Resolution: 1080p at 30fps
I/O: USB 2.0
Software: ClearOne Collaborate
OS Support: Windows, macOS, Linux, Chrome OS
Size: 4.7 x1.5 x 1.2 inches
Weight: 0.4 pounds
There has never been a more important time to look good on camera. Unfortunately, laptop makers continue to fail us with awful webcams, even as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forces all meetings to be video chats. The solution is to buy an external webcam, one that mounts to your laptop or monitor.
Our recommended webcam has, for as long as we can remember, been the Logitech C920 HD Pro. But now the competition is growing fierce and the ClearOne Unite 20 Pro has arrived to give business users another option. This 1080p webcam features an ultra-wide-angle lens, capable of capturing an entire workspace instead of just your mugshot. Photos and videos taken with the ClearOne are bright and vivid and provide a huge improvement over integrated solutions.
But there are some downsides, including the hefty price tag and poor microphone quality. Is the Unite 20 Pro going to dethrone the C920 Pro? No. But it might be a better option for you depending on your needs.
ClearOne Unite 20 Pro: Price and compatibility
The Unite 20 Pro webcam retails at $105 (currently on sale for $89), making it one of the more expensive options on the market and considerably pricier than the Logitech C920 ($79).
You won't run into any issues using the Unite 20 Pro on your laptop or desktop as the webcam supports every OS, including Windows 7 and up, Linux, macOS 10.10 and up, and Chrome OS.
ClearOne Unite 20 Pro: Design
At 4.7 inches wide, the ClearOne is much chunkier than my trusty Logitech C920 HD Pro (3.7 inches), which, need I remind you, was released in 2012. The Logitech has been the gold standard of webcams since its release, still, you'd hope for progress after nearly a decade.
The cylindrical base of the ClearOne extends to the left and right of a central camera module, and the lens on the ClearOne juts out from the base unlike on the C920 Pro where the lens is flush with the body. Two sets of microphones flank the camera on the bottom corners and some "ClearOne" branding is visible on the front.
Where the ClearOne has an edge over other webcams is with its lens cover. It's a simple rubberized hood that you manually put over the lens, but hey, it's much more attractive than Scotch tape.
The ClearOne uses the same method as the C920 to mount to your laptop or monitor. A flexible angled arm in the back presses against the back of your monitor or the lid of your laptop, while a flat rubberized piece hangs over the front of your screen to hold it in place.
I had no problems mounting the ClearOne on my monitor or laptop, however, it's time for this attachment system to evolve. It was fine when the C920 HD Pro was released, but with display bezels being trimmed down on modern screens, the overhanging bit on the webcam could potentially block some of the screen. That definitely happened when I used the ClearOne with an HP e27d G74 monitor and Dell XPS 15 laptop — a few lines of pixels were blocked in the top-center of my screen, giving me flashbacks to Apple's notorious iPhone notch.
On a positive note, the ClearOne felt stable on whichever device I mounted it to. There wasn't any wobble or rocking, even during voice chats with my XPS in my lap. The weight seems evenly balanced, and while the ClearOne is made entirely of black plastic, it feels sturdy.
ClearOne Unite 20 Pro: Picture quality
So the ClearOne isn't as sleek as other options, but the picture quality from its 1080p CMOS sensor is good. I tested the Unite 20 Pro by taking photos and videos in a well-lit room, a dimly lit room, and with a bright light pointed directly at me to test the exposure. I then took those same shots with the Logitech Pro 920 and compared them side-by-side.
Overall, the ClearOne Unite 20 is a massive step up from most integrated laptop webcams, but it lags just behind the C920 HD Pro. Even then, the ClearOne has a few perks over the Logitech. One benefit is the ultra-wide-angle lens, which has a significantly larger field-of-view than the C920. I consider this a "benefit," but it's possible some might want a narrow lens that focuses on their face and not everything else around them. Whatever the case, the ClearOne captured almost my entire office whereas the Logitech caught only a bit more space beyond my shoulders.
The Unite 20 Pro also took a bright image under all lighting conditions. The above image is a selfie taken with the ClearOne in a well-lit room, with the overhead lights turned on and some light streaking in from a window in front of me. As you can see, there is plenty of light coming through the lens; you can see the color variances in my face and minimal grain or digital noise, even when zooming in. This isn't the sharpest image — my beard is more of a blob than anything — but it looks clear and the colors are accurate.
