Dropcam: Drop In From Anywhere

One of the most exciting aspects with iOS are the possibilities which exist that make our lives easier. I previously said how much I enjoy finding new ways for iOS to make my home life easier. Whether it is cooking or monitoring home temperature, iOS is leading the way in home automation.

One category of items that is becoming increasingly popular is iOS web cameras. One of the companies taking the pain out of monitoring and setting up a wireless camera is Dropcam. Their model of a Cloud Video Recording (CVR) service intrigued me and I have been really happy with it — since having the camera it has made me feel safer and has even caught an attempted break-in on camera! Keep reading on to see why Dropcam is one of the best wireless cameras on the market.

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The Camera

The Dropcam camera is incredibly tiny, yet sturdy. The camera sits on a base which can be mounted to a wall or rested on a ledge. Connecting the camera to the base is a joint which can rotate both forwards and backwards, depending on your mounting choice. Before you mount the camera you need to hook it to your computer in order to set it up. The set up process is quick and in under 60 seconds you can be monitoring your video feed.

The Dropcam is tiny enough to fit almost anywhere. The biggest item on the camera seems to be the usb cable.

The Dropcam is tiny enough to fit almost anywhere. The biggest item on the camera seems to be the usb cable.

The camera is completely stationary and it cannot be rotated once it is setup.

Once the camera is set up and placed you might notice just how big the usb cord is. This is the biggest drawback to the device as the cord sticks out and is very hard to hide. My previous wireless camera had a very small power cord which made it easy to tuck away. Since most individuals will put the camera on a ledge or mount it, I would assume Dropcam would try to make it as small as possible. Once the camera is placed the only thing left to do is to download the Dropcam app and set up alerts.

Seeing Is Believing

When looking into purchasing a security camera or other wireless camera, one of the most important features to keep in mind is the quality of the picture. If you are buying this camera for security or maybe even as a baby monitor then the picture is going to take top priority. Even the most feature-rich camera is worthless if the image quality is terrible. The Dropcam, however, provides pictures in 720p HD resolution to make sure everything is clear.

The camera also has automatic night vision to capture everything even when there are no lights.

All is well inside my house.

All is well inside my house.

The clear picture does come at a cost, though, and that is bandwidth. If you have chosen a CVR plan (more on these later), the camera sends video directly up the cloud. This could become a problem for people who have monthly caps on their internet. Sending these high-definition videos up to the cloud will also take some away some speed on the home network. Of course, your mileage can vary but I can report that on my home network, which averages 13Mbps down and 1.5Mbps up, we have not noticed a difference with two Dropcams sending video to the cloud.

Not Your Typical DVR

As mentioned previously, Dropcam offers a CVR service so those important clips can be kept forever. When buying a camera, which costs $149, there are three options. The first option is to forgo the CVR service completely and only use the camera in live mode. Push notifications can still be used in live mode to alert the the user that motion or sound has been detected, but if no CVR plan is selected the user will only see the live event instead of what prompted the notification.

The second and third option include CVR plans. Both plans record all video up to the cloud. The cheapest plan, at $9.99 a month, records all activity for seven days. The other CVR plan available is $29.99 a month and records all activity for 30 days to the cloud.

Viewing The Video

After your camera is setup and signed into your Dropcam account you can view the video feed. The app opens up with a four camera screens for simultaneous viewing. This is great if you have four Dropcams, but most of us don’t — so we will just see blank options. To prevent the blank options, I wish the app would scale depending how many Dropcams there are connected to the app.

The home screen offers a quick look at up to four Dropcams.

The home screen offers a quick look at up to four Dropcams.

If the CVR plan is enabled for the feed, then you can also see events where activity has been recorded. A timeline is loaded after pressing Show Events and the events preview window showing the activity is loaded amongst the timeline. The important aspect of the CVR is to realize that everything is recorded, but in order to help users review activity, Dropcam highlights the moments where sound or motion have occurred.

Browsing through events to see what happened while I was away.

Browsing through events to see what happened while I was away.

So let’s say you recorded something suspicious or maybe even just caught the first time your baby stood up, Dropcam makes it easy to save clips for permanent storage. Pressing the Save Clip button brings up a dialogue box where you can name the clip and choose the duration you want to save — the longest duration you can save is 1 hr. Once you press save, your clip will be processed. The processing is very quick and your clips will appear under the clip button in the top right corner. From here clips can be shared through the iOS sharing menu.

