X

Samsung Smartcam HD Plus review: This Nest Cam copy doesn't quite stack up

The Korean giant's next-gen security camera is here -- and it looks a lot like Nest Cam. But is it as good?

meganwollertonportraits0719-23a
Megan Wollerton
meganwollertonportraits0719-23a

Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (now SyFy). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

See full bio
7 min read

Samsung is taking on Nest yet again with another Wi-Fi security camera. The Korean giant unveiled the new SmartCam HD Plus in November, available now in the US at Costco stores and online at Costco.com (the MSRP is $190, but it's currently available at Costco for just $110; there's no current plan to expand internationally). The live-streaming camera offers full 1080p HD resolution with a 130-degree field of view, motion and sound alerts and local storage (with a 16GB microSD card included).

samsungsmartcamhdplusproductphoto-1.jpg
7.3

Samsung Smartcam HD Plus

The Good

Samsung's new SmartCam HD Plus has a more discreet design than the larger last-gen SmartCam HD Pro. A 16GB microSD card is included with your $190 purchase.

The Bad

The HD Plus uses the same clunky app as its predecessor. Although Samsung promised improvements in motion detection and night vision, this next-gen cam isn't noticeably better than the HD Pro. It isn't compatible with SmartThings yet.

The Bottom Line

The SmartCam HD Plus is a fine live streaming HD camera, particularly if you want to go the local storage route, but it isn't markedly better than Samsung's previous 1080p security camera.

Although this new model is supposed to offer "improved night vision" as well as "advanced motion and audio detection" designed to keep false alarms at bay, I noticed no discernible difference between the HD Plus and the $190 Samsung SmartCam HD Pro I reviewed back in 2014 (I used the three HD Pros currently installed at the CNET Smart Home for reference). And, while the next-gen HD Plus is smaller and generally more discreet than the HD Pro, it still feels cheaply made. It also doesn't work with SmartThings yet -- a smart-home company that Samsung acquired in August of 2014.

Samsung's $190 SmartCam HD Plus is a decent live-streaming security camera that's worth considering if you're interested in local storage, particularly if you take advantage of the Costco sale. Just don't expect it to be a massive improvement over the last-gen HD Pro.

Shining a spotlight on Samsung's new security camera (pictures)

See all photos

The Nest Cam effect

The HD Pro, which will continue to be sold alongside the new HD Plus, is big and clumsy-looking and made of white plastic -- not exactly what you're going for when you're talking about discreet home security. The HD Plus, on the other hand, is smaller and comes in a black finish. You can even detach the camera from its base to make it less conspicuous.

While these design updates make a lot of sense, they also bear a striking resemblance to the $200 Nest Cam, one of Samsung's direct competitors in the DIY home security camera space. (Nest aqcuired startup Dropcam and replaced its already-impressive Dropcam Pro with the 1080p, live-streaming Nest Cam).

But Nest Cam boasts a magnetic base that you can easily snap to a magnetic surface (similar to the Netgear Arlo and the Ezviz Mini) and a streamlined mobile app that works with Nest's smart thermostat and its smoke and carbon monoxide detector -- two things that the latest SmartCam models are missing. (The HD Plus operates on the same SmartCam Android and iOS apps as the HD Pro, and they aren't particularly easy to navigate.)

Inside the SmartCam app

Set up is relatively straightforward -- you have to plug in the camera (which is a challenge of its own because of the location of the power port), download the app, connect to your local Wi-Fi network, and wait for the status LED on the camera to turn from blue to green.

But once you're in the app, the layout is pretty chaotic. It has a lot of features, including live streaming, a timestamped motion and audio activity log, access to saved clips and adjustable settings like the sensitivity of the speaker, the microphone, the motion detector and the audio detector. It also has the ability to opt in and out of push and email notifications related to motion and audio activity.

settingmotionzones1.jpg
Enlarge Image
settingmotionzones1.jpg

Setting motion zones.

Screenshots by CNET

There are even more options on the live streaming page. You can record a 30-second clip on demand -- either to the app or to the microSD card; you can take a picture; you can enabled two-way talk to communicate with whoever's near the camera from your phone or tablet; and you can tweak the resolution -- low, medium and high resolution options are available.

In addition, you can play sounds of a police siren, a generic alarm or a dog barking (the HD Pro only offered "lullaby" music clips, so the additional sounds are more security-centric). You can also adjust the brightness of the screen, rotate the picture and record your own audio clips.

That's a whole lot of functionality packed into this camera and its app, but it isn't executed particularly well. And it can get even more confusing if you add more than one camera (we have three SmartCam HD Pro's and one SmartCam HD Plus set up under a single log-in).

Beyond the challenge of locating various features inside the app, it isn't always clear what certain options mean. For example, the fourth icon at the bottom of the screenshot to the right (which reminds me of the chalk outline guy you see in detective movies) is for setting motion zones. I guess it's fairly intuitive, but it would be easier if there were some sort of accompanying description.

