The Dropcam Pro is the clear winner among the cameras I tested. It’s one of the smallest cameras on the market, and has the best image quality and the easiest setup. The Pro came out last fall and runs $199. It’s got an all-glass lens and a nice, wide 130 degree field of view that’s good enough to capture most of a room.
Dropcam also has the easiest way to set up recordings and notifications: you can set the camera to run on a set schedule, or just tell it to turn on when you and your phone leave the house. You can do the same thing for alerts, which can be tweaked for when the camera sees motion, hears sound, or when it goes offline. You can do just about all of this, including setting up the Dropcam, from Dropcam’s mobile app.
You can very quickly and easily setup "activity zones" like doors, windows, and entryways, just by drawing boxes around them. If something moves in one of those zones, you can get an alert on your phone or by email, then start watching it in seconds. The system is also smart enough to figure out what kind of motion it is to pick out humans from shadows or pets. Other cameras we tried have this feature too, but Dropcam’s implementation was the best.
One thing to keep in mind with the Dropcam is that there’s no local storage on the cameras, so everything goes straight to the cloud. Out of the box you get a free 14-day free trial to Dropcam’s 7-day cloud recording service, but after that you have to go with its 7- or 30-day plans, which run $9.95 and $29.95 a month, or $99 and $299 a year, respectively. You don’t have to buy this to use the Dropcam — free users can still get motion alerts and can watch the live video stream — but without a recording plan, you miss out on activity zones and people alerts.
The only painful part about using Dropcam is the price of cloud storage, and the bandwidth it uses up. There’s a 50 percent discount for additional camera recording plans, but it can still add up if you plan to have two or even three cameras in your house. And when set to record HD footage, each one of those uploads about 60 to 90GB of data a month. This is something worth considering if you have a strict monthly limit from your ISP.
While not perfect, the Dropcam Pro is the most polished and fun to use product in its category. Google-owned Nest acquired the company earlier this year and has made few promises of continuing on with new camera models, making its long-term future less clear, but for right now it’s the best one you can buy.
Simplicam by Closeli
It’s safe to call Arcsoft’s Simplicam a Dropcam clone, but it’s a really good one. Arcsoft has taken many of Dropcam’s best features and replicated them with success, even outdoing it in some places. Its main advantage is its facial recognition, which cuts down on noisy alerts, plus a cheaper one-day recording plan. Where Dropcam’s entry level is $9.99 a month or $99 a year for seven days of recording, Simplicam’s one-day plan is $49.99 a year. Unless you’re going on vacation somewhere for a week, this is more than enough to keep an eye on things.
Instead of using motion to figure out whether something is a human (like Dropcam does), Simplicam scans for faces. It does this within a few seconds of seeing someone, and you can tune the software to alert you each and every time this happens. It’s pretty accurate, though I could fool it with the top or bottom of my face covered up, and it came up with false positives from time to time — like when tree branches outside a window somehow aligned just the right way. (This was creepy every time it happened). And it’s not able to recognize who people are, just that they have a face. If you’re worried about someone with a mask fooling the system, Dropcam has an edge here, though you can still set Simplicam’s system to send you a motion alert as well.
Simplicam’s aluminum base is very light and pretty, but there’s no grip on the bottom to keep it from sliding around. That will be an issue if you plan to do anything other than screw it into the wall (it comes with a mount). You also get a much narrower, fuzzier view on the Simplicam than with Dropcam Pro’s glass lens. It’s 107 degrees versus Dropcam Pro’s 130. That might not seem like much, but when I had the two models set up side-by-side in my kitchen, for instance, Dropcam let me see an entire countertop, window, and door that Simplicam didn’t.
If you’re willing to give up that extra view, don’t need motion activity zones, and don’t mind buying some grips to keep the bottom from easily sliding around, the Simplicam lets you save $50 a year over the Dropcam Pro with a cheaper recording plan. That might be enough to sway you, but Dropcam still has Simplicam beat.