Dropcam also has a two-way talk feature. You can always say hey to Fido even when you are away and hear their barks in response.

There is another aspect to the Dropcam which might make it appealing. Any camera setup can be made public so that anyone can view it. In the app and on their website, Dropcam has a featured section showcasing some of the cameras which have been marked as public. This can be a great way to grant customers an inside look into a business as well.

When viewing the pubic feeds, I came across a band performing. Free concert from my desk!

When viewing the pubic feeds, I came across a band performing. Free concert from my desk!

Be There Even When You Are Not

I think the coolest feature of the Dropcam camera and its app are the push notifications for sound and movement. This is perfect for when you are away and want to keep a heads up on anything that is going on in a room or house. Notifications can be set up within the app by pressing the gear icon in the bottom right corner. If you have a set schedule (say you’re at work from Monday to Friday from 8 till 5) then setting the camera to be active for notifications during this time is easy.

The only thing I have found difficult is when trying to set a repeating pattern. Such as, I cannot easily set the camera to start watching for movement at 8 AM on a Monday morning. My camera is active all day on Monday since the app wants the input times for the alerts to be non-active. The camera implies that alerts are always active, and it needs to be told when alerts should not be active.

This requires a few more rules to achieve the desired result, and I think it would just be easier to have to the option to turn alerts on and set the times that alerts should be active.

Notifications can be customized by location awareness or by a time schedule.

Notifications can be customized by location awareness or by a time schedule.

The other option for alerts uses location tracking to turn the camera on automatically once you leave the location. This will require an iPad with cellular, but I did try it out with my iPhone to see how well it works. The premise of this feature is that the app sets up a perimeter around your location and once you leave this location it will enable alerts for your camera.

For the most part this worked well. Usually I didn’t get the notification as soon as I left my location bubble but after a few minutes it popped up. A notification also appears usually a few minutes after walking into my house letting me know alerts have been turned off for my camera. I have, however, noticed a slight problem which does not happen constantly: on certain days, the leaving and arriving notification will keep firing off. The time stamp on the notification is still correct but every once in a while, the notification will pop back up on my lock screen making me think the alerts have either been turned on or off.

Is It Really Watching You All of the Time?

Straight out of the box, the camera will record everything if you are paying for a CVR plan. This may make a little people uneasy, but I have gotten use to it. For people who cannot get comfortable with the camera recording at all times, it can be set to turn on and off either by time or by location.

Reviewing the break-in attempt.

Reviewing the break-in attempt.

Understandably, some people might instantly think to just have the cameras only active when they are away but before you close your mind, I would like to share a personal story how these camera’s caught someone attempting to enter our house.

I personally pay for the seven day CVR plan and my cameras are always on and recording. A few weeks ago, while my wife and I were still up, someone attempted to break into our house through the front door. At the time we only had one Dropcam which watches our living room and is pointed to the front door. While the individuals gave up before I could make it to the front door, we still were not sure what really happened.

Thanks to the Dropcam, we saw the individuals flashlights coming up the driveway, their shadows in front of the windows, and caught all of the noise from their attempt to push open the front door. Of course, the individuals are not actually on camera so there is nothing much we can do but there is a peace with knowing exactly what happened and proof that it happened. If our camera was only to set to turn on when we left the house, none of the footage would have been captured.

Conclusion

Dropcam makes it extremely easy to setup a wireless camera and provide easy access through the web and iOS. The camera is small enough to fit almost anywhere. Whether you are looking for a baby monitor or a security camera, the Dropcam camera should be on the top of your list to check out. With straight forward pricing, easy set up, and great picture quality, I do not think it can be beaten. The app works great on Wi-Fi and on a cellular network and having push notifications for movement or sound while I am away helps me keep a watchful eye on my house — and gives me that much needed peace of mind too.


Summary

Dropcam makes it easy to keep a watchful eye over anything you desire. With push notifications and recorded events, you will always capture what happens in the event of triumph or despair.

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  • Laurie

    Great review. I’ve been looking for a security cam and this might be it. If I buy two cameras, do I have to pay $9.99 per month for each camera’s CVR, or is it one CVR account for both cameras. I looked on the company’s website and couldn’t find this information. Thanks.

    • http://ipad.appstorm.net/ James Cull

      Thanks for the feedback Laurie!