Panasonic Nubo Cam REVIEW - Go Anywhere Video Monitoring!
We can't remember the last time that we reacted so incredulously to the price of a device but with the new Panasonic Nubo Cam we were genuinely shocked!
Once our blood pressure returned to normal though and we spent a month or so testing Nubo Cam we discovered that it's actually a very capable, high quality device.
Whether it's worth the outlay will be a subjective decision, but read on to see why we believe that Nubo Cam should be given serious consideration when looking to expand your Smart Home.
Technical Specifications - we love 'em at Vesternet as it makes it nice and simple to get an overview of what a device should be capable of. Often companies will hide behind the marketing buzz-words and throw in a few points of technical data along the way, not so with the Nubo Cam, a full PDF of the real-world specs can be downloaded here.
We won't reiterate those chapter-and-verse but some of them are definitely worth highlighting before we proceed!
First up we'll cover the connectivity which is not only served by WiFi 2.4Ghz with b/g/n speeds but also by 3G/4G/LTE mobile networks - that's right, Nubo Cam comes with a SIM card slot and is supplied with a Vodafone SIM ready to go out-of-the-box. Yes, Nubo Cam is another "Cloud" camera with a supporting infrastructure online offering cloud storage of events, real-time viewing and push notifications to supported iOS and Android devices.Subscriptionsrange from "Freemium" with a limited feature set right up to "Platinum" with 90 days cloud storage and many 1,000's of Mobile notifications. A free trial of the "Basic" level is offered and all subscriptions are monthly based with flexible up and downgrading - we'll cover this in more detail later in the review.
Obviously the primary function of a camera is, well, the camera itself. Fortunately Nubo Cam ticks a lot of boxes here too. A 1/2.8" 2.43 megapixel sensor and a huge wide angle lens - 138° diagonal - should cover a massive area and with 10m IR night-vision that should be crystal clear even in pitch black conditions. And with 1080P recordings at 15FPS over WiFi and 720P recordings at 5FPS over Mobile Nubo Cam shouldn't disappoint with the quality of the H.264 captures.
PIR motion detection is also something that we're seeing more and more on cameras lately as this offers much more accurate results than image-processing in our experience. We know from testing many cameras over the years that using image-processing can frequently generate a flurry of motion capture events, so it's good to see that Nubo Cam also takes this newer approach. It should help reduce false-positives, something that we would imagine is important if you're going to be sending events over a Mobile network!
Two-way audio, local SD card event storage and IFTTT integration round out the technical specifications, phew, Nubo Cam sure is a capable device :-)
Quality don't come cheap
Whenever we test products (and we test a lot of stuff) we always take time with an initial "unboxing" because that's our first - judge a book by its cover - impression and it counts for so much nowadays.
A plain brown box no longer cuts the mustard, we're all so used that "Apple Experience" that we want the wow factor to start as soon as we take our new purchases out of the bubblewrap!
Panasonic have obviously been in the technology retail business for a long time and this really shows with the care and attention to detail that's prevalent from the very moment we laid our eyes on the Nubo Cam box.
Often we'll compare this type of marketing to Fibaro (because they nail it every time) and Nubo Cam does a fine job here with pleasing visuals on the box itself along with various tag lines such as "Wish you could reach them? You can. Right now. With Nubo." - to be brutally honest some of these seem a bit far fetched, but once you read between the buzz-words you do get a hint of some of the unique features on offer.
Once the box has given up its contents you really do start to see the quality hardware that's on offer - the camera itself feels solid and heavy in your hand despite only being around 8cm x 6cm x 4cm. Nubo Cam has been designed in the Netherlands and made in the UK and clearly it's been built to last given its IP-64 certification against rain and dirt ingress and temperature proofing from -20°C to +40°C - that should take care of even some of the harshest environmental conditions.
Included in the box is a multi-adapter power supply for UK and EU which also has the rather unique feature of allowing the adapters to snap-on in any orientation so that the long body of the power supply can hang up, down, left or right. That's really useful, especially if you'll be plugging it into a multi-way extension lead or a double socket - you'll still be able to plug other devices in next to it!
A USB power lead is also included, if we're honest it's a bit on the short side especially if you're looking at mounting the camera externally, but as it's simply a standard USB to micro-USB lead you can pick up longer leads easily enough.
A small screwdriver / allen key is also present so you won't need any other tools to get Nubo Cam working out-of-the-box and as mentioned previously a Vodafone SIM card is also included and already pre-installed.
One point of note is that while Nubo Cam has rubber feet for desk / shelf mounting, there's no wall-mount bracket included, instead there's a magnetic disk on the rear which should allow it to attach to any metal surface. We're not sure how common metal walls are though, so fortunately the magnetic disk also has a standard screw fitment for a wall-mount bracket if you need one. Any standard CCTV / camera tripod type will do - or you can go for the official Nubo Cam mount. That's also available as a discounted bundle too, so it's worth considering at the outset if you think you'll need one.
