In-depth reviews guided by a Pediatrician

DropCam Pro Review

The best video camera for monitoring baby, hands down
The Dropcam Pro is as easy to use as it is simple looking
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:   $200 List
Pros:  Wi-Fi range, long battery life, great video and sound
Cons:  Must have Internet connection and personal device
Manufacturer:   Dropcam
By Juliet Spurrier, MD & BabyGearLab Team  ⋅  Jan 26, 2015
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The Skinny

The Dropcam Pro was discontinued by Google in 2015 and replaced with the Nest Cam.

It's not often we come across a product that impresses us so much it is hard to find fault with it. This camera may not be solely intended as a video product for babies, but it does the job so well, and offers so much versatility, that it is hard not to fall in love with this quality camera. It has Wi-Fi connection, impressive reliability, excellent video and sound, and enough features and battery life to keep parents playing for hours. This product earned significantly more points than any other in our review coming in first out of 14 products for performance and quality. We love this monitor and definitely recommend it.

Fast WiFi Required
While we are very impressed with the DropCam Pro, it is important to mention that a high-speed internet and strong WiFi signal are required both in the nursery where the camera is placed, and anywhere you intend to view from on a smartphone or tablet. This adds a complex requirement, since it is not enough to just have good WiFi speed from one location in your home; as a practical matter, you will need to be able to stream video from any location you will use DropCam in your home. Furthermore, high-speed internet connection is required for both upload and download to avoid interruptions and/or frustrating delays in sound and video delivery. This is very different than watching Netflix, which only requires fast download speeds. As a result, DropCam may not be practical for use as a baby monitor in many homes, or may require upgrading to faster internet and/or installation of additional WiFi repeaters or routers to get the speed of WiFi coverage needed throughout the home. In contrast, dedicated video monitors such as the Lorex Sweet Peep are much simpler, more reliable, and considerably less expensive.


Our Analysis and Test Results

Dropcam Pro is a camera monitoring system designed to work with a computer or personal device like a tablet or smart phone. It claims a simple set up with a plug and launch app mechanism. It utilizes a Wi-Fi connection with steady dual band radio transmission that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Invitees can drop in at any time with a username and password and speak directly with baby in their room for soothing or just for fun. Access to live video is free, and recording options in the Cloud can be purchased for varying fees. The camera has a 3 megapixel image sensor with a 130 degree field of view. The app offers a zoom and enhance feature to see finer details, but there is no pan and tilt (camera is stationary unless manually altered). Camera includes speaker and microphone so viewers can speak to anyone in the room. The camera also has infrared LED for clear night vision. Camera can be set to turn on and off based on time of day or your location. Alerts can be set for motion and sound and sent via email or push notification when the app is off. Parents can keep track of alerts or create custom alerts. Included in the package are a Dropcam camera, Ethernet cable, and power adapter.

Performance Comparison


The Dropcam Pro is as easy to use as it is simple looking
The Dropcam Pro is as easy to use as it is simple looking

Range


If you are experiencing a weak connection  Dropcam will attempt to offer some video  but it will also display this warning so you know it is having difficulty
If you are experiencing a weak connection, Dropcam will attempt to offer some video, but it will also display this warning so you know it is having difficulty
This camera has a range only limited by your Wi-Fi connection. It does not have an Ethernet port or any way of hard wiring it, so parents will need a good reliable internet connection to use this monitor.

We tested it with various different personal devices as the parent unit, and we used it in various locations with different internet service providers and speeds. For the most part this monitor did well no matter what the circumstances and even when we had a slower connection speed and upload speed it continued to work with a warning screen that kept us informed on our connectivity status.

