Standalone Wi-Fi cameras are becoming more and more of a thing in the connected home. While many connected home systems include some type of camera, there are many inexpensive systems that don't offer cameras at all. So rather than drop a load of cash for an all-in-one system that does include cameras, many people are just opting for the cameras themselves — be it for monitoring the kids, checking in on the nanny or keeping an eye on the dog while you're on vacation.
There are a ton of great solutions available today, but one that we've been toying with for a while now is Simplicam by Closeli — and it's proven to be awesome thus far.
I've been using the Simplicam by Closeli for about a month now. At first I used it to monitor my office while I was out of town, but it's since been upgraded to my new baby monitor.
(Separately — and unbeknownst to me — our own Phil Nickinson has been using a Simplicam for several months as well, and some of his impressions will make their way into this review.)
Right from the start you can see just how easy the Simplicam is to use. Opening the box you'll see various layers that give you just what you need — the camera, cables, and wall mount — with nothing extra to spare. Plug the short USB cable into your computer, the other end in the camera, and setup will take you just a few minutes from start to finish. When you're done, swap the short cable out for the longer one, plug it in, put your camera where you want, and you're done.
Yes, it's that simple to get up and running with this camera.
I really love the Simplicam hardware. It has a great design that will easily blend in most places and it doesn't feel cheap in any way. The camera itself swivels up from the metal base, allowing you to fit it into all types of areas. I started out with mine on a shelf in my office, but I've since moved it to my daughter's room to use as a baby monitor (which is awesome and I'll get into more later).
The build quality on the Simplicam is awesome — much better than similar devices. It's solid and feels like it could take a decent beating (though I don't know why it ever would). It stays firm in whatever position you place it — and thanks to the included wall mount — that's a lot of places. The camera easily sits on a shelf or your desk, or hangs from the ceiling or wall after screwing in the wall mount. As long as you have a place to plug it in, you really can pop this camera wherever you want.
The Simplicam streams live video in HD at 720p. The video is much crisper and clearer than I could have ever imagined. I've had a monitoring system in my house for quite some time, and the video from the cameras is choppy at best most days. With the Simplicam however, the live video is crystal clear (as long as you have a solid internet connection). I didn't experience any issues with break-ups or choppiness at all when viewing past feeds or live video. And the camera has night vision thank to the built-in infrared lights, so you still get a clear picture even when it's pitch black. It's great for keeping an eye on the house when you're away or, as is my case, checking in on the baby at 3 a.m.
The Simplicam hooks up to the Closeli app on your Android or iPhone device, letting you view feeds, check alerts, view events (clips captured based on motion/sound), and take advantage of the two-way talk feature. The apps runs very smooth, and of course there's support for multiple cameras should you have more than one.
Before we start, diving into the settings shows off the basics of what you'll need — camera name, time zone, and things like notifications and night mode. You can choose to disable HD if you'll be streaming a lot to mobile devices, or even rotate the camera 180 degrees if you need to hang it upside down (like I did). Here you'll also find the settings for events — sound, motion, and face detection. You can choose to receive alerts as they happen, or just get a digest every 15, 30 or 60 minutes.
One of the features I was most looking forward too — these alerts — was something that I actually had to turn off after a few days. They were great at first, alerting me to any motion or sound right on my phone, but after a while just became too much to handle. It seemed that any noise or a change in lighting in the room — including clouds blocking out the sun for a few seconds — would set off an alert. I like the idea, but I just think there need to be some more tweaks to get things nailed down. Adjusting the sensitivity can help, but even then it was just too sensitive.
On the main screen you'll see your camera feed along with various icons, settings, and your camera's timeline — which is perhaps one of my favorite features of Simplicam. In this feed you can scroll back through the sands of time where you'll see marks indicating times when movement or sound was detected. Simply drag the timeline back to where you want to view the feed, or where the system highlights detected motion, and it plays just as if it were live. A quick tap gets you back to the live feed again and you can go about your business. This all ties into Simplicam's recording plans, which we'll get into more in a bit.
Under you camera feed you'll find icons for volume & microphone, letting you adjust your two-way talk (intercom) settings. Tapping the mic gives you a "hold to talk" button so you can converse with whomever is on the other end, in semi real-time. It's almost instant, but there is still a delay — which is to be expected. I found that it worked well most of the time, not so great a few times, but not really ever amazingly well. Still a very cool feature.
The software also keeps track of events from your camera — times that motion, sound, or face detection were triggered. These are saved in an events folder so you can go back and view them at a later time, or you can save them to your favorites if you'll want to hold onto the clip for a bit longer. They'll be split up by date and time, and you can filter them by trigger too.
Favorites lets you hold onto an hour's worth of your favorite clips — be it of your kids jumping off the couch, your dog tearing up some pillows or worst case, someone creeping through your house at night. This spot is just a way to easily access clips that you may want/need to check back on later. You can rename favorites, share or download them from here as well.
This is all accessible from a web browser as well. And the service and user experience is consistent on both. If you know your way around the app, you'll be fine on the desktop, and vice-versa.
The last piece of the Simplicam puzzle is that of recording plans, something that doesn't come free with the rest of the setup. You can choose from the easy, short-term 1-day plan, the mid-range 11-day plan, or the long-term 21-day plan. These settle in at $4.99/month, $13.99/month, and $22.99 respectively. Discount bonus if you pay for a year up front as well.
Which plan you should choose depends on how you're using your camera. For me, having this camera serve as my always-connected baby monitor, I can get away with the 1-day plan. For those that are using the camera for more of a home monitoring solution, you'll definitely want to consider the 11- or 21-day plan instead. The longer the plan, the more recording time you get, along with more space for saving clips — that's really what it comes down to.
After a few weeks of use I'm really liking my Simplicam — a lot. It's super easy to set up, doesn't take up a lot of space, and just plain works. I have yet to have it disconnect or go down for any time at all, and every time I fire it up, it works without a hitch. It has enough features to make it better than some other cameras, but it's not inundated with too many features that make it a pain to use.
Even after changing the sensitivity settings for the motion, sound, and face detection, I think that they still are just a bit too touchy to use full-time. I love the idea of them, but unfortunately for me they just fall short right now. One saving grace is that you have the option to set a block of time to stop notifications. So if you're home all day you can keep them off while you're in the house, or just set them for certain hours if you're expecting a plumber or something along those lines. I think that if you're using Simplicam for security purposes notifications may be more handy, but it still will send false alerts more times than not. Is that better than not having any alerts, though?
Regardless, if you've been looking for a simple Wi-Fi camera solution, Simplicam is one of the best out there. It has more solid hardware than Dropcam with similar features, and is cheaper to boot. It has great features, a well-oiled app and just plain works — end of story.
Simplicam sells regularly for $149, but as a special offer for our readers, you can grab one now and save $10 using the code ACENTRAL at checkout from Simplicam.com