Now that we’re homeowners again I’m in the midst of a whole litany of home improvement projects. (I’m even writing today in my half built Tiny Office to get a sense of where I’ll want furniture, install outlets, and stuff like that.)
Along the way I’m testing out home automation gadgets, trying to find some balance between playful stuff, home safety & security, and energy efficiency.
What is Nest Cam?
Here’s the official description.
Meet the Nest Cam security camera.
24/7 live streaming. No dead batteries. No missing moments. This is what a security camera should be.
- 24/7 live video streaming – See your home on your phone in 1080p HD. And control Nest Cam from anywhere
- Alerts on your phone – Get motion and sound alerts so you know if anything happens
- Night Vision done right – See the whole room at night – not just a limited spotlight view
- Talk and listen – Hear the baby. Or talk back to get someone’s attention
- Quick, easy setup – Plug in Nest Cam and download the Nest app to get started. No hub needed
- Don’t miss a thing – Subscribe to Nest Aware to get 24/7 continuous recording and powerful cloud algorithms that give you personalized alerts. Every camera comes with a free 30-day trial
It’s a $200 web cam with a $100/year subscription service.
I’ve been testing Nest Cam for about a month. So far, so good It’s easy to install, easy to use, and works as advertised.
Nest Cam was originally developed by a startup called Dropcam, acquired by Google Nest’s Labs in summer 2015. Google, Amazon, and Apple all seem to be fighting to get a foothold in the emerging market of home automation things called The Internet of Things. So for Google, acquiring Dropcam probably just made sense and they wanted to get it before their competitors did.
Out of the box Nest Cam comes with a few physical installation options. It comes mounted on a well-weighted metal stand with a magnetic base. It’s good looking, nice enough to just plug it in, stick on a shelf, and forget about. The stand is easy to aim in whatever direction you’d like. There’s also a wall mount that’s easy to install, the camera then snaps to the base with a magnet.
The software is also super easy to install. You install the Nest app on your phone or tablet (iOS | Android) then plugin the camera. The only hitch for me was that I had to then create a Nest account on my phone when doing so on the website would have been a lot easier for my fat fingers. Following the instructions in the box you first pair the camera to your phone and then the phone app helps you install the Nest Cam onto your home wifi. This process takes about five minutes and then you’re up and running.
Features I Like
It’s a good camera that’s simple to use, set it and forget it. We use it to broadcast at 720p but you can also use it at 1080p or 360p. We chose 720p because it was clear enough for our needs but didn’t bog down our wifi. We found 1080p did.
I like that the corresponding app (and website) is easy to use, you can toggle features on or off based on your preferences. I like that we can set it up on a schedule or remotely turn it on or off, etc.
I like that you can set alert areas. One of the key features is that you can chose to get a notification if there’s motion in an area you define. This is pretty simple… you just go into your account on the website, draw a picture around what you want to monitor, and indicate that you’d like to get an alert if there’s motion in that area. That’s helped us cut down on some of the annoyance we had with it originally, which I’ll share below.
I like it’s portability. While we have ours permanently mounted on the exterior of our home I’ve seen other users who move it around, even using it as a cheap and easy way to broadcast meetings, events, etc. That’s pretty cool!
I like that it’s efficient. We have one mounted outside of our house in a place where we don’t have power. So we’re actually using a Jackery Giant (USB battery pack) to power the camera, each charge lasting about 20 hours.
I like that it works with other Nest products. In the future I’ll write reviews of Nest’s other products, their thermostat and smoke detector. But, so far, we really like that all of those devices work together and are accessible from the same app.
I like that Nest is providing a way for other manufacturers and developers to interact with Nest products. I’m using things like IFTTT to automate a whole bunch of stuff around the house, more on that in another review.
The first is the most obvious. It’s too expensive for what it is. I recently purchased web camera’s of similar quality for about $30 at Wal-Mart. Is the fact that it has a wifi capability and an app worth an extra $170? For me it was. But for lots of people I don’t think it is. I have a feeling that it’ll drop to about $99 before Christmas 2016 and that they’ll release a new $199 version about the same time.
I don’t like that it’s not waterproof out of the box. It’s not rated for outdoor use, per se. But let’s be honest… most people are going to want to use it outside. It makes no sense that you have to buy aftermarket accessories to make it waterproof. This reminds me of the first few versions of GoPro where you bought the camera and then you spent three times that on accessories just to get the silly thing to work. We added a $20 waterproof case from Dropcessories that allowed us to mount them outside where they might get wet. That’s $20 to fix what is otherwise a design limitation.
I don’t like that you need to pay for Nest Aware. To get all of the features of Nest Cam to work you really need Nest Aware, their subscription service that records live footage. Basically, without Nest Aware you can’t go back and look at things your camera has recorded. Say… someone prowling your home. Without the Nest Aware subscription you could get the exact same thing with a waterproof GoPro Hero 4 Session and their native app.
What About Data Security?
“But Adam, you’ve long said that anything you post online is not private, it’s public. How is this different?”
Well, first of all it’s definitely in the best interest of Google to protect the data of Nest users. Since they are investing billions of dollars in home automation, you better believe that they want to keep this stuff secure from hackers.
Second of all, the way that we’re using Nest Cam… to capture video of outside of our home… is not technically “our private space.” The Supreme Court has affirmed that things that happen outside of your home are not assumed to be private. Just like I can take a picture of you on the trolley without your permission, I can video things that happen outside of my house without needing anyone’s permission. (For non-commercial purposes, that is.)
Third of all, while I’m OK with the perception that what we’re broadcasting is indeed private, I’m aware that it potentially is not. I’m 100% aware that my privacy is a perception in a lot of ways. (After all, I carry around a recording & tracking device in my pocket all day…)
I would be more concerned about Nest Cam streaming 24/7 inside of my home. I’m sure that my account is somehow vulnerable to hackers (or government’s prying eyes) and I just don’t think it’s a great idea to make it easier for someone to see what’s happening inside my house are even pick up the audio of people in my house talking.
But the things that we’re using with Nest Cam (and the thermostat) aren’t directly tied to our house from inside of the account. For instance, while the thermostat is recording a lot of information about our house… it’s benign information like humidity levels, outside temperature, stuff like that. When/if we start using Nest for more sensitive stuff… I’d at least like to see my Nest account protected with 2-factor authentication.
The Money Line
We really like Nest Cam. While we initially were infatuated with it we’re finding it to fit into our household rhythm. We’ve used the advanced features to make the notifications work for us, so instead of alerting us of every car that drives down the street or every time the wind blows a tree… we’re getting adjusting it so that it’s only alerting us when we want to be alerted, like if someone is at the door.
Is it worth $200? I don’t know. What’s the cost of being able to check in on your house when you’re away? What’s the value in knowing who is poking around in front of your house when you’re not home?
I think $200 is buying us a little bit of assurance and, at least for now, it’s worth it.