In order for the Nest Cam to work well you will need about 0.5 Mbps upload speed
In order for the Nest Cam to work well you will need about 0.5 Mbps upload speed
The Dropcam requires a minimum upload speed of 0.5 Mbps. Even with a connection close to this speed we still had success using this monitor with only a couple of seconds delay. The distance from a Wi-Fi router is the main thing that can impact performance and result in loss of connection. Using an iPad as the parent unit we were able to place the Dropcam up to 60 feet and 4 walls away from the wireless router. It didn't work at all at 5 walls and had some intermittent connection after 60 feet. The iPad could get up to 65 feet away and through 5 walls. These distance are similar to the range found in dedicated monitors between the parent unit and the baby camera. Given these results, the Dropcam can give parents about twice the range of a dedicated unit, not to mention the ability to peek at baby from another location altogether.

Overall if range is a concern for parents either due to the size of their home or where they plan to use the monitor Wi-Fi might be the best or possibly only option for using a video products. The dedicated monitors have a much smaller range possibility than the Wi-Fi options and could lead to the inability to maintain consistent contact between the parent and baby units. Traditional monitors had a high range of 80 feet and 5 walls, earned by Motorola MBP36. The majority of monitors have a range closer to 62 feet and 4 walls. So not only did the Dropcam perform better overall in every metric than the competition, but it offers a larger range potential.
Dropcam and Nest Cam will tell you when your Wi-Fi signal is too weak by showing you a warning screen. The Nest Cam warning screen is similar
Dropcam and Nest Cam will tell you when your Wi-Fi signal is too weak by showing you a warning screen. The Nest Cam warning screen is similar
This camera can be accessed from just about anywhere with an internet connection or via a smartphone or tablet connected using a phone plan that includes data. This is a nice features for checking in on baby while away or in a area without Internet connectivity. While the Withings Smart Baby and Wifi Baby 3.0 both can be accessed from a distance using the Internet, neither seem as reliable as the Dropcam and we had difficulty getting the Withings app to work well on a 3G network.

Audio / Visual


The camera is manually adjustable. It cannot be remotely controlled from the parent unit
The camera is manually adjustable. It cannot be remotely controlled from the parent unit
Audio and visual depends in part on the Dropcam camera itself, but also on what kind of personal device is being used as parent unit. So the parent unit audio and video capabilities can vary, the only constant is the camera and mic on the Dropcam and what it is capable of picking up and processing. Add to that the different functionalities of the audio and video and it gives the overall performance picture of this monitor. The Dropcam scored well in both audio and visual with the highest marks for video and a 3rd place score for audio. Even though it only came in 3rd place, no need to despair the audio is more than adequate to relay to parents the information they need to know.

The maximum decibel level output for this camera is 83 db, which is the lowest in the group. The sound is a little bright and missing some of the mid and lower range tones. The sound can be a little muffled at times and it is reduced if you are running other applications that also require sound when viewed on a computer (not possible when using the app). The menu for this monitor includes threshold adjustments that include mic sensitivity. This helps reduce or eliminate white noise that might come through the mic to the parent unit. It doesn't have a silent mode, but it can be set so parents can't hear background noise happening in baby's room like house noises and/or fans and filters. This can potentially help parents fall asleep faster or stay asleep longer. This adjustment also seems to amplify the louder noises so parents can rest assured they will always be able to hear baby when something is amiss. So while this unit doesn't have sound activation per se, a feature we really like, it does have the ability to create a silent parent unit that will still be able to alert parents to baby's crying.

This unit scored a 7 of 10 for sound. The VTech Safe & Sound VM333 and the Samsung SEW-3037W both earned 9s, coming in at the top of the pack for sound. The Levana Ovia earned the lowest score for sound with a 3. The Wifi Baby 3.0 has a score of 0 for sound, but this is related more to the Wifi Baby being difficult to keep setup and therefore hard to test, than its actual sound capabilities.

For video the Dropcam scored an 8 of 10, which is a tie with the Withings Smart Baby. The average score for video for the products in our review was 6, and the lowest score of 3 was earned by the Foscam FBM3501. Wifi Baby 3.0 received a 0 for this metric given that we were unable to get it setup in time for testing.
This monitor offers a larger field of view. The camera for this view is mounted to the wall at about 7 feet looking down  and supplies a view of almost the entire room making it ideal for watching active toddlers
This monitor offers a larger field of view. The camera for this view is mounted to the wall at about 7 feet looking down, and supplies a view of almost the entire room making it ideal for watching active toddlers
The camera has one of the best video feeds for all the products. It offers a 3 megapixel sensor for clear images, and has a field of view of 130 degrees which is the largest in this review, and can provide of full view of almost any size room, and with 8x digital zoom and zoom enhance feature parents can still get an up close and personal view of baby with a simple touch of the screen. Even at night images are clear enough to see the details that matter like baby's face.

