Home security is becoming rapidly more affordable and more accessible to those with little technical knowledge. The new $199 Dropcam Pro is the latest such example. In addition to packing a much better lens and sensor than its predecessor, this Wi-Fi security camera is even easier to set up than last year's version, and works more seamlessly with your smartphone.
The Dropcam Pro has essentially the same design as last year's version, which makes it more conspicuous than lipstick-size cameras such as the iZon. The camera is housed in a small plastic disc that's 2.6 inches in diameter at its widest point. The camera attaches to a teardrop-shaped metal bracket that can be mounted to a wall using the included screws and anchor bolts. In the back of the Dropcam is a microUSB port to power the camera; the company provides a 10-foot-long USB cable and plug, which makes it easier to place the camera where you prefer.
Dropcam simplified the setup process for the Pro camera, so iOS users no longer have to plug the Pro into a computer to get it up and running. After downloading the app to our iPhone 5s (Dropcam provided us with a beta version of its new app), we then powered on the Dropcam Pro by plugging it into an outlet.
Next, the iOS app walked us through setting up a free account, and then searched for the Dropcam Pro via Bluetooth. After it found the camera, we selected the Wi-Fi network we wanted to use with the device. The app automatically updated the camera's firmware, and began streaming video to our phone. In all, it took about two minutes.
The setup process is a little more involved for Android users. Like the Dropcam HD, you'll need to plug the Pro into a computer via USB to configure it to work with your Wi-Fi network.
In addition to setting a recording schedule based on time, the Pro can automatically start recording when you (or more specifically, your phone) leave your home.
A not-yet-implemented beta feature will allow the Dropcam to send alerts, or ignore specific activities it sees. For example, if the camera is pointed at your front door, you can have it ignore trees moving and people walking by on the sidewalk, but send an alert if someone walks toward your front door. That's pretty clever.
As with the Dropcam HD, a small speaker in the back of the Pro lets you talk to whoever you see on camera, but it's not very loud. You're more likely to confuse your pets than scare off an intruder.
The Dropcam app remains intuitive to use. When you open the app, you're presented with thumbnail views of all the cameras connected to your account. Select one, and it shows a live view, which lags a second or so behind actual events. At the bottom of the screen is a 30-second rewind button, and a microphone icon that lets you send your voice to the Dropcam Pro's speaker. In this view, you can pinch and zoom up to 8X, and pan around the screen.
When held in portrait mode, an Activity Bar appears at the bottom of the screen. Press this bar, and you can scroll through a timeline of all recorded events; selecting one will play back that event on your phone. A gear icon in the upper left lets you adjust camera settings, such as alerts.
Also at the bottom of the home screen is a button for Featured Cameras; select this button, and you can view other Dropcams whose video feeds users have made public. You can do the same with yours, too.
The Dropcam Pro has a 6-element glass lens and a sensor twice as big as last year's model. Daytime video taken with the camera was bright, crisp and colorful. When compared with the Dropcam HD, our stream looked much clearer much clearer, like going from a standard definition TV to an HDTV.
The Pro currently shoots video in 720p, but company reps said that it's capable of 1080p. The Dropcam Pro also has a wider field of view -- 130 degrees to the HD's 107-degree view.
Using either the iOS app or the Web interface, we could zoom in up to 8X to any area, although the image isn't as crisp; when we zoomed in to a Grover doll sitting on a shelf behind us, it was harder to make out his details. Also, you can only use this feature with live video, not recorded footage.
When it came to recording in the dark, the difference between the Dropcam Pro and the Dropcam HD was literally night and day. Where the HD's video displayed almost nothing, the Pro's night vision (in black and white) made it very easy to distinguish objects in our office.
Pricing and Plans
The Dropcam Pro costs $199, which is $50 more than the Dropcam HD. Users who don't sign up for Dropcam's cloud video recording will get alerts via email and the smartphone app, but won't be able to save any footage.
Dropcam offers two tiers for its cloud-based video recording service. A plan that saves up to 7 days of video costs $9.95 per month, or $99 per year, and the plan that saves up to 30 days of video costs $29.95 per month, or $299 per year. Each additional camera will add $4.95 per month.
While its first Wi-Fi camera was a pretty good product, the Dropcam Pro is even better. Not only is its setup easier (at least for iOS users), but video is crisper, and its use of geolocation to automatically start and stop recording is a smart combination of technologies. Add in much better low-light performance than last year's model and you have a winner. While it's hard to disguise the fact that it is a camera, the Dropcam Pro is an excellent device for the security-conscious.