My dog started to get anxious about my recent move as soon as he saw me packing boxes. So when Furbo, an Indiegogo success, offered us its new pet camera with a built in treat dispenser, it seemed like a great way to keep an eye on him and keep him happy. Naturally, I wanted it.
All images: Alex Cranz / Gizmodo
I took the Furbo home hoping that it would help me stay in touch with my dog. Instead, by watching the 720p video feed (with night vision!) and trying to talk to my pup, I learned that one thing the Furbo is actually pretty crappy for is communicating. On the plus side, I also learned that my landlord likes to avail himself of my facilities when I'm out. More on that in a bit.
All the important guts hang out up top, beneath the bamboo cap to the treat dispenser. In addition to its camera and treat dispenser, the Furbo is supposed to work like an intercom, so that you can talk to your animals, soothing them when they seem nervous or yelling when they spill the cat's water. Unfortunately, both the microphone and speaker are of relatively low quality.
Jazz streaming from the Amazon Echo in my apartment sounded like the screeches of a mythological harpy in the throes of ecstasy when I listened in on my phone at the office. Meanwhile my voice was a distorted mess on the Furbo speaker, and my roommate, who has a voice genetically engineered for NPR, actually sounded like a real person. The sketchy speaker quality ultimately meant that I had to physically call my landlord on the phone to ask him why the hell he was in my apartment.
Neither my dog nor my roommate's cat responded to anything but the loudest and most excruciating noises coming from the speaker. I can't chalk that entirely up to the Furbo, though. My dog also stares off into the distance, when my mum insists on talking to him over the phone. Maybe he's a genius. I don't know.
I do know that the crappy speaker makes the treat dispenser part of the Furbo kind of worthless. I sat there for an hour, periodically launching treats across the apartment, to no avail. The only time the animals noticed were when they were already looking in the Furbo's direction, and even then they clearly thought it an anomaly.
The dog changed his tune when the Furbo jammed one night. All of the treats got stuck in the launcher and transformed the device into a very expensive Kong ball. I only spotted the jam when I logged into the app and found the spittle-coated camera pointed towards the wall. He got a little more interested in the Furbo after that and even sat on command at one point. Although that could have also been his "I am sitting to stare at this bizarre food thing until it gives me more food" sit too.
The Furbo app, while easy to use, does have an issue with labelling. There's a Bark Detection feature that allows you to adjust the sensitivity of the Furbo's microphone, but it's not clear what it's actually adjusting. It doesn't seem to increase the gain of the microphone, so I'm guessing it just manages some internal software switch. There's also a switch that toggles between taking photos or taking videos that I didn't discover until hours of use. Night vision, meanwhile, can only be controlled from the menu, not the primary UI.
Yet all my complaints seem like small quibbles, because for $US100 ($131) less than the Nest Cam you get a smart camera that lets you interact with your pets. It's not as sensitive as the Nest Cam, which shoots 1080p video, and there's no ability to record footage except when you're watching — it doesn't even have cloud storage!
The Furbo isn't the purposely designed security camera the Nest Cam is, but its camera did notify me when the dog barked. The notification popped up on my Apple Watch and when I hopped into the app on my phone I saw my landlord waltzing into the apartment to paint without permission. It's not as trustworthy a security system as a Nest Cam, doorman, or a dozen ninja snipers stationed in the shadows, but it did the trick.
All that said, the Furbo dispenses treats pretty reliably, the camera's not perfect, but it works, and who knows, maybe the company will invest in better audio hardware before its full production run. Right now, you can secure a Furbo for $US120 ($157) on its Indiegogo page. That puts it in the same price range as the Logi Circle home camera. Your dog will probably like this little treat dispensing tower of technology much more. I know my dog, the little jackass, is a fan.
- 720p camera can be fuzzy, but does the trick for 90 per cent of your needs.
- Treat dispenser can jam easily. Be wary of what kind of treats you use.
- Microphone and speaker are both next to worthless.
- A dog plus a Furbo makes for a much more entertaining security system than a Nest Cam.