If you've asked anyone for their opinion on a good video monitoring solution recently, the almost automatic answer seems to be "Get a Dropcam, they're great!"

But the question I've long had is simple, "Is the Dropcam really all it's cracked up to be, or should we look elsewhere for a more effective, flexible, and economical solution?"

We've actually been searching for a good monitoring/security camera for some time now. This search began around the same time Dropcam hit the market and started generating all of its buzz.

Incidentally, at about this same time the copper gutter downspout was stolen from the side of our house, kicking my desire for an improved security surveillance solution into higher gear. So the big question became, "what cameras should I use?"

While closed circuit analog cameras have been the historic standby in the security space, with the "Internet of Things" taking over every aspect of our lives, it seems like a web/network based IP camera is the way to go.

When I discovered Dropcam I was totally intrigued by the little Internet device that could. Its high quality and wide angle lens provides a great HD video picture and easily overcomes the major drawbacks I've experienced with previous IP cameras that we've had or tried in the past, namely grainy and low res images. And I liked their marketing pitch, "Super Simple Monitoring."

But as I looked into Dropcam as a solution, I realized the two major drawbacks of the product.

The Dropcam Problem

  1. Dropcam is a cloud storage only device with monthly subscription and active Internet connection required.
  2. Dropcam is intended as an indoor only device.

Many people have no issues with these two items. When they need a quick and easy camera and they're setting up a Dropcam as a baby monitor, makeshift pet sitter, or as a simple camera to watch the weather, these items often aren't really drawbacks. But for our needs, they're a problem.

First, as a subscription based model with no ability to record locally, you're tied to the Dropcam $10 monthly charge, and more if you want longer term storage of video. This means that just to look in on your camera you're paying the $200 for the camera, and another $100 per year after that (if you pay up front). If you want to store more than the default seven days of video (limited to a max of 30 days), you're paying up to $300 per year, for a single camera's subscription!

But what if you want more than one camera? For Dropcam, you can easily add cameras, but each comes with a monthly fee. Dropcam does offer 50% discounts after the first camera, but I'm sorry to say, that doesn't feel like a good deal. Let's say you want three cameras for your home, and 30 days of storage, you're looking at $1,200 for the first year, and $600 per year after that!

This subscription service might be easy to setup, but I feel like it's pretty expensive. Honestly, it just seems like a great model to make money, I'll say that much.

The other issue with the cloud based storage of data is that an Internet connection is required. If your internet is down for any reason (even nefarious "the cord was cut" type reasons), your Dropcam can't record. When your internet is online, each Dropcam you have will require a 0.5 mbps upload connection that it uses ALL THE TIME. So if you have a slow connection on your upload side, your Dropcam video quality will suffer or drop out entirely.

In addition to the business model's issues for our needs, the camera can't be mounted outdoors without some sort of a hack by way of an aftermarket or DIY enclosure. While you know I'm always game for a good DIY challenge, and this is typically fine for simple indoor monitoring, it makes it far less useful as a true security device due to possibility of failure.

Photo Credit: The Gadgeteer

With all of the problems I've outlined with these two simple items, the Dropcam, with all of its beautiful quality and smooth interfaces, just isn't an option for our needs. So what is?

In Steps the Samsung SmartCam

I don't know if you've ever searched for an Internet video camera solution, but the vast majority of Internet based cameras have poor reviews across the board. I looked high and low to find something good, but it seemed everything had some major issue that kept me from liking it for our needs.

Well, after months of searching and waiting for a good camera to come to market that would do what we needed, Samsung launched an upgraded version of their SmartCam HD Pro Wi-Fi Camera that had me intrigued, especially at only about $180 per camera and no monthly fee.

The camera's specs included a wide 130 degree viewing angle, IR night vision, 1080p resolution, and a nice looking and compact package. I ordered one a few weeks ago to give it a spin and must say that I was completely impressed by what I received.

Setup of the camera over our wifi network was pretty straight forward. I didn't even use the laptop and was able to get the camera up and running using only the mobile app and my iPhone. (The screenshot below is after I had successfully setup two cameras.)

Once I had the camera running I verified I was able to connect from outside of our home network. While the image does lag a bit (by up to five seconds from my tests), it's very high quality and updates consistently. I did notice a few connection drops from time to time that required the app to reconnect, but I'm not sure if that's an issue with the app or network. Regardless, it's only a minor annoyance and nothing too serious. I didn't need to make any firewall changes to allow this as the camera uses standard and commonly used ports with secure communications.

One thing that's nice is that you can individually password protect each camera. So you have a primary account with password to access your camera list, then individual passwords once in the system (that are optionally saved in the app).

Unfortunately, the app doesn't incorporate complex passwords, two factor auth, or even the biometric fingerprint scanner of the latest iPhones. Hopefully Samsung will improve the software aspect of these cameras, as it's the primary lacking area of the whole package.

