Nest Cam Hands-On Review

Overall Rating3 out of 5
The Nest Cam is slim and includes a magnetic base—so you can mount the camera to metal, use the stand provided, or use the traditional wall mount.

The last thing we need is another security camera, but who can resist the most tempting camera of all . . . Nest Cam, a.k.a. the Dropcam replacement? We tested the Dropcam Pro well over a year ago and though we liked it, we didn’t love it. Yet it remained an immovable crowd favorite for us. It became the measure of what “good” looks like and how easy technology should be.

Nest cam compared to Dropcam Pro

The body

The Nest Cam is slimmer and is now clearly a Nest product—as the word NEST has replaced DROPCAM on the packaging and on the camera body. It also includes a magnetic base, so that you can mount the camera to metal in addition to using the stand or the traditional wall mount. Finally, the Nest Cam includes a tripod mount for those who are into that sort of thing.

Performance

The Nest Cam has 8 IR LEDS (same as the Dropcam Pro), but they state that it has improved night-vision performance. When we compared our Dropcam Pro night vision shots to the Nest Cam night vision shots, we would agree. The image is more crisp, since the Nest Cam can record in 1080p. However, the Dropcam Pro was also capable of recording in 1080p but never did. The difference is that recording in 1080p resolution with Nest Cam is optional, though you can manually reduce the resolution to improve performance based on your available bandwidth.

The app

The new app for iOS and Android will support all your Nest and Dropcam devices including the Dropcam HD, Dropcam Pro, Nest Protect Smoke Alarm, and the Nest Learning Thermostat. You can use the app to connect events between devices. For example, if Nest Protect detects a fire, Nest Cam will record a video clip.

Emergency clips are free—though everyday recording will still require a cloud subscription. Side note, there are a few features in the Dropcam app that aren’t not yet a part of the Nest app like control by location, email alerts, and video sharing. They plan to add these features to the Nest app but will support the Dropcam app until all features are ready for use.

The cloud

Nest has launched a Cloud Service called Nest Aware. The entry-level plan saves 10 days of video for $10 per month. This is the same cost as the Dropcam plan, which only recorded seven days of video—a slight win? Maybe.

Like the Dropcam Cloud plan, Nest Aware includes video storage, a time-lapse feature, create and share clips, and Activity Zones. Unlike the old cloud service, the new service is said to include better alerts, thanks to face detection and depth sensing.

Warranty

The Nest Cam has a two-year limited warranty, whereas Dropcam Pro only had a one-year.

In summary, the primary difference is the stand and the fact that the app, cloud service, and camera are all branded Nest. Compared to the DropCam Pro, the Nest Cam has the same field of view, the same frames per second, the same amount of IR LEDs, and the same price.

First impressions of Nest Cam and installation

We ordered our Nest Cam the first day it was launched on Amazon. The box looked similar to the Dropcam Pro with a redesigned shape and a showy wood toned under box. Regardless of the negative reviews already appearing on Amazon, we were excited. But when we first saw the camera, we thought This looks basic.

The camera looked as expected but with a giant “beware of choking” sticker prominently placed near the camera end of the cord rather than the plug end of the cord. We tried to move on, but other things felt off as well. The entire package felt chock-full of thoughtless design decision.

Nest Cam installation took about 10 minutes, not including app download or opening the packaging. It was easy, though it took extra coaxing to get things to connect. But the app, oh the app . . . it fell into the thoughtless design category for us as well.

Hands-on test of Nest Cam and Nest Aware

The first day of video testing with the Nest Cam showed that some of the concerns voiced on Amazon were right—and we found other issues too. The camera’s video lags, and the lag got worse as time went on. It started at about 6 seconds, moved to 15 seconds, then to 30, and then to over 45 seconds.

On other days, the lag time remained steady at about six-to-seven seconds, but the lag on the two-way audio feature rendered it almost unusable. It was reminiscent of the problems we faced while testing two-way voice on the Dropcam Pro.

In Nest’s defense, we tested the camera at 1080p. While we could have reduced the resolution, we felt that Nest Cam needed to step up. If Nest hopes to survive in the home security camera world, the Nest Cam needs to function in HD, the way competitors like Canary do.

Nest-Night-Vision

Nest Cam’s motion alerts were problematic. On the first day of testing, we didn’t receive a single motion alert though we really tried to trigger one. On other days, they were sporadic at best.

Compared to other security cameras, like Netatmo Welcome and Canary, Nest failed. We’d set off an event, and 10 minutes later Nest would send a push notification or we’d let it clear for an hour (in case Nest still uses the policy of not sending more than 1 alert every 30 minutes) and we’d walk in front of all the cameras and they would all send motion alerts–except Nest Cam. Then 30 minutes later, we’d get two alerts from Nest Cam.

There is a fine line between helpful and annoying when it comes to alerts, but Nest has erred too far on the conservative side. On the positive side, Nest can record constantly and if you pay a monthly fee, you can view recorded footage whenever you want.

