Two new remote Webcams: Mole and Vue

One is small and simple but fails as a security camera; the other is big and ugly but does it all.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read

The entry hall in my house has been a test bed for home monitoring cameras for years. I like to be able to record people coming into the house and see what's going on around the front door. Anyone with a family and occasional babysitters will understand. So I continue to look for simple, robust video-monitoring solutions, and vendors keep obliging by improving the state of the art in home remote cameras.

The latest: Two interesting and very different products, Avaak's Vue and the Astak Mole. Both are very easy to get up and running, and neither require monkeying with arcane router settings to get offsite access to the video streams--something that can be a problem with the Panasonic BL-C131a cameras that I otherwise favor. (I've also tried the Logitech WiLife system, and find it quite good.)

The Vue. Rafe Needleman/CNET

The Vue
The Vue is the most unusual remote camera I've seen. The product is unchanged from my March 2 preview, but I had a chance to experiment with the shipping version recently. The big benefit of the Vue: The cameras are tiny, battery-powered and thus completely wireless, and the system is extremely easy to set up. You plug an included controller box into your router or switch and tuck it out of the way, and then you can place the cameras anywhere in your house on their clever little stick-on magnetic dome mounts. The standard kit comes with two cameras.

The Vue is great for monitoring a location but there's a big downside: The cameras don't have motion sensors. If they did, the batteries wouldn't last. So you can see what's happening when you want, or record images on a schedule, but this product doesn't work as a security camera. It is very easy to share the output from a camera with friends, though. A two-camera kit is available now for $299.

The Vue experience is simple all the way around. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET
The aptly-named Mole. Rafe Needleman/CNET

The Mole
I also recently received the Mole, from Astak. This is a single camera for $299, but unlike the Vue cameras, this unit must be plugged in for power (it has Wi-Fi as well as Ethernet for connectivity). It can be panned and tilted by remote control over the Web, so one camera can see more than two Vues in some setups.

The Mole also has infrared illuminators for low-light capability, and a microphone, so you can see and hear what's happening at all hours. Since the camera is always on and can see in all conditions, it can also watch for motion and perform actions--alerting you and recording video and stills either to the Web or to its own memory card--when it detects movement. It even has a speaker so you can talk back through the camera. It is black and industrial-looking, however, befitting its name --not so great for installation in a nice white-painted hallway.

The Mole is capable and complex if you dive into all it can do, but initial setup is easier than with many other IP cameras. You don't need to monkey with too many settings to get it to work, since the Mole uses the Yoics, Web-based remote access service. Registering a camera for viewing over the Web is straightforward. Advanced services include automatic video upload to YouTube when the camera is triggered, and alerts sent out to Twitter.

There's still work to be done on the Mole/Yoics integration, though. Users need two IDs and passwords to access a single Mole: one for their Yoics account and then a separate ID for the camera itself. That should be fixed.

The Mole/Yoics system gives you a nice iPhone-optimized Web page, so you can view live video from your mobile. The Vue cam team says it's working on iPhone capability, but it's not available yet.

The Astak Mole is simple to use, but there's a ton of tweakable complexity under the "advanced" and "system" menus. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Ugly and capable wins over cute and simple
I like the Vue system's size and simplicity but its lack of a motion sensor relegates it to toy status, at least for me. (I know other people who feel it offers just what they need.) The Mole, on the other hand, does everything a nervous parent wants, but it's more complex than the marketing materials will lead you to believe, it's ugly hardware, and the Web integration is unfinished.

See also: DIY home surveillance with a Webcam and the Real Deal podcast #177: Home security cameras.