Video Storage Options

As advertised, this camera offers great onboard options for long term storage of video.

At the rear of the camera is a compact high capacity flash card slot that takes up to a 64GB memory card. This allows you to store video right on the device for easy retrieval. Best of all, it records even if the Internet or Wifi connection is completely down, definitely beating out the Dropcam in that respect. Continuous recording on 64GB at 1280x720 resolution offers about 20 days of storage. Once the card is full, you can configure the camera to begin overwriting the older video.


However, I've been searching for something that allows for storage video on a network drive somewhere in the house's network. What I discovered was really cool.

Though not really mentioned anywhere in the camera's documentation (that I saw), you can download Samsung's free Net i-Ware software that allows you to configure up to 16 different cameras to all record simultaneously to network or local hard drive storage. The main caveat here is that you'll need a computer that can run the software for recording, and enough network or hard drive space to store the video.

Whether you're doing local memory card or network storage, you can configure the camera to continuously record, or to just record when an "event" of some sort occurs. Events can be motion or sound based, or continuous recording can be based on a schedule.

Configuring the Net i-Ware software was pretty straight forward. I'll put together a good how to guide on setting up this piece in a later post, as well as the approach we'll take to store the video. It took a little tinkering to get it working, but once it was all set it runs very smoothly.

Outdoor Solution

While the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro is a great choice for our interior cameras, what about outside? Though this specific camera is not made for the outdoors, Samsung does have an offering that fits the bill perfectly. It's the Samsung SmartCam HD Outdoor SNH-E6440BN Camera.

The really cool thing about this camera is how it's been constructed. The sensitive electronics that are not supposed to withstand the elements of extreme heat and cold have been split apart from the weatherproof camera lens enclosure. This means that the camera lens is housed in an outdoor ready enclosure, and is connected to the wifi and other electronics by a 28' long network cord tether so that it may be placed inside. You just need a way to get the cord from outside to in.

Really wanting to try this camera out, I bought an open/damaged box item off of Amazon to save myself $50. When it arrived, I could see exactly the damage they were talking about...

...but the camera was in perfect shape.

The setup, like it's indoor counterpart, was quick and easy. Since I already had an account on the Samsung SmartCam app for the first camera, it was just a click of a few buttons to add this second camera.

The two cameras are identical from a software standpoint. You can set notifications and alerts based on sound or motion, define motion areas to pay attention to, even configure push notifications that can alert your phone when events are triggered. The UI that Samsung offers is the top drawback to the cameras. Essentially, it looks like a developer created the design for the app. It's not particularly intuitive, doesn't look very pretty, and pretty much just barely does what you want it to do. If Samsung put more time and

Conclusion

All in all, I'm very happy with these cameras and their setup options. These Samsung SmartCams are absolutely going to be our cameras of choice as they offer excellent video quality, real time viewing ability, local storage, local network storage, and remain fully functional even when the Internet is down. The outdoor camera protects the sensitive electronics with the two piece configuration and doesn't need any special aftermarket enclosures. But most importantly, the cost is only for the cameras and optional storage cards/network devices. There are no monthly fees, no limits on days you can store, and no worry about proprietary formats. 

The major drawbacks of these cameras are only in how nice the interface looks on the software side of things. A little better security on the user account side of the software would also be nice, but I anticipate that will be added over time. 

In a side by side comparison between Dropcam and the SmartCams, I'd say both are equal from a pure hardware/camera perspective, including small features like two way microphone and motion based event configuration, so the focus needs to turn towards the differences.

Though Dropcam has a great interface with cloud storage, the SmartCams have more flexibility in hardware (indoor/outdoor), no monthly cost, the ability to record locally, the ability to record to a custom device, and no required external internet connection to function. I'm still researching the ability to transfer video to an offsite storage location so your recorded video can be accessed in the cloud, but I'll report back on that in my Net i-Ware configuration post. 

A cost check makes this whole comparison even easier:

Cost of 3 Dropcams and 30 days of video storage for 3 years, $2,400 ($600 cameras, $600/yr subscription)

Cost of 3 SmartCams (with 1 outdoor) and 30 days of video storage for 3 years, ~$655.

So I'd have to say in the head to head battle, the winner is clear:

Google Dropcam vs Samsung SmartCam

Winner

Samsung SmartCam!

I'm very excited about these cameras and I'm extremely happy to have found an excellent alternative to Dropcam that fits exactly what I was searching for. 

I hope this blog post might help you make a better decision if you're searching for a similar comparison or alternative for your camera setup.

Comments 16

Comments

Mary
1/9/2015 at 2:41 PM

Hi Alex and Wendy,

Are you guys going to do your "new year's goals" for your house(s) as you've done in the past? Also can't wait to see more posts on your master bath progress!

