As the Internet of things continues to connect our modern homes in smart and accessible ways, consumers are set with a new range of products to consider. Home automation and upgrades are poised to lead residential trends. One key interest to homeowners is surveillance and monitoring. What used to be an involving process to set up cameras and sensors has now been made easy by tech advances.
Although not the only one, Samsung is a major contender for convenient and affordable home monitoring. Their latest, the SmartCam HD Pro, comes in a small box that boasts some big features. Samsung sent me one to check out and see if it lives up to expectations.
Design & Connectivity
The Samsung SmartCam HD Pro is compact and hand-sized, sort of like a hockey puck or short cupcake. It has a mass roughly similar to that of a small digital camera, but with far less weight. Or it could be mistaken as a squat webcam, but with far more power. You can call it whatever you want, so long as “stealthy” or “ninja” aren’t part of the vocabulary. This camera is a bright and reflective white, sure to attract attention from any corner or shadow.
Although the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro features wireless connectivity, it requires a wall socket for power. Depending on location, extension cord(s) might be necessary. With that respect, there is a bit of limitation to placement; then again, one never has to worry about a battery running down. But if you plan to connect it to a network through an ethernet cable, then a power outlet is likely not a big deal.
The camera comes with a surface-mountable disc that works anywhere screws do. This lets you put the SmartCam HD Pro wherever you want, but lets you take it down with just a light tug. Between the flexible arm, rotating disc, and swivel mount, it’s not that hard to get the desired angle for viewing. Even if the camera is positioned upside down, the web and mobile interface can flip and/or mirror images with just a touch.
Although the body of the camera and mounting system is made of lightweight plastic, everything feels well-made. It’s not like a handheld device that is prone to accidental drops or sat-on by butts. Out of the box, the arm hinge has sufficient tension to keep the camera head positioned. A white silicone cover hides the screw that can be adjusted for more or less tension, if needed.
I don’t know if I would trust the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro as an outdoor camera. Maybe if it were placed with wind and rain protection in mind? This camera has vents for heat, which are also fantastic ways for water or moisture to enter and harm the internal electronics.
The big features within this surveillance camera are night vision, two-way talking with the built-in speaker and microphone, and a MicroSD card slot for local video storage. Although none of this is really fancy, per se, it’s very user-friendly and accessible.
Most of the configuration options are through the mobile app or monitoring website, SamsungSmartCam.com. The card slot is a big deal, since users aren’t required to pay a monthly fee for storage service. Although all of the data is saved to the card, the options allow photos from event triggers to be emailed to a Google account (or uploaded to Picassa). So, sure, maybe someone can destroy the camera and steal the evidence on the card, but you’ll still have those emailed images.
SmartCam App & Website
The box for the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro shows how setup takes only three steps: connecting, signing up, and viewing the video feed. By science, Samsung isn’t kidding about how quick and easy it is to set this up. The additional settings take a little time to become familiar with, but they’re fairly straightforward. You can expect to spend more time finding a place to mount the camera, screw in the disc, and connect the power, than setting the camera up to the network and stream live video.
One Samsung SmartCam account can include and view multiple connected cameras. The main app screen shows a list of the cameras, which can be individually named. Not only does the account have a password, but each camera can be set with its own pin too. You know. Just in case you have video feed for your sekrit fort, that you want no one else but you to view. For all those.. sekrit fort things.
The app would certainly benefit from an interface overhaul and visual facelift to streamline the experience. But that’s just a picky observation, as the features and controls are solid. The first thing one may want to do is to turn off the push notifications for motion and audio detection. At least until you’re ready to fine-tune the sensitivity and leave the camera alone to do its thing. Even if the notifications are off, events are still recorded and saved, so you can view them later on. It takes about a minute for a triggered event to be saved and available for review.
In terms of customization, virtually every aspect of the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro is accessible. Everything from speaker and microphone levels, detection sensitivity, network information, and recording options, to name a few. You can even turn off the status LED too (sneaky sneaky). Reviewing events is as easy as looking at a calendar, choosing one of the highlighted days with events, picking either motion or audio detection, then zeroing in on the desired footage. The interface displays a clock face with line segments showing each event. Use a finger to sweep to the general time zone, and pick precisely with the forward/back buttons.
While watching live footage, there are additional functions that can be performed. The Samsung SmartCam HD Pro lets you two-way speak to someone on the camera side. Just press-hold the microphone button in the app and talk. The person on the other side will hear hear your voice after a one-second delay (or so).
The built-in speaker is surprisingly loud, and the microphone is surprisingly sensitive, too. You can record and play up to 10 pre-recorded audio clips. The camera even includes three music tracks, musically equivalent to crib music from crib toys. It’s a nice touch, and likely a reminder that the SmartCam HD Pro makes for a great baby-monitor.
You can manually record live footage or take individual snapshots too. It’s useful when you’re catching something in the act and want more than the snippets the camera would deliver on its own. The brightness and image orientation can be adjusted, which is very important if the camera is flipped around in a different way from the mounting.
The Samsung SmartCam website provides the same features as the mobile app, but with one major difference. The mobile app can view footage at 640×360 at 20fps, or 1280×720 at 15fps (HQ mode). The website allows one additional quality at 1920×1080 (doesn’t inform the frames per second, though). It makes a pretty big difference in the detail of objects further away. Some live viewing options modify the camera for both mobile and web when changed. Night vision, motion detection areas, backlight, and orientation are those that affect all feeds.