The included Quick-Start guide is short-and-sweet - just three simple steps are shown, download the App, power up Nubo Cam and follow the Wizard. We'd like to have seen a little more detail here but most manufacturers are following this format now as it allows them to adjust the documentation on an ongoing basis to take into account any changes in the software functionality.
Follow the Wizard
For testing we went with the iOS App on our iPhone 6, but an Android App is also available. It's worth noting that these are "phone" Apps and they don't look particularly good on tablets - we really wish developers would make multi-purpose Apps or separate Apps for tablets to make use of the bigger screen sizes, how am I supposed to use your "phone" App on my wall-mounted landscape oriented Android tablet when the App only works in portrait mode?
Setting up the Nubo Cam follows the pretty standard process for this type of device - using your phone connect to the adhoc WiFi network that the Nubo Cam presents and then input the details of your own WiFi network. This should be a simple process unless you have a complex WiFi setup, it's a shame that WPS isn't supported but the Wizard talks you through the steps pretty quickly so there shouldn't be any major dramas. We hit a slight issue as our WiFi uses MAC address access control lists (ACLs) so we first had to add the MAC address to all our WiFi access points - but helpfully Nubo Cam has the device MAC address on the white label on the box.
It's worth noting that we initially tried to set the device up over the Mobile network as opposed to the WiFi network but couldn't get this to work - Panasonic subsequently told us that this has been fixed in the latest firmware for Nubo Cam and this will eventually ship on the devices so should work properly in the future. Until then Nubo Cam needs setting up on WiFi first before it can be switched to Mobile - something to bear in mind if you're planning on installing this directly at a remote location without WiFi.
Once the Wizard had finished Nubo Cam was happily on our WiFi network and the App then prompted us that the above mentioned firmware update was available - a few clicks later and Nubo Cam was up to date.
Pleasingly Panasonic seem to be putting a lot of effort into Nubo Cam and the supporting platform as we've subsequently had several App and firmware updates that fix issues and add new features.
'Appy and you know it
Despite the minor niggle with only having a phone style App available we found that the App was well laid out and intuitive to use, helped by being broken up into three sections - "Home" which lets you click each Nubo Cam for a Live View as well as arm / disarm the event detection, "Activity Feed" which shows you all your events (including camera disconnections and reconnections) and "Settings" where you can configure the App itself along with make changes to your Nubo Cam devices.
The Settings section also shows you your Cloud subscription status with countdowns for how many days are left in the current period and for the number of Mobile Events that have been consumed.
IFTTT linking is also available from the Settings section, although this is a little fiddly to do here as it opens up the authorisation in a separate browser window. We cancelled that and headed over to the IFTTT site on our PC to link it to the Nubo Cam Cloud there instead as it was easier!
You can also check on WiFi and Mobile Network signal strengths here too which is useful for diagnostics and troubleshooting, as well as turning OFF the WiFi completely to leave just the Mobile Network connectivity - note that you'll need an active Subscription for that though. Lastly you can manage any SD Card that you've inserted (it took us a few minutes to take the bottom of the Nubo Cam off and add an SD Card). We had a spare 16GB to use for testing but Nubo Cam will support up to 128GB which should be plenty of space for recordings.
Over on the Home section there's a big round button to press that will Arm or Disarm all your Nubo Cams at once - when Armed the notifications are active, so Nubo Cam will generate motion detection Events and record them to the internal SD Card (if installed) and send them to the Cloud over WiFi or the Mobile Network (if you have a Subscription that covers the Mobile Events). Events are also only stored in the Cloud if you have a Subscription
Extra, extra costs!
Many manufacturers are moving to Subscription based service models nowadays which often adds additional costs to Smart Home devices. Sometimes it's difficult to justify these extra expenses, but really, when you think about it, there's a LOT that needs to happen to offer a Cloud service - networking infrastructure, servers, storage space, notifications services, etc will all add to the ongoing running costs so it's easy to see why Subscriptions are required.
Nubo Cam is no different in this respect to other services such as Foscam, Nest, Y-Cam, etc and in fact it could be seen to be a little on the expensive side compared to those. With Nubo Cam though you have to factor in the included functionality of the Mobile Network - the Vodafone SIM card is supplied with ZERO direct costs to the Customer - so there's no roaming charges, no data charges, no contract at all for the end-user to fund. The costs of that are factored into the optional Nubo Cam Subscription levels - if you don't need the additional functionality offered by the Subscriptions then don't pay for it!
One area in which Nubo Cam is different is the fact that the Subscriptions are flexible and on a rolling monthly basis - so you don't have to commit to a full year in advance or sign up for regular monthly payments. You can upgrade / downgrade at any time, so that should help with the ongoing costs - keep the Nubo Cam on Freemium and only pay for one of the other levels when you go on holiday and want the Mobile Network access or Cloud storage features.
We were slightly disappointed by the fact that electing NOT to take a subscription (Freemium) means that the Nubo Cam is restricted to 720P HD resolution for both recording and live view. Sure, Freemium means you have to use the SD Card for recording and only live view over WiFi with no Mobile Network features, that's to be expected, but to hobble the camera resolution in this way is pretty lame in our opinion.