For clarity we were able to view 3 lines of text on the eye chart in baby's crib. The clarity and readability of the chart is even better when using the zoom, which is easy to operate by double touch on the screen or pinching the view in the same manner people already watch and view photos and videos on their smartphones. Once zoomed in parents can enhance the view they are seeing with a touch of the enhance icon. This produces a zoom image that is better than any other product in our review both in quality and closeness.
Night vision for this monitor is almost as good as the daylight images
Night vision for this monitor is almost as good as the daylight images
For color correctness this monitor also scored well offering a picture of the color chart that closely matched the chart in reality. In fact, this unit had the highest possible score of 10 for color. Daytime video earned a 10, which isn't a big surprise when it scored so well for clarity and color. Night vision is also good with this camera, with the performance scoring only dropping by 1 point in night vision mode.

The screen never goes dark or into sleep mode when using the Dropcam on an app or computer (it overrides any device sleep mode). This could be a problem for parents who have difficulty sleeping in lighted conditions. Unlike the Withings, which will continue to run if the screen is manually turned off, the Dropcam will stop running and monitoring if the screen is manual turned off. By dimming the screen using the features of the parent device and adjusting the sound sensitivity the parent device can be adjusted for better sleeping. If the device being used for monitoring doesn't offer these kinds of features the device can be laid flat to control the brightness of the room. It would be nicer if the screen could go to sleep either automatically or manually, but at least there is some kind of alternative than can suffice, even if it is more work.

For video the Dropcam is hard to beat. The only complaint for video would be the inability for the app to continue working when the personal device being used is used for other applications or put in sleep mode. While not a deal breaker, it could be a hassle for parents to adjust to, and it could limit the way parents are able to use their device since two applications can't be run at once. One possible solution would be to use an old phone or cheaper tablet as a parent device so your current phone or much loved tablet are still free for regular use. One tester in our review used an older iPhone 4c as the parent device so her regular phone didn't have to do double duty.

Ease of Use


Whether you set up the camera via computer or Bluetooth  the process is relatively easy with a few guided steps
Whether you set up the camera via computer or Bluetooth, the process is relatively easy with a few guided steps
The Dropcam is easy and not easy all at the same time. Part of it depends on how intuitive parents are or how tech savvy. The initial setup is actually easy with a quick start card that comes with the unit. The camera is plugged into a computer and it walks parents through the process of setup in a few easy steps and then directs parents to unplug the camera and set up in the location of their choice. This is where it gets a little tricky. The device, nor the computer will instruct parents to find the app on the personal device they plan to use as a monitor; parents will have to find and download the app on their own. However, once the app is on the device all parents have to do is log in and they are ready to start viewing. It would be nice if the Dropcam included some kind of information to lead users to the app, while it may seem intuitive to users that are savvy with technology, it might not seem obvious to those who don't use technology very often.
The main viewing screen has icons for talk to baby feature  settings for alert and threshold adjustments  as well as could recording options.
The main viewing screen has icons for talk to baby feature, settings for alert and threshold adjustments, as well as could recording options.
We found the app itself works a little differently depending on where it originates from and we liked the iOS and Google Play options the best. The Amazon App store requires constant login each time you open it, which is likely a security feature in case the device is lost, but can feel annoying when you just want a quick peek at baby from work.

The menu options and functions of the app and on the computer are all very similar in nature and fairly intuitive for those who use tablets and smartphones regularly. It might be less user friendly for some grandparents, but it is easy enough that limited explanation is required to get users up to speed. There are adjustments for thresholds for alerts and sound sensitivities.

