Technology increasingly makes home automation simple. Buttons in my car can open my garage and turn on my lights. An iPhone app controls all of the heating and cooling in my home. And now, with the cost of wireless cameras coming down it’s even more affordable to keep our homes secure.
With all of the audio, video, and gaming gear we have around our houses it’s important that we keep them safe. The WatchBot, a home security camera that connects to WiFi, lets us monitor our homes from virtually anywhere, and even interact with what we see on the other end.
The WatchBot itself is a cute device, and a little reminiscent of EVE from Wall-E. Built in a matte white enclosure (it comes in a variety of colors), it can swivel left/right and up/down on a couple of axises. Extending out of the back is a little “tail” of an antenna and ports for alarm, audio, and ethernet cables. Its cycloptic camera is surrounded by a chrome ring and an array of almost jewel-like sensors. It basically looks like a blinged-out robot pet. It’s not inconspicuous (it’s bigger than a typical PC camera) and it’s not meant to be a center of attention on your mantle, but it’s extremely sturdy and well built.
When it comes it its more technical side, the WatchBot has several features that are well-appreciated. Firstly, the video isn’t the best around. For the size of the device I was expecting an HD (or near to) resolution camera, but the final visuals I was receiving seemed to be somewhere around Standard Definition and a little muddy. Though the device is advertised as having the ability to be used as a two-way communication device, I doubt it’d be optimal. As a security camera, however, the quality was decent enough to be useful. At a distance, some facial details were blurry and lights appear to have a “halo” around them, probably in no thanks to the low-light sensors.
Speaking of which, the multitude of sensors makes for a well-rounded automated device. The low-light sensors were able to capture some fairly good night photos and video in a dark room. The motion detector works well and activates the camera’s streaming mode if desired. Detected movement can send a series of images to an email account, which I found extremely useful. In fact I used it somewhat like a notification system, seeing my wife move laundry through the house or my daughter run into her room to play with toys. It has a long range, too, as I was able to detect motion up to 20 feet away. I was half-tempted to point it towards my mailbox and let it send me an email when my mail was delivered. Unfortunately the device has a slow turning radius and tilt, and it doesn’t always capture images quick enough to see the action taking place (unless I’m watching a live stream). The photos come over in a series of 5 images, and if someone is moving quickly enough they can avoid the captures fairly easily.
One afternoon, when no one was at home and we were at work, I received a series of images sent to me from the device as it had detected motion in our house. While nothing in the images showed any actual motion, I later found that if there are shiny reflections (the sun was moving across the window) the WatchBot will detect it and send the warning. It’s a little too sensitive, but I’d rather be overprotective than not.
The “night vision” aspect is interesting. I can see it used for traditional security purposes, but we also had it set up as a baby monitor to see (and hear) our daughter as she slept. it was clear enough to see her full body, folds in the blanket, and even hear and see her breathing. The audio works fine and seemed to come in pretty clear. The microphone is hidden somewhere in the device and mutes the sound just a tad, though that could also be a problem of the speed of the network our WatchBot is set up on and how it is processed over.
The WatchBot isn’t the most user-friendly device, and it becomes obvious as soon as it comes out of the box.
Connecting the device to my WiFi was the most difficult part of the setup process. The first night we had it, we couldn’t get it to connect to our network at all, and it wasn’t until a couple hours of searching online that we found that our WPA wireless router didn’t seem to jive with its WEP-friendly antenna. It’s *supposed* to work with WPA, but it didn’t seem to like us. When we switched to WEP — both through our current router and an older version — we were able to activate its online connectivity. If we stuck to WPA we’d have had to try port forwarding and a myriad of other suggested methods. That’s not all that user-friendly, and I have taught myself to stop trying after 3 failed unique attempts. Multi-step processes in the provided backend management software felt anti-intuitive and even convoluted at times. It’s important to note that it connected fairly quickly over an ethernet cable, though that seriously limited where I could place it in my home.
Once it’s all connected, viewing the video and audio online provided a ton of information and flexibility. I was able to turn and rotate the camera, mute it, zoom in and out, and even communicate with people in the room. It’s nice to be able to fully control it online. It’s very versatile, and allowed me to sit on my butt at work and see my office at home. It can support up to nine different cameras linked together, but we only received one and couldn’t try out the feature.
The camera can be accessed via browser — we were successful with Chrome, FireFox, Safari, and IE9 — and apps available on both iOS and Android. However, this is where the WPA restrictions became the most cumbersome, preventing us from connecting at all to the WatchBot. It’s not friendly to firewalls, that’s for sure.
The interface is very clunky. With our only real interface to the camera being through various portals or apps, these need to be absolutely perfect and well-designed, and they’re most assuredly not. There is no official app, with the company relying on others adopting its API to develop around. The company needs a serious user interface designer to take a crack at the device. I look at the incredible simplicity of connecting a Nest thermostat and wonder why the WatchBot couldn’t have been as simple or elegant to set up and access.
As a piece of hardware, the WatchBot is a good camera for those that require security and want to be able to access it while away. It can be flexible enough for small businesses and small enough for homes. However, it tends to fall flat on the software and interface side, and it requires a lot of fidgeting and often frustrating setup time to work on some networks and over the Internet. The price doesn’t help, either, as the current L200 (over $300) cost of entry is higher than much of the competition and a bit daunting for those that just want a simple device.
I hope that in future updates the user interface is explored and improved. That’s really the only thing hold this back from being a great product.
This review was based on a retail product sent to SideQuesting by the manufacturer.