On the whole, gadgets designed for the connected home still have some convincing to do. Take smart thermostats that control your home's heating, for example: they're great unless they malfunction, as Google's Hive did earlier this year, to send temperatures soaring through the roof.
Similarly designed to keep you safe but with no tanger of toasting your toes, Wi-Fi connected home security cameras are rising in popularity due to their ease-of-use and relatively low cost compared to traditional fixed models.
SpotCam, a lesser-known name in the market, is looking to take on the main players with its SpotCam HD camera. It's a budget offering that comes with 720p recording and both free and paid-for cloud storage services. Competition is fierce, with Netgear's Arlo, Belkin's NetCam HD, Ring's StickUp cam, Nest's Dropcam and Withings' Home camera all vying for a place on your shelf. (You might also want to check out Parrot's Flower Power which is happier when nestled in a plant pot.)
Amazon is currently selling the SpotCam HD for £119 in the UK and $129 in the US (around AUS$168). It has more than a whiff of Nest's DropCam about it, possessing a similar feature set but operated from a less polished software interface. It's also £40/$56/74 cheaper, so if you're satisfied with the SpotCam's 720p recording quality (rather than 1080p which Nest offers) and don't require as many features, the SpotCam's lower price tag may make it the more attractive option.
The Spotcam HD is more conspicuous than its Netgear and Belkin competitors - and it's even taller than the Nest DropCam. Clad in white plastic with a large black lens and grey SpotCam logo, it's one of the longer security cameras which makes it tricky to hide out of view.
The camera's round base is wider than the camera itself, making it difficult to lay on a side; however, SpotCam has added the option to rotate the capture area so that you can mount the camera's base to a wall.
Around the back is a switch used for configuring the SpotCam, alongside a power connector that plugs into the mains using an AC adapter on the end of a 10-foot long cable. The camera is light and easy to move around the house if you want to monitor different locations at certain times of the day.
Setup and usage
Setting up the SpotCam HD takes a matter of minutes, with the first positioning it to monitor the area you want to keep an eye on. I set it up to watch my dog wander around the living room, which will no doubt be one of the more common uses for this camera.
Its 110-degree field of view is easily enough to monitor a medium-to-large sized room, though it's worth bearing in mind that the clarity of images increases the closer the camera is to objects. After plugging in the camera's power adapter to the mains, I was then able to run through the setup process and choose my home Wi-Fi router using the camera's software. Note that you can only connect the SpotCam to a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network as 5GHz isn't supported.
There are two ways to use the camera, either as a private or public device. Keeping it private means that only you can view your live stream, along with whoever you invite to watch it (by way of inputting one or more email addresses).
Making your stream public means you've given your permission for SpotCam to embed your stream on its website. A quick visit to SpotCam's website lets you view a number of different streams, which at the time of writing include somebody's garden, an office in California and an aircraft hanger in New Zealand.
The SpotCam HD produces clear images and a reasonably sharp picture, although it clearly doesn't pack as much detail as 1080p offerings such as the Nest DropCam. It works well at night too thanks to a nightvision mode that uses 12 high-power infra-red LEDs to light up objects, people and pets in the dark. Night vision mode is excellent and does a great job of illuminating what's in the room.
Recording takes place automatically when the camera detects movement. Alternatively, you can watch a livestream and hit the record button manually to capture what's going on at any given moment. The SpotCam software can be configured to send alerts (with an accompanying snapshot) to an email address when it detects motion to let you know when the camera has captured activity, and motion sensitivity can raised or lowered. This comes in useful when you want to recieve more or fewer alerts.
The camera has an in-built microphone that lets you have a two-way conversation with whoever is listening in on the livestream. Although it works, the amount of static produced muddles what can be heard making it difficult to have a fluid conversation without straining to hear.
Simple to set up, affordable and offering a decent level of video quality, the SpotCam HD is a no-frills entrant into the home surveillance camera market. Although it doesn't offer 1080p video recording like some of its competitors, its 720p quality is sufficient for capturing basic video feeds and sharing them with friends, family or the world. The SpotCam HD is, however, let down by poor microphone audio quality and a fairly basic software set that you need to tinker with for a while before you get truly comfortable with it.