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iSmartAlarm iCamera Keep review: A promising little camera with a lot of room to grow

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MSRP: $149.00

The Good The iCamera Keep works with existing iSmartAlarm systems, or as a standalone device, and is a strong upgrade from the original iCamera, which was too glitchy for us to recommend. Setup is easy, video monitoring is smooth, night vision worked as promised, and the sound and motion alerts came through reliably.

The Bad The iCamera Keep's video storage options aren't ready at launch, which means the camera can't yet record video automatically during a break-in.

The Bottom Line At $150, the iCamera Keep is a very solid security camera, but we can't give it our full-throated recommendation until iSmartAlarm rolls out full video recording capabilities.

7.3 Overall
  • Features 6
  • Usability 8
  • Design 7
  • Performance 9

Review Sections

iSmartAlarm is a fee-free smart security system -- purchase a starter kit and place the included sensors around your home, and you'll be able to track all of them from your iOS or Android device, or receive alerts if the alarm is triggered.

I liked iSmartAlarm quite a bit when I first reviewed the system back in 2013 , and it's since found its way onto our Best of the Smart Home list as the top monitor-it-yourself security kit. However, iSmartAlarm's most notable weak spot was its optional camera accessory, which, unlike the rest of the system, was a glitchy, unreliable headache to use.

Enter the iCamera Keep, iSmartAlarm's second stab at video monitoring. With a smaller design and claims of improved performance, it promises to shore up the system's camera capabilities. In our tests, it did exactly that, showing none of the glitches that plagued the original iCamera and working well both as a standalone device and as part of a larger iSmartAlarm setup. Plus, at $150, it's a more affordable option than the $200 Dropcam Pro , or standalone security devices from Canary and Piper , which each cost closer to $250. UK and Australian prices have yet to be announced but $150 converts to £100 in the UK, or about AU$190 in Australia.

However, as solid as the iCamera Keep looks, it doesn't yet offer the ability to store video clips in the cloud or on a local drive, though that functionality is supposed to be on the way. This also means that in its current state, it won't automatically record video whenever the alarm gets set off. That's a pretty key omission here at launch, and if you wanted to wait until iSmartAlarm rolls that functionality out before buying in, I certainly wouldn't blame you.

Design and features

The iCamera Keep is a boxy, slightly bland-looking rectangle, roughly the size of a can of Red Bull. It's a much, much slimmer profile than the original iCamera, so it won't hog nearly as much real estate on whatever shelf you decide to sit it.

The camera that bulges out from the body of the thing is capable of recording video at a resolution of 1,280x720 pixels -- good for a picture that's technically HD, but not one that's as crisp or as detailed as 1080p competitors or even some 720p competitors, like Dropcam Pro .

The entire camera will also pan in a near-complete circle of 350 degrees -- just swipe left or right on the app's video feed, and the camera will rotate accordingly. You can also swipe up and down to tilt the camera over a span of 40 degrees. However, it won't automatically pan and tilt to follow the action in your living room, or to turn toward a loud noise.

Night vision worked as expected, though it wasn't quite as detailed as the competition. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

There's also night-vision functionality, which is obviously a pretty important feature for these types of products. In my tests, it worked fine, kicking on and off automatically as needed and doing a solid job of making us all look exceedingly creepy. However, the image didn't seem quite as strong or as detailed in the dark as the recently reviewed Piper NV . In that above example, I show up just fine in the foreground, but my colleague Megan Wollerton all but disappears into the background.

The iCamera Keep also features built in motion and sound sensors -- if you like, the app can send you a push notification if the camera detects either. Connect the iCamera Keep with the iSmartAlarm's CubeOne base station, and these alerts can trigger the alarm, or turn on and off automatically depending on whether or not the system is armed.

The iCamera Keep can notify you if it detects motion or sound, but it won't automatically record video -- at least not yet. Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

What those alerts won't do is trigger the camera to start recording, at least not yet. As of publishing this, if the system is armed and the camera picks up sound or motion, you'll get an alert, the alarm will sound and you'll be able to jump to your video feed to see what's happening live, but nothing will have been recorded. If you like, you can push the big button below the live feed to snap a picture, but you still can't record video, not even manually.

The reason for this is that iSmartAlarm's team still needs to finalize its video storage mechanisms, something they're promising to deliver with an app and firmware update in February. When it comes, they plan to offer free local storage of video clips by way of the USB port in the back of the camera, and also options for cloud storage.

Also, to the credit of iSmartAlarm's team, they were open about the fact that video storage functionality wouldn't be up and running until a few months after launch back when the iCamera Keep was first announced last year. Points for managing expectations.

Here's how iSmartAlarm tells us its video recording will work. When the system is armed and the camera detects sound or motion, it will record a 10-second clip, upload it, then check for sound and motion again. If it still detects a disturbance in the force (and if the alarm hasn't been disarmed yet), it'll record another 10-second clip, then another, and another.

Once that functionality is in place, the iCamera Keep stands to be an even better product than it already is. As soon as that new version of the app and firmware are out, I'll be sure to test it and update this review accordingly -- including the score, if merited. Watch this space.

Getting started with the iCamera Keep was a cinch. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Performance and usability

To get started with the iCamera Keep, you'll download the iSmartAlarm app to your Android or iOS device and tell it you want to add a new camera. The app will prompt you to connect the camera to your phone via USB cable -- once you do, the camera will hop onto your phone's Wi-Fi network. The process took me less than a minute, though it failed the first time I tried it because I was using a third-party USB-to-Lightning cable. Once I used the certified Apple cable that came with my phone, it worked perfectly.

With the camera connected to Wi-Fi and registered with the app, you'll immediately be able to begin viewing your live video feed. As said before, you can swipe over the feed to pan or tilt the camera, but you can't pinch in to zoom, the way you can with Piper's fish-eye lens.

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