Nest's straightforward but powerful home monitoring cameras have finally made their way to Australia. Has it been worth the wait?
What Is It?
The $319.95 Nest Cam is a wired home security camera, but it's not as straightforward or a simple as you might expect. It's wired for constant power over its tiny microUSB connector, but it hooks up to your home or business's Wi-Fi to deliver constant 1080p live-streaming through a suite of connected apps and the Nest website. With a 130-degree wide angle field of view, the Cam covers the same monitoring area as Netgear's Arlo Pro, but does more with that than simple streaming alone.
Through the Nest app or site, you can set up notifications for whenever the Nest Cam sees a significant amount of movement within the frame of its vision. The threshold for significant is quite low, too — the Nest Cam has spotted my little black cat walking through my home office, and it's been triggered once or twice by the trees swaying out the windows under heavy wind. You can also set it to notify you and share a clip or live stream whenever it detects a loud noise using its built-in microphone. You can also use the app or site to talk through the Nest Cam using its small integrated speaker.
Nest just launched in Australia, and its Google-connected, Alphabet-backed smart home products want to make your life safer and more comfortable. Here's how much you'll pay for one or more of Nest's new connected home gadgets, and when and how you'll be able to get hold of one.
The Nest Cam will record in all lighting conditions, from bright daylight to pitch black — the former handled with infrared spectrum pickup on that sensor and a bank of high-brightness infrared LEDs hidden behind its front fascia. You'll get 1080p video, and good quality 1080p video at that — presuming your home internet upload is good enough. You can choose from 360p, 720p or 1080p live video streaming, with dynamic bit-rate adjustment while you're streaming, but as a general rule you can expect the Nest Cam to hog around 1Mbps of your home upload whenever it's in action.
Being an Alphabet company and therefore very much in bed with Google, Nest's gadgets work with some other (non-Apple) smart home tech. You can hook them up to work with your Philips Hue bulbs, for example, through an IFTTT recipe. And if you're buying up big and getting yourself a Nest Protect to monitor your home for smoke and carbon monoxide, it'll trigger the Cam recording if there's an incident. It doesn't have any smart recognition of your face, but it does work with other gadgets in your house that know who you are.
What's It Good At?
The recording quality of the Nest Cam is just about the best I've seen for any home-grade, webcam-style security camera. The audio that its mic picks up is clear, if a little quiet from anything more than a couple of metres away, and its video is easily clear enough to make out the faces of anyone walking in front of it from less than five metres away. This is exactly what you want from this kind of camera. And if you have a decent internet connection, you'll be able to view it on the app or site through Nest's cloud storage servers with surprising speed; it doesn't take ages, especially thanks to highlights, to find any activity that your Nest Cam has captured.
When I first set up the Nest Cam, I was getting constant activity notifications through the app and via email, because there was always activity in front of the camera that I'd placed in front of a thoroughfare. But that's a good thing — from a quick scrub through that archived footage, the Nest Cam was accurate in its flagging of motion or sound, and didn't miss any activity. I'd rather get too many notifications than not enough — a few false positives is preferential to even a single missed motion notification. And if you're not a fan, you can just turn them off, and view your saved footage whenever it suits you or whenever you need to.
Nest, the ecosystem of connected home cameras and gadgets backed by Google and Alphabet, is launching into Australia. It's not talking about speeds and feeds, though, so much as it is peace of mind — about the security of knowing that your house is being monitored when you go on holiday, about the safety of knowing your smoke alarm is working when you switch off the light late at night. With the philosophy that its simple approach to two serious topics — home security and fire safety — are backed by some impressive user-friendly tech, it's set to shake things up.
The integration that Nest has between its family of devices makes a good argument for you to buy into the ecosystem fully. A Nest Protect that detects smoke or carbon monoxide will automatically kick off recording of any Nest Cam in your household's setup, giving you a record of whatever's occurring. If I'm monitoring my home for safety reasons rather than security, it makes sense to me to have both a Nest Protect and a Nest Cam covering the same area, where security monitoring really only needs the Cam. You've got a good reason to buy a Nest Protect (or two, or three) alongside your Nest Cam (or two, or three) for the peace of mind of protecting your home against fire alone.
