Dropcam Pro review

Every connected home should have connected security — is Dropcam really the best option out there?
Dropcam Pro review
By Simon Sage on 6 Jun 2014 01:57 pm
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Dropcam remains one of the more recognizable names in connected home security. Its simple set-up and tightly-integrated mobile app make for a strong combination, and regularly updated hardware offers enhanced functionality. The latest iteration, the Dropcam Pro, offers a 130-degree field of view, 8 x zoom, integrated speaker and microphone for two-way communication, infrared vision for low-light circumstances, and the usual array of mobile alerts and viewing.

Like its predecessor, the Dropcam Pro has a central camera puck that can pop into an aluminum frame. The body is noticeably thicker than the last generation of Dropcam, and the snapping mechanism is much tighter, so it takes more force to pop in, but it's more secure. That frame can tilt on a single axis, and sits on a solid base that can sit on a flat surface or mounted on a wall with an included plastic plate. The camera itself stays plugged in over microUSB thanks to an included 10-foot cable.

Set-up is really easy. Just plug in the Dropcam to your computer directly over USB, and it will be recognized as a storage drive. Open up the installer, which is actually a web link which lets you drop in your Wi-Fi network credentials to be stored on the device, and log into your Dropcam account. After that, unplug from your computer and plug it into a power outlet with the included adapter and you're good to go. A new alternative for set-up is to use Bluetooth, so you can set up with your mobile device alone and skip the computer altogether. Hop on over to the Dropcam web portal and install the mobile app to see the feed in action. You'll be given a 14-day trial for cloud storage of your footage, at the end of which you'll only have access to a live feed and mobile alerts.

A new addition to Dropcam is Activity Learning, which allows you to manually designate what kinds of activities are going on around your home, or letting Dropcam figure it out on its own based on the habits it observes. This feature means you can tailor alerts based on common activities. For example, you probably don't want to get pinged on your phone every time the Dropcam detects motion when you're having a dinner party. Similarly, you'll want any motion from your pet excluded from alerts as well. Previously you could manually turn off alerts, but this profiling system means you don't even have to do that.

Picture quality on the Dropcam is excellent, and you'll rarely have difficulty making out details of activity with 720p resolution. The only downsides on this front is that the camera can get a little on the toasty side when running, though it's far from a safety hazard. Running a long-term, high-def video feed will also take a bite out of your monthly internet service allotment if you have one like us poor saps in Canada. Latency on alerts is snappy, depending on the quality of your network. The Dropcam Pro supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, so the signal should generally be strong.

Wall-mounting is a bit of a challenge be sheer virtue of the nature of the product. Having to run a cable up a wall to keep the Dropcam powered quickly turns into more of a hassle than it's worth. If you're willing to fasten the cable discretely into an edge or even feed it into a wall after drilling in a hole, wall mounting becomes more viable, but in most cases, setting the Dropcam in a corner table is usually good enough. Staying out of the way is important to not freak out guests, and that can be tricky with a larger base. You can pop out the camera unit to tuck it into a smaller space, but keeping it securely in place is more of a challenge since there are no mounts on the camera beyond those built for the included frame.

The mobile app is pretty great. You can set location awareness on, so the cameras turn on or off as you leave and arrive at home. The aforementioned mobile set-up is new and much handier than using the PC. Small touches like being able to disable the indicator light and set a zoomed-in area to monitor specifically are handy. Using the microphone for two-way communication isn't great, though it's functional. Despite an upgraded speaker, the Dropcam Pro doesn't handle speaking at full volume from mobile particularly well, and peaks (distorts and muffles) fairly easily. As for listening, the Dropcam Pro has a new microphone that picks up local audio pretty well. The mobile app is also missing the ability to build and save video clips and timelapse shots like you can through the web app.

Though Dropcam is extremely easy to set up, and the user interface on both web and mobile is unparalleled, the monthly subscription cost for any kind of archiving could be a dealbreaker. There are certainly cheaper web-connected security cameras out there. The Dropcam Pro costs $199, plus it will cost you $9.99/month if you want to have access to a cloud-stored video archive for the last week ($30 for a month of footage). Foscam has a lineup of IP cameras for under $100 which have full pan and tilt functionality, infrared viewing, and some can be used outdoors. Given the overall experience with these don't seem quite as polished as what Dropcam has to offer (especially when it comes to notifications and archiving), they're likely a better choice if you're on a budget.

Dropcam can potentially win out over the cheaper alternatives by providing strong connectivity with other home devices. They're currently running a beta with SmartThings which can enable functions like turning on the lights when motion is sensed. There's no IFTTT channel yet, but e-mail notifications can be used as a workaround for getting Dropcam to play nice with the rest of your home through there. Dropcam's own ecosystem is expanding with new products like an outdoor access alert system called Tabs. They operate on Bluetooth LE, which is a new addition to the Dropcam Pro and could in the future be used to connect to many more devices. Even for monitoring multiple locations, the Dropcam interface is really great for switching views and alerts.

If you're looking for a painless, extensible, highly functional home security system, Dropcam is a solid choice assuming you have the budget for a subscription. Even without the subscription, you're getting a highly polished experience for security alerts.

Reader comments

Dropcam Pro review

2 Comments

I still don't see this as a viable security system, it may well be ok for the shed but personally would expect a more robust system for the house.

Great review on the Dropcam Pro. Are you aware of any outdoor possibilities for the Dropcam? I would really need to place one in my backyard.