Last Updated Mar 3, 2015 12:37 PM EST
One of the hottest ideas in consumer technology these days is the connected home, and few products better exemplify this space than "smart" surveillance cameras. Among the profusion of products to choose from, popular models include Dropcam and IC Real Tech's Allie. But ArcSoft's Simplicam -- one of the most affordable cameras you can buy -- offers a great mix of features and is easy to set up in a home or office.
The camera itself is quite compact, and can be placed on a shelf or mounted on a wall with the included hardware. You'll need to plug it in (it's not battery-powered) and connect it to your Wi-Fi network via a fairly straightforward setup process using your mobile app (Simplicam supports both iPhone and Android.)
Once you're up and running, the camera stares at the designated room with a 107-degree wide angle camera and shoots video at 1280 x 720-pixel resolution. Those specs are easily beat by other cameras. Dropcam, for example, records 1920 x 1080 video at 130 degrees.
Still, I found the camera easily captured my entire kitchen, dining area and front hallway -- exactly what I would need to monitor the front of my house -- and its automatic night vision mode makes it useful 24/7. The resolution is also sufficient for Simplicam's coolest feature: face detection.
Simplicam detects not just sound and motion in a room, but faces as well. Using the mobile app, you can teach the camera the faces of all the people who frequent your house, and that's when things get really interesting. You can instruct Simplicam to notify you when specific people enter the field of view, so it's possible for your phone to ping you only when your kids get home from school. Or you can ask Simplicam to ignore all the people it knows, and only alert you if a stranger enters.
A detection grid even lets you designate what parts of the room the camera should monitor. ArcSoft also appears to be sensitive to privacy issues, because you can even configure the camera to stop recording when it detects certain people.
Simplicam streams its video in real time, so you can view your camera's feed from your phone or a web browser at any time. The camera's microphone lets you listen in on what's happening in the room, and you can "push to talk," using your phone as a long distance intercom to carry on a conversation with whoever is in the room. This feature worked well, with audio clear and understandable in both directions.
With the basic cloud storage plan, the last 24 hours of video taken with Simplicam are stored in the cloud (You can also store 11 and 21 days for a more costly subscription), and you can scroll the timeline back to a day to watch pre-recorded action. Looking for something in particular? You don't have to scroll aimlessly. The timeline is color-coded for when motion or sound events occurred, and an events tab gives you access to clips of just those moments. You can filter by motion events, sounds and faces, and clips are identified by who was in the scene.
Face detection is really the reason to choose a Simplicam, but be aware it's far from perfect. The feature is still clearly described as "beta," and it sometimes misidentifies people in the frame. But it gets it right an impressive amount of time.
The camera costs $150, but you can get it bundled with a year of cloud storage for $200 (the 24-hour cloud service is ordinarily $5 a month). You don't have to use Simplicam with the cloud service, but without a subscription it's only useful as a real-time monitor. The cloud lets you rewind and save clips, which you can keep online or share.
If you've been looking for a home surveillance camera, Simplicam is right in the sweet spot -- an affordable alternatives that can effectively replace a more expensive home alarm system.