Samsung’s entry in the home video surveillance arena is the SmartCam WiFi Home Security Camera (SNH-1011N). It’s a nice-looking device with a breezy setup process, some useful features, and remote access for whenever you have an available Internet connection—even via iOS and Android smartphones. The SmartCam ($149 list) lacks features that the same-price Dropcam HD and the Editors’ Choice Logitech Alert 750n Indoor Master System offer, such as Dropcam’s “DVR” style recording option or Logitech’s on-board video storage on SD Cards. But if you only need real-time video and can put up with a few performance glitches, such as occasional crashes and slow-to-load video streams, at least until Samsung updates the firmware, you’ll probably be more than happy with the SmartCam.
Design and Setup
The Samsung SmartCam is an sleek-looking device constructed of white plastic with a big eye-like lens over an LED indicator that’s there to tell you what mode the camera is in. It measures 3.5 inches high with the base, and 2.1 inches wide, with a depth of 1.2 inches at the thinnest point, depending on how you orient the camera on the base. It also comes with the necessary hardware for mounting the camera to a wall or ceiling. You can only use the SmartCam inside (the case isn’t weather proof) and you have to be near AC power because there’s no battery option.
The features list of the SmartCam is fair to middling: integrated 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi (which is much more convenient than the HomePlug found on the Logitech Alert 740N); Ethernet for wired connections (but no Power over Ethernet); 640-by-480 maximum resolution at 30 frames per second using H.264 and MJPEG compression; and as is de rigueur these days, night vision and motion detection. What it lacks: a wide angle lens, zoom, and any kind of local storage, such as an SD card.
Setup couldn’t be simpler. If you’ve got a router that supports Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)—the method of hooking up devices to the wireless router by pushing one button on each device so they can find each other—then by all means use it. Even without WPS I had no problem. I plugged the SmartCam into my network using Ethernet, and it connected quickly.
Setting up an account online at Samsung’s website is easy and it’s the primary method of controlling the camera, unlike, for example, the Y-Cam Bullet HD 1080 which is geared toward those controlling their own local network. Once you create an account, you enter the serial number of the camera, and the Web interface will find it across the Internet. Samsung provides an extra layer of security by asking you to register a personal identification number (PIN) for each camera, which you must enter before viewing the video feed. You can register multiple Samsung SmartCams at the site and access them all from one place, but you can only watch one at a time. The website even handles firmware upgrades for the camera itself.
To view the video feed in any browser, you need to download Samsung WebViewer, an app that installs a plug-in for each browser. In contrast, the Logitech Alert 750n uses specialized software, but what that model lacks in convenience, it makes up for in performance and its ability to view multiple streams.
Features and Performance
Honestly, the video stream from the SmartCam isn’t great, especially at the maximum resolution. Setting it down to 320-by-240 nets a huge improvement, but that impacts video quality. There’s the typical one to three second delay from real-time, all the time. The video looks pretty good in bright light, but not exactly high-def like that of the Logitech cameras.
As with other cameras, the infrared night-vision works like a charm for low- or even no-light situations. The view in the dark is perhaps a little too dark compared to other cameras, as the SmartCam has fewer infrared LEDs than the competition (only six). The lack of a wide angle lens makes it hard to capture all of a room, unfortunately, even when the camera is jammed in the corner.
The performance delays occur despite Samsung SmartCam’s ability to tell the difference between access on the local network (peer-to-peer) or when you’re remote. For the latter, it enters a “relay mode,” where the video goes to the Internet first, then back to you. In relay mode, the streaming video connection is limited to three minutes, after which you can extend viewing time. That’s nice for Samsung, as it cuts down on the company’s server load. But in practice, whenever the SmartCam site asked me to extend the viewing time, the browser plug-in for Google Chrome crashed. These are not limits you find with the Dropcam HD.
The best thing about a surveillance cam like this being mobile is viewing video while you’re out of the house. Samsung delivers that mobility with free apps available in the iTunes Store and on Google Play. Grab one, enter account credentials, click the name of the SmartCam, enter the cam’s security PIN, and start watching. I tested the iPhone app with an iPhone 4 and frequently had more success loading streaming video there than on local PCs. The smartphone apps have most of the same features as the browser app including the ability to grab snapshots, change brightness, and there’s a fun smartphone-only option: the ability to use the two-way speaker to talk to those being watched. (It’s excellent for spooking pets.)
Again, like on the desktop, after three minutes in relay mode, you must manually extend viewing by one minute at a time. The iPhone app provides a countdown for the last minute. Samsung hasn’t yet created a version of the software for tablets like iPad or even its own Galaxy line; hopefully they’re in the works.
The Samsung SmartCam site doesn’t provide online video storage like the Dropcam HD, nor does the camera itself have any on-board storage like the Logitech 750n. Instead, Samsung’s option is YouTube. If you set up an alert based on motion- or audio-detection, the subsequent 30 seconds of video can be automatically uploaded to your YouTube account (preset to either private or public). If you’re careful with the settings, it can be more than sufficient. In fact, it would be a nice addition to future cameras from the competition. If you’re not careful, you could get hundreds of clips uploaded a day if the camera watches a busy area.
Other options for notification include Picasa Web Albums, Twitter, Google Talk, and email. It helps to know the setup info for your email account, but the SmartCam manual provides info for setting up Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Yahoo Mail Plus (a Yahoo premium service) to get a link to YouTube uploads. Strangely, the system doesn’t support SMS texts, and it really should. Thankfully, the smartphone apps will notify you when an alert is sent.
Is the Samsung SmartCam the best solution out there for keeping tabs on your home when you’re away? Not yet. There are only a few areas where it can outdo the Logitech Alert 750n Indoor System: built-in Ethernet for better performance, built-in Wi-Fi for easy placement, it doesn’t use HomePlug, and it’s half the price. It’s more on par with the Dropcam HD, but Dropcam’s smaller size plus Wi-Fi provides it more versatility, as does the option of subscribing to get DVR-style recording service of your video. Samsung’s off to a good start, but needs to up the ante on some features like recording and local storage, and especially, improve its overall performance.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc