Hardware Reviews Smart Home

Nest Cam Outdoor review: should you get professional installation?

Nest Cam Outdoor
Eye in the sky: is the Nest Cam one in the eye for intruders, though?

Working from home and battling an addiction to gadgets ensures your house is full of expensive objects that would be a burglar’s dream. House alarms are generally ignored, so I decided cloud-connected cameras were the best way to go. With a number of Nest gadgets already, I plumped for the Nest Cam Outdoor, the company’s cheapest outdoor camera.

I bought two cameras, currently priced at £329, and opted for installation from a Nest professional for an additional £110, which, as you’ll soon discover, turned out to be excellent value for money.

Nest Cam Outdoor review: what’s in the box?

The cameras come in individual boxes. Nest has done an excellent job with recyclable packaging, with pretty much everything being made from paper or card. Only film over the camera and plastic cable ties let the side down (the former may be unavoidable, although Apple has led the way with cardboard cable ties). It’s still presented extremely well and unboxing doesn’t disappoint.

The camera sits on a magnetic base, which is secured to the wall. All the screws and plugs you’ll need are supplied, along with cable clips that match the plastic of the camera (a nice touch). Installation details are provided, with instructions on use being covered by the mobile app, which you’ll need to install before you consider installation. The camera has a captive 4.5m cable and there is another 3m of cable, with a UK plug on one end and an adapter for the camera on the other. Power is all you need with the Nest as all communication occurs via Wi-Fi.

Nest Cam Outdoor review: installation

The Nest professional installed one camera on the back of the house, one storey high, with a full view of the patio and garden. The cable went straight through into the kitchen behind, where it was plugged in. There was only a single socket for the fridge, so the installer converted this to a double plug. The cables were secured neatly. The front camera, installed a lot higher on the house, had an excellent view right across the drive and the cable went up into the roof – the installer ended up installing a new socket in the loft for this. With electrical testing performed (and I received the certificate via email a few days later) it was job done.

However, I soon realised the front camera was too high, impairing the performance of the night vision. Nest recommend the camera should be placed 2 to 4 metres high so I called the installer and he came back and moved it down (at no extra charge). You can see the height before and after here and how moving the camera lower improved night vision.

Nest Cam Outdoor review: setup

All initial configuration of the cameras is performed via the mobile app. Setup is slow, as it takes time for the initial communication and Wi-Fi configuration to complete – if Nest can improve this it will make the experience much better.

One obvious problem is that changing the Wi-Fi setup for any of the cameras requires reconfiguring it from the beginning – this includes having to provide details of the camera, via a code or QR code printed on the bottom of the device. It was a good job I had my installer re-attend as I hadn’t thought to note it down for the front camera – I got him to take a picture when he moved it. The back camera is within easy reach so I’ve since grabbed those details as well.

Thanks to the magnetic base it’s easy to re-adjust the camera at a better angle post-installation.

Nest Cam Outdoor review: using the app and website

Everything is controlled from the Nest app, which is shared with any other Nest devices you have (I have both Nest Protect and Nest Thermostat, so it’s a handy central location for all of these devices). All of your camera outputs are shown on the front screen but clicking into any takes you to a timeline which you can easily scroll through. Turning your device to landscape makes the camera image display full screen.

You can also use the app to look for specific events (a sound, a movement or a person, for example) and you can also edit together clips and create time-lapse videos for sharing with friends (or the police).

If you move to your dashboard on the Nest website (home.nest.com) then there are additional functions, including defining zones. So, taking my drive as an example – I don’t want to be alerted to people walking on the nearby pavement but I do want to know about anyone skulking around my car or coming to the front door or side gate. I’ve drawn an area for each and then assigned specific alerts to each.

The advantage to having each area as a separate zone is that when you get a notification it uses the zone name – so I may be alerted to the fact that the ‘Front Door’ zone has been triggered.

