Home security cameras that send you alerts when they detect movement have been around for a while now. We reviewed Dropcam, one of the better-known names in the business, last October.
The problem, though, is that most movement isn’t likely to be of interest – especially if you have pets or are susceptible to changes in nature from sunlight/wind. What we really want to know is when a person arrives, and that’s what Simplicam aims to deliver through face-detection software. You can thus choose to be notified about any one or more of three types of event: movement, sound and face-detection …
It’s pretty clear that Simplicam is directly targeting the Dropcam HD, matching the 720p resolution, 107-degree field of view and $150 price-tag. There’s again support for multiple cameras. And it also offers the same option of a subscription-based cloud recording plan to allow you to review recorded footage, with broadly comparable pricing. Recordings – and the app used by the camera – are provided by Closeli.
In the box
What arrives in the rather colorful box is the camera itself, a wall mount (complete with screws and rawplugs), a short micro-USB cable, long micro-USB cable, a USB wall-plug and a few cards to help with setup.
The camera itself measures 94x89x41mm, and has a clean, modern appearance. The camera is high-quality plastic, with an aluminum base.
Simplicam promises “three-minute setup,” and if anything that’s a conservative figure. The fact that most gadgets these days come with accompanying apps means they can walk you through the setup process, and the Closeli app does this well.
You’re prompted to connect the camera to its powered USB lead and hit the button at the back.
The app asks you to select your wifi network and enter the password, then generates a QR code on the screen which you simply show to the camera – very neat.
I also like the way that help is integrated into the app, rather than being something you open separately. Once the camera should be showing a green light, for example, there’s a link to tap if it’s not.
As soon as setup is complete, you can see a live view:
Turning your phone sideways makes it a full-screen view:
I’d say that even a non-techy would find the setup process painless. My only complaint is that it is currently very US-centric, the included USB power plug an American one (not really an issue – I have a drawer full of UK ones from various gadgets), and the fact that it only lets you choose a US time-zone.
This meant the times shown on my recordings would be wrong, but I’m used to working across time-zones.
The camera isn’t weatherproofed, so is for indoor use only. However, both motion-sensing and face-detection work perfectly through glass, so I’m using it here to look out into my cul-de-sac, where it proved useful to alerting me to approaching visitors.
By default, the app is set to deliver banner notifications, which are briefly displayed and then disappear (though remain accessible in the notifications pull-down, of course).
I found that I wasn’t noticing these when not actively using the phone, so went into Settings > Notifications and scrolled down to the Simplicam app to change this to alerts:
These ping you and have to be dismissed, so worked much better.
By default, you are alerted to all events: movement, sounds and faces. You can, however, configure these as desired in the settings.
Sound wasn’t relevant in my case, as it was pointed through a window, but I left Motion on during initial testing to maximize the number of events, before later switching it to Face only, so it would only let me know when someone was approaching the house.
You can also choose between instant notification and regular summaries, choosing between reports every 10, 30 or 60 minutes.
Closeli had a pre-launch server glitch that meant face detection didn’t work for the first day, but once this was fixed, both movement and faces were reliably detected. Even a parked car moving off from a couple of hundred feet down the road was enough to trigger a movement alert, and I got face alerts any time anyone approached the house – no complaints at all here.
The optional Closeli cloud recording service
I had a webcam-based CCTV camera a few years ago. The problem from a security point of view is that it needed to have a PC running 24/7 to record. It also needed to be Windows, so I had to have Parallels running, and it also wasn’t much use when I took my MacBook with me.
The appeal of cloud recording services from a consumer viewpoint is that you don’t need anything but the camera itself and your iPhone, the recording is taken care of for you. The obvious drawback – and the reason companies are so keen to offer it – is that you have to pay an annual fee for the privilege.
The amount you pay depends on how long you want the recordings to remain available for review. With Dropcam, you choose between $99/year for access to the past seven days, or $299/year for the past 30 days. Closeli’s pricing offers three tiers instead of two:
- 1 day: $49.99/year
- 11 days: $139.99/year
- 21 days: $229.99/year
Recordings can be accessed either on the web or on your iPhone. I’m normally not a great fan of dealing with video on my iPhone, preferring a larger screen, but I have to say it did work well. You get to see a timeline of events:
Each of these is an animated GIF, so you get a good sense of what was recorded, rather than having to figure it out from a still. In the case of the UPS delivery van, for example, I was able to see the van pull up and the driver get out and walk up to the door with my package, just from the animated GIF. This really impressed me, making footage review extremely quick and easy.
Each video clip is tagged with an icon indicating what triggered it. The orange thrown-ball icon shows that those clips were triggered by movement, while the yellow head-and-shoulders show recordings triggered by face-detection.
Again, looking at the UPS van row, we can see that the movement sensor was triggered by the van pulling up outside, then the face-detection was triggered by the driver approaching the door. It really does work very well.
If you want to save a clip for longer than the time allowed by your plan, you can add it to your stored clips. The total time allowed depends on your plan. On the 1-day plan, for example, you can save up to an hour in total.
All recordings are encrypted using strong AES 256-bit encryption, and saved in a special format only readable by the app and the online service.
For indoor use, the camera offers two-way sound – so if you’re using it to be notified when someone gets home, you can welcome them home. In practice, I found that this only really worked if you were watching live (which you can do for short times, having to hit refresh regularly to restart streaming) – by the time you’d been alerted, they had passed the camera. I would say this is more of a gimmick than a practical feature.
The camera has built-in lights which are automatically triggered in the dark. These work well indoors, but this was the only problem with my through-the-glass usage: it was useless at night.
Night usage aside, I was impressed. Setup was extremely simple, and it worked as advertised. I was a little skeptical about face-detection given that I was using it to look outside, but it reliably detected both visitors and those walking nearby, such as refuse collection workers.
Video quality is decent. 1080p would have been nice, of course, but 720p gets the job done, and I found the 107-degree field of view sufficient, covering both the road and doorstep.
For $150, it’s a decent piece of kit. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t really a $150 purchase. While live viewing with alerts is useful, for most applications – including the most obvious one of home security – you’re going to want to review footage later, and that requires a subscription.
Provided you keep the app running, the 1-day service would be sufficient. Because the recordings are stored on the cloud, you can access them from anywhere, whether on wifi or mobile data, so you can check things out as soon as you get an alert. If you see something of concern, like a crime in progress, being able to save an hour of footage permanently is again likely to be enough. But if you want to use it more passively – only reviewing footage when returning home from a trip to discover you’ve been burgled, for example – you’ll want a longer plan.
So your $150 purchase just became at the very least a $200 one, with ongoing costs of $50/year and up. With multiple cameras, you’re looking at multiple subscriptions, albeit with a 50 percent discount on additional plans. But if you find the all-in cost acceptable, it’s a product I can recommend.
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