Whether you feel the need to keep an eye out for intruders at home, keep tabs on the baby in the other room or just want to see what your pets are doing when you're not around, cloud security cameras can help.
These cameras offer more flexibility than do regular webcams because they typically use a Web portal, rather than a laptop or personal computer, as the monitoring and control hub, allowing you to check in from anywhere -- including your smartphone.
But keep your expectations in check. While you can use the cameras to get the gist of what's going on at home, the quality of video can be downright awful when streamed over your home Wi-Fi, through the public Internet and over the cellular data network to your smartphone.
Web-based security cameras with motion capture video can let you in on what your pets are up to when you're not around.
Cloud security cameras and services all take slightly different approaches and offer a variety of features. I tested five models from different vendors for this roundup: the D-Link Day/Night Network Cloud Camera (DCS-932L), the Dropcam HD, the Logitech Alert 750n Indoor Master System, the Netgear VueZone Video Monitoring System and the Samsung SNH-1011 IP SmartCam.
Which one might work for you? Before I get to the reviews, I'll start by telling you what you need to know -- and what to expect.
Facts and features
Most of the cameras reviewed here offer wireless connectivity to your home's broadband router, save one -- the Logitech 750n -- that uses your home's electrical wiring to transmit the camera signal back to a base station that connects to your router. While some cameras require a personal computer for initial configuration, all offer a Web portal that allows remote viewing and configuration from any device with a Web browser.
In addition, all offer apps for Android and iOS mobile phones. All but Samsung offer an iPad app as well. These apps can display live video feeds and let you take snapshots of what you're viewing at any given time.
All of the models include hardware for mounting the cameras on a wall or ceiling, and all offer infrared "night vision," either standard or as an option. I highly recommend this latter feature, because it not only enables you to see clearly what's happening in dark rooms at night, but also makes it easier to see what's going on in dimly lit rooms on cloudy days.
All of the cameras I tested offer motion detection, which generates an alert based on the sensitivity level you select. But some also let you receive alerts when the camera detects a sound. D-Link lets you restrict motion detection to specific parts of the image, so your pet won't trip the camera every time he walks through the room. And some cameras include both a microphone and a speaker, so you can chat with your burglar or yell at your dog to get off the sofa.
When you do get alerts, they generate either one or more still images or a link to a video clip that typically lasts about 30 seconds. There are several ways to view and/or store these images, and different devices offer different combinations of these features.
Most cameras offer a Web portal, which effectively acts as a personal closed-circuit TV monitoring service for your camera; some vendors offer a feature that lets you view multiple camera streams simultaneously on a single screen. (Keep in mind, though, that while it's possible to install 10 or more cameras in your home, too many video streams can bog down a wireless router and degrade the performance of the cameras, your Netflix account and any other service or device that's connected to the Internet.)
Some camera models can store recorded video on a microSD card (which is great, unless the burglar steals your camera).
Some let you view images on the hard drive of the computer that's running the vendor's monitoring software.
Finally, a few devices let you store images in the cloud. While some vendors require a monthly subscription service for the use of a storage option on their Web portals, Samsung allows you to upload video clips and images from its SmartCam camera directly to your personal YouTube or Picasa account.
For security, all cameras require a user account name and password, and some require an additional password to access each device. Two-factor authentication, however, is not an option. That means less protection against security flaws that could put your home video streams at risk -- such as those recently discovered in D-Link's cameras.
Making the connection
The challenge for cloud security camera makers is how to get you in touch with your cameras when you log in to your Web portal account. There are two approaches.
In the first, all video streams from your cameras go through the portal before arriving at your mobile device or personal computer. The Web portal acts as the intermediary, relaying video feeds and in some cases storing video clips to its own servers. Because the Web portal sends out the email alerts, all you need to do is supply the email address to which you want the alerts sent and you're done.
In the second method, the portal acts as a connection broker, a kind of switchboard operator that connects your mobile phone or personal computer directly to your cameras and then steps out of the way. Theoretically, this approach should improve performance, but it can also add complexity to the user experience.
