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Thermostat biz Nest warms to home security, touts cam with cloud storage subscription

What could go wrong?

Nest has launched its first new product in several years: an outdoor surveillance camera.

The Nest Cam Outdoor is effectively a rebuild of its existing Nest Cam designed for the outside. We had an early peek at it and came away with the sense that the company once famed for reinventing the thermostat has found at least some of its original promise.

The camera's most novel aspect is the fact that it uses a strong magnet to hold the camera to a baseplate, making it easy to move and install. It is also a rounder and less clunky camera than competing products.

As with the Nest thermostat, it also has some nice engineering touches: a lockable USB cable; an angled plug to fit with outdoor sockets that have a cover; a weather-proof camera; and an immersion-proof transformer. And it comes at a decent enough price point: $199. Which is comparable to other similar outdoor webcams on the market, such as the Spotcam.

The camera has to be plugged in and the company assumes you will plug it in outside. It gives you 25 feet of cable to do so. It provides a standard 130-degree viewing angle, but Nest claims that is a full 130 degrees, with no darkening at the edges. It has a nighttime setting, an HD camera, and a wireless internet connection with video sent to its own cloud service (with a range of "zero to 40 feet" according to its lead designer – let's hope more like 40 feet than zero).

All in the software

All of this is available in other products already on the market. But where Nest claims to have an advantage over its competitors is in its software.

We weren't able to test the camera – it won't be out until the fall – so we'll have to take Nest's word for it, but its engineers are very keen on what they claim are intelligent alerts called "People Alerts."

One of the reasons why smart-home camera manufacturers claim people should buy their products over traditional security cameras is that they are able to send alerts to your phone and enable you to instantly see what is going on, and to have a conversation. A good example being the Ring doorbell, which also has an HD camera, motion alerts, a phone app, wireless and so on.

However, it is very difficult to strike the right balance between alerting someone of activity and flooding them with alerts that aren't useful. Nest has brought over its "activity zones" software from the Nest Cam that lets you block out a part of the camera's field of vision so you don't, for example, get an alert every time a car goes past. But it also claims to have developed a machine learning service that can tell the difference between a person and other sorts of motion.

If the Nest Cam Outdoor is certain it has spotted a person in your camera view, it will send an alert to your phone declaring "Your camera has spotted a person." If it spots what it thinks is a person, it will alert you with: "Your camera thinks it spotted a person."

Unfortunately, the company is not going to allow customers – for the moment at least – to turn off the possible sighting alerts, so you have to wonder how useful this feature will be in reality. But in future, it could prove to be a technology that differentiates it in the market.

The other side of the software is Nest's app and cloud service. The company is updating its app to allow people to see video feeds from the opening screen. And the company has so far, at least, extended its design style to its app, putting it a step above competitors. Although, again, we have not been able to test how its new app handles videos streams from an outside camera (something that the Ring Doorbell team has spent several years tweaking to avoid delay and judder).

Next page: Ongoing costs

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