HomeMonitor: Not so hip to be square
Much like the iPhone, Dropcam's svelte, teardrop look has inspired a generation of similarly designed cameras. HomeMonitor ($200) is different. Housed in a small white square, it looks something like a sawed-off walkie-talkie, right down to the small antennae protruding out of the top. Setup wasn't complicated, but not as simple as Dropcam's. Along the way I was required to plug in a supplied Ethernet cable (a necessary step for either wired or wireless connections) and manually enter the camera's 12-digit ID number, which seemed more annoying after zipping through Dropcam's near-automatic process.
Once you get the green light (literally), HomeMonitor offers many of the features you'd expect: You'll get 24-hour access over the web (or your smartphone or tablet) and a 720p video feed with night vision. Picture quality was weaker than any of the cameras I tested, and colors were less accurate, turning my brown couch purple in some lighting. It also seemed to rely on its infrared sensor when there was ample light for the other cameras.
While its shape is certainly unique, I had a harder time getting the angles right. Where Dropcam swivels with ease, HomeMonitor is much more set in its ways, so installing it requires a far greater degree of precision--once it's mounted you won't be able to adjust it all that much. That being said, the flat edges work well if it's going to be resting on a table and the boxy design neatly hides the power cable.
HomeMonitor beats Dropcam in its archiving: For starters, it's free. A week's worth of cloud storage is bundled with every camera, easily making it the best value of the lot. Also, it's discriminating about what it records. Instead of a rolling record of everything it sees, HomeMonitor only saves clips of things that set off its motion detector, making it easy to jump to where the action is. You get notifications and emails when it's recording something, and customizable motion zones keep alerts from getting out of hand. While viewing the feeds over the web was fine in my tests, I experienced occasional freezes and stutters on my phone over both Wi-Fi and LTE. One small annoyance: I couldn't view the feeds in landscape mode on my iPhone, something all of the other cameras offered.
Belkin Netcam HD: Look but don't touch
First impressions are everything when it comes to gadgets, and Belkin's Netcam HD+ ($130) doesn't make a very good one. While its compact design is somewhat reminiscent of Dropcam's trademark shape, it feels more like a low-end product than a premium one. The base and camera are made of cheap plastic, and the metal arm that lets you adjust the angles is flimsy and squeaky.
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