Nest Cam Hands-On Review

The last thing I need is another security camera but who can resist the most tempting camera of all … Nest Cam aka the Dropcam replacement? I tested the Dropcam Pro well over a year ago and though I liked it, I didn’t love it. Yet it remained an immovable crowd favorite. It became the measure of what “good” looks like and how easy technology should be.

The Nest Cam is available for purchase on Amazon.com for $199.00.

Note: Whenever they run a discount or promotion, this Amazon listing almost always features the discounted price as well.

Nest Cam Compared to Dropcam Pro

There are not many differences between the Nest Cam and the Dropcam Pro. The differences can be summed up in five categories: the body, performance, app, cloud, and warranty.

THE BODY: The Nest Cam is slimmer and is now clearly a Nest product as the word NEST has replaced DROPCAM on the packaging and on the camera body. It also includes a magnetic base so that you can mount the camera to metal in addition to using the stand or the traditional wall mount. Finally, the Nest Cam includes a tripod mount for those that are into that sort of thing.

PERFORMANCE: The Nest Cam has 8 IR LEDS (same as the Dropcam Pro) but they state that it has improved night vision performance. Comparing my Dropcam Pro night vision shots to the Nest Cam night vision shots I would agree. The image is more crisp. The Nest Cam can record in 1080p. However, the Dropcam Pro was also capable of recording in 1080p but never did. The difference is that recording in 1080p resolution with Nest Cam is optional though you can manually reduce the resolution to improve performance based upon your available bandwidth.

THE APP: The new app for iOS and Android will support all your Nest and Dropcam devices including the Dropcam HD, Dropcam Pro, Nest Protect Smoke Alarm, and the Nest Learning Thermostat. You can use the app to connect events between devices. For example, if Nest Protect detects a fire, Nest Cam will record a video clip. Emergency clips are free though everyday recording will still require a cloud subscription. Side note, there are a few features in the Dropcam app that aren’t not yet a part of the Nest app like control by location, email alerts, and video sharing. They plan to add these features to the Nest app but will support the Dropcam app until all features are ready for use.

THE CLOUD: Nest has launched a Cloud Service called Nest Aware. The entry-level plan saves 10 days of video for $10 per month. This is the same cost as the Dropcam plan which only recorded 7 days of video – a slight win? Maybe. Like the Dropcam Cloud plan, Nest Aware includes video storage, a time-lapse feature, create and share clips, and Activity Zones. Unlike the old cloud service, the new service is said to include better alerts thanks to face detection and depth sensing.

WARRANTY: The Nest Cam has a 2-year limited warranty where Dropcam Pro had a 1-year.

In summary the primary difference is the stand and the fact that the app, cloud service, and camera are all branded Nest. Compared to the DropCam Pro the Nest Cam has the same field of view, the same frames per second, the same amount of IR LEDs, and the same price…

Compared to the DropCam Pro the Nest Cam has the same field of view, the same frames per second, the same amount of IR LEDs, the same price…

First Impression of Nest Cam and Installation

I ordered my Nest Cam the first day it was launched on Amazon and it arrived June 30th. The box looked similar to the Dropcam Pro with a redesigned shape and a showy wood toned under box. Regardless of the negative reviews already appearing on Amazon, I was excited. I tore open the box and thought to myself this looks basic. The camera looked as expected but with a giant “beware of choking sticker” prominently placed near the camera end of the cord vs the plug end of the cord. I tried to move on but other things felt off to me as well. The entire package felt chock full of thoughtless design decision.

Nest Cam installation took about 10 minutes not including app download or opening the packaging. It was easy but took extra coaxing to get things to connect. The app, oh the app…. it fell into the thoughtless design category for me as well.

