Nest's streaming cameras offer a great way to keep an eye on things back at the ranch, assuming your home broadband connection is up to the task.
Security cameras with real-time alerts aren't just for catching burglars in the act, they can also offer peace of mind if you've got school-aged children coming home to an empty house or pets who spend the day alone.
Consumer-grade streaming cameras have been around for years, and there are plenty to choose from, but smart home pioneer Nest adds a few clever features to help stand out from the crowd. At the same time Nest has also launched its smart smoke/ carbon monoxide alarm in Australia, but we're still waiting on the Nest Smart Thermostat.
The cameras aren't cheap; the Nest Cam Indoor and Outdoor models cost $319 each, plus there's the optional Nest Aware cloud-based monitoring service which costs $14 per month for the first camera and $7 for each subsequent camera with Nest throwing in 30 days for free.
Perhaps more importantly, Nest's streaming cameras can also take a high toll on your broadband connection which will be an instant deal-breaker in some homes.
Easy to set up
It's simple to link a camera to your home WiFi network and Nest account by downloading the iOS/Android Nest app and scanning the QR code on the back on the camera. As a fallback it's also possible to configure the cameras using a desktop browser.
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Both cameras are easy to install around your home, offering 1080p resolution and a 130-degree field of view thanks to a slight fisheye lens.
The Nest Cam Indoor features a flat magnetic base, along with a screw-in wall plate, so you can stick it pretty much anywhere as long as it's within range of your WiFi network and the 3-metre power cable can reach a wall socket.
You can stand the Indoor camera upright on a flat surface or attach it to the wall and then tilt the camera up and down, as well as twist it from side to side. There's the option to flip the image if you need to install the camera upside-down on the ceiling.
Meanwhile the Nest Cam Outdoor features a curved magnetic back and comes with a concave wall plate that has a 7.5-metre power cable. Once the camera is attached to the base it's easy to tilt it in any direction up to around 50 degrees. While the outdoor camera is weatherproof, Nest recommends not installing it in direct sunshine.
Keep an eye on things
You can access your cameras via the Nest mobile app or a desktop browser, with the option of two-factor authentication to help keep out uninvited guests.
While the cameras are handy for seeing what's happening at home right now, Nest's strength is its intelligent alerts system which can send emails or pop-up alerts to your phone. Unfortunately most of these features rely on you shelling out for a Nest Aware subscription each month.
Even if you don't have a subscription, each camera will notify you when it hears a noise or sees something move. You're not bombarded with messages every time someone walks in front of the camera, instead it notifies you at the first sign of activity after which it uses intelligent alerts to only notify you of "important activity".
You're sent a photo of the scene which isn't always very helpful if the culprit is far from the camera but you can click on the link to see a live feed.
At this point you can see and hear what's happening in the room and use two-way audio to speak to your unexpected guest, although the audio can be a bit unreliable (perhaps a bandwidth issue, although they were tested on 100/2 Mbps cable broadband). The picture is crisp and the cameras do a good job of coping with brightbacklights.They're infrared cameras, so they can still see clearly at night.
Unfortunately you need a Nest Aware subscription if you want to see an instant replay or scroll back in time. Without this, the cameras will be of little use to some people.
To cut down on alerts, you can adjust the microphone sensitivity, or else disable sound or motion notifications completely. Nest Aware subscribers can also create custom zones within each camera's field of view, which is handy if you don't want to detect pets walking across the floor or trees moving outside the window. Nest Aware applies extra intelligent scene and audio analysis to reduce false positives, plus subscribers can save clips and create timelapse videos.
Nest Aware subscribers can also opt to only receive alerts when a person walks into the room, with smart image analysis able to recognise human movement (but not recognise specific faces, that requires the Nest Cam IQ which isn't sold in Australia). Subscribers can also take advantage of intelligent sound alerts, recognising people talking or dogs barking.
To further cut down on alerts and better manage your privacy you can schedule specific cameras to switch off at specific times of day. You can also automatically disable certain cameras when the Nest mobile app detects you're at home, although this chews through your smartphone battery like all GPS-enabled apps which monitor your location while they're running in the background.
Alternatively you can keep the cameras running but stop alerts when you're at home, which might be important depending on the types of events you're watching for.
Thankfully it's possible to add family members to your Nest account and control the cameras and alerts depending on who is home which is important if you don't want alerts on your phone when you go to the shops on the weekend while others stay at home.
Apart from smartphones, you can use Works With Nest-compatible low-powered Bluetooth GPS trackers to tell the cameras when you're home the kind of thing you could easily attach to house keys or a school bag.
If you don't live alone there are obviouslyprivacy and trust issues to be considered. The Nest Cams helped solve the mystery of my missing sunglasses; they were misplaced during a party so we went back to the video replay to find their hiding spot, but you can image how this power could be abused.
Look to the cloud
Unlike some security cameras the Nest Cams don't store any video onboard, instead they upload to the cloud constantly which obviously presents major challenges if your home is starved of bandwidth.
The upside of streaming to the cloud is that you can get an instant replay at any time or scroll back up to 30 days with thumbnails marking events of interest, but of course only if you're paying for the Nest Aware subscription.
The downside is that you're chewing through a hell of a lot of bandwidth, with that data probably counting towards your monthly usage limit. Even if you don't have a Nest Aware account, the cameras must upload constantly for you to receive alerts. With no onboard storage or backup power, the Nest Cams are useless if an intruder cuts the internet and/or power to your house before breaking in the window although you're sent alerts if your cameras are offline for a while.
In the picture
The cameras offer a sharp 1080p resolution with 8x digital zoom but even with a 2 Mbps uplink this wasdialled down to 720p by default, at which point a single Nest Cam is constantly uploading at 400 kbps leaping past 1 Mbps per second when something moves. At this rate a single camera will chew through around 120 GB per month.
These bandwidth demands are simply ludicrous in a country like Australia where many homes face monthly data limits and would be lucky to have access to 1 Mbps upload speeds. Thankfully you can adjust the picture quality to allow for your bandwidth, dialling it up to 1080p uploading at 1.2 Mbps and chewing through 300 GB per month or down to 360p (150 kbps, 30 GB per month).
Even at the lowest settings these bandwidth demands might still be too much if you have several cameras around your home, so you might curb their thirst by using the advanced settings to disable certain cameras at certain times.
Even if you're lucky enough to have access to the NBN you'd want to be on at least the 25/5 Mbps speed tier, as a basic 12/1 plan won't cut it. Heaven forbid everyone in your neighbourhood owns a few Nest Cams or your peak hour broadband traffic jams could get a lot worse.
So what's the verdict?
Like many American products, Nest Cams are designed for a world where data andbandwidth are seemingly infinite resources. In returnthe camerasoffer some impressive tricks but only if your home broadband can cope and you're prepared to shell out for the Nest Aware subscription.
To be fair some rivals also demand a monthly fee for cloud video storage, so it's important to do your research before taking the plunge. If you won't sign up for Nest Aware then your money is probably best spent elsewhere, especially if you'll be forced to dial down the picture quality so you're not making the most of the Nest Cam's 1080p resolution.
In a perfect worldNest Cams could be the perfect home surveillancetool, but for now they'll be impractical in many Australian homes until we sort out our nation's broadband woes.
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