FeatureAs promisedAs tested
Automated arm and disarm / geofencingComing soonDid not work
Manual arm and disarmSet your location as home or awayDid not work
Schedule-based arm and disarmCreate a time based schedule for Nest Cam to followWorks
Activity zonesOnly recieve alerts if motion is detected in pre-designated areas.Works with paid Nest Aware subscription but it's tricky.
Live-streamingFree and includedLag time issues
Automated night vision modeSwaps to night vision in low lightWorks
Two-way talkCommunicate through the cameraLag time issues
Talk chimePlays a chime to let people know you are about to talkWorks
Event historyView recorded events and time stamped historyWorks with paid Nest Aware subscription.
Zoom enhancementWill sharpen the zoomed imageWorked sometimes but usually froze the app or the app just spun without results.
NotificationsNot sureOffline notification on a 30 minute delay
Feature
Automated arm and disarm / geofencing
Manual arm and disarm
Schedule-based arm and disarm
Activity zones
Live-streaming
Automated night vision mode
Two-way talk
Talk chime
Event history
Zoom enhancement
Notifications
As promised As tested
Coming soon Did not work
Set your location as home or away Did not work
Create a time based schedule for Nest Cam to follow Works
Only recieve alerts if motion is detected in pre-designated areas. Works with paid Nest Aware subscription but it's tricky.
Free and included Lag time issues
Swaps to night vision in low light Works
Communicate through the camera Lag time issues
Plays a chime to let people know you are about to talk Works
View recorded events and time stamped history Works with paid Nest Aware subscription.
Will sharpen the zoomed image Worked sometimes but usually froze the app or the app just spun without results.
Not sure Offline notification on a 30 minute delay

Thoughts on the Nest app

We don’t love the new app. Nest’s working to improve the app and add features like automated arm/disarm based upon geofencing, but currently the app has limited functionality with poor performance. The app:

  • Crashes and freezes, especially when you use the enhanced zoom.
  • May require additional tech for additional functionality, like for marking you as home or away.
  • Needs a computer to run activity alerts.
  • Seems more focused on other products like the Nest Thermostat.
  • Has a poorly designed home screen.

At the end of the day, we were sorely disappointed. This is what we’ve waited for? This is the brainchild of Google, Nest, and Dropcam? No Apple Watch app? No free cloud storage option? No outdoor camera? And we still didn’t get a functional camera and app?

Nest Aware cloud recording subscription

If you’re willing to shell out the money for Nest Aware, it does add several cool features. All new Nest Cam purchases come with a free subscription to Nest Aware, so you do get a little try before you buy—but at the same time, it’s misleading, since the free trial ends around the time your return period ends. Will you still love Nest without all the added features? Who knows.

The video history feature is our personal favorite. Through the history screen, you can view a chronological list of all events and click into an event to watch recorded footage. You can also view footage from a computer, which is handy.

In theory, you should be able to use the player controls at the bottom of the app screen to skip to previous events, go back 30 seconds, go forward 30 seconds, skip to the next event, or go live. We weren’t able to get the buttons to work correctly—though that could be user error, since we found the process confusing.

Our second-favorite Nest Aware feature is the activity zone feature. With activity zones, you’ll receive notifications on your phone if Nest detects motion in areas that you designate. For example, the camera can monitor your front door but ignore everything around it. You can even set up multiple zones—like have Nest monitor front door and your window but ignore the rest of the room.

The problem is that your room is 3D, but Nest looks at it as 2D. In my example below, you want the camera to monitor my window but anytime someone walks in front of the window (like the stick figure guy sitting on the couch), you’ll get an alert. You have to get creative with placement to see what helps reduce the noise of too many alerts.

Activity Zones

Nest Aware can be purchased as a monthly subscription or a yearly subscription. Also, you can mix and match plans. For example, you may have one camera on the 10 day plan and another on 30 though discounts will apply differently if you mix and match. The subscription plan adds the following features:

On phones, tablets, and computers

  • Video history
  • Checkout motion, sound, and activity zone alerts

Only on a computer

  • Expand video history to see a summary view or minute-by-minute view
  • Create activity zones
  • Create and share clips
  • Make and share timelapses

On top of these features Nest Aware makes alerts better by using advanced algorithms. Motion sensing features like face detection and depth sensing help improve the activity alert accuracy. These improvements require a lot of computing power, much more than Nest Cam can deliver by itself. So we have to use powerful cloud servers to deliver this state of the art detection. This is why Nest Aware is a subscription service.

Final thoughts

The problem with the new Nest Cam is that it hasn’t gotten any smarter. While other cameras are offering activity zones for free and recognizing familiar faces, Nest Cam remains stagnant. It won’t be difficult to dethrone this edition of the Nest Cam. A camera simply needs to come along with features that make use simple. If you want to sit the camera on a shelf and forget about it, Nest Cam just can’t do that. It requires way too much time and effort.

If you’re still set on Nest Cam, we still think it can still prove to be very useful depending on how you use it. It just requires more time and effort to customize and figure out. You can purchase it from Amazon.com for $199.00.

Nest is available in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

Do you own the Nest Cam? What are your thoughts? You can check out our top-recommended home security cameras here.