Monday, 18 December 2017
Reviews

Review: Amazon Cloud Cam is a solid security camera, but clearly just a start for the tech giant


Amazon Cloud Cam keeps an eye on the front window. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Amazon’s Cloud Cam made a big splash when it was unveiled in October, but not because it’s a flashy piece of hardware. In fact, the plain white design of the indoor security camera is about as utilitarian as they come. What got all the attention was the companion service, Amazon Key, that works in conjunction with Cloud Cam and a smart door lock to let Amazon unlock the door remotely to give delivery drivers access to deposit packages inside.

That concept is not popular with some people, including some people in my house, which is why I’m told we won’t be testing Amazon Key on our front door anytime soon. But the $120 Cloud Cam also works as a standalone security camera, independent of Amazon Key, and I’ve been testing it for the past couple weeks on that basis.

So is Amazon Cloud Cam a worthy product on its own? Yes, especially if you’re already on board with Amazon’s Alexa voice-based assistant and are willing to pay a monthly subscription fee for the most advanced Cloud Cam features and extended storage. However, it isn’t flawless, and in some ways it falls short of Google’s Nest Cam. Ultimately, it feels like just the beginning of what will no doubt be a larger push by Amazon into home security.

Here are my main takeaways.

The basics: Amazon Cloud Cam is a reliable camera with a clear picture and 120-degree field of view, capable of capturing my home’s main entryway, back door, front window and even our cat door from its vantage point on the wall in my ground-floor office.

The camera operates in color when there’s enough light, and switches to a black-and-white scene to clearly show a dark room using its eight infrared LED lights. I’ve been able to see everything I need to see at all times of day.

Viewing, storage and subscriptions: Cloud Cam provides a 24-hour video stream, for live viewing at any time, and stores clips when it senses motion in the camera’s field of view.

A subscription plan, ranging from $7/month to $20/month, is required to save clips beyond 24 hours. Paid subscriptions allow recordings to be saved for seven to 30 days. A subscription is also required for advanced features such as person detection and the ability to set zones inside the camera’s field of view where detected motion won’t trigger an alert.

Even with a subscription, Amazon doesn’t provide an option for accessing a complete video archive of the stream, providing just the live view and motion-triggered clips instead. In contrast, Google’s Nest Aware subscription service, for its Nest Cam, archives the full video stream, providing access for 10 or 30 days with a $10/month or $30/month subscription.

Amazon’s stored clips are viewable in the Amazon Cloud Cam app for iOS and Android, and also in Amazon Drive in a web browser, where they can be downloaded to a computer for preserving beyond the limits of a subscription plan. It’s not possible to access the live camera view from the Cloud Cam via a web browser.

Amazon cam details
(Amazon Chart)

Smartphone apps: The main interface for the camera is the Cloud Cam smartphone app for iOS and Android. Setup was simple, connecting to an Amazon account. The app provides the live view of the camera, with the option to rotate to switch to full screen, and a list of stored clips for playback.

The microphone icon on the app activates the speaker, for talking remotely with someone in the room or attempting to scare off an intruder. The camera sends an alert via smartphone app notifications when it detects motion.

Amazon Cloud Cam
(Amazon Photos)

Reliability: On a recent week-long vacation, the Cloud Cam stayed online the entire time without any glitches, allowing us to keep an eye on our cats as they went in and out the cat door to their outside “catio.”

But the office where I’m using the camera is on the outer edge of the WiFi range of my house, and there have been other times when the Cloud Cam has unexpectedly gone offline as a result. You’ll want to make sure the Cloud Cam is solidly within range of your wireless network for maximum reliability.

Accuracy: I’ve been testing a paid subscription for Amazon Cloud Cam, which includes automatic “person detection,” promising to distinguish between random motion and an actual person. This works accurately about 90 percent of the time, in my experience.

There have been several times when my cats have fooled the camera into identifying them as human. This clip below is one example, initially sending shivers up my spine when the notification told me a person had been detected.

This is another area where Google’s Nest Aware subscription service promises more advanced features, with the ability to not only tell the difference between people and random motion, but also to detect familiar faces, distinguishing between known people and strangers.

Home/Away and Multiple Users: This mode is very handy, automatically shutting off the Cloud Cam when your smartphone is determined to be in the same location as the camera, to avoid inadvertently recording a bunch of clips of yourself walking around your home in front of the camera.

What about multiple users? It’s not possible to log into the Cloud Cam app from multiple Amazon accounts, but you can install the app on multiple devices and log in with the same account simultaneously. This allows the Home/Away feature to be used with multiple phones. For example, I installed the app on my wife’s phone, and logged in via our shared Amazon account. Now, the Cloud Cam turns off when either of us is home, and turns on when both of us are away.

Recent Updates: A recent app update from Amazon addressed one of my biggest complaints, making it possible to flip the orientation of the video to enable the installation of the camera on a ceiling, which previously wasn’t possible without getting an upside down view. In addition, the update made it possible to turn off the IR sensors in the camera manually, which allows users to shoot video through a window at night without getting a reflection.

The update also lets users silence the audio in the app while watching the live video stream or recorded clips. The company says the ability to disable audio while recording is coming soon. The current inability to do that is both a privacy and legal concern.

Alexa Integration: Cloud Cam integrates perfectly with Amazon Alexa and Echo devices, allowing users to see the view from the Cloud Cam on my Echo Show without any additional setup, as long as everything is on the same Amazon account.

This surprised me when I walked upstairs and tried it for the first time after installing the Cloud Cam. A skeptic experienced with the frustrations of smart home integration, I assumed it wouldn’t work. But a simple, “Alexa, show me the front door,” brought up the live view from the Cloud Cam immediately on the Echo Show’s video screen. It also works via Amazon’s Fire TV, although I haven’t tested that integration.

Yes, Nest and other cameras also integrate with Echo via Alexa “skills,” but the quick, seamless integration is an advantage for Amazon’s first-party camera.

What’s next, Amazon? The Alexa integration points to the potential for Amazon in the home security market. After using it for a couple weeks, Cloud Cam feels destined to become just one component of a larger first-party security system for Amazon, with sensors and other devices all integrated and connected, using the Echo and Alexa as a hub. Until that inevitably happens, the Cloud Cam is perfectly usable, albeit imperfect, as a standalone security camera.



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