Why? First, since you're accessing each camera directly, the "direct connect" method requires that you log in once to access your Web portal account and then present an additional password for each device you've registered to your account before you can access it.
This approach can also make the initial configuration of email alerts more complicated. A direct connection means that each camera acts as its own video server and has no email service of its own. Therefore, it must use yours to send you an email alert.
With the D-Link models, for example, you need to provide your email username, password, SMTP server address, port number, the type of encryption to use and the email address where you want the alerts sent. In addition, users aren't informed, for example, where to find out what the correct SMTP server name and port would be for a Gmail or Yahoo webmail account. That's unfortunate, because it's likely that many buyers of these cameras are not highly tech savvy.
Image quality, performance and more
There are other factors to consider. All of the cameras offer digital zoom rather than optical zoom, which means that images break up as you zoom in. And some cameras offer a virtual pan/tilt feature, which carves up the image from the camera's wide-angle lens into different viewing segments. This can be useful, but it offers a more limited field of view than does a true pan/tilt mechanism that actually moves the camera lens to pan the room.
Dependence on Wi-Fi may be a convenience, but it's also another potential gotcha. Although all of the cameras that use Wi-Fi also support pushbutton Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) for quickly establishing a connection to your wireless router, I found that getting the cameras and monitoring software to work wasn't always as clean and easy as it should be for a consumer device.
Two more caveats: Video streaming can require significant bandwidth, and Wi-Fi signal strength can drop off quickly as you move away from the wireless router, particularly if the signal must travel through multiple walls or around metal objects such as a kitchen full of appliances. If your cameras are several rooms away or on the other side of a laundry room or bathroom, you may need to upgrade to a high-end wireless router (I used a Cisco Linksys E4200 dual-band router with six antennas), add a range extender (some D-Link models double as range extenders) or even run a wired Ethernet connection to get enough bandwidth to use your cameras. (For some tips on how to upgrade your Wi-Fi network, check out our article Wi-Fi tweaks for speed freaks: 2013 edition.)
How we tested
I tested the cameras in my home using a MacBook Pro running Safari 5.1.7, Firefox 20 and a Linksys E4200 dual-band 802.11n router. I also tested using Windows 7 and Windows Vista laptops running Internet Explorer. I performed additional testing in a second location that used a Belkin 802.11b router and another with a Netgear WGR614 wireless router. I tested mobile apps from multiple locations using a Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.2.2, an iPhone 4 and an iPad.
Even then, end-to-end connections -- from the wireless camera to the router, through the Internet to the portal and out to a personal computer by way of broadband or to a mobile phone via cellular connection -- can be slow, noisy and brittle. Low bandwidth at any point in the chain can result in degraded image quality, lower frame rates and dropped connections. On more than one occasion, I experienced issues with broken connections, some of which required resetting the camera. But when the camera is remote, you can't just walk over to reboot it.
And while some models technically support full-motion video at 30 frames per second (fps), I typically experienced real-world end-to-end throughput in the range of 9 to 20 fps with a wired Ethernet connection and as slow as 3 to 4 fps when using wireless, particularly when monitoring from a mobile phone app. I also sometimes experienced delays as long as 10 seconds when using a smartphone app -- even when using the phone in Wi-Fi mode in the same location as the cameras.
If all that isn't enough to scare you off entirely, there are some great benefits to these cloud-based security cameras. Read on for a full hands-on review of each model.
D-Link offers a wide range of IP-based cloud security cameras for the consumer market in its Cloud Camera line. For this article, I reviewed the entry-level 932L, which is an older model in the D-Link line, with resolution of just 640 x 480 pixels. It uses MJPEG for compression rather than supporting the more efficient H.264 standard, and while the camera does include a microphone for an audio feed, it does not support two-way communication or sound-activated alerts, as some other models do. But the $80 price tag makes it by far the least expensive camera in the group.
D-Link Cloud Camera DCS-932L
The camera comes with a power supply, network cable and quick install guide. The installation process includes temporarily hardwiring the camera to your router to sync it, setting up a user account and password on the free Mydlink.com portal and configuring an additional password for each camera you want to access. As with other portals reviewed here, Mydlink.com also requires that you install a browser plug-in.