In fact, it did an even better job than the C920 in this round. The Logitech took a darker image that obscured my hair and beard. Its narrowed picture was also slightly grainier than the one taken on the ClearOne Unite 20 Pro. However, you can see more details in my face on the C920 because, unlike the Unite 20, it didn't iron out the flaws in my skin (for better or worse). The C920 also did a better job of capturing my complexion — I look a tad pale in the Unite 20 Pro shot.
The photos and videos I took in a dimly lit room were a dead heat between the ClearOne and Logitech. There were some minor differences, but I was very pleased with both cameras. Comparing them, the ClearOne (as seen above), apart from taking a much wider shot, captured cooler colors, which helped separate the different red and peach tones in my skin. The C920's colors lean warm, so my face looked more uniformly orange. The webcams were similarly detailed with the ClearOne showing just a tad more noise.
The Logitech flexed its muscles in the third shot when I pointed a standing light at maximum brightness on one side of my face. The C920 was astonishingly good in this scenario, capturing sharp details and natural skin tones. With a bit of extra light coming in, the C920 took the only photo I'd want to post to my social media accounts. Yes, the illuminated side of my face was washed out, but the exceptional details in the rest of the image made up for it.
The Unite 20 Pro didn't do a poor job under these conditions, but the gulf in quality between it and the C920 HD was wider than in any other. A larger portion of my face was washed out in the ClearOne shot, and the details in my face were more blurry. I couldn't see individual strands of hair in my beard or even pores in my skin as I could in the Logitech photo.
ClearOne Unite 20 Pro: Mic quality
Up until now, barring a few hiccups, the Unite 20 Pro was keeping up with the big shots. That's why it's such a shame that the mic quality pales in comparison. During the Laptop Mag morning meeting, my colleague said I sounded OK, but that the echoey noise you hear from a poor microphone was present. And there’s no noise cancellation; several people on the call complained about the clacking of my mechanical keyboard as I typed notes.
The mic revealed its deficiencies when I played back a video from the ClearOne and compared it to that of the C920. You know when your video connection is poor so videos don't render and the audio sounds terrible? That's what my voice sounded like on the Unit 20 Pro compared to the Logitech.
My tone was distant and sharp, its bassier notes turned into piercing trebles. There was also a hint of scratchiness, the sort of grating noise you get from a video shot on an old cell phone. On the C920, my voice had a deeper, more relaxed tone.
ClearOne Unite 20 Pro: Software
There isn't any utility software for the Unite 20 Pro, however, ClearOne has its own video chat app called Collaborate Space. It combines video meetings with cloud collaboration tools. Think Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams. You can read more about it on the ClearOne website.
Normally, it wouldn't bother me if a webcam didn't come with an app — after all, there's only so much tinkering you can do with a webcam. However, I did run into one annoying hiccup with the Unite 20 Pro; switching to the external webcam when using the Windows Camera app led to an error message claiming there was a conflict because another app was using the webcam.
Fair enough. However, it still didn't work after I closed every app that could possibly be using the camera. And when I plugged in the Logitech C920 with all the same apps running? The Windows 10 Camera app lets me switch right to it, no questions asked.
If you absolutely need a wide-angle webcam with good video quality, the ClearOne Unite 20 Pro is a solid, if overpriced, option. It delivers a bright, sharp picture whether you're taking photos or in a video meeting with colleagues. And while it's considerably bulkier than other options on the market, the Unite 20 Pro has a flexible mounting system and feels sturdy.
And yet, most people shouldn't spend $105, or even $89 (if you find it on sale), for the Unite 20 Pro. Yes, the picture quality is good, but the microphones are poor, and the unit is chunky. Instead, you could get the legendary Logitech C920 HD Pro for $79. You'd be saving money and getting a webcam with a more compact design, similar if not better picture quality, and much cleaner microphones.
But as I mentioned, if you absolutely need an extra wide-angle lens and a lens cover — or if the Logitech C920 HD Pro is sold out (which it often is) — the Unite 20 Pro will do the job — and be a huge step up from any integrated laptop webcam.