You can hear as well as look through the camera and the microphone sensitivity for each is adjustable. Both the app and site can also be used to talk through the camera as well, so I can tell cold-callers at my front door exactly what I think of them without moving from my chair (which also makes them look at the camera and puts them off running their key down my car as they leave!).

Everything is recorded to ‘the cloud’, so even if a thief breaks/steals your camera, the footage is safely stowed away on a remote server (an advantage over the traditional cameras which contained memory cards to record everything).

I’ve found both the app and the site are easy to use but the app has been a little flaky recently – I have an old model iPad Mini in my home office desk to watch the output from the front camera (as I was writing this review, I opened the front door to the Amazon delivery driver before he’d even got out of his van). In recent weeks, the image has stuttered before the app finally crashed. All the camera input is recorded normally and after restarting the app, all seems fine, but it’s doing this a few times a day.

Nest Cam Outdoor review: image and sound quality

Overall image quality is excellent – it records up to 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) at 30 frames per second but, by default, will vary according to available bandwidth. You can override this in the settings. Lots of movement will also cause quality to drop, as this too increases bandwidth.

You can zoom into the image, but this is done digitally, so quality is lost. Nevertheless, this is a useful way to look more closely at what’s happening.

Night vision is a key feature and is very good, as you can see from the image below. However, as I mentioned above, the subject really needs to be close to the camera to be effective – no more than a couple of metres from the ground is ideal.

Night vision is surprisingly effective

You’ll need a strong Wi-Fi signal to cope with all of this – if you’re relying on Wi-Fi extenders to reach the extremities of your property you may be out of luck, as Nest told me that it doesn’t recommend using them. I’ve since upgraded my entire home network to a mesh router system, and this has resolved the connectivity. Nest will notify you if there’s any camera drop-out, so maybe for the first time you’ll become aware of any Wi-Fi issues that you didn’t know you had.

Sound pickup is excellent and can be easily adjusted from the camera settings. However, speaking via the camera is frustrating as the output volume is low – it can be difficult for those below to hear you and there aren’t any settings to adjust this.

Nest Cam Outdoor review: detection

One of the great things about the Nest Cam Outdoor is the ability to set different zones and assign different notifications depending on what’s been detected – movement, a person, a dog barking, for example. These work… okay. When it does appear to detect falsely, it’s always worth reviewing your automatically saved clips to see what happened. For example, in the morning, I kept getting notifications that a person was detected near my car. It turns out that as people walked by on the path, their shadows were being cast across the hedge next to my car. Tweaking the zone to remove the hedge remedied this.

Nonetheless, there is a delay between an action occurring and any notification – if I’m walking into the house, I’m normally very much inside before it notifies me that somebody has been seen. There is also a delay in the video capture so the ‘live’ stream is not quite that.

However, being notified straight away is probably less important than the fact that it’s been captured, as anything can be wound back and reviewed. Erring on the side of false-positives instead of missed intruders is definitely the better option. I’m pretty confident that anybody skulking around won’t be missed.

Nest Cam Outdoor review: ongoing costs

Five-day cloud storage costs £40 a year (or £4 a month), ten-day is £80 (£8 a month) and 30-day is £240 (£24 a month). And this is per camera. So, I have the minimum five-day storage for a total of £80 each year.

Personally, I think that’s a little steep and it’s certainly one of the bigger things to consider when thinking about purchasing this camera.

Nest Cam Outdoor review: verdict

The cameras have worked flawlessly since they were installed and I’ve been impressed with the quality. Having professional installation available is a great benefit.

Do I feel more secure now? Absolutely, and peace-of-mind is something that it’s hard to put a price on.

Having said that, the biggest elephant in the room is the ongoing costs. It’s not as if the cameras were cheap in the first place. It’s not quite daylight robbery, but…

About the author

David Artiss

With 28 years of experience working in the IT industry, David has been writing about technology on his own personal site for many years. He is a keen gamer and happily admits to being a gadget nerd too.

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