Alex
1/12/2015

Well, we sort of blow our New Year's goals pretty substantially every year, so we're thinking we shouldn't do it simply as an exercise with no real follow through and to just feel bad at the end of the year when they aren't done. I think we need to do more quarterly or monthly goals.

We have several more master bath things we'll be sharing, and we can't wait to share. Some good, some bad. Should be fun Alt smile

Melbournite
1/9/2015 at 8:22 PM

Do you know there are public websites where the private streams from people's networked home security cameras are available for all and sundry to view? (These websites - mostly Russian - have received a bit of press in Australia recently.) The streams from your cameras may not be as secure as you think, so it's worth thinking about where they are pointed and what can be seen on them. Cheers!

Christine
1/10/2015 at 6:08 AM

Those streams received a lot of media coverage in the US as well. But the message of it all was to make certain to password protect your cameras (which these homeowners did). The hackers were streaming cameras that had no password or kept the default passwords to their cameras, like "admin" or "password." Something that is EXTREMELY common with home security cameras, which people do not think about password protecting the same way they do, for example, their wifi.

Melbournite
1/10/2015 at 9:30 PM

great, it seems like you got better information about it over there : )

Alex
1/12/2015

Oh yes, absolutely. I'm a bit of an Internet security nerd and go the extra mile to make sure things are secure. That's one of the really nice things about this camera is that you can have it connected to your own network and then block everything externally. That way you can still use them as a security camera with local storage, but there's no risk of anyone ever hacking your stuff.

My main concern with this camera is that there's no enhanced security. There is username and password based security, but not complex password and not two factor auth. Always need to stay a step ahead of the bad guys.

Philippe
1/12/2015 at 10:38 AM

Hi,
Do you find a way to record directly to a NAS solution without using the software provided by Samsung and a computer.

I'am looking to an alternative to Dropcam solution.

regard's
Flipland

Alex
1/12/2015

So far the only things I've found require some intermediate recording device. However, this is the H.264 standard and can use other compliant H.264 recording solutions. I'm doing a little research now to see if I could possibly use a Raspbery Pi as that device and have it record multiple streamed channels to a NAS or even USB 3.0 array connected to the wireless router. I'll update if I find anything.

Flipland
2/4/2015 at 6:27 PM

Thank's

Since 1 month, I read so many informations on many Cams and I don't yet make my decision. I looked Simplicam, Home monitor, Piper NV, Izon, D-Link 935l, Withings Home, Amaryllo, Ion The home, Alto Netgear. There is always something that not reach my needs. Right now, it could be Home monitor HD from Y-cam it support a cloud storage and NAS but the view angle is only 87degree or Smartcam from Samsung but no NAS support and their Software NET-i ware don't support Mac.

Philippe

Laura C
2/11/2015 at 11:51 AM

My dilemma is that our weekend home is a summer cottage (and unheated in the winter), so I've been searching for a solution that can withstand freezing temperatures. No luck so far.

2/21/2015 at 4:43 PM

Right before I left my job at the PR agency back in ... 2010, I think ... my colleagues were pitching the launch of a Logitech home security camera system. I've always wondered how the launch went and if anyone ever used the cameras they way in which the agency was pitching it. Did you come across Logitech at all in your early investigations?

Secure Sam
5/11/2015 at 11:59 PM

I have been looking for an audio only version of Dropcam or like the samsung. Has anyone seen something like that?

Alois
5/14/2015 at 11:15 AM

I like you your post. Any news about storage on Dropbox or other cloud like G drive? What third party software would be best to use for MAC OS.

anonymous
6/18/2015 at 3:22 PM

I've been using Bensoftware's SecuritySpy on the Mac for 5 years now. It's extremely stable and I use it with Axis Communication and Vivotek cameras. Its website states it supports many standard ip cameras. I found standard ip cameras have better quality and more choices such as view angle than consumer grade devices like the dropcam.

rmoran
10/20/2015 at 8:57 AM

Any update on the Net I-Ware configuration? I have a weekend home I want monitored and the Internet has 6MB Down and .3MB UP. (That is .3, not 3MB). I can put an extra PC out there and have plenty of space to record. I'm mainly looking for outdoor cameras and think these could work. Is there any update on how to configure the Net I-Ware? That would be useful in my decision making process. Also, does the camera record on the SD card or the Net I-Ware device or can it record on both?

Also, you mentioned transferring video to offsite storage. Could you have a personal cloud setup offsite and back up your videos directly to that every night?

Ethan
1/21/2016 at 11:26 PM

Could you please update your article to warn people that Samsung no longer supports local storage with the latest firmware, as of Nov. 2015? Check out all the 1-star reviews on Amazon to learn more.

This is a great article and makes people like me, who require local storage and a great camera, very excited to buy the Samsung. I'd hate for someone to go get it only to find Samsung has now crippled it.

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