Nest Cam: A compelling piece of hardware-software

The smart home Spotify has arrived


The Nest Cam however brings a little intelligence to the game. After what was maybe an hour, it started ignoring the glimpses of car wheels. After a night of the security light coming on because, yes, there was some unimportant movement somewhere, the Nest Cam also started ignoring the same, repeated flash of light.

The result was that Nest alerts became far, far fewer while the Ring Doorbell and SpotCam kept banging them out. So we readjusted the other cameras to work similarly and stop haranguing us.

It's then that the other Nest features came into their own. You get an alert on your phone from Nest and tap it – and it leads straight into its app, seamlessly, where you can either see what's happening live (and talk with them if you wish over the mic/speaker) – or you can see small snapshots of activity from the past. Tap any one of the snapshots and you are instantly played a clip of what happened.

The other cameras let you hear and talk, but this interface is light years ahead of the competition. It is simple, intuitive and very fast. By contrast, the Ring and especially the SpotCam seem horribly outdated. You can see the SpotCam, for example, log into the app and only then get to the video. It takes a frustrating amount of time to appear. The Ring is better but the interface is very text heavy: "MOTION: Front Door. 11/14/16 5.45pm." And underneath it a long list of almost identical text bars.

The Nest has a little picture – you can often recognize who it is. And then you scroll the timeline with your finger. It's simple, practical.

Nest's alerts are also smart. They will let you know whether it has seen "activity" or it "thinks" it has spotted a person, or if it has spotted a person. This proves to be very useful, as you can make your own decision whether to bother to react immediately or not. If it says it has spotted a person and you are not expecting anyone, it is definitely worth checking out.

With the other cameras, an alert is an alert is an alert. Although we should note that the Ring's big plus is that it is intended to act as a doorbell, so it lets you know if someone has pressed its button (you don't want anyone touching the other cameras at all).

There are other nice touches with the Nest Cam – the ability to select specific zones and have them treated differently, a design ethic in the app itself that makes it easier to use and so feel less clunky. It also has a faster response: the video appears to start instantly.

When the music died

Of course the really big question – and why we waited 40 days – is what happens when the service turns off.

And the answer is: the Nest Cam becomes like every other smart home camera on the market. It is useful – you can see live pictures, get alerts. It probably acts as a mild deterrent. Whatever reason you got it in the first place is still there.

But it also feels like you lost something. Like when you stop paying for your streaming music service and keep getting interrupted by ads. Without the smart features, the system starts feeling a little clunky again, rather than an actually useful product you had on your house.

Nest cuts you off from the really useful things when you don't have that Nest Aware subscription. But, unlike previous efforts to force people into paying a monthly fee, it doesn't seem unfair. All that extra usefulness came about because the company is actively analyzing your live feed. And it seems only fair to have to pay for that ongoing service.

It is still not nothing though: $10 a month. If you are in the position where that $10 has to be budgeted for, you are not going to want to go for it (but then what are you doing buying a $200 camera in the first place?). If that $10 feels like one fewer coffees a week, then, yes, it is worth every penny.

Nest has managed to go beyond a camera with a Wi-Fi chip and a smartphone app to something that offers enough additional service that it is worth paying for continually.

That value may drop off if you have multiple cameras – each additional camera will cost an extra $5 a month. So if, for whatever reason, you have four cameras on your home, that's going to be $25 a month – which starts getting pricey.

The 30-day option is nice, especially if you are away from home for an extended period of time, but at $30 a month (plus $15 for each additional camera), we suspect it prices out most people. You could of course change plans when it suited you.

New era

But that's side news. The big thing here is that Nest has cracked a smart home barrier. Its combination of hardware and software has become sufficiently compelling to start opening a gap between the traditional market and the smart home market.

We predict it is something that other smart home cameras will immediately start looking into. With the same software and services, both the Ring and SpotCam would be equally as useful.

This style of additional service – real intelligence brought into the "smart" home, rather than requiring users to add their own intelligence to relatively dumb devices – is the future. And in a few years we'll wonder how we ever lived without them. ®

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