Amazon’s Cloud Cam Gets Alexa Into the Home Security Game
When Amazon announced its own internet-connected security camera last month, those of us who closely follow the online giant felt a chilling of the blood.
Perhaps the reason I wasn’t eager to let Amazon control a camera in my home was because its last two camera-centered products, the Echo Show and Echo Look, seemed so bluntly intrusive. The Cloud Cam, which offers a private video stream of your front door, also felt sinister because of the announcement that came with it: Key. More of a protocol than a product, Amazon Key gives customers the choice to allow Amazon delivery persons access to open the smart lock on their front door, easing the hassle of package drop-offs. The Cloud Cam would just be a way to keep an eye on those friendly gig economy workers placing boxes into your entryway. Nothing creepy going on here at all.
Amazon Cloud Camera
Easy to use security camera for peeking inside your home from anywhere. Mobile alerts let you watch clips on your phone. Night vision gives a clear image in the dark. Wide, 120-degree field of view. Sensitivity is adjustable, so you can dial back the alerts if you want. Clips are encrypted and stored securely in the cloud.
Not weatherproof; indoor only. The most useful features are behind a paywall. Subscription costs climb quickly. Your clips are stored on Amazon whether you like it or not.
Regardless of how you feel about Key, the Cloud Cam is easy to grok. You can use it in conjunction with the Key service (which at the moment is only available in select cities) or you can just use it on its own as security camera. The app works with Android and iOS, so you can stream video from the camera to your phone no matter where you are in the world. It can send you alerts when it detects moving objects or actual humans, and there are controls to adjust the sensitivity of the motion-detection system. It has infrared night vision that give you a clear picture even in dark rooms. And as you’d expect from a smart home product from Amazon, it works with Alexa. If you have a Fire TV, Fire tablet, or Echo Show, you can ask Alexa to call up the camera’s video feed and display it on the screen.
It’s all very neat, and even if you’re not fully invested in Alexa around your house, the $120 camera is so easy to set up and use, it makes sense as a purchase for anyone who wants to keep an additional (electronic) eye on their home.
Look at Me
This is an indoor camera. It comes with a 10-foot, standard USB power cable, so you could probably mount it anywhere near an outlet as long as it’s sheltered from the rain, but it’s not weatherproof and really seems best suited to indoor use. Mounting is easy if you know how to work a drill; getting the app set up is even easier. Download it, log in to Amazon, tap in your Wi-Fi credentials, and just like that, you’re looking at an HD video feed.
Point the thing anywhere. You can use it as a baby monitor, to keep watch over a pet, or to check on whether the deer are eating your string beans in the garden outside the kitchen window. The most common thing to do is to angle it at your front door or entryway so it can keep a video log of everyone who comes and goes. Set it up that way, and you’ll start getting app notifications whenever it detects people or movement. Those are two different things. The camera can recognize a human, and when it does, the resulting notification will specifically tell you it saw a person. Tap through, and you’ll see a video clip of your wife going out for a cappuccino. (Hi, honey!) It can also sense movement, which you’ll quickly come to find means you get alerts about damn near everything.
When I installed the camera, I pointed it at my door and left all the default settings on. During the day, I only received notifications when people came or went. After nightfall, however, I started seeing “motion detected” notifications every two or three minutes. My first reaction was stage-one panic: Is someone trying to break in? Tapping through to the video clips, I couldn’t see anything… but ah wait. The window above my door was catching slight, momentary flashes from the headlights of each car that drove by. Barely noticeable on the clips, it was still enough to set the camera off.
Thankfully, there are tools to wrangle those alerts. The app has a three-position sensitivity slider for adjusting motion detection. I set it on the least sensitive option, and it quelled most of the false alarms. You can also set up zones, which let you mark areas in the camera’s view that it should ignore. Setting a zone that excluded the window above my door stopped the passing cars and neighbors from setting it off almost entirely (a few alerts still snuck through when the headlights were bright enough to illuminate the wall). You can also set the camera to sleep when you’re at home and wake up when you leave. This works via geofencing, so it requires giving the app location permissions. Spending the extra effort to set up those controls returned my smartphone notifications to a state of calm. Of course, you can also just switch the thing on and off manually.
Alexa integration works as promised. If you have a Fire TV stick, say, and your phone buzzes with a Cloud Cam alert while while you’re watching SMILF, you just say “Alexa, show the front door”—or whatever you’ve named your camera’s location when you set it up—and the HD livestream takes over the screen within two or three seconds. You don’t need to wait for an alert; you can summon the live view whenever you want. It’s a bit novel since your phone is usually always nearby. But if your kids are making noise while your hands are occupied and you want to see what’s up, the voice control is handy. (Cloud Cam also has a two-way audio feature, so you can verbally berate your children through the camera while spying on them. Technology!)
Add It Up
The pricing structure requires some mental gymnastics. If you spend $120, you get the camera, the mobile alerts, the ability to livestream to your phone or Alexa-powered screens, and you can look at clips of every event in the last 24 hours. Everything else is a subscription upsell—much like Google’s Nest Aware service that unlocks capabilities in its Nest cameras.
An Amazon Cloud Cam subscription earns you some of the most helpful features: the demarcation of those no-watch zones, the ability to discern “movement” and “persons” instead of just an “event,” and the ability to download and share video clips. The price changes based on how many cameras you want to control and how long you want to be able to store the clips. For $70 a year, you get a week of clip storage and up to three cameras. $100 per year gives you two weeks and up to five cameras. $200 per year gives you 30 days of storage and up to 10 cameras. That’s all roughly comparable to Nest Aware, though Nest starts at $100 and doesn’t have Amazon’s cheaper $70 subscription option.
The added costs, of course, are the rental fees for storage on Amazon’s servers. The idea that footage of the inside of your home is being kept on a server farm somewhere should give you pause. So it’s here I’ll mention that the clips are encrypted, the communications between camera and server are encrypted, and that you can delete stored clips at any time from inside the app or in your browser. I’m generally a trusting person, and I take Amazon at its word when it says the privacy and security of my video clips are locked down. Whether you want to install Big Brother in your own home is up to you.
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