The Mydlink portal includes a My Devices page where you can select and view the feeds for up to four cameras and manipulate the most extensive list of configuration settings of any camera reviewed here. For example, there are settings not just for image brightness and contrast, but also for white balance, saturation and hue. You can set the days and times when you want motion detection active and you can set up different video profiles, each with different encoding, resolution and frame rates.
Some configuration settings in the portal are accessible only by clicking on the Advanced Settings button, which requires a second password before bringing up a separate browser window.
And unfortunately, finding the videos Mydlink.com has stored for you isn't easy. There's no visual timeline to review. Instead, you must specify a date and hour range to see thumbnails of the videos recorded during that timeframe.
On the other hand, you can also download the free D-ViewCam software (available for Windows only), which not only lets you monitor video streams but also records video clips to your PC's hard drive or network-attached storage device.
The D-ViewCam software installed easily enough on a Windows PC, but the process of getting it to initially recognize the cameras was not intuitive, and directions were not included in the quick start instructions. A staff person who answered the tech support line walked me through the process and then referred me to the manual, which must be downloaded from the D-Link website.
The 932L offers motion-based alerting by way of email (you'll need to know your email service's SMTP server and port information) and can be configured to send either a single frame or six frames -- three just prior to and three immediately after the trigger event. The newer 5222L and 6010L models can issue alerts when sound is detected, as can an upgraded version of the 932L, the 933L ($99.99), which also can act as a Wi-Fi range extender.
You can restrict motion detection to defined zones within an image. The setup screen breaks the image area into squares that can be selected to tell the camera where to monitor -- and not monitor -- for activity.
D-Link's cameras do not offer email alerts that can attach or link to video clips. However, alert-triggered video can be recorded and stored to a Windows PC running the D-ViewCam program, which also supports simultaneous viewing of up to 32 video streams.
The free Mydlink Lite mobile apps for Android and iOS include buttons that let you take a snapshot, mute the camera microphone, zoom up to 4x and access camera information. A Mydlink+ app for tablets (99 cents) adds the ability to view up to four camera feeds at a time.
In addition, the mobile apps let you pick up the frame rate for the live stream. Using mobile phones over a 4G cellular network, my frame rate never exceeded 3-4 fps, which was about what the company said was expected. The maximum frame rate I experienced, with the cameras directly wired to the router and using Mydlink Lite over Wi-Fi, was about 19 fps.
The Mydlink portal include a live feed view and offers more custom settings for configuring the camera than any the other products reviewed here.
I hit a couple of snags with the 932L model. The microphone produced a static hiss in the portal's Live View page that I could not eliminate by adjusting the audio volume settings. With the night vision setting in the default automatic mode, the unit would flip in and out of night vision mode on a cloudy day, rendering everything in black and white and then in color. Fortunately, the sensitivity can be changed from the advanced settings area.
In addition, the 932L uses its lowest resolution setting of 320 x 200 pixels by default. That's workable on a smartphone screen, but you'll want to bump that up to 640 x 480 (via Advanced Settings) for viewing on tablets or personal computers. At the higher resolution, image quality was good overall, although, as with other Wi-Fi cameras reviewed here, image noise created some pixilation on the image. I also could see some slight horizontal banding -- faint, wavy lines in the image that were most pronounced on darker areas.
I also tried out two other more feature-filled models: the DCS-5222L ($263), a 720p (1280-x-720-pixel) camera that offers true pan/tilt capability with a 360-degree range, and the DC-6010L (about $325), which uses a fisheye lens to display a 360-degree view of an entire room and can break the image into 90-degree quadrants or 180-degree half-room views and "de-warp" the image to present different views of the area. No other vendor in the group offered cameras with similar features.
That being said, I didn't find the 6010L's curved, sweeping images to be particularly useful for seeing in any detail what was going on at a particular spot in a room. When placed on a tabletop the viewing angle tends to focus at an upward angle, as though looking up through a cone. This unit would work best when mounted on a ceiling, where it would point downwards and provide a general, not too detailed sweep of a room.
