Dropcam Pro review: A big leap forward for wireless networked cameras

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The Good The Dropcam Pro improves on the image and two-way talk feature of the original Dropcam HD. It's easy to use and set up, and you can view a remote video feed over the Internet or on your iOS or Android mobile device via free Dropcam apps. New zoom/enhance feature works well; no service fee for basic live viewing; and the addition of Bluetooth makes setup even easier and will allow you to connect optional home-monitoring accessories in the future.

The Bad You may experience some lag with the video and audio, depending on the speed of your Internet service. PC-free setup isn't available for Android devices at launch. Camera isn't weather-proof and can't be placed outside.

The Bottom Line The Dropcam Pro dramatically improves on the company's already impressive previous generation wireless home-monitoring camera.

8.3 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 7
  • Design 8
  • Performance 9

If you've never heard of Dropcam, it's a startup that's quickly become a leader in DIY home-video monitoring. In many ways it's similar to Sonos, the upstart audio company that's been highly successful in the multiroom wireless-streaming audio space. The backbone of both companies is elegant, user-friendly software that's built around attractive hardware.

Dropcam's been at it for less time than Sonos, but it's taken something complicated (wireless video monitoring) and made it simple while continuing to improve the quality of the video and services you use to monitor it. Oh, and the hardware's gotten better, too.

Case in point: the new Dropcam Pro. It looks very similar to the previous Dropcam model (released in 2012 as the Dropcam HD, but now renamed as just "Dropcam"). But the Pro has a black stand, is a little thicker, and has a six-element, all-glass lens, and a larger image sensor. Dropcam says you'll get 2x sharper video during the day and 7x better performance in low-light conditions and at night. It also has a 130-degree field of view, which is 20 percent wider than what you get with the standard Dropcam.

The Pro incorporates an all-glass lens (click image to enlarge). Josh Lowensohn/CNET

I got my hands on an early review sample and have been impressed with the evolution of the new Dropcam Pro, as well as the new software upgrades that Dropcam has added.

New features
Dropcam offers a free app for Android and iOS devices (including a native iPad app), and you can also access your camera -- or cameras -- from a Web browser on a computer. Real-time monitoring is free, but Dropcam also offers a premium cloud recording service, which starts at $9.95 a month or $99 a year for seven days of continuous recording (you can also get 30-day continuous recording but it costs a lot more).

While the video resolution currently remains at 720p with the Pro, you can definitely see a significant difference in image quality, and that new software update allows you to digitally zoom in on parts of the image -- up to 8x on the Pro and 4x on the standard Dropcam -- and then enhance the image after you zoom to bring back some of the detail lost while zooming. Remember that scene in "Blade Runner" where Deckard uses a compact gadget (and his voice) to analyze a photo of a crime scene and turn it into a 3D image, zooming in on various pieces of it? Well, the Dropcam feature is still far from that, but you won't find a consumer-grade video-monitoring service or camera that offers this feature.

While it's cool, there is a bit of trickery involved, especially when you zoom to 8x. That's because when you zoom, the whole image goes out of focus. Then, after you touch the enhance button, the focus comes back so it automatically looks sharper.

But ultimately the key is that the camera is capturing a sharper, higher resolution image that you zoom in on without things totally going fuzzy. Going from the Dropcam HD to the Pro is sort of like going from the camera in the iPhone 4 to the one in the iPhone 5S. However, that analogy probably isn't totally accurate because the image sensor in the Dropcam is bigger than the one in the iPhone 5S and other smartphones, so it captures more pixels and works better in low light (at least according to Dropcam).

The Dropcam Pro has a 20 percent wider field of view than the standard Dropcam (click image to enlarge and compare to image below). Josh Lowensohn/CNET
The same image using the standard Dropcam (click image to enlarge and compare to image above). Josh Lowensohn/CNET

The zoom works best at lower levels -- say, 2x -- to crop out part of the image and monitor just what's in that zoomed frame. Since the field of view is so wide, you're less constrained by where you initially place the camera. Dropcam sees this as a way around providing electric pan-and-tilt hardware controls that would make the camera even pricier (you can manually tilt the camera stand and even mount it on a wall).