Hands-On Test of Nest Cam and Nest Aware

The first day of video testing with the Nest Cam showed that some of the concerns voiced on Amazon were right and I found other issues too. The camera’s video lags and at times the lag got worse throughout use. The lag time between action and what I saw on live streaming started at about 6 seconds, moved to 15 seconds, then to 30, and then to over 45 seconds. On other days the lag time remained steady at about 6-7 seconds but the lag on the two-way audio feature rendered it almost unusable. It was very reminiscent of the problems I faced when testing two-way voice on the Dropcam Pro. In Nest’s defense, I tested the camera at 1080p. While I could have reduced the resolution, I felt that Nest Cam needed to step up. If they hope to survive in the home security camera world the camera needs to function in HD as competitors like Canary and Piper are already playing there.

For the past several weeks I’ve focused on testing video quality and alerts. The video quality is excellent, one of the best cameras I’ve tested. Below is a comparison image of the camera recording in 1080p vs 720p vs 360p. The images were taken on a rainy day within minutes of each other.

Nest Cam’s motion alerts were problematic. On the first day of testing I did not receive a single motion alert though I thoroughly tried to trigger one. On other days they were sporadic at best. I tested the Nest Cam simultaneously against Netatmo Welcome and Canary. Compared to other security cameras, Nest failed. I would set off an event and 10 minutes later Nest would send a push notification or I would let it clear for an hour (in case Nest still uses the policy of not sending more than 1 alert per 30 minutes) and I would walk in front of all the cameras and they would all notify me of motion except Nest Cam. Then 30 minutes later, I would get two alerts from Nest Cam. There is a fine line between helpful and annoying when it comes to alerts but Nest has erred too far on the conservative side. On the positive side, Nest can record constantly and if you pay a monthly fee, you can view recorded footage whenever you want.

 

FeatureAs PromisedAs Tested
Automated Arm and Disarm / GeofencingComing SoonDid Not Work
Manual Arm and DisarmSet your location as home or away.Did Not Work
Schedule Based Arm and DisarmCreate a time based schedule for Nest Cam to follow.Works
Activity ZonesOnly recieve alerts if motion is detected in pre-designated areas.Works with paid Nest Aware subscription but it's tricky.
Live StreamingFree and includedLag time issues
Automated Night Vision ModeSwaps to Night Vision in Low LightWorks
Two Way TalkCommunicate Through the CameraLag time issues
Talk ChimePlays a chime to let people know you are about to talk.Works
Event HistoryView recorded events and time stamped history.Works with paid Nest Aware subscription.
Zoom EnhancementWill sharpen the zoomed image.Worked sometimes but usually froze the app or the app just spun without results.
NotificationsNot Sure.Offline Notification on a 30 minute delay
Feature As Promised
Automated Arm and Disarm / Geofencing
Coming Soon
Manual Arm and Disarm
Set your location as home or away.
Schedule Based Arm and Disarm
Create a time based schedule for Nest Cam to follow.
Activity Zones
Only recieve alerts if motion is detected in pre-designated areas.
Live Streaming
Free and included
Automated Night Vision Mode
Swaps to Night Vision in Low Light
Two Way Talk
Communicate Through the Camera
Talk Chime
Plays a chime to let people know you are about to talk.
Event History
View recorded events and time stamped history.
Zoom Enhancement
Will sharpen the zoomed image.
Notifications
Not Sure.
Feature As Tested
Automated Arm and Disarm / Geofencing
Did Not Work
Manual Arm and Disarm
Did Not Work
Schedule Based Arm and Disarm
Works
Activity Zones
Works with paid Nest Aware subscription but it's tricky.
Live Streaming
Lag time issues
Automated Night Vision Mode
Works
Two Way Talk
Lag time issues
Talk Chime
Works
Event History
Works with paid Nest Aware subscription.
Zoom Enhancement
Worked sometimes but usually froze the app or the app just spun without results.
Notifications
Offline Notification on a 30 minute delay

 

 

Thoughts on the Nest App

I’m not a fan of the new app. They are working to improve the app and add features like automated arm/disarm based upon geofencing but currently the app has limited functionality with poor performance. Issues include:

  • Crashes and Freezes
  • Marking yourself home or away doesn’t make a difference though I think this requires a Nest Thermostat – not sure.
  • Certain features like activity alerts can only be used from a computer.
  • Seems more focused on other products like the Nest Thermostat.
  • Poorly Designed Home Screen
  • Enhanced Zoom Feature Crashes the App

At the end of the day I was sorely disappointed. This is what we’ve waited for? This is the brainchild of Google swallowed Nest swallowed Dropcam? No Apple Watch app? No free cloud storage option? No outdoor camera? And we STILL didn’t get a functional camera and app?

