Nest Cam review: Keep an eye on your home
The Nest smart thermostat gained a boost when Google acquired its parent company in 2014. But this was only the start of the search giant’s move into smart home appliances. Soon after, it splashed out an eyebrow-raising $555 million on IP-camera specialist Dropcam, and the company has been working ever since to integrate the two product lines.
Design and features
As you might expect of a Google-manufactured product, the design of the Nest Cam is eminently practical. The unit is small and neat: a circular, puck-shaped piece of plastic housing a lens at its centre, backed by a solid plate of ribbed rubber. The clever part is the stand. Hewn from metal, it’s solidly made, and allows the camera to rotate, spin and hinge back and forth to easily achieve the correct position. Included in the box is a wall-mounting plate, but you may not need it: a strong magnet in the base will affix the Nest Cam securely to a metal surface such as a fridge.
The Nest Cam is primarily intended for monitoring indoors: checking in on the kids and pets, for example. Unlike Netgear’s Arlo system, it isn’t weatherproof and it’s powered over USB, which means you can’t pop it outside in the garden – or attach it to an exterior wall – without drilling holes for cables and setting up some kind of protective housing.
There are upsides to this design, however. The micro-USB connection means you can untether it from the mains, at least temporarily, by connecting a smartphone booster battery. It also comes with an extra-long USB cable, so positioning it up high isn’t too much of a bind.
Since the camera is powered all the time, it’s capable of recording footage continuously – a strength that distinguishes it from the Arlo system. The Nest Cam is bundled with 60 days’ free trial of the Nest Aware video-storage service, which lets you store and review the last ten or 30 days of footage, depending on the level of subscription you’ve purchased. If you prefer, you can use the Nest Cam without Nest Aware to stream live 1080p video; the camera is equipped with both a speaker and a microphone, so you can capture audio too, and engage in two-way communication over the live camera feed. You can also receive notifications of alerts, and record one-off, motion-triggered video clips as they occur.
Ultimately, though, if you don’t stump up the £8 per month for the ten-day Net Aware service, (£80, if you pay annually), you won’t be making the most of the Nest Cam’s abilities. Without it you won’t be able to review footage, set zones for triggering motion alerts, save out clips from your timeline, or generate time-lapse footage from long sequences.
Using the Nest Cam
Setup is simple: download the Nest app, sign up for an account and select the Add Product option. Then, scan the QR code on the back of the camera and supply your Wi-Fi details.
The Nest Cam will automatically connect to other Nest products you own, adding another dimension to its capabilities. For example, if you have a Nest thermostat, the camera can hook into its learned home and away schedule, recording only while you’re out of the house. If you have a Nest Protect smoke and carbon-monoxide alarm, it will engage all Nest Cams in the home if a “safety event” is detected and start them recording.
Picture quality, both in recorded clips and over the live stream is superb; it’s even better than the 720p Arlo footage, and night vision is equally excellent. Audio is a bit scratchy: I wouldn’t advise you use a Nest Cam as a replacement for FaceTime or Skype, but it could come in handy if you want to scare a burglar or tell your kids to stop raiding the biscuit tin.
The only real negative is that motion alerts are restricted to one every half-hour. While this prevents notifications from pinging your smartphone too frequently, it could be an issue if you happen to trigger an alert as you leave the house. If you’re burgled ten minutes later, you’ll won’t receive an alert at all.
If you don’t need the outdoor ruggedness or the positional flexibility of the battery-powered Arlo system, then the Nest Cam is an excellent option for home monitoring – and the fact that it works with other Nest products makes it all the more attractive.
However, the issue is the Nest Aware service. Its cost is steep, and if you don’t buy into it you’ll miss out on certain features. The Netgear Arlo may not store continuous video footage like the Nest Cam, but its basic subscription is free, with motion-triggered clips stored for seven days. Crucially, you don’t miss out on features by sticking with the free option. Despite the undoubted appeal of Google’s camera, it is the Arlo that remains our home-monitoring system of choice.