For ease of use this unit earned an 8 of 10, tying with the dedicated monitor Summer Infant Clear Sight. The hardest to use were the Wifi Baby 3.0 and Withings Smart Baby. We had varying degrees of difficulty setting up both monitors, and they both offer limited customer support that takes at least 1 day to respond to requests for help. Different users struggled with different setup options and tasks, but overall there isn't enough information provided with either product for parents to truly trouble shoot the majority of problems by themselves.

Features


This unit can be connected to an unlimited number of cameras and has the ability to be viewed by an unlimited number of invited viewers. Both features can come in handy as families and needs for cameras grow. Being able to connect multiple cameras means more coverage for additional children or rooms, and more viewers means parents and grandparents alike can see baby whenever they like, no matter where they are. Viewers need to be invited and can be removed from the viewing list whenever parents choose to. Invitation happens via email when parents add viewers to the list of participants.
With Dropcam and the newer Nest Cam you can choose what kind of alerts you want to receive (if any) to your handheld device or email  in addition to hearing baby cry immediately as it happens. We suggest parents NOT rely on alerts as these can occur up to 30 minutes after baby cries
With Dropcam and the newer Nest Cam you can choose what kind of alerts you want to receive (if any) to your handheld device or email, in addition to hearing baby cry immediately as it happens. We suggest parents NOT rely on alerts as these can occur up to 30 minutes after baby cries
This monitor comes with motion and sound detection. Sound can be monitored at all times with volume adjustment, or parents can choose to receive alerts to sound and motion via email or push notifications. We suggest that parents choose to monitor sound full time like an ordinary monitor, because the alerts are not sent instantly; some alerts we received within a few seconds of activity, others we did not get for up to 30 minutes. So while alerts can be useful and nice for some purposes, they are not the most reliable method of constant monitoring of baby in real time.

This unit also comes with 2 way communication feature that allows parents to talk to baby from their device, including computers with mic capabilities. Given that parents can hear baby or occupants of the room, a conversation of sorts is possible with this feature and can make loved ones feel closer even across long distances. The Withings Smart Baby also has 2 way talk to baby feature, but we were not able to find a talk feature when viewing baby from the Withings dashboard on a computer. This means the feature is limited to personal devices like smartphones and tablets.
This monitor offers 8x digital zoom that is easy to operate and adjust
This monitor offers 8x digital zoom that is easy to operate and adjust
The Dropcam has automatic night vision via a sensor on the camera. It has an 8x digital zoom with an enhancement feature that creates a clearer picture than the competition offered. It has a large field of view that lets parents navigate almost an entire room with zoom and pan and tilt while zoomed in. Using the enhancement feature will stop the pan and tilt possibilities and change recording options if parents are paying for the feature, but it is certainly worth it to get the clearer image and the image can easily be reverted back to the original field of view.

Screen shot from iPhone 5s of 8x digital zoom without the enhancement feature
8 x digital zoom using the enhancement feature helps make baby's features more visible in night vision mode
These photos show the 8 X zoom with no enhancement (left) and using the enhancement feature (right).

Using the Dropcam and the app is a free service and included in the purchase of the camera. If parents would like more options, including the ability to record, they will need to pay an additional feature for automatic recording. This might be a nice feature to have for recording and saving memories of baby, or as a nanny cam for keeping an eye on what happens when parents aren't at home. The service is a monthly fee service that starts at about $10 a month and has lots of extra features like movie making and sharing capability. The bonus is you can cancel it at any time without penalty if you feel it isn't meeting your needs.

Because this camera is not strictly a baby monitor it did not come with some of the bells and whistles that some of the others boast about. However, its lack of nightlight, lullabies, and temperature sensor we feel is more than made up for with its quality video and versatility. There are other products for baby that act as a nightlight or play lullabies, your baby monitor doesn't need to be one of them.

