My girlfriend and I were stuck in traffic on the Grand Central Parkway last Friday night when I got an alert on my iPhone that an unfamiliar person had just entered our apartment.
I swiped open the notification and was taken to a video feed of our living room from just a few seconds before.
But it was nothing to be worried about, just a friend of ours who was staying over to watch our cats while we were out of town for the night.
I told the app all was good, but if it had been a robber or other intruder, I would have had a clear, HD shot of their face for evidence.
That’s the key feature of the new web camera from Nest, the smart-home gadget company that spun out of Google.
The Nest Cam IQ is Nest’s most advanced, most expensive camera yet. It has a 4K sensor, which lets you digitally zoom in on people in your home, a microphone and speaker for two-way chats, and that new facial recognition feature that can automatically identify people and alert you if a stranger walks in.
I’ve been testing the $US299 Nest Cam IQ for a few days, and it worked well for the most part. I enjoyed having a window into my apartment when I wasn’t there, keeping tabs on our housekeeper and cat-sitting friend while we were away.
But I also encountered a few annoying bugs, and I don’t think the cost of the camera and the subscription to the service (necessary to get the most out of this purchase) would be worth it for a lot of people. It’s also not that much different or better than the cheaper Nest Cam, so you may want to start with that if you’re interested.
How it works
The big new feature with the Nest Cam IQ is facial recognition. Since Nest is one of Google’s sister companies under Alphabet, it’s able to borrow Google’s technology and identify “trusted” people in your home. You can then customise alerts on your phone, so you only get notified when a stranger enters, for example.
Whenever the IQ sees a new face for the first time, it asks you if you know that person or not. Trusted people are stored so you’re never bothered about them again (unless you want to be), and strangers are flagged in a timeline of video stored in Nest’s cloud service.
The new 4K sensor doesn’t stream video from your home in full 4K quality, but it does help with digital zoom. I was able to zoom in pretty close on objects and people in the video feed without too much blur. The sensor can also “track” a person as they enter the room so you can get a good look at them.
There’s also night vision, improved microphones and speakers, and a brand-new design. All of that improves on previous versions of the Nest Cam, but there’s nothing revolutionary here. It’s just a really nice, new version of the same camera Nest had before.
To unlock most of the best Nest Cam features, you need to sign up for the company’s Nest Aware service, which starts at $US10 per month or $US100 per year. That lets you scrub through up to 10 days of video history, recognises faces, and other premium features. You can still do a lot with the Nest Cam without paying for the subscription, but then you’re not unlocking its full potential.
In my tests, the IQ was able to detect faces pretty well, but there were a few times when I’d get an unknown person alert for someone I had already identified as a trusted person. The IQ often thought it was looking at a
different person in those cases.
A Nest rep told me it could take a few days for the camera’s facial recognition system to fully learn all the faces you want it to, but that seems to defeat the purpose. In my experience, Google’s facial recognition has always been pretty good, so it’s strange the IQ can’t learn a face the first time it sees one.
Another annoying thing with facial recognition: Since my living room TV is within the IQ’s field of view, I often got alerts for faces it spotted on TV, and since there are a lot of different people on TV, that meant I got a lot of unnecessary alerts.
Unfortunately, there’s no real solution for that. The IQ can’t tell the difference between a real person in the room or a person on a TV screen. Nest just suggests moving the camera so it’s not facing your TV.
Finally, the early version of the Nest app I tested murdered my iPhone’s battery, even when I had my phone’s display off. It runs in the background, monitoring your location so the camera can turn off automatically when you get home. I suspect that’s what caused most of the drain. Still, it wasn’t final software, and the battery didn’t always drain so rapidly on me, so it’s possible this will be fixed in the final version of the Nest app.
Price might turn you off
It can be a lot to swallow: $US299, plus another $US10 per month or $US100 per year to unlock all the features in the Nest Cam IQ. The 10-day video history is nice, but you may not need the facial recognition feature and some other alerts the service offers. Then again, no other company offers a service this good, so it’s really your only option.
Should you buy it?
I haven’t tested many webcams like Nest, but despite the occasional bugs mentioned above, it feels like a solid product. It’s well designed, the picture quality is great, and it’s comforting to have a library of video of everything that happens in your home, especially when you can use the 4K camera to identify faces better than other products.
For me, especially considering the price, the Nest Cam IQ was a nice-to-have, but not a must-have. If I lived in a larger apartment or house, had children, or had more visitors, I could see it being worth it.
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