Here's an overview of the basic specs and features available on the SmartCam HD Plus, the SmartCam HD Pro and Nest Cam:


Samsung SmartCam HD PlusSamsung SmartCam HD ProNest Cam
Price$190 $190 $200
Weight4.8 ounces 10.3 ounces 7.2 ounces
Camera colorBlack White Black
Field of view
(diagonal)
130 degrees 128 degrees 130 degrees
Video

H.264, 1,920x1,080 30 frames per second

H.264, 1,920x1,080
30 frames per second
H.264, 1,920x1,080
30 frames per second
Glass lensYes Yes Yes
Night visionYes Yes Yes

Mobile app

Yes, Android and iOS

Yes, Android and iOS

Yes, Android and iOS

Web appYesYes Yes
Two-way talkYesYesYes
AlertsYes, motion and soundYes, motion and soundYes, motion and sound
Local storageYes, microSD card Yes, microSD card No

Performance

Overall, the SmartCam HD Plus performed pretty well. The live stream was responsive, and I had few issues with lag time or pixelation. The video resolution adjusts automatically depending on the Wi-Fi connection, but you can also disable this feature in the "Setup" section and switch between low, medium and high resolutions manually instead. According to the specs on Samsung's site, low is standard-def 640x360, medium is 1,280x720 (720p HD), and high is 1,920x1,080 (1080p HD).

I tested out the live stream in various rooms under different types of lighting in low, medium and high resolution settings. While I was able to detect small details with the "high" 1080p HD video, it wasn't as crisp as Nest Cam. (See the screenshots below for reference.)

smartcamhdplusdaynight1.jpg
Enlarge Image
smartcamhdplusdaynight1.jpg

Samsung's SmartCam HD Plus in day and night vision modes with 1080p HD resolution.

Screenshots by CNET

Fortunately, I did receive prompt motion and sound alerts, and I had no trouble viewing the related saved clips either from the "playback" feature in the app or by ejecting the microSD card and enlisting a card reader. The default alert settings were much too sensitive, however, resulting in near-constant motion and audio alerts. The good news is that you can adjust the sensitivity and that helps somewhat. I did receive a few phantom alerts in night vision mode regardless of any sensitivity adjustments, though.

The two-way talk function works pretty well, but you do have to hold down the microphone button the whole time you want to talk. Still, it's easy enough to use, and the audio quality is decent. It was also simple to hear audio from saved video clips.

Crowding the Nest?

One thing the SmartCam HD Plus is missing right now is third-party integrations -- that's another area where Nest Cam excels in comparison. Nest boasts a lot of smart home integrations; it works with a variety of non-Nest products through Works with Nest, a program that pairs Nest products with smart-home devices from other manufacturers. The brand also announced plans to inject Nest Weave tech -- a protocol language first announced by Nest's Alphabet/Google parent company at Google I/O 2015 in May -- into a Yale deadbolt, which is expected to feature prominently in the Nest app alongside Nest's own products when it debuts in 2016.

Samsung, of course, has been going toe to toe with Google's Nest and Apple in the nascent smart home space, having acquired SmartThings just two months after Nest bought Dropcam (and six months after Google bought Nest). SmartThings recently released its second-generation Z-Wave and ZigBee hub, a product we installed at the CNET Smart Home to control various connected devices from the company's universal app. It also has its own IFTTT channel.

The existing SmartCam HD Pro works on the SmartThings platform, but compatibility between the new HD Plus and SmartThings is still in the works.

nestcam-and-smartcam-comparison-shot-7.jpg
Enlarge Image
nestcam-and-smartcam-comparison-shot-7.jpg

Nest Cam and the Samsung SmartCam HD Plus side-by-side.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Conclusion

The $190 Samsung SmartCam HD Plus (available for just $110 at Costco right now) is a fine camera if you're looking for live-streaming capabilities, customizable settings and local microSD card storage that's accessible straight from the app. The problem is that it costs the same as its SmartCam HD Pro predecessor and offers very little in terms of new features, app design and performance. Sure, the camera itself looks different, but it still doesn't feel as durable as Nest Cam, Netgear's Arlo and other security cameras I've reviewed.

Get the HD Plus if you like local storage, want motion and sound alerts, and would rather access saved clips straight from the app. But, if sound alerts aren't that important to you, you could just get the Ezviz Mini, a $70 DIY live-streaming camera that also comes with a 16GB microSD card. But, if you're looking for solid 1080p HD live streaming and don't mind cloud storage -- or a $10 monthly fee for saved clips -- the $200 Nest Cam really is your best bet for quality high definition live streaming and video playback.

samsungsmartcamhdplusproductphoto-1.jpg
7.3

Samsung Smartcam HD Plus

Score Breakdown

Features 9Usability 6Design 6Performance 8