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First things first: Samsung’s latest security camera, simply dubbed the SmartThings Cam, is not to be confused with its older SmartThings Camera or the various products in Samsung’s SmartCam HD Pro line. This latest cam is more capable, more streamlined, and, most importantly, moderately affordable at less than 90 bucks, with no service plan required. (That said, keep reading for the fine print on the optional subscription plan.)
Designed as part of Samsung’s push to build up its SmartThings brand, the SmartThings Cam doesn’t require the SmartThings Hub to work. But SmartThings users will appreciate being able to integrate an indoor camera into that ecosystem and using the same app to control it. This is a full Wi-Fi camera that can connect directly to your Wi-Fi network (connecting on either the 2.4- or 5GHz frequency bands, refreshingly).
The hardware is discreet and attractive, with the camera’s body attached to a small arm that sticks up from a plastic base. A hinge allows you to pivot the camera lens up or down, but not left or right. The design benefits from a clever idea that lets the thin power cable snake through a small gap at the base of the arm, keeping the cable out of the way and helping to ensure it can’t be easily knocked out of the socket on the camera proper.
A speaker is built into the back of the camera; when combined with the integrated dual microphones, you can use two-way audio to converse with anyone spotted on video. Finally, the bottom of the base pops off, exposing holes that can be used for wall mounting if desired (the hardware for doing so is included).
Setting up the SmartThings Cam involves installing the SmartThings app on your phone. Setup was seamless in my testing. The process involves scanning a QR code on the base of the unit, and then connecting the camera to your Wi-Fi network within the SmartThings app. This pairing process took me less than a minute.
Within the SmartