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NestCam review: A high-end, high definition security guard

The Good

  • Straightforward set up
  • Great mobile and desktop apps
  • High quality Full HD video
  • Solid design

The Bad

  • Pricey subscriptions
  • Bandwidth hungry
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NestCam is a multi-purpose webcam which lets you access live feeds wherever you are from your phone. 

Whenever it detects motion, it’ll ping you a notification. As well as acting as a security camera, NestCam lets you keep tabs on your pets, your newborn child or find out when everyone gets home from school or work. 

It’s the first fruit of Nest Labs’s acquistion of smart security start-up Dropcam and as such it can be configured to work with Nest’s Protect smoke alarms. As soon as the latter detects smoke from fire, the former will send a notification straight to your mobile, letting you call the emergency services and start recording footage of the incident, which will be useful when you come to the miserable-but-necessary process of claiming against your insurance policy. 

It’s got some extras tricks up its sleeves too, in the form of Activity Zones that’ll trigger recordings as soon as it detects motion in certain areas of a room. You’ve also got the option of storing recordings over a 10-day or 30-day period – but this is a premium feature that’ll cost you. Read on to get the full lowdown on NestCam’s capabilities and costs. 

NestCam review

NestCam set up and getting started: Don’t strangle yourself

As you’d expect from a company founded by a pair of ex-Apple engineers, presentation is second to none here and getting set up is a breeze. 

Once you’ve picked out the spot where your NestCam is going to stand, getting up and running is a simple case of downloading the Nest app (iOS, Android) and scanning the QR code on the back of the camera. You’ll then be taken through a step-by-step process that’ll see you get connected to your home network (have your SSID and password ready) and controlling the NestCam itself. 

During the set-up process you’ll be able to assign names and tags to your various Nest devices (like ‘living room’, ‘kid’s bedroom’ or whatever you want) and you can also give your home itself a name. This can be your actual address or whatever you want. We plumped for the suitably mature ‘Castle Awesome’. Just because.

Related: New Nest Protect, Dropcam-esque Nest Cam plus an all-in one appThe Nest app you’ll use to configure and control your camera is the same one you’d use to talk to your smart learning thermostat and smoke alarm (if you have any), making it something of a Swiss Army knife for your home. We’ll touch on how other items in the Nest ecosystem can interoperate with the camera a little later. 

Before we continue, attention must be paid to the unbelievably dark health warning applied to the USB cable.

Most of us know what the words ‘strangulation hazard’ mean and the implications thereof. Parents, especially first time parents, see the world in a different light to the currently or otherwise non-breeding portion of the population. 

Where the latter group see coffee tables, forks and USB cables as normal, everyday objects, parents see a minefield of trip hazards, stabbing weapons and dangerous, potential baby-stranglers. This is unnecessary. Moving swiftly on…

NestCam design: A vampire bat cyclops with night vision

The weighty, circular base of the camera’s metal stand means it won’t easily be knocked off of any shelves or mantelpieces. The hinged stand is easily posable, allowing you to twist and turn the NestCam into a position that commands the best possible view of the space you want to monitor. 

If you don’t have any shelf space that’d afford you a decent view, there’s a second option. The NestCam’s base also has a magnetic ring built in. If you don’t have any ferrous metal surfaces in your home, then Nest has also thought to bung in a magnetic wall mount complete with screws. You’ve got everything you need (bar a power drill, wall plugs and a screwdriver) to get set up.  

The actual camera unit itself also rotates, so no matter whether you’ve got it at ninety degrees coming off a wall or hanging from a ceiling girder like a vampire bat-cyclops, you can twist and turn the camera so that it’s facing the right way. 

 

Nest Cam review

Bear in mind that whichever vantage point you pick will need to be within stretching distance of a mains socket. You get a two metre micro USB-USB cable included, which plugs into the mains adapter. This should be more than enough for most domestic situations, but if you need a bit more reach, the you’ll need to take a trip to your nearest hardware store. 

Annoyingly, the positioning of the micro USB port means that it might not be possible to get the camera positioned 100 per cent how you’d like it. In its default twelve o’clock position (with the Nest logo the right way up) the micro USB port points straight down. When you’re twisting and wrangling the camera into the desired pose, the cable can sometimes get in the way if it’s trailing off to either side. A minor gripe perhaps, but we really wish the port was somewhere else. 

Nest Cam review

NestCam features: Remotely control your family 

NestCam’s 3-megapixel sensor is capable of recording 1080p Full HD video at 30fps. Eight infrared sensors allow the camera to clearly capture footage at night time as well and it’s smart enough to switch between day and night modes when it detects light from the torch, or the full beams of a passing car, something which can trick other cams with night/day modes. 

You can see from our screengrabs below just how well it fares. We were impressed with the level of detail the camera was able to pick out at night time. Should any unwelcome visitors pass through, the NestCam will easily be able to pap the perps at any hour of the day. 

Wherever you are in the world, provided you’ve at least got a 3G connection on your phone you’ll be able to tap into a live feed of whatever your NestCam can see. OK, it’s not ‘live’ in the strictest sense – there’s a few seconds of delay – but it’s close enough for you to see what’s happening back at the homestead. 

The enhance feature lets you zoom in and focus on a specific area in the frame and sharpen the image. As you can see from the screengrabs below, we used the enhance tool to get a closer look at things. 

Tapping the microphone icon on the Nest app engages the built in speaker, which lets you talk to people (or your pets) through your phone. Provided you’ve got a built-in mic, you can do this from the desktop app too. We think this will probably confuse most pets who will inevitably try to figure out where your voice is coming from. Your cat even may be tempted to knock the NestCam off of your shelf. 

You could potentially use the speaker to tell your kids to tidy their room, politely tell burglars to get the hell off of your property or spook your housemates. Either way, the sound quality is not particularly great – audio is incredibly muffled and compressed. 

We were dismayed to learn that the desktop app requires Adobe Flash Player to be installed. Which, given the frequency with which Adobe seems to be issuing emergency security patches, doesn’t bode well. It’s unclear when Nest plans to swap this out with an HTML5 app – the sonner the better.  

Unlike some security systems, NestCam doesn’t come with facial recognition technology, so it’s not capable of ‘learning’ what your family look like and sending you bespoke notifications. 

What it does have is something called Activity Zones, which we’ll now explore in detail. 

Nest Cam review

NestCam apps: Highway to the Activity Zone

For us, the ace up the NestCam sleeve is the ability to define Activity Zones. 

These are drawn across specific areas in the camera’s field of vision. Zones can be changed by dragging from any of the eight points on the corners and moved around by grabbing in the centre and moving them around, not unlike manipulating a layer in Photoshop. 

The idea is that you can create zones around doorways and tell NestCam to send you a notification any time it detects motion in these specific areas. This way, if you’ve got a NestCam looking at your front door you can get updates whenever people get home from school or work. 

Security-conscious types can also draw activity zones around windows and other potential entry points in your home. 

As we don’t have any kids of school age or any pets at home, we decided to put Sphero’s BB-8 on patrol mode to test this out. This toy measures 7.3cm across the diameter and every time it rolled into the NestCam danger zones, it triggered a notification. This should give you some idea of how sensitive this feature is. As well as letting you know about intruders, NestCam could be a good way of figuring out if you’ve got a rodent problem. 

Less praiseworthy is the scheduling system, which suffers from a confusing user interface and for some reason asks you when you’d like to have the camera turned off instead of on. 

Another gripe is that unless you’re prepared to grapple with this frankly frustrating system, there’s no way to have your NestCam stop recording when you get home. That is, unless you’ve got a Nest learning thermostat. 

The ‘Auto-Away’ feature of the thermostat is designed to kill the heating once it senses that nobody’s home and if you’ve got a NestCam, this feature can also be used to arm the cameras once the Nest ecosystem detects that your home is empty. It’s nice that Nest’s gear intelligently communicates in this way, but it’s not so good that customers who want a bit of basic convenience are being forced into buying their thermostat as well. 

We hope more third party devices get on board with the Works With Nest program and a NestCam IFTTT (If This Then That) channel manifests. We know that Nest has opened up the NestCam API to developers, so hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before a solution presents itself. 