EMF


All of the monitors had some level of EMF emissions with the exception of the Withings Smart Baby when connected via an Ethernet cable (the reading was the same as the ambient room reading so its total is null). All of the other monitors (including Withings used wirelessly) had a reading of 6+ with the reader 6 inches from the units. This amount decreased as we moved the reader away from the units, dropping by about half for most of them at 3 feet and continuing to drop at 6 feet. The Dropcam actually saw the most significant drop and earned the lowest wireless reading at 6 feet with a 0.78 EMF. We assume this amount would continue to decrease as the reader moves away from the unit, making this camera one of the best if EMF is a concern for you.

Given that we don't really know what the long term, or even short term effects of exposure to EMF is, it is hard to say with certainty what can happen from long or significant exposure. Because some anecdotal evidence and preliminary studies indicate it could potentially be harmful, we like to err on the side of caution by limiting exposure whenever possible. One way to limit exposure is to not use a monitor at all. The second best way is to choose the best monitor for your needs with the lowest known EMF and then place the camera as far from baby as possible without affecting monitor performance. Most of the cameras in this review can be placed 10-15 feet away and still work with night vision adequately enough to see baby and most things in the room. This would be the best solution for limiting baby's sensitive developing systems to EMF exposure.

Security/Privacy Concerns


After researching the various security issues of each WiFi enabled monitor in this review we feel the Dropcam is the safest and least likely to be affected or accessed by outside hackers. While nothing is completely failsafe, other than not using a video monitor, we feel Dropcam has what it takes to make most parents feel safe with the history and technology to back up their product and claims.

BabyGearLab was unable to locate any story on Dropcam feeds being hacked by an outside source. What we did find is a report from a private security company claiming they could only breech Dropcam security after physically accessing and taking apart a Dropcam camera to read the identification data stored inside the camera itself. Given that an outside party is unlikely to have access and time to take apart your personal camera, we feel the likelihood of this occurring for the average parents is almost nil.

Dropcam does advise that parents keep their app up to date and avoid entering their Dropcam username or passwords anywhere other than a Dropcam site or app. Requests from other 3rd party sources could pose a security risk. You can read more about Dropcam security and safety of their users here.

After researching, we believe that the Dropcam is the most secure WiFi monitor we reviewed. Their parent company (Nest/Google) has extensive resources and technology at their fingertips to help avoid and prevent potential hacking problems from occurring and/or mitigating issues as soon as they arise. In addition, Dropcam uses their own servers and private key codes and special certificates on their cameras to prevent potential hacking.

There are some general tips and guidelines that can help keep your camera safe from hackers.

Safety Precautions to Avoid Hacking
Update any firmware for your camera if applicable
Do not use the default password
Choose a password at least 8-10 characters and use a combination of lower/upper case letters, numbers, and special characters
Change passwords frequently
Limit what the camera can see
Unplug the camera when not in use. Do not rely powering it off since many cameras can be remotely activated

The other cameras we looked at that connect via internet did not offer the same level of comfort or security considerations. Withings Smart Baby does not offer any information concerning security and safety on their website in any way. WiFi Baby 3.0 suggests that customers avoid using the WiFi function on their camera to avoid hacking. We think that avoiding using a product as it is intended is not a viable solution to a security problem. If you are too nervous to use an internet based camera then we suggest you skip the added expense and hassle altogether and buy a dedicated monitor instead. You the WiFi Baby 3.0 security information here.

Battery Life


Battery life is a hard one to measure for this monitor. While the camera itself plugs in and has no battery, measuring battery life on the parent unit is harder. This battery life depends on what device is used as the parent device. Different smartphones and tablets will offer different battery life potential and some of that further depends on whether or not parents use the device for other applications while monitoring. Dropcam doesn't allow the app to close and continue monitoring the way Withings does, but parents could flip back and forth between applications or make phone calls during nap time that will effect the longevity of the battery.

In general however, we estimate the battery life of most parent devices that could be used with this application as being at least 10 hours of life. This makes it the longest battery life in the group. The shortest battery life is the Uniden Lullaboo Guardian G403 with just 3.5 hours of life before it dies.

