The latest smart security cameras are big business and the latest part of the connected home to really catch on.
Offering peace of mind to homeowners – and not to mention a great way to check on your pets – anyone looking for an easy-to-use smart home security camera is blessed with superb options.
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Google unveiled its new Nest Cam earlier this year, Piper has an upgraded camera with night-vision capabilities on sale, and Canary is now on sale in the UK after attracting plenty of attention in the US.
More choice is always good for us consumers, but smart cameras are still a bit of a minefield, with most featuring their fair share of hidden charges and pay-walled features. It can mean a lot of research — but we're here to answer all your questions and explain how these three cameras measure up against each other.
Design and setup
Google's Nest Cam is the most camera-like of the three — it actually looks a lot like a webcam — and wins in terms of compactness and curves. Power is provided through a thick USB cord. The Nest Cam won in the 'ease of setup' category too: it takes a couple of minutes once you've downloaded the app for Android or iOS.
The Piper NV is a much more chunky affair, though it does include a battery pack (in case the people burgling your home should be savvy enough to cut the power first). Despite its larger size it's not particularly heavy, and like the Nest Cam it can go on the wall or a desk. The setup process was fiddly and didn't work first time — though we got there in the end.
The Canary looks more like a space-age drinks mug but we rather like its futuristic cylindrical aesthetic. A slim USB cord provides power but there's no wall mount attachment — you have to stick it on a shelf or a mantle piece. Setup (via Android or iOS app) was a breeze and uses a secure cable connection with your phone which you can then unplug.
Recording and monitoring
All three of these cameras let you view a live video stream on your smartphone from anywhere you happen to be, and alert you if something seems amiss — both these functions worked fine on the Nest Cam, the Piper NV and the Canary (below) during our testing. The maximum 1080p video quality matches across the board too.
There are a few differences: the Piper NV has a slightly wider field of vision (180 degrees compared to the Nest Cam's 130 and the Canary's 147), for example. Night vision is available with each device, though the Nest Cam (below) and the Canary came back with the clearest pictures. The Piper NV's night vision shots were very bright, so it's perhaps better suited to a larger room than the one we used it in.
That's what you get for free but the subscription options take some picking through. If you want to store any clips in the cloud with the Nest Cam, you need to pay a monthly subscription: prices start at £8/$10 a month for 10 days of footage, but you get extras like automatic highlights and the option to set activity zones inside each room.
With Piper NV (below), there's no subscription option — instead it stockpiles the most recent 1,000 clips (triggered by some kind of activity) on its servers for you, for no extra cost.
Canary sits somewhere between the two, with 12 hours of archive footage and five bookmarked video clips available for free and a variety of premium plans on offer if you need more — the cheapest is $4.99 a month for a two-day archive and 25 bookmarks.
If you think there aren't many extra features to weigh up on these devices, you couldn't be more wrong — get a pen and paper ready. The Piper NV and Canary include temperature sensors, unlike the Nest Cam; but Google's camera does alert you if the power goes off, unlike the other two. All devices have two-way audio, so you can talk to your dog, for example.
The Canary is the only camera that can automatically detect when you leave the house and come back (via your phone's GPS), which is a plus — but unlike the Piper NV and Nest Cam it's not equipped to communicate with other smart home kit, which is a downside.
Google's Nest Cam is the odd one out in that it doesn't have a siren to scare off burglars, but on the other hand it does let you view your live feed in a Web browser (with the Canary and Piper NV you need to use the smartphone apps).
That's quite a lot to take in, so if you're after one feature in particular then read through the small print. Generally speaking, the Canary and Piper NV are broader in their scope than the Nest Cam (the Canary has air quality sensors while the Piper NV measures noise levels, for example), but Google's device is still very good at what it does.
The mobile app is going to be where you're spending most of your time interacting with your camera, so it needs to be a slick and seamless experience: all three devices have accompanying apps for Android and iOS, while Google's Nest Cam also has a Web interface you can log into from anywhere, as we've already mentioned.
The Nest Cam app is the most spartan of the three, with quick access to your camera's feed and some basic (though intuitive) controls for managing it. You can access a few simple features (video quality and so on) and schedule when your camera is on and off, but the emphasis is on ease-of-use rather than stacks of features. The online interface accessed through your browser is actually more capable.
The Canary app errs on the side of simplicity too — it's really designed to work automatically, arming and disarming itself as you wander in and out of your house. It's all neatly laid out though, and reviewing clips through the Timeline screen is very intuitive.
The Piper NV app is more comprehensive, reflecting its extra sensors and capabilities: you can configure up to four modes, with different rules about what the app does when motion, sound or a temperature change is detected. You also get detailed graphs covering light, temperature, noise and movement over time, so the app provides a more comprehensive picture of what's going on at your house.
Price and verdict
The Piper NV will cost you $279.99, the Canary $199.99 and Google's Nest Cam $199.99 before you take monthly costs into consideration. The latter two are the cameras which work better with a subscription, and that's reflected in the initial outlay — the Piper NV is a better option if you want something with no ongoing costs.
Each camera has its strengths and will serve you well. The Piper NV has the most tricks in its bag, the Canary is the most polished, whereas the Nest Cam handles the basics of video playback and recording a little better than the other two (the web interface really is the ace up the Nest Cam's sleeve).
Despite the fact that it has fewer features and only really shines when you shell out an extra $10 a month, we found the Nest Cam the one we liked the most — though that's not to say it's right for everyone. The Piper NV and Canary have more sensors and more features, so it really depends what you're looking for. All three can be relied upon to keep a close watch on your property, but make sure you factor in those subscription plan prices before you make a purchase.