Setting up the Nest Cam Indoor is straightforward, too — it's a matter of unpacking the slim little Cam itself, positioning it wherever you want to put it around your living space, and using that bundled 10-foot (3-ish metres) microUSB cable to hook it up to power. A cable of that length means you can place the camera pretty much anywhere you might want to in a house, even at the top of a set of bookshelves where it'll live out its days quietly undetected. There's a QR code on the back for you to scan with the Nest app on your mobile phone, then a couple of steps later it's all hooked up to your Wi-Fi and that's all you need to do. It's grandparent-grade simplicity.
What's It Not Good At?
In some ways, it's a misnomer for me to call the Nest Cam a security camera. It's a system for monitoring what's going on in your home at best, because it doesn't have any built-in ability to call the cops even if you want it to. The Cam gives you a slightly delayed notification that it's detected movement or a loud noise, as you've selected in settings, but the onus is on you to see that notification, act on it to view the snippet of video, and then take appropriate action if you have to. It's an extension of your own eyes and ears living persistently in your house, but you've got to pick up the phone and call for help if necessary.
The Nest Cam's built-in microphone and speaker are good, Nest says, for a chat with whoever's in about six metres' range from the camera itself. But in my testing I found that, especially if the Cam is placed on a high shelf, you'll be lucky to achieve half that — because such a small device just can't make enough noise to be distinctly heard from a distance, and a proper two-way chat (presuming you're talking to a friend) requires some close-up communication. What I'd love would be if I could integrate the Nest Cam with the microphone and speaker of my Google Home, if both were in the same room — the Home's speaker and far-field microphones are far more powerful and sensitive than the comapratively tiny Nest Cam's.
On that same note, I do wish the Nest Cam included more automatic or user-activated features to scare away any crooks that it might detect. A loud siren would come in handy, maybe. Nest's big advantage over its main Netgear Arlo competition is that it's wired for constant monitoring and relatively up-to-date recording and alerts in case of incidents, but as a device it's mainly useful for chronicling those events for you to show to the police later.
To get the most out of the Nest Cam, though, you'll have to pay for a Nest Aware subscription. That $14 a month gets you ongoing access to a 10-day rolling record of all the activity that's passed your home monitoring camera, rather than three hours if you're on the free service. $14 a month isn't much — it's a Netflix subscription or a Spotify subscription, so you're used to stumping it up already — but it's also an additional 5 per cent of the Nest Cam's asking price every month for ongoing peace of mind. That cost starts to make the Nest Cam more expensive than its competitors over time.
Should You Buy It?
If you're looking for a high-resolution, live-streaming security camera or webcam — for whatever reason, whether it's specifically protecting your property, or just monitoring goings-on around your business or home — it's hard to go past the simplicity and user-friendliness of the $319.95 Nest Cam Indoor. It might not be the most powerful camera on the market, but it has the right compromises of price and quality and features. There is that caveat, though, that you'll need decent 'net upload speed to make use of that live-streaming.
That price may not be especially cheap, and the Cam may not be the same value that it is in the US where Nest got its name, but buying a home security camera is an investment, so it's easy to justify its asking price especially if you're starting afresh with a security system and not just upgrading from something new. What Nest brings to the party that others don't is reliability — once I had it properly set up, I never had to worry about whether it was up and running, especially since I could just check online or through the app.
If you want to use the Cam to its fullest potential, you will need a Nest Aware subscription, and at $14 a month that's not an insignificant additional cost — especially over the couple of years at least that you'd expect to continuously operate the Nest Cam Indoor, that cost starts to mount up. If you're considering a Nest Cam, make sure you're prepared to either put up with the free service or are happy to pay an additional cost for cloud storage. Subscription tech services, it seems, are a fact of life in 2017, as much as I hate to pay for them.
The Nest Cam is one of those gadgets that has an X-factor; as well as its good-enough-for-almost-everyone vital staticstics, it's also a nice-looking piece of kit. Its app works well, its software works well, its website works well. And then you can hook it up with other Nest gear, like the Protect smoke alarm, to enhance its usefulness. It's a proper mutli-piece smart home system. And that might just be enough to tip it over the line for someone looking for a reason to buy one, or two, or three, to kit out their home. And that someone might just be me.