Since I tested, D-Link has added several complementary models: The 5020L, a pan/tilt camera, similar to the 5222L, with enhanced range for night vision and Wi-Fi extender capability; and the 933L and 931L, which are similar to the 932L and include those same features plus sound detection and alerting, a microSD slot and H.264 compression.
D-Link offers a wide variety of cameras with the most extensive set of configuration settings and controls of any camera I tested. They are a good choice for users who want more granular control over camera operation.
Everything you need to know in order to install the Dropcam HD Wi-Fi camera ($149) fits onto the single, two-sided card that comes in the box. You simply connect the camera to an open USB port on a Mac or Windows computer and follow the instructions.
In my case, it worked right off the bat -- which was a relief after the hoops I had to jump through getting some of the other cameras configured and working properly.
The Dropcam HD's 720p images were crisp and clear -- among the best in the group. It was the only camera I tested with location-based activation. If you have an iPhone, you can configure the camera to turn on when you leave the house (with the phone) and turn off when you return -- very cool. Unfortunately, this feature is only supported for iOS.
Dropcam's basic, free portal service allows for viewing of live video streams. But if you want to record and play back video you'll need to subscribe to Dropcam's Pro service ($9.95/mo.), which saves the last seven days of recording activity, or Pro HD, which saves a sliding 30-day window of recordings for $29.95/mo. The package includes a 14-day trial subscription to the Pro service.
The MyDropcams Web portal offers a clean and easy-to-use interface. It includes a MyDropcams page for viewing each camera's video stream and a MyClips page, available to Pro subscribers, for playing back scheduled or motion-activated recordings. Recorded video can be emailed, downloaded or uploaded to Facebook or YouTube. There's also a "Make Clip" button that will capture video on demand, assuming you subscribe to Dropcam's Pro or Pro HD service.
When I used the MyDropcams Web portal to view the videos, I found the 1280 x 720 streaming images to be clean and clear. Controls for mute, pause and full-screen mode overlay the image.
Other controls include a "talk" button that works in half-duplex mode. (As with a walkie-talkie, you can listen or transmit but you can't do both at the same time). The portal will store up to three hours of video clips for you in the My Clips area for Pro and Pro HD subscribers. Video clips are listed in chronological order and are not sortable or searchable. A snapshot feature is only offered in the iPad app.
The Dropcam portal includes both a timeline of video recordings and a MyClips area where you can view thumbnails to visually scan for the event you're looking for.
A variety of settings
Under Settings you can enable night vision, set motion- or sound-activation alerts, configure a 2x digital zoom feature and share the camera's video stream with others. Alerts can be sent to any email address as well as to any Android or iOS device running the free Dropcam app. In addition to alerting you when the camera detects sound or motion, Dropcam can let you know when the camera goes offline -- a nice touch. You can quickly turn alerts on and off using a toggle button. There's also an option to remotely turn off the camera.
The mobile apps have full access to the configuration options as well as live streaming and playback of stored video at Dropcam.com. On the iPad you can view up to four camera streams on screen at the same time -- a feature not offered in the portal or other mobile apps. Dropcam does not currently support location-based services in the iPad or Android apps.
The Dropcam HD is the standout among the Wi-Fi offerings for its simplicity and ease of use. The portal and apps were reliable and easy to configure, image quality was clear and crisp, and the Dropcam HD was the only camera to support location-based activation/deactivation tied to an iPhone.
If you need recording and playback capability, however, Dropcam's $9.95/mo. service is the most expensive in the group.
The Logitech Alert 750n ($300) is the only cloud security camera among the ones I tested that doesn't wirelessly connect the camera to your home router. Instead, Logitech streams data from the camera to its power supply, through your household electrical wiring and into a base station that then connects directly to your router by way of an Ethernet cable.
Logitech Alert 750n
While that may sound complicated, it means that there's no fiddling around with finicky Wi-Fi connections, range limitations and interference issues when connecting the camera back to your router.
