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In Use

I initially thought the Dropcam was pretty cool. But the more I used it, the more its flaws surfaced. But first the good points. I really liked the big, clear view I could get with the browser interface. And being able to select motion events to watch was very easy. The built-in mic was surprisingly good, with the default sound level blasting me out of my chair. It was also fun using the built-in speaker to tease our dog.

When I tried out the iOS and Android apps, however, my initial good feelings started to fade. The iOS app is iPhone only, so didn't take advantage of the larger screen on the iPad 2 I tried it on. The small image wasn't very clear either and didn't improve any by using the iPad 2X button to enlarge it. Pinch-to-zoom didn't work, either. At least the iOS app provided access to a few settings and a Talk button, which you can see in gallery screen captures.

iOS app on an iPad
iOS app on an iPad

In contrast, the Android app (shown below) was very basic, providing only a live view and access to stored motion events. I suspect it also is a phone app. But since I tested it on an ASUS Transformer running Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich) the smaller phone app was automatically resized to fill the tablet's larger screen. This no-frills approach could be because Android devices support Flash, which is what the browser interface is based on. The web interface did load on my Android tablet noted above, but it had a very difficult time giving me a constantly-updated live image.

Android app on ASUS Transformer running ICS
Android app on ASUS Transformer running ICS

My experiment with the night viewing feature was a bust, but more due to me than the camera. Setting it close to a window only got me a nice image of all twelve IR LEDs, which, as noted earlier, made the camera uncomfortably warm. I tried it the next evening on a covered porch, but some plants close to the camera got most of the illumination, preventing me from seeing anything in the driveway behind. I will say that the automatic IR switching was smooth and silent, with none of the constant back-and-forth switching (and clicking) we experienced with the D-Link DCS-942L.

The real deal killer, however, was Dropcam's effect on my internet performance. Dropcam recommends you have at least 512 Kbps upload bandwidth on your internet connection, but says that "average use" will consume only around 200 Kbps. In the end, the uplink bandwidth consumption didn't bother me as much as the drop in download bandwidth the Dropcam caused.

The two sets of bandwidth tests shown below tell the tale. On the left are three runs taken without the Dropcam running and on the right, three taken with it in operation. There is definitely a significant reduction in download throughput in addition to upload.

Dropcam effect on Internet bandwidth
Dropcam effect on Internet bandwidth

The effect seemed to vary depending on how much motion the camera was capturing, and, of course if I had a browser viewing the live video feed. What makes this worse is that there is no option to not consume internet bandwidth when using Dropcam. The camera has no local IP address that you can use to even access camera settings, let alone monitor video.

Another annoyance was that the camera sometimes would not relink to my wireless network when I powered it up. Power cycling the Dropcam seemed to bring it back online when this happened, however. I learned to keep a tablet with me when moving the Dropcam around, to make sure it came back on the air when I plugged it back in.

I also noticed considerable lag in the video feed from time to time. Even under best-case conditions, there was at least a three second delay in the live video. But sometimes this would go as high as 12 seconds.

One last thing I found is that there isn't a way to deregister the Dropcam. I tried pressing the reset button on the camera, but that didn't seem to do anything. The Dropcam FAQ says you can give your Dropcam to someone else, but that you need to contact them to "verify the transfer".

Closing Thoughts

Many of us seem to have an aversion to any networking product that requires a paid subscription. I've seen consumer networking companies for years try to bundle antivirus protection, parental controls and other "value-adds" with very limited success.

So perhaps many of these cheap value-conscious consumers will steer clear of the Dropcam HD just on principle. $149 for an IP camera that constantly sucks up a good chunk of your Internet bandwidth, doesn't allow you to tune that or any other settings and charges a minumum of $10/month to save even a snippet of video doesn't seem like a very good deal, no matter how sexy its user interface. Geez guys, at least throw in 30 days of free 7 day DVR trial to go along with that 30 day moneyback guarantee, so people don't have to pay $10 to check out the DVR function, like I did.

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