Internet camera looks good on paper, runs into problems in everyday use (July 11th, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: Samsung
- Day/Night footage
- Easy setup
- Smartphone app
- Network issues
- No off-camera storage
- Video quality out of network
Keeping an eye on the home while out and about these days is common practice. Internet cameras have become popular due to the ease of scanning for intruders or checking on the welfare of a child. Selecting the right model can be challenging, based on the number of cameras on the market. Brands like Dropcam and Foscam are generally trusted, but larger companies like Samsung offer alternative solutions. Attempting to bring a Dropcam competitor to consumers, Samsung released the SmartCam HD Pro. But does it offer the features a user needs without hiccups?
The Samsung SmartCam HD Pro offers a home camera packed in an easy-to-use shell. The SmartCam features a circular, hockey puck-like design that attaches to a swiveling base for simple positioning. Size of the camera is enough to notice it, but at 4.66 x 3.27 x 4.10 inches it doesn't stick out enough to be a distraction. Weight of the camera is on the light side, at 0.65 pounds, due to the plastic construction. The SmartCam doesn't offer any sort of sealed body or protection from the elements, which limits it to indoor use. It also requires the use of a power adapter to function, instead of using batteries or power over Ethernet.
With the swivel base, there are several configurations the SmartCam can be placed in. The base can attach to a wall or other surface by the use of three screws. If damaging something isn't an option, Samsung includes a ring of double-sided tape. The viewing angle is adjusted by moving the camera around the base. Once at the desired angle, a screw cap is tightened that keeps the camera in place. If a sufficient angle can't be reached, taking the cap off and switching the camera head to the other side of the bracket gives additional range. The camera has a wide viewing angle, so it's forgiving with positioning.
Ventilation around the SmartCam might be an issue if it's used in a confined space. During the time spent with the camera, it produced a noticeable amount of heat. While the heat isn't enough to burn or harm anyone, it was enough to be of concern. A representative for Samsung confirmed the warmth the device gives off, but indicated it was normal for operation.
Software setup is a breeze, with consumers being able to conduct the process through a web portal or a free app for Android or iOS. People that buy the camera need to create an account with the portal, which Samsung manages, to be able to use it. In the process, each camera is registered by its serial number to keep cameras unique if more than one is used. During the process of adding a camera to the an account, a password must be entered to prevent unwanted access. Consumers that would prefer not to use Samsung's web interface can connect directly to a less polished interface though the camera's IP address. A plugin is needed to be able to access the video via the web.
Users can connect the camera to a network using an Ethernet cable or connecting through Wi-Fi. Ethernet connections go off without a hitch, and if the SmartCam is setup over a computer it's necessary for the initial setup. With the app, users connect to the camera as a Wi-Fi device. Samsung's app offers a guided approach to setting up the camera, allowing for an easy setup when Ethernet cables aren't an option.
Even though the setup can be easy, the SmartCam runs into problems when attempting to connect to Wi-Fi networks. The SmartCam is extremely picky when it comes to connecting to networks, creating a frustration for anything other than basic wireless setups. Multiple attempts over several days were made to connect the device to an Ubiquiti UniFi access point, with only a single success that lasted less than 30 minutes. Successful connections were made with the iOS app and the web portal during that time.
Subsequent connection attempts, with all the security measures of the access point removed, wouldn't grant a connection. This could mean the connection issues are tied to allowed ports, address negotiation, the number of middlemen or problems with the UniFi itself. To be able to connect to Wi-Fi without hassle, the SmartCam had to connect directly to a DSL modem/router, bypassing an access point and a switch in the process. A night's worth of testing showed consistent connections, though it did fail to connect on one occasion.
Footage from the camera is good in most cases, giving a clear picture that allows for subjects and movement to be made out with ease. The SmartCam works during the day and at night, making video captured at any time useful. Nighttime video utilizes IR LEDs to boost the contrast for viewing distances up to 16 feet. Daytime video doesn't dull or reduce the colors, even as light shifts in the subject area.
There's a problem with the video itself, but it stems more from the expectation of the camera. Samsung states that SmartCam is a full HD 1080p camera. This is technically true, since it uses the appropriate sensor, but only in one type of situation. If footage is viewed from the camera to another device on the same network, it's in high definition. In every other case, quality is reduced to around 640 x 360 or less, as it kicks over to a relay mode. Footage is also recorded to a micro SD card, up to 64GB is size, at 720p. Video is split up in five minute chunks when recorded to the card.
Recording to a micro SD card can be considered good or bad, depending on the needs of the consumer. While Samsung's portal doesn't require a monthly fee to use, it doesn't include any sort of cloud storage. It also doesn't provide any options other than the SD card to store any video, meaning the SmartCam cannot record to a home server. While space isn't a concern because of continuous recording, it doesn't help if a thief were to take the camera with them or remove the SD card.
Sound is a little lacking, as the SmartCam picks up many sounds much louder than they should be. The thud of a box is amplified on the recording, as is readjustment of a chair. Recording picks up a number of creaks and other noises from the camera itself in the process. However, not all aspects of sound are bad. On top of recording sound, the SmartCam contains a speaker which can be used to play some music clips from the app. It also allows for two-way communication at the press of a button.
Both the app and web portal are well-rounded in their offerings, with the app giving users more to adjust. Alarm notifications and setting motion activation zones can be done from the app, but it also allows users to make small adjustments to video or capture still images. The portal isn't as comprehensive, but grants the ability to set the level of motion sensitivity and setup different types of notifications on an alarm. Both access points can use some polish, but both are functional and ease to use as they are.
On paper, the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro looks good, but the problems hold it back from being better than the competition. The wireless connection issues and the lack of ability to store footage at a central location create problems with using it for true home security. For simpler "monitoring/observing" situations in the home, the ease of setup, clear video and simple interface could be of benefit to many types of consumers: but those that are serious about security when away from home, the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro just won't cut it. At $189, a camera that is picky with networks and can easily be stolen along with its footage won't be reliable enough to ease minds.