The 750n Indoor Master System includes the camera and power supply, and a second power supply block/base unit that plugs into an Ethernet jack in your router. A word of warning: The power supply blocks, at 3.0 x 4.0 x 1.5 in., are major space hogs on a power supply strip.
Setup was a breeze using a pictorial step-by-step installation sheet, and images remarkably crisp and clear -- among the most stable, smoothest images rendered of all cameras tested. I suspect that this is due not just to fact that the default resolution of the camera is 960 x 720, but because Logitech has eliminated Wi-Fi from the connectivity equation.
Viewing the video
While video can be viewed through the Alert.logitech.com Web portal, to record and view stored video clips you need to use Alert Commander, an included program for Windows or Mac that also lets you view up to six video streams on a single screen. Users of the free Logitech Alert Android and iPhone apps can view live video, take a photo and save the image to the camera's included 2GB SD card. The software only offers alert-based recording -- you can't click a button to record on demand.
Setting up alerts with Alert Commander was easy. The install wizard asks for your email address and uses that to send alerts. It also specifically asks for the email address so it can send text alerts to your mobile phone. To use this you need to know the email address format your carrier requires for emailing yourself a text message (For my Galaxy Nexus Verizon phone, for example, the format is firstname.lastname@example.org).
You can also configure Alert Commander to send a pop-up alert to your desktop when motion is detected, but this only works if your computer is in the same building as the cameras.
The Logitech Alert 750n transmits the video stream over your home electrical wiring system. Because of that, the images didn't suffer the pixellation evident with the other cameras that used Wi-Fi.
Using Alert Commander, you can only play back stored MPEG-4 video clips on your personal computer. Stored videos appear as recording blocks along a visual timeline feature, so searching for a specific recording may involve clicking on and viewing the contents of multiple blocks within in a timeframe until you find the one you're looking for.
If you want to view recorded video from the Web portal or from your mobile apps you'll need to upgrade to Logitech Alert Web and Mobile Commander. The $79.95 annual subscription also includes an upgraded mobile app that lets you configure alerts and upload recorded videos to Dropbox or YouTube.
Logitech's approach combines good image quality with a level of stability and reliability that's hard to beat for remote monitoring. The 750n eliminates the complexity, potential interference and distance limitation/pixilation issues inherent in Wi-Fi cameras. The system is easy to set up and use, and requiring a wired connection doesn't limit your flexibility in most cases, since all but one competing Wi-Fi camera requires a DC adapter that needs to be connected to a nearby electrical outlet anyway.
Unless you need to place cameras in areas well away from any electrical outlets, or you need to record and playback video to the cloud and don't want to fork over $79 per year for that service option, the 750n is a good bet.
Netgear's VueZone is the only cloud security camera reviewed here that doesn't require a power cord, but if you want to record video it does tether you to a service plan.
Netgear VueZone Video Monitoring System
The basic VueZone VZSM2200 package ($200) includes a base unit that plugs into your router by way of an Ethernet cable and a tiny, egg-shaped, battery-operated camera that transmits a 640 x 480-pixel video stream wirelessly to the base station. For $290, the VueZone VZSM2700 offers two cameras, while the VueZone VZSM2720 ($300) includes the two cameras and a 4-in.-high stand with a plastic enclosure for outdoor use.
Netgear also includes spherical magnetic wall mounts that let you easily attach, position and remove the cameras. While the camera supplied in the basic package doesn't support night vision, Netgear does offer a similar model (the VZCN2060 for $130) that does. VueZone cameras do not include microphones or speakers.
Installation involves installing supplied batteries in the cameras, cabling the base station to your router, syncing the cameras with the base station by pressing a button on the base unit, and then registering on the VueZone Web portal. I had everything up and running in about 10 minutes. VueZone is the only product in this roundup that requires that you enter your telephone number and address before you can start using the product.
The free MyVueZone portal service lets you view live video streams. It supports two cameras and allows for motion-based alerting, as do the free apps for Android, iPhone and iPad.
