BUSINESS

Review: New Dropcam Pro a high-tech nanny cam for users with hefty data plans

10/10/2013 01:36 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
TORONTO - There's another reason to fret over your Internet plan's data cap — at least for consumers who are interested in the new Dropcam Pro, a camera that beams live video from your home onto the Internet and offers a PVR-like experience to watch it through a website or mobile app.

Think of it as an Apple-esque nanny cam. It's a slick, easy-to-use device that lets parents keep an eye on their kids or pets while at work and functions as a security camera that can automatically store video online.

It isn't terribly expensive for how well it works. But there's a catch.

The newest version of the camera, which was made available in Canada for the first time on Thursday via Dropcam.com and Amazon.ca, may gulp through more than 65 gigabytes of data a month if left running 24/7.

For many Bell and Rogers customers on a less expensive Internet plan, that's either more than their monthly data allotment or close to it — before accounting for data used during regular web surfing and video streaming through YouTube, Netflix or other websites.

Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy said the company knows data caps are more of an issue in Canada than in the U.S., where the streaming product's data requirements haven't been an issue. He believes most Canadian consumers will be fine using a Dropcam, especially if they take advantage of a lower quality streaming mode to cut their data consumption in half, or only turn on video streaming as needed.

"We did do the research on all of the major ISPs in Canada to make sure we could support the data caps that are in place," Duffy said.

"Generally we're seeing data caps that will allow you to fit Dropcam in, even if you're using some other services along with it."

After a simple setup to connect to a WiFi network, you just need to find a good spot to place the camera, within reach of an electrical outlet. It has a wide angle lens to capture a large field of view, but it can't rotate or tilt via remote control.

"That means that camera is going to be more reliable and obviously fit in a little better in the average person's living room," said Duffy of the decision to make the camera stationary.

By default, the camera is always running, although it can be manually turned off to save on data. Some users might find they don't need the camera streaming overnight, although it does have an effective night-vision mode. The camera can also be scheduled to automatically turn on and off at certain times.

Watching video live is free, but users need to pay for a subscription to have the camera record video for later playback: it's $10 a month to have the last seven days of video accessible online or $30 a month to have 30 days of video archived.

It's easy to scan through a day's worth of video as the Dropcam web interface flags moments in a timeline showing when the camera captured movement. It's also possible to be alerted by email or the mobile app when the camera detects movement or sounds.

Duffy said many Dropcam customers have asked whether the subscription service can be turned on after the fact, to access video from a previous date. The answer, he said, is no, since the company does not record video streams for non-subscribers.

"If you're not on one of the recording plans or if you turn your camera off ... no video is being recorded. We look at that as a pillar of respecting people's privacy, if they're not on a recording plan then it wouldn't make any sense to record the video," he said.

"Sometimes something will happen when they're not on a recording plan and they call us up and ask us if we could retroactively turn on recording and we'd love to be able to do that for some of the things people have had (happen) — break-ins happen or something they weren't expecting — but we just can't access the video because it doesn't exist."

Duffy insisted that users don't need to worry about their privacy when using Dropcam, unlike some video baby monitors.

"We encrypt all video, even if your WiFi network is not secure your Dropcam video is," he said, adding that by default a Dropcam stream is set to private, although users can invite friends or family to tune in.

The newer Dropcam Pro sells for $220, while an older unit with lesser video quality goes for $160. Apple and Best Buy stores will start carrying Dropcam products in Canada on Oct. 22.

Duffy said plenty of Canadian consumers previously bought a Dropcam in the U.S. and seem to have dealt with the data issue, so he's not overly concerned about it.

"We have a pretty large number of users in Canada who have imported Dropcams and have been using them for a while and other than with the most restrictive Internet plans ... we don't really have many reports of people having problems," he said.

"That was part of the reason we thought it was a great time to launch (in Canada), when users are going through the trouble of importing the cameras themselves ... it really starts to drive on our side (the motivation) to get placed in that market."