ArcSoft Simplicam review: Can Simplicam's new face recognition feature see more?

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.9
  • Features: 8.0
  • Usability: 8.0
  • Design: 8.0
  • Performance: 7.5
Pricing Unavailable
Reviewed:

The Good In addition to the standard motion and sound alerts, Arcsoft's $150 Simplicam has a face recognition feature. Its cloud storage fees start at just $5/month.

The Bad I scanned four faces into the system to test face recognition and it often misidentified them.

The Bottom Line The Arcsoft Simplicam takes on popular Wi-Fi cameras like the Dropcam Pro with its multiple alert options and low cloud storage fees, but its face recognition is still very much in the beta stage.

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Editors' note, January 14, 2015: The review and rating has been updated to account forthe new face recognition feature and improved setup and email alerts. ArcSoft sent me a new Simplicam for re-testing.

ArcSoft's $150 Simplicam struck me as "just another Wi-Fi security camera" at first. It has all the usual specs -- 720p resolution, Android and iOS mobile apps, a Web app, live streaming, email and push alerts, night vision, two-way talk, and optional cloud storage. On closer inspection, though, this mid-price security camera has a couple of things that separate it from the competition.

Cloud storage fees typically start around $10 per month, but ArcSoft's partnership with cloud service and app purveyor, Closeli, allows for a lower, $5/month entry-point for folks who want added features, but not the Dropcam-or-Belkin-level cost.

Cloud subscribers can also get notifications based on face detection. At first, it wouldn't tell you who it was recording, just that it saw someone, but a recent software update will give Cloud subscribers access to a beta face recognition feature.

For these reasons, Simplicam impresses and in some ways even surpasses pricier models. Still, its face recognition tech is in need of some significant tweaks. If ArcSoft can fix this, Simplicam will have more features than the $200 Dropcam Pro, our highest rated security camera to date.

Simplicam is a glossy black camera with a silver stand. The stand has a unique pivot design that lets you rotate it in many different directions. The camera itself looks nice; it's definitely reminiscent of the Dropcam Pro. While I still prefer the sleek look of the Dropcam Pro, Simplicam's slightly awkward, multi-angle stand gives you much greater flexibility. It also comes with a long, ribbon-like power cord and a black mount with hardware for wall installations.

The Simplicam setup instructions are straightforward enough, but I ran into some roadblocks along the way. The Closeli app is available on Android and iOS devices and walks you through a series of steps -- plug in the camera, press the Set button on the back until it beeps, scan the QR code until the camera beeps again -- and then wait for it to connect.

simplicam2.jpg
The original setup process with the first review unit. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

If the LED on the camera begins to flash green, you know that it's on its way to connecting. I downloaded the app on my iPhone 5 and, unfortunately, the first dozen tries didn't return a flashing green light. I moved it various distances from the router to confirm the Wi-Fi connection to no avail.

Then, I tried it on a Motorola Droid Maxx and on an iPhone 5s using the same login information. Those phones were able to connect, but only after a series of confusing glitches, which consistently returned one of two error messages pictured below. The first error message necessitated a full reset.

simplicam3.jpg
Error messages while setting up the first Simplicam. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

The second error message was erroneous. In other words, when I selected "Cancel setup," the app returned to the main screen with a fully functioning camera already live streaming. I was eventually able to get the app to work on my iPhone 5 via the second error message. If you get that same message, try canceling to setup to see if the app is in fact recording and working as it should. I didn't experience any of the same setup setbacks with the second review unit Simplicam sent.

Here's a rundown of the Simplicam's features compared to similar Wi-Fi security cameras:

ArcSoft Simplicam Belkin NetCam HD+ Dropcam Pro Piper Samsung SmartCam HD Pro
Price $150 $130 $200 $200 $190
Color Black White Black White White
Field of view (diagonal) 107 degrees 95 degrees 130 degrees 180 degrees 128 degrees
Video quality 1,280x720 1,280x720 1,920x1,080 1,920x1,080 1,920x1,080
Cloud storage Yes, starts at $5/month or $50/year for 1 day Yes, $10/month or $100/year for 14 days Yes, starts at $10/month or $99/year for 7 days Yes, saves up to 1,000 clips at no extra cost No
Local storage No, but you can download MP4 files No, but you can download MP4 files No No Yes, SD card
Glass lens Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Night vision Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Mobile app Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOS
Web app Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bluetooth No No Yes No No
2-way audio Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Motion and sound alerts Yes, and face recognition with cloud subscription Motion only, and limited to email alerts unless you subscribe to Cloud+ Yes Yes Yes
Protocol integration No No No Yes, Z-Wave No

No, ArcSoft's security camera doesn't have Manything's IFTTT compatibility, it doesn't integrate into larger collection of products like the Belkin NetCam HD+, it isn't compatible with the Wink Hub like the Dropcam Pro, and it doesn't have local storage like the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro.

That's a lot of things it doesn't have. Fortunately it's still full of value. Simplicam costs $20 more than the Belkin NetCam HD+, but has a larger field of view, lower base-price cloud storage fees, and more alert options. You can also save clips as MP4 files as a makeshift local storage solution.

The Belkin NetCam HD+ requires you to be a cloud subscriber to review any push notifications, which is limiting. Simplicam will send you sound and motion alerts whether you subscribe to cloud services or not -- only face recognition notifications are reserved for cloud subscribers.

It's also a fair Dropcam Pro competitor. Its 720p resolution can't quite match the Dropcam Pro's 1080p feed and its 107-degree field of view is smaller than the Dropcam Pro's 130-degree lens, but its design is very similar. The web and mobile apps are particularly Dropcam-esque, showing timestamps and color-coded alert information right on the video feed. Dropcam's recent acquisition by Nest and its recent announcement of an API Beta Program, however, could continue to give it an edge over other Wi-Fi security cameras.

simplicam1.jpg
The app display and alerts from the first test unit. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

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Where to Buy

Arcsoft Simplicam

Part Number: CNETArcsoft Simplicam

MSRP: $149.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

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