The portal includes Cameras, Library and Setup tabs. The first displays the live camera image and includes a Wi-Fi signal strength meter and battery level indicator for the selected camera. The Cameras tab also includes control buttons for recording video or snapshots to the cloud (which requires the optional subscription service), digital zoom, brightness and time-lapse mode that generates still images at a relatively crisp 1600 x 1200 pixels. You can also schedule a recording, engage motion detection or change the video mode from the Setup tab.
Setting up motion detection alerts is fairly easy: You enter an email address and choose to record a video or snapshot, select the length for video (from 10 to 90 seconds), adjust motion sensitivity and you're done. The email links back to a Shared Media Viewer on the Web that does not require logging into the MyVueZone portal.
The portal's image library lets you sort video clips and still images, view the thumbnails in a list or grid format, download a video, email a link to friends or upload it directly to YouTube or Flickr.
The MyVueZone portal allows for basic viewing of video streams. An optional subscription service adds a Library feature with thumbnails and the ability to sort video clips.
For $4.99 per month, Netgear's Premier service adds video recording, the aforementioned library feature with 250MB of cloud storage, the ability to connect up to five cameras and motion-activated alerts. The Elite service ($9.99/mo.) supports up to 15 cameras in three locations and doubles the storage space. (The basic package includes a 30-day free trial to the Premier service.)
While you can view only one video stream at a time using the free portal, the VueZone mobile apps for the iPad, iPhone and Android can view up to 15 live feeds, which appear in a scrolling list. The mobile apps offer the same controls as the portal, and have an option to restart the base station if the connection is lost -- a useful feature given how sketchy Wi-Fi connections can be.
VueZone, the only battery-powered wireless camera in the group, is the way to go if you want a completely wireless setup. I was disappointed that the camera included in the basic starter package doesn't support night vision; if that's a requirement, you'll have to spend an extra $130 to buy the VZCN2060, an otherwise virtually identical camera. But Netgear's premium service also offers the best features for storing, finding, arranging and uploading and downloading the video clips you've recorded in the cloud.
The Samsung SNH-1011n IP SmartCam (about $145) is similar to the D-Link DCS-932L in both looks and features; the freshly redesigned Samsungsmartcam.com Web portal, however, is much more streamlined than D-Link's portal.
Samsung SNH-1011 IP SmartCam
In addition, Samsung's camera supports the more efficient H.264 compression standard and is capable of audio streaming and alerts. The SmartCam can't save snapshots and video clips to your local computer and doesn't offer a cloud storage service. But it can automatically upload video clips to your YouTube account, which is just as good -- and that service is free.
Samsung offers apps for Android devices and iPhones; personal computers access the SmartCam portal using a browser and plug-in. Image quality varied with the level of connectivity but was about on par with the D-Link 932L.
As with D-Link's cameras, you create a user account for the portal, install the browser plug-in and create a security code for each camera you're using (you can configure the portal and mobile apps to remember each camera's password).
The main portal window lets you select a SmartCam camera and view the live feed. Controls include a sound mute button; low-, mid- and high-speed network settings; brightness, microphone sensitivity and speaker volume sliders; a toggle button for night vision (off/on) and buttons to flip the image left/right or up/down.
An Event Alarm screen shows event recordings on a timeline. Hover over a date and it shows the number of alerts; click it and the portal displays thumbnails of each clip or image. You then click on a thumbnail to launch an event viewer that either plays the 30-second clip or displays the full-size image.
The portal has a separate setup screen from which you can configure motion- or sound-activated alerts and upload captured video clips and images to YouTube and Picasa, respectively. It can send alerts to the SmartCam mobile apps and the monitoring portal; to your Twitter account as direct messages; and to your Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or other Web-based email accounts. You need to have a Google account to store alert images/video clips and to send email alerts, which can include a still image and a link to motion-activated 30-second video clips.
The Samgsungsmartcam portal's buttons and sliders made setup and configuration easy. Unfortunately, the video streaming didn't always work reliably.
The SmartCam mobile apps for iOS and Android include buttons for taking a snapshot, entering high-quality (for mobile) 640 x 480 pixel mode, flipping the image, adjusting brightness and turning the microphone on and off. Two-way audio is not full-duplex: To speak into the microphone to someone in the same room as the remote camera, you must first click the microphone button, then push and hold the microphone icon that appears over the video image to transmit before speaking. You then let go of the button to hear, walkie-talkie style.