NestCam apps: Timeless timelapses

Another touted feature of the NestCam is Timelapse. This lets you stitch together clips and store things like your cat doing something hilarious and cute or your kid’s first steps, which will be perfect fodder for embarrassing them on their 40th birthday. 

To make a clip, you click on the little clapper board icon to the bottom right of the screen. This will give you a TiVo-style timeline of everything that your NestCam has recorded over the last 24 hours. 
Depending on whether or not you’ve got a 10 or 30 day subscription, you’ll be able to jump back in time and create clips from older footage. 

It can take a while for clips to process; even on a superfast connection with 10Mbps upstream it took about 20 minutes for a short 2 minute to be saved to the Nest cloud locker.  

Once you’ve recorded enough clips, you can stitch them together in your browser window. Or, if you’d prefer, you can download clips and timelapses in MP4 format straight to your desktop if you want to tinker with them in Final Cut Pro or something. 

All of the clips are automatically named ‘Dropcam Clip’ with the full date and time in brackets, making them a piece of cake to find in your downloads folder. They obviously should have been named ‘NestCam Clip’, but it doesn’t really matter. 

NestCam prices: Are you Aware of how much Nest costs?

The NestCam itself costs £159, for which you get access to the basic features – access to the live HD feeds from your phone or desktop – but if you want to store recordings, set up Activity Zones and create timelapses, you’ll need to fork out for a Nest Aware subscription. 

These come in two flavours, giving you the option to store up to 10 and 30 days’ worth of footage in the cloud. You’ve got the option of paying monthly or annually. Here’s how the prices break down:  

  • 10 days (monthly) £8/month
  • 10 days (annually) £80/year
  • 30 days (monthly) £24/month
  • 30 days (annually) £240/year

If you add a second NestCam, you’ll pay half of the above rates. 

As you can see, it can get pretty expensive if start adding more cameras and you want year-round protection. The monthly plans aren’t as good value for money in the long term, but they give you more flexibility. If you’re going on holiday for a couple of weeks, it’s possible to sign up for a month’s worth of cover so you can keep an eye on your home while you’re away. 

It’d be great if there was a way for insurance companies to give you a discount on premiums that would offset the cost of Nest Aware subscriptions, given that they represent a decent home security solution, but at the time of writing, we were unable to find out if any such schemes existed. 

As well as this, there’s also a hidden cost for customers who are on capped data plans. On average, a single NestCam will east up 140GB of data if you’re recording Full HD video. At the most, it’ll munch through 380GB. If you’re on an entry-level broadband plan with a 10, 20 or 25GB monthly data limit, you’re going to get burned. 

BT, for example, charges £1.50 for every extra gigabyte you use on its capped plans. Its entry level ADSL plan comes with a 10GB limit. Worst case scenario; a NestCam would see you having to cough up an extra £555 to pay for that 370GB you gobbled up. For that money, you could buy three more NestCams. 

Short answer: Don’t buy this unless you have an unlimited broadband service. 

NestCam verdict: Great features – if you can afford ‘em

The NestCam is a solid product with plenty of great features. We love the sturdy design and the eminently posable base. 

It’s a shame that a lot of NestCam’s killer features, specifically the activity zones, are hidden behind a paywall. We understand that if you want footage stored on Nest’s servers, that has to be paid for – fair enough, but we think that people who don’t want or need this 24/7 might be put off exploring some of the other cool features NestCam has to offer.   

The flexible payment system means not you’re forced into subscribing and if you only need to get ten days of a months’ worth at a time, it’s not going to break the bank. The basic functionality – delivering a Full HD live feed to your phone, tablet or desktop on demand – remains free to use. 

The bandwidth-hungry HD feeds mean that folks lingering on creaky old ADSL lines with capped plans should avoid this unless they want to get stung by out of bundle charges. 

That said, NestCam has a lot to offer and is a decent plug and play security system. 

Specification

Cameras3-megapixels, 8x digital zoom, 1080p Full HD at 30fps
Night visionYes, 8 infrared LEDs
Motion sensorsYes
Dimensions114 x 73 x 73mm
Weight203g
Storagen/a
Remote back upYes - optional paid subscription
ConnectivityWiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n) Dual-band (2.4GHz, 5GHz)
Mobile appYes - iOS, Android

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