Just about everything in our homes is getting smarter and that usually means these gizmos are getting connected to the Internet too. I've got a smart TV, a smart Blu-ray player, some smart speakers and, should I feel so inclined, I could nab a smart thermostat, a smart carbon monoxide detector, a smart fridge, and a smart door lock, among countless others. I may as well have a smart webcam too.
It's not that IP cameras are a particularly new phenomenon, but in the age of the Internet of Things, they're becoming far more commonplace among the average mainstream consumer. To this end, they need to be feature-rich and easy to use. Addressing this segment of the market is the SpotCam HD IP camera, making the whole standalone, web-connected video feed thing a reality for just about anyone.
The Easily Accessible IP Camera
You might remember several years ago when I reviewed the Compro IP540. The idea was there, but the execution was lacking. The camera itself was clunky, the night vision wasn't great, and mobile access left a lot to be desired.
By contrast, the SpotCam HD is much more streamlined in appearance. It's a simple cylinder that already has Wi-Fi and infrared night vision built into it, as well as 720p HD capabilities. You do lose the pan-tilt-zoom functionality, but you gain a smaller package that can easily rest on a flat surface with its somewhat grippy base and the hinge has almost 180-degrees of range. Of course, get a little too close to the horizontal and the thing will topple over. Alternatively, it can be mounted to the wall using the provided hardware.
Remember that the Compro needed an external USB Wi-Fi module to gain wireless and it also did not have built-in speakers. With the SpotCam HD, you get an integrated microphone and speaker for easy two-way communication too. There are real-time alerts, a browser-based interface on your computer, a mobile app, and even the ability to share your SpotCam feed with friends.
Setup and Configuration
On the back of the SpotCam HD is a simple switch for determining the Wi-Fi Mode. When in AP (access point) mode, it creates its own Wi-Fi access point. You connect to this on your device of your choice and run through the setup wizard accordingly, either through the SpotCam mobile app or through the website. It'll get you to set up an account and go through some basics, like providing the credentials for connecting to your home's Wi-Fi network.
Once you're ready to go, you flip the switch over to Client mode, wait for the indicator light to change accordingly, and that's it. What's particularly useful here is that you can not only watch the live HD video feed from your SpotCam HD at any time, but they include a free cloud storage plan that will stash the last 24 hours of video on their secure servers. You can optionally upgrade to plans with 3-day, 7-day or 30-day recording periods starting at $3.95/month.
My SpotCam Web and Mobile App Interface
As mentioned, you can access your live video feed (and your saved video feed) at any time via a web browser or the associated mobile app. The web interface is remarkably similar to that of DropCam's in many ways, which can be good or bad depending on your preference. The main feed is shown, the zoom slider gives you a picture-in-picture view of whatever portion you'd like, and there is a rolling timeline underneath if you want to review saved footage.
The main tools can be found near the top right corner, which is where you'll access settings or create time-lapse videos using your saved footage. That's the good news. The bad news is that I found the interface to be frustratingly laggy at times. It can take a few seconds for the setup dialog window to emerge after clicking on the button; the website needs to be more responsive. I also had Flash crash in Chrome on several occasions while accessing my SpotCam HD (which I've been using as a baby monitor).
The Android app offers a stripped down version of this interface. You still have some of the core functionality, like watching the video or sharing your feed, but any of the more advanced settings need to be configured through a web browser on your PC.
Night Vision and Other Features
For many people, it's enough to have an IP camera that provides a live video feed over the Internet at any time, either through a PC or a mobile device. For other people, gaining a free NVR plan to retrace archived footage is even better. With the SpotCam HD, you gain a number of additional features too. The night vision, as you can see above, works really well. The camera is surrounded by a series of infrared LEDs for this purpose and I found the visual clarity to be thoroughly impressive.
You can also set up the camera to provide you with alerts, either through the mobile app or email, when certain triggers are activated. This could be based on motion, for instance, and you can take it one step further with the motion masking feature. This only "looks" for motion in a portion of the frame that you define. Depending on your application, the time-lapse feature is great too. It can condense a whole day of footage down to just a few seconds.
MEGATechie Spot On or MEGATechie Out Damn Spot?
There's a lot to like here. The 720p HD video feed offers good quality, the night vision works surprisingly well, and the complimentary 24-hour NVR cloud storage is a huge bonus. While I don't need the motion masking or time lapse features myself, I can see how they add value to the overall package too. It's easy to setup, easy to use, and easy to access from just about anywhere. And SpotCam continues to add new features all the time by way of software.
On paper, the SpotCam HD is a real winner. In practice, it could still use some work. The web interface is functionality, but not as responsive as it needs to be. The mobile app isn't as robust as its desktop browser counterpart and the connection can be finicky at times too. The SpotCam HD sells online for $149.99. It's good, but it's not yet great.