Best Applications


This monitor offers a larger field of view. The camera for this view is mounted to the wall at about 7 feet looking down  and supplies a view of almost the entire room making it ideal for watching active toddlers
This monitor offers a larger field of view. The camera for this view is mounted to the wall at about 7 feet looking down, and supplies a view of almost the entire room making it ideal for watching active toddlers
There are endless potential best applications for the Dropcam. It would make a great baby monitor, connection to family, nanny cam, or for possible surveillance. The monitor works well for watching baby and keeping tabs on toddlers. It offers full room field of view, 8x zoom in potential (greater than any of the competition), and it can be accessed from just about anywhere there is internet or cellular coverage. When baby outgrows the need for constant monitoring, the monitor can then be used for watching toddlers at play, talking to children from work, or making sure the nanny is as great as she seems.

Given the systems ability to add as many cameras as you may need or want there is an application for everyone that means it can continue to grow as your family does.

Value


The list price of this camera is $200. This is on the higher side for the products, but it is by no means the highest in the group with several monitors costing over $220. However, the more important thing to consider is the longevity and potential use this camera provides. Given that it can be used as more than just a baby monitoring device and might be used for many years, its value increases exponentially. If the family budget allows it really is a product worth investing in given the potential uses it has over time. While there were cheaper models in our review, none of them scored as high as the Dropcam or have as much long term potential and versatility.

Conclusion


This product scored number 1 in our review and performance tests. It outscored the closest competitor by almost 10 points. This monitor impressed on just about every front. It offered good video, features, ease of use, and battery life. The Dropcam did well in our tests for just about everything. While there is some remaining concerns about reliable connections and alerts, we feel the connection is at least as stable and reliable as the dedicated monitors. In our previous review of video products we expressed concern over the reliability of Wi-Fi products and using them as a sole source of monitoring. However, since then the technology has improved and even when this monitor had trouble with the connection to Wi-Fi it relayed the message and helped us troubleshoot the problem and solution. This gave us confidence that the unit would be just as successful as a dedicated monitor that has walls and distance to contend with, and that occasionally loses signal due to interference issues we couldn't identify. If you still have fears of overnight loss of coverage then using a cheap audio only monitor as backup might be just the ticket for ensuring consistent coverage.

If for some reason your Nest Cam is disconnected  a warning screen similar to this one will appear and walk you through a troubleshooting menu or offer to connect you to help from a live person
If for some reason your Nest Cam is disconnected, a warning screen similar to this one will appear and walk you through a troubleshooting menu or offer to connect you to help from a live person
In addition to offering a quality product that does the monitoring job and
Nest Cam  like the Dropcam  offers troubleshooting advice related to the problem you are having. In addition  they have a contact support option to speak directly with a real person for help
Nest Cam, like the Dropcam, offers troubleshooting advice related to the problem you are having. In addition, they have a contact support option to speak directly with a real person for help
more, Dropcam has something the competition doesn't, a product that works the way it should and a customer support team to help if it doesn't. Not only did we not have any problems setting up this camera and using it the way it was intended, but when issues did arise (due to poor internet connectivity) the app helped us troubleshoot the issue and find a resolution without the need for further research or contact with customer support. This saved valuable time and felt like we had a technician helping us fix the problem. However, had the provided and guided help screens been unable to help us, Dropcam has a phone number manned 24 hours a day. The other Wi-Fi products, Withings Smart Baby and Wifi Baby 3.0, fail to offer what we consider to be proper customer service by only supplying us with a contact form to fill out and email correspondence. While Wifi Baby did eventually call us, both companies took multiple days to help us resolve issues; this is something that really feels like a deal breaker to us given the way parents will likely use baby monitors.

This means the Dropcam has what no other product offers; limitless range possibilities, consistent monitoring, useful features, high quality video images, and great customer support. The combination of performance test results and other factors make the Dropcam a product we definitely recommend.

Other Versions and Accessories


There are no other versions of the Dropcam, and the only accessories are additional cameras. All the cameras are the same.

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Juliet Spurrier, MD & BabyGearLab Team