I’m definitely pleased with how well the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro works. With good lighting conditions, the camera will see as far as you would with your own eyes. The wide angle is good, but focus is a separate issue. While we can focus past things like screens and fences, the camera does not. So best results will come from clean, unobstructed points of view.
The colors appear to be pretty accurate, slightly modified by a device’s screen setting. At the default motion sensitivity, the camera detects movement up to (at least) 28 feet away in shaded/indoor conditions. While it can go beyond that, the lack of zoom prevents viewing finer details. Even with nightvision activated, the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro can detect movement by at least the same distance. The only real difference is that the detail range for grayscale shapes and objects is best within 15 feet. It starts to get murky beyond that.
This camera is sensitive enough to detect a gradual change in lighting conditions, such as a sunrise or sunset. Set the camera up in a room and review the footage. There will be one where you see everything in nightvision mode suddenly switch over to color (sunrise). Depending on the intensity of the change, there will likely be a few more events where the subtle increases in natural light elicit a response from the camera as it self-adjusts. But as time goes on, the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro learns to ignore these little events and focus only on true movement (mitigated by sensitivity levels).
The lighting technologies of this Samsung camera eliminate a lot of frustrations that are common with lesser-quality monitoring systems. Even if the SmartCam HD Pro is under the influence of a bright light source, it performs minor adjustments so everything is visible evenly. There rarely is (if ever) a stark contrast between very dark and very light areas in the field of view. Background, foreground, all of it. It works similarly well in lower lighting conditions too, where the camera enhances the darkest areas to be on par with everything else.
There are five sensitivity levels for motion, ranging from low to high. Level one is the lowest, requiring sharp or rapid movement to trigger. For example, with a steady hand I can very (very) slowly wave a pen across the field of view without having the camera trigger. I’m talking a few pixels at a time, while viewing my progress from the web site on a 13” laptop screen. This setting is the one to choose if you don’t want notifications for branches or leaves blowing a bit in the wind. Level five of sensitivity triggers my pen movement with each pixel. So with that kind of range, a little experimentation will help to find the appropriate sensitivity.
False alarms can be minimized by setting detection areas. Up to three rectangles can be adjusted and placed in the field of view for better monitoring. One would want to have these overlap with windows, doors, gates, and such.
These zones are not as precise as the camera sensitivity. Objects can move in-bounds a bit before triggering detection. So when I want to monitor a window, I set the rectangle as a larger border around the window to catch anything within the window frame. The sensitivity level for movement doesn’t affect the border bounds.
The audio detection works differently than the motion in terms of sensitivity. It’s seems that the camera has some algorithm to help it ignore background or white noise. Dishwashers, lawnmowers, and similar are all but ignored. With the audio sensitivity maxed at five, my daughter can be babbling three feet away from the camera without it triggering. She’s only putting out 60dB or so of noise, but it’s at an even level.
Part of the audio trigger involves a sharp increase in sound. I can drop a pen nearby, creating 70dB of noise and the camera logs the event. However, I can also lightly drum on the table, slowly increasing the noise level until I hit 80dB, without the camera triggering. Even at sensitivity level five. However, if I’m still drumming at 80dB and then drop a pen, the camera will detect the pen hitting the floor. Although there is a constant noise source at a higher decibel level, the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro hears that pen. There’s no fooling it.
With live footage, the audio comes before the video, which leaves things a little de-synched. It takes the audio about a second from the incident to play back through the browser. The video follows after a second or two from that. A mobile device would have its audio playback about two seconds from there, with another three seconds additional or so for the video. But this occurred in and around the house. I’m sure the delays are increased from being across town. Although the mobile app isn’t as quick as the browser, the feed is still good and smooth with a 3G connection. I was pretty surprised, since sometimes I can’t even load websites quickly enough on 3G. Not bad at all.
I’ve only had the app crash on me twice, where it wouldn’t work until I rebooted my smartphone. No explanation. Aside from switching to a different app and then back, I haven’t experienced a single disconnect from the video feed at all. That’s pretty impressive, and quite likely a very important aspect.
Whether you’re looking to get your first monitoring camera, or simply need more for your home or business, the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro is a great choice. It is easy easy easy to get up and running. So much so, that you’re likely to spend more time mounting the camera and/or familiarizing with the app and features.
The primary weakness of this monitoring camera is the color. White stands out and makes a terrible choice for stealthy video recording. On the other hand, you might want people to know they’re under surveillance, which makes the bright white color perfect. The LED light can always be switched off, so no one will be certain if the camera is indeed active. But if you’re crafty, you might be able to construct a nanny-cam using a Monsters University Mike Wazowski plush toy.
In terms of how the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro handles varying lighting conditions, I feel that the performance is solid. Those who are wanting of more are going to have to hop up a few price brackets for it. The video playback is pretty good for the most part; it’s not as choppy so long as the quality and framerate match the bandwidth speed.
Best of all, the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro has no monthly storage fees. All the data is controlled by the user through the Micro SD card and/or Google account. This makes the camera a great choice for baby, pet, or elderly monitoring for those needing robust options that won’t break the budget (especially if more than one camera is needed). You can pick up a Samsung SmartCam HD Pro from Amazon right now for only $189, which is a pretty great price.