Nest Aware Cloud Recording Subscription

If you are willing to shell out the money for Nest Aware it does add several cool features. All new Nest Cam purchases come with a free subscription to Nest Aware so you do get a little try before you buy but at the same time it’s misleading as the free trial ends around the time your return period ends. Will you still love Nest without all the added features? Who knows.

The video history feature is my personal favorite. Through the history screen you can view a chronological list of all events and click into an event to watch recorded footage. In theory you should be able to use the player controls at the bottom of the app screen to skip to previous events, go back 30 seconds, forward 30 seconds, skip to the next event or go live. I wasn’t able to get the buttons to work correctly but on this one it could be user error. I found the process confusing. You can also view footage from a computer which is handy.

My second favorite Nest Aware feature is the activity zone feature. With activity zones you will receive notifications on your phone if motion is detected in areas that you designate. For example, the camera will monitor your front door but ignore everything around it. You can even setup multiple zones. For example, monitor your front door and your window but ignore the rest of the room. The problem is that your room is 3D but Nest looks at it as 2D. In my example below I want the camera to monitor my window but anytime someone walks in front of the window, like the white guy sitting on the couch, I will get an alert. You have to get creative with placement to see what helps reduce the noise of too many alerts.

Nest Aware can be purchased as a monthly subscription or a yearly subscription. Also, you can mix and match plans. For example, you may have one camera on the 10 day plan and another on 30 though discounts will apply differently if you mix and match. The subscription plan adds the following features.

On phones, tablets, and computers:

  • Video History
  • Checkout motion, sound, and activity zone alerts

Only on a computer:

  • Expand Video History to see a summary view or minute by minute view
  • Create Activity Zones
  • Create and Share Clips
  • Make and share timelapses

On top of these features Nest Aware makes alerts better by using advanced algorithms.

Motion sensing features like face detection and depth sensing help improve the activity alert accuracy. These improvements require a lot of computing power, much more than Nest Cam can deliver by itself. So we have to use powerful cloud servers to deliver this state of the art detection. This is why Nest Aware is a subscription service.

Recorded Video History1st CameraEach Additional Camera
10 Days of Video$10/Month$5/Month
30 Days of Video$30/Month$15/Month
Recorded Video History 1st Camera
10 Days of Video
$10/Month
30 Days of Video
$30/Month
Recorded Video History Each Additional Camera
10 Days of Video
$5/Month
30 Days of Video
$15/Month
Recorded Video History1st CameraEach Additional Camera
10 Days of Video$100/Year$50/Year
30 Days of Video$300/Year$150/Year
Recorded Video History 1st Camera
10 Days of Video
$100/Year
30 Days of Video
$300/Year
Recorded Video History Each Additional Camera
10 Days of Video
$50/Year
30 Days of Video
$150/Year

 

Final Thoughts

The problem with the new Nest Cam is that it hasn’t gotten any smarter. While other cameras are offering activity zones for free and recognizing my face, Nest Cam remains stagnant. It won’t be difficult to dethrone Nest Cam this year. A camera simply needs to come along with features that make use simple. I want to sit the camera on a self and forget about it. All of the intelligence and the decision making should really fall on the camera and Nest Cam just can’t do that. It requires way too much time and effort.

If you’re still set on Nest Cam, I think it can still prove to be very useful depending on how you use it. You can purchase it from Amazon.com for $199.00.

Nest is available in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands. I paid for the Nest Cam with my own money and my opinions are my own. I would love to hear other user reviews. Do you own the Nest Cam? What are your thoughts? You can checkout our top recommended home security cameras here.