I’ve never understood the fascination with connected home cameras, such as Canary, the Nest Cam, and others. They’ve always been a gimmick in my experience, not reliable enough for a proper security system, not practical enough to be a baby monitor. But a lot of people really like them, so I spent the last week with the new Nest Cam IQ to see if it could change my opinion.
The $299 Nest Cam IQ’s big pitch is intelligence. It has a higher resolution camera than prior Nest Cam models, but it doesn’t use that to output a larger video feed. Instead, it combines that high resolution with smart people tracking to automatically zoom in on a subject when it sees a person in the frame and still maintain good image quality. It can “see” friendly faces that you identify in the Nest app and it can alert you when it sees a person that it doesn’t recognize.
To make this work, you need to subscribe to the Nest Aware service, which is available with 10 days of rolling back ups for $10 per month or $100 per year, or 30 days of rolling back ups for $30 per month or $300 per year. Adding a camera to the 10 day plan is $5 per month; additional cameras on the 30 day plan are $15 each per month. Without the subscription service, the Cam IQ will still provide push alerts to your phone for motion, sound, and people, but its Familiar Faces feature will not work and it will only be able to rewind the last three hours of footage.
Between the cost of the camera itself and the fees for its service, the Cam IQ’s intelligence has a lot to prove.
Nest advertises the Cam IQ as a security device, so I set it up in my front window, pointed towards my front door. (Note that this is inside the house: the Cam IQ is not designed to be used outdoors.) I thought it would be able to alert me to visitors and delivery persons – a doorbell, in effect – which it did do. But it also alerted me whenever one of my neighbors was walking their dog on my street, which grew tiresome quickly.
The Nest Cam IQ also had both false positives (alerting me to something when there was nothing) and false negatives (failing to alert me when someone was actually there), which make me really hesitant to rely on it for any actual security needs. Combined with the fact that the only thing the Cam IQ can do when it detects an intruder is send my phone a push notification (which I may or may not see immediately), it doesn’t seem like a great solution if you really want to secure your home. It can’t call authorities or ask for help the way a proper home security system can.
Video captured by the Cam IQ is saved in 1080p resolution instead of the 4K that the sensor is capable of. Image quality is fine, but it’s nothing compared to a high-end smartphone. There are also three microphones and a speaker on the Cam IQ, so if you have it set up in the right place, you can talk to a person through it. Or yell at your kid when they are refusing to go to sleep.
The Supersight feature, which zooms in on a person it detects in frame, is very cool to see in action. The camera will automatically zoom in the image and pan it to track the person while they move in frame, ostensibly so you can identify them easier. But the only way to view the Supersight feature is within the app’s timeline mode – shared or saved video clips will only show the full wide view of the camera.
Still, after having the Nest Cam IQ in my front window for a week, I started to understand a little bit why people like these things in their homes. They may not be great security systems, but they are good at capturing serendipitous moments throughout the day. That might be my two year old walking her play lawnmower around to the front of the house or my father-in-law finding yet another thing to fix on the front of the house when he comes to visit.
Some people like to use these cameras as baby monitors, but I’ve found them to be too slow and not immediate enough for that. A push notification isn’t going to wake me up, but a proper baby monitor will. My colleague Ben Popper uses a similar camera in his boys’ bedroom to monitor them when it’s time for bed, but even he said that the cost of the Nest Cam’s service would not be worth it.
And that’s the real issue: the Nest Cam IQ is basically an expensive toy. Even with its people tracking intelligence and high-resolution image quality, I’m not convinced it’s worth the price.