Do Simplicam's low monthly cloud storage fees and face-recognition feature make it a DIY security camera stand-out?
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.
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.
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|
|Field of view (diagonal)||107 degrees||95 degrees||130 degrees||180 degrees||128 degrees|
|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|
|Mobile app||Yes, Android and iOS||Yes, Android and iOS||Yes, Android and iOS||Yes, Android and iOS||Yes, Android and iOS|
|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.
Simplicam is also highly customizable. You can turn the camera on or off, adjust your push alert settings to get them in real-time or as a less frequent summary. There's also a night vision feature that can be set to auto, on, or off and two-way audio.
In addition to push alerts, Simplicam also has an email notification option. I opted into email notifications and manually entered in two different addresses as my email alert destinations. I have been feverishly checking my regular and spam folders, but so far haven't received a single email alert. Bummer. Fortunately, I didn't have the the same email-alert-issues with the second Simplicam review unit.
Cloud recording gives you even more options. In addition to motion and sound alerts, you can receive face recognition notifications. You can also set specific schedules that you'd like your camera to be on or off, in addition to being able to review clips.
For face recognition, you can scan in as many as 10 faces. Those "recognized faces" are probably friends, family-members, your dog walker -- anyone you'd expect to be in your home. I scanned in my face along with Ry Crist's, Rich Brown's and Brian Bennett's.
The process is very simple, just make sure you're 10 feet away from the camera and select "Ready" on the app. Then, it will give you audio cues, instructing you to slowly turn until your right shoulder is facing the camera and then back around until your left shoulder is facing the camera. During this process, Simplicam snaps dozens of photos at various flattering/unflattering angles so that it should be able to detect the nuances that distinguish all of us from one another, particularly the bearded Ry, Rich and Brian.
Andrew Gebhart and Jared Hannah acted as my "unrecognized faces." So, if they walked in front of the camera's field of view, I was supposed to get a notification saying, "The My Simplicam camera saw an unrecognized person at approximately (insert specific timestamp)."
The beauty here is that you can set it to always auto-delete the footage of you walking around your house (because video clips of you vacuuming the living room probably aren't particularly useful). You can even customize within the recognized face settings, so it can delete your footage, but save the clips of your dog walker, house cleaner or kid. And, of course, you can set it to alert you and save any recordings when it detects a stranger.
The problem is that this beta feature still has some kinks to work out. You'll notice in the photo above that Simplicam thought Rich was Ry, that Brian was Rich, that Jared, an "unrecognized person," was Ry and that a line-up of Ry, Jared and Rich was Ry, Brian and Rich. Hm.
Simplicam claims that it will learn over time to improve its ability to recognize one face from another, but so far I'm not impressed. It's especially concerning that it thought Jared was Ry, since Jared wasn't scanned into the system at all. It did work sometimes, but not enough to trust it implicitly.
Proximity also didn't seem to make a difference -- face recognition floundered whether someone was very close staring directly at the lens or in a line-up of people several feet away. Also, Simplicam is much more likely to trigger a motion alert (rather than a face recognition alert) if someone walks by quickly; you really do have to pause for a moment within the camera's field of view for it to pull data from its pre-scanned facial recognition cache.
Simplicam does make it clear that face recognition is in beta and encourages its customers to provide feedback so it can make improvements along the way.
Simplicam has three cloud storage fee options: 1-day recording lets you review the last day of video and save 1 hour of your favorite clips for $5/month or $50/year. It goes up from there to $14/month or $140/year for 11 days of recordings and 3 hours of saved clips; and $23/month or $230/year for 21 days of recordings and 5 hours of saved clips.
I'm signed up for the 1-day recording level and was able to explore some of the advanced features as well as the standard no-fee options. I had no issues with this camera (except for the lack of email alerts, and only with the first review unit). I received motion, sound, and face alerts whenever an event occurred and was able to access saved clips and live streaming on both the Web and mobile apps. The 720p resolution was also really solid -- there's also not a huge difference between the Simplicam and the Dropcam Pro's day and night vision modes.
With its lower monthly fees and the addition of face recognition alerts for cloud subscribers, ArcSoft's Simplicam is qualified to take on our highest rated Wi-Fi security cameras -- but the face recognition feature does need a lot of work. I'd still recommend Simplicam today, though. It's a fantastic option for someone wanting a cloud subscription and all of its related benefits without spending $10+ a month.