Aug 10, 2013

Dropcam HD Review

The Dropcam HD is a reliable, easy-to-use security camera that, for the most part, delivers on its promises.

The Good

  • Easy Setup
  • Intuitive Software
  • Reliable
  • Video Quality (day time)

The Bad

  • Two-way talk poorly implemented
  • Video Quality (night time)


Video hardware costs have come down steeply in recent years, and the consumer market is full of inexpensive security cameras. Most in the under-$100 price category offer standard VGA resolution (640x480). However, in a world of high definition smart phone cameras, this seems underwhelming. Furthermore, setup of these cameras can be daunting to the non-tech savvy individual, or at the very least a hassle to get running.

The Dropcam HD boasts high definition (1280x720), and setup “in less than a minute.”, for $149. This is clearly compelling to many, and the Dropcam HD has risen to be one of Amazon’s top-selling security cameras.

The following review applies to Dropcam HD's most recent software available to the public on 8/11/2013.


  • 720p HD
  • Wi-Fi-enabled
  • Mobile access (Apple iOS & Android)
  • Encrypted video
  • Remote Cloud Video Recording with paid subscription
  • Motion and Audio alert
  • Schedule enabled on/off & alerts(optionally based on location for iPhone)
  • Infrared night vision
  • Download clips


Having used two Dropcam HD's for nine months at home, I have become very familiar with use of the software and behavior of the cameras. As long as the Dropcam HD is turned on, it is continually streaming video to Dropcam's servers. There is no local recording of video. For $9.95/month there is a 7 day history of video. Additional cameras are 50% off this cost; in my case I'm paying $15/month for two. A 30-day history is available for about 3X the cost. Without the paid service the Dropcam HD will only show real-time video, though alert notifications are still available. Setup is indeed easy, though going from closed box to running in 60 seconds probably takes a great deal of practice--plan on setting aside a few more minutes than that.

The Dropcam HD records in HD (720p) at a resolution of 1280X720. Video quality is a product of much more than resolution, however. In the sample video, below, I have put together three clips downloaded from the My Clips area of the Dropcam web site. This can be viewed at the native 720p resolution.

Outdoor day time quality is strong. Outdoor night is poor at range, meaning there is nothing for the infrared light projected by the Dropcam HD to reflect off. Indoor night is quite good, and the infrared lights perform sufficiently. The camera is not outdoor-rated, but many users place theirs behind windows. It should be noted that the Dropcam HD automatically changes its frame rate depending on light conditions, and in the raw outdoor clip I was seeing 15 FPS, but both night time clips were at 7 FPS. This means that movement at night (indoors, where it can be seen in night vision mode) will blur more than during the day.

Note: Video can be watched in full-screen.

Web application camera selection screen
Web application navigating the video history

Web application saved clip

Web application general settings
Web application general settings (continued)
Web application alerts settings
iPhone camera selection screen

I have not tried the Dropcam app for Android. I have used it on an iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and iPod Touch 5th gen. The iPhone & iPod use the same app, though the iPad app's functionality is closer to that of the Web application (browser). Although major settings and events are accessible on the iPhone, a historical timeline is not; it is available on the iPad.

All of the apps are sufficiently responsive (a few seconds to pull up video from differently points on the time line). The iPhone app works well on the iPhone 4S with 3G.

The Dropcam HD has a speaker. This allows two-way communication through all applications to the camera with a recipient near the camera. In practice I found this function to be the major weakness of the Dropcam HD. Speaker quality on the camera is poor and, more seriously, latency issues made this function one I have found I am unable to use. Although I occasionally still use this function to make rude noises to my kids on the other end if I think of it, I otherwise don't consider it a usable function at the moment.

More Details/FAQ

  • How much bandwidth does Dropcam HD use? Dropcam says that Each Dropcam uses approximately 0.2Mbps of upload bandwidth, and depending on the conditions, can peak up to 0.5 Mbps. You can determine your general upload speed here
  • Does Dropcam HD support local storage? No.
  • Does Dropcam HD work outdoors? June 25, 2014 update: Officially, still no
  • Does Dropcam HD support motion detection zones? No, the camera does not support motion detection zones (i.e. motion detection can be set to ignore certain items in-frame such as blowing trees). Some have requested this in a future version. Presumably this could be handled with a software update.
  • Range My house has a basement, two stories above, and my router is an aging one. I've never had connectivity problems indoors. Outdoors connectivity experiments were challenging, but again, this is an indoor-rated camera and should only be considered as such.
  • Notification Delay Under heavy movement, the camera will mark events no more than approx every ~3 minutes, I have observed. When I timed the delay between receiving a notification on my iPhone and an email, both were received 11 seconds after moving my hand in front of the camera. If alert notifications are enabled, Dropcam does not appear to send out more than once every 30 minutes, by design, to avoid spamming the user.
  • Does Dropcam HD have zoom? Yes, but it's digital zoom only.
  • How hot does the Dropcam HD get? I have not measured the temperature of this camera, but it gets quite warm to the touch (all electronic devices have some degree of waste heat). The only time this has caused a problem is when a blanket was accidentally thrown over one of my cameras. After around 30 min there were thick lines in the image. If attempting to conceal the camera in some way, ventilation should be a consideration.
  • Self-Recovery My internet connection goes out with some regularity, and only very rarely have I had to manually unplug and plug back in a camera; they generally recover reliably.
  • MIC sensitivity This is adjustable and I think capable of picking up sounds at least as quietly as my ears can (I consider my hearing to be pretty decent!).


To be plainly honest, the Dropcam HD is one of my favorite gadgets. Although I want to see Dropcam make it better, and address some of the oft-requested features by the users, taken as a whole I recommend this camera with few reservations. Both of mine have worked predictably for nine months. I have an outdoor-rated, wired IP camera with much better resolution under my front porch, but it lacks the simplicity or accessibility of the Dropcam HD, and, if it died tomorrow, I’d probably pick up a third Dropcam HD and position it behind a window.

I dislike monthly service fees in general, but I make an exception for Dropcam’s “cloud video recording” off-site storage. Combined with the mobile app I have a reliable view of my home, and am safe in the knowledge that if the Dropcam ever captures nefarious activity there is no way for a local recording to be removed.

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