We put these thoughts to Panasonic and they responded that even with a Freemium level subscription the Nubo Cam is still reliant on the Cloud service and so has corresponding costs to them and reducing the resolution helps to mitigate those. We're hoping that Panasonic reconsiders this stance because even though the image quality at 720P is still outstanding, we felt that it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to artificially reduce the specification on a device this expensive.
If IFTTT Then ....
The rise of IFTTT goes marching on, so it's great to see that Nubo Cam has this method of integration out-of-the-box. Panasonic come from a long history of Video Surveillance solutions where security and stability are very important, so it's not surprising that they don't offer any open API or local access to the Nubo Cam device, just the secure Cloud-To-Cloud integration of IFTTT.
This does however mean that you won't be using Nubo Cam directly with your other Smart Home systems such as NVRs or Fibaro & Vera Z-Wave controllers as there's no access to local "snapshot" or "streaming" functionality. But that's where IFTTT comes into its own as it makes it pretty simple to carry out complex scenarios between disparate systems.
Currently Nubo Cam allows you to use the Trigger "Motion Detected" and the Actions "Arm" and "Disarm" which is a good start. Panasonic told use that more functionality would be added in the future but for now we created some simple interactions such as using the motion event to turn on Philips Hue lighting and using doors opening (from our EZVIZ Smart Alarm system, reviewed here) to Arm our Nubo Cam camera. That's useful on a device that's protecting a garage for example, where you might only want Nubo Cam to detect Events when the door is open.
Cloudy, with a chance of problems :-(
Ah the Cloud, great when it works, not so great when it doesn't! We've long held mixed feelings about Cloud services for exactly that reason - when part of your Smart Home stops working due to the Internet connection going down or some third party system developing issues, there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.
And that's exactly the situation we found ourselves in after several weeks of perfect service from Nubo Cam - waking up on a Sunday morning to find warnings in the App that the Nubo Cam was offline and messages from the IFTTT service to say that it could no longer connect to the Nubo Cam Cloud service.
Despite our best efforts at troubleshooting we couldn't see any local reason why the problem had occurred so we fired off an email to Nubo Cam to ask them to investigate. Unfortunately this took the best part of a week to diagnose as it was something to do with our Subscription transitioning from the Basic "trial" level to the Freemium level which left it in an invalid state. Frustrating for us and likely would result in a return from a paying Customer after a week of down-time!
Sadly that wasn't the end of the problem because although Nubo Cam Support resolved the Subscription problem the Nubo Cam refused to reconnect to our WiFi network, despite it having been perfectly happy on the same WiFi network previously when we first setup the device. Following the reconnect Wizard from the App didn't help either. While we could connect the App to the Nubo Cam adhoc WiFi network and re-do the configuration for our own WiFi network, the final connection stage always failed.
At this point we suspected that there was a bug in the Nubo Cam firmware that fails to turn back on the local WiFi if it's been previously turned off. And that's something that we'd done a few weeks ago in order to use the Nubo Cam over the Mobile Network only for testing purposes. So when our Basic trial Subscription ended the Nubo Cam Cloud service turned off the Mobile Network access but failed to turn back on the WiFi on the Nubo Cam itself! Subsequently we could follow the reconnect Wizard up to the point it tried to connect to our WiFi network at which point it promptly turned OFF the WiFi because that's what the settings tell it to do.
Eventually Nubo Cam Support confirmed that this was indeed the case and suggested resetting the Nubo Cam in order to bring it back to life. Originally that process implied that this would mean the Nubo Cam was removed from our account and that recordings etc would be deleted, but a few more emails back and forth and the process was clarified.
Once factory reset the Nubo Cam successfully reconnected to our WiFi and we were back up and running!
We started this review with considerable reservations as to whether Nubo Cam is worthy of its high price tag - both in terms of the initial outlay and the ongoing (optional) Subscription cost. And, as mentioned before, that's really a subjective decision, because it will depend on your own personal circumstances.
What we can say without a shadow of a doubt is that the Nubo Cam is an exceptional piece of engineering, resulting in excellent hardware and software alike. With a myriad of technical functions and capabilities, there's more than enough here to suit even the most demanding of Smart Home enthusiasts.
Despite the initial teething problems and the issues with the Cloud service towards the end of our testing, we still believe that Nubo Cam offers a great solution. And hopefully Panasonic will learn from the feedback that we've presented them so that future Customers won't experience the same problems in the future!
Our review Nubo Cam is destined for a remote holiday home where it will be pressed into service as a security device to help protect our property investment. With the WiFi, 3G, 4G and LTE connectivity, impressive video quality and excellent App functionality, we're sure that it will handle this task with ease.
Our needs should be covered within a Basic Subscription which will be a minimal outlay, but we acknowledge that not everybody will get their hardware "for free" - so the burning question is, would we part with our own hard-earned cash to fund a Nubo Cam if we had too?
And the answer is YES ......... probably :-)
We hope that you enjoyed this review, Nubo Cam is available for purchase NOW!
See you soon,