start trying to find the right location for the camera.

Software

CVR Service –
This turned out to be one of the more useful/impressive parts of the Dropcam experience and something I didn’t really comprehend (usecase-wise) until I started using it. Prior to testing the camera, my reaction to that feature in their offering was pretty much “meh” and it just meant that they were trying to monetize the real information that the hardware was collecting. However, that was a gross oversimplification. To help explain one of the reasons why I found this facet of the product to be so useful, I’ll draw a contrast to the experience with one of my other cameras that I just took out of rotation; I’ll call it the “old camera”. When the old camera detected motion, it would start recording to a local SD card. However, the reaction time was so slow that when someone walked past the camera, they would often be out of range before the recording actually began. This resulted in lots of alerts to me that something was detected but ultimately meant I ended up reviewing lots of blanks as my dogs had simply walked past the sensor and did so fast enough to avoid the activation of recording. With the CVR service, it’s always recording (different plans offer different buffer durations and i was using the 7 day plan) so when i respond to an alert that something was detected by the Dropcam, the video segment always starts just before the action so you don’t miss anything. This also permits you to review things captured in the feed that would not otherwise produce an alert. For example, my neighbor reported that it appeared as if someone had been in his house even though nothing appeared stolen. I reviewed the footage from my front door camera for the time between my neighbor leaving his house and then returning to find things amiss. I’m using the “zone” feature (see below) to focus cameras attention the area just in front of my door so I didn’t get any alerts but the feed review found the neighbors adult son paying the house a visit during the time in question. Without the CVR service, I wouldn’t have had access to that info since it didn’t trigger an alert.

Picture quality
As advertised, the picture is a crisp, clear HD shot. This is true of both the day and night shots. I mean, no night shot is what I would call “crisp” but this looks good for an IR shot.
daylight_shot

night_shot
Zones feature
I don’t think this feature is unique to Dropcam but the use of customizable “zones” in the visible range were what I used to fine tune what the camera was pinging me about. I went from frequent alerts for things such as sunlight changes or bushes moved by the wind to only getting notified when there was actually something to watch… lizard, curious wasp, neighborhood cat…

activity_zone

Audio
The audio feature is as good as I would expect from a wireless device of the Dropcams size. Since I placed my camera outside my front door, I could use the phone app and the audio feature like an intercom. While the audio output was far from perfect, it was good enough to use as the intercom on more than one occasion and the microphone picked up the sound of the tires-on-pavement of cars rolling past my house. Pretty darn good.

Clip creation
Not a huge deal but the desktop version of the software allows you to create clips (both regular and time lapse) from the recorded video feed (with CVR service). Depending on what you plan to do with your camera, this can be a handy way to offload segments of video that you want to hold onto.

Camera sharing
The desktop browser experience lets you share access to your camera(s) with others. I started  by sharing with non-Dropcam customer friends to let them check out the clarity of the feed but ended up making use this feature to monitor my neighbors camera while he was on vacation. Since he was a dropcam user, it was a very simple process to share his camera with my account. That resulted in my ability to see both my cameras and his own on both the desktop browser page and the mobile application (including his activity list). I plan to reverse this share when I take my next vacation so the neighbor can keep an eye on things for me.

Notification emails
I’m mentioning this for one reason: I found it useful more than once. I’m talking specifically about the emails that are sent from Dropcam when the camera status changes. On one occasion, the email informed me the camera had dropped offline. On review, I found that the wifi signal was being blocked so the notification message allowed me to fix the issue immediately instead of after I stumbled across the lost recording time. Next, I got an email stating the camera was offline which led me to discover that the power to my house had been lost. It seems like a minor thing to get those emails but they function like a light on a dashboard so you can use them to avoid headaches while away from home.

Desktop/Phone app
They did a pretty good job with the cleanliness of the interface of the web UI. The timeline that runs under the camera view pane makes things feel intuitive especially with respect to the addition of the markers for points in the timeline where activity was detected.

The mobile app also feels well thought out. I’m speaking of the Android flavor specifically (no experience with the iOS version). The alerts/notifications appear in the pulldown with a pic from the activity that prompted the alert. You can tap the pic and that segment of video automatically loads up in the Dropcam app. While there are several things you can’t do with the mobile app (ie- create/manage zones), they did a very good job with the primary features. I found myself viewing the live feed and “Activity” list on my phone whenever I had a spare moment.

Detection Performance
Increase/decrease in light could trigger an alert. While I controlled for this to some degree using the “zones”, there are still times where the notification shows only a significant increase or decrease in lighting intensity. This could be due to sunlight (clouds moving through) or car headlights. Minor issue but an issue anyway.
Audio detection – I did not test the audio detection feature.

Summary
While it’s tempting to focus on hardware specs, beyond a certain point, it’s the software and services that really make the experience for most consumers. The Dropcam Pro product offering certainly seems to adhere to this perspective. While the cost may seem a bit steep, the overall experience makes it worth it. For me, the product is a clear winner. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this product to a friend (already have), will definitely be buying another and look forward to their future improvements.

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