Trouble with setup
I had trouble getting the SmartCam to run optimally on my home network. While the SmartCam video feeds are supposed to go directly from the camera to your browser through an encrypted IP tunnel, during testing they went through Samsung's servers -- a fallback, called relay server mode, that the SmartCam resorts to when it can't establish a direct connection. When this happens, the words "relay mode" appear under the image, resolution drops to the minimum 320 x 240 pixels, there's no audio feed and the session times out after two minutes. Performance was slow and unreliable in relay mode, and I suffered frequent plug-in crashes and browser freeze-ups.
My wireless router attaches to a DSL modem in my office that also acts as a router, which a Samsung rep said probably interfered with the ability of the camera to reveal its IP address to Samsung's servers. However, when I connected the camera directly to the DSL router using an Ethernet cable, as suggested, it did not solve the problem.
I tried the Samsung on two other networks, with mixed results. I was unable to establish a link between the camera and a Belkin 802.11b Wi-Fi router in one location, but I did get it to work with a Netgear WGR614 in another. It operated without dropping into relay mode when accessed from the Web portal, and performance and the reliability of the connection were much improved.
I also experienced degraded relay mode connectivity when viewing the camera feeds remotely from my Android phone over a Verizon 4G connection. (The app alerts you to this mode by displaying a big "R" above the image.) And when I used the public Wi-Fi connection at a local McDonald's, the SmartCam mobile app didn't drop down into relay mode but repeatedly lost the connection. When I tried the same thing using my laptop, it connected only in relay mode.
A Samsung spokesperson said that this problem occurs in about 5% of all situations and usually is due to issues with the user's broadband, mobile configuration or cellular network issues; he also said that Samsung is working to improve the user experience in relay mode.
Samsung has done a great job of making it easy to quickly create and configure alerts and alert notifications, and using YouTube and Picasa accounts to store motion-activated recordings could save you money when compared to the cloud storage service subscriptions offered by some other vendors in this space. The user interface is clean and easy to use, and configuring email, Twitter direct message and pop-up alerts for the portal and mobile apps is painless.
Unfortunately, I experienced too many issues with inconsistent performance and reliability of Samsung's portal, apps and plug-ins to recommend the Samsung SNH-1011n IP SmartCam at this time.
The D-Link 932L is the least expensive camera of the test group while offering the most robust set of configuration options. The flip side of that is that the portal software wasn't as easy to use as some other offerings. But if you're okay with a 640 x 480 pixel images, the 932L is a good value.
The $149 Dropcam offers 1280 x 720 pixel image quality, worked reliably in tests and was very easy to set up and use. It's an excellent choice for basic video security monitoring, especially for the less technically adept.
Samsung's portal for the 640 x 480-pixel SmartCam SNH-1011N was also easy to use, and its ability to upload video clips directly to your YouTube account could save you money on a cloud storage subscription. But the camera is quite a bit more expensive than its closest competitor, the D-Link 932L, and I experienced technical glitches when using the portal and mobile apps.
Logitech's 750n, which uses home electrical outlets and wiring as its network, avoids the interference and range limitations associated with relying on Wi-Fi. Given that mobile users will also be dealing with bandwidth issues and propagation delays associated with cellular wireless, the value of eliminating Wi-Fi cannot be overstated. The camera's software also allows for recording and playback on a PC or Mac without the need to pay a monthly subscription service.
The VueZone is your best bet if you need to place cameras in areas where a power outlet isn't accessible. It offers the only service that can monitor the location of your iPhone and turn itself on and off when you leave and return home. And if you're planning to keep many images and video clips, the sortable library and image thumbnails provided by the premium subscription service make finding stored videos much easier than trying to pull them off a timeline.
5 cloud security cameras
This article, Keeping watch: 5 cloud security cameras for your home, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Read more about cloud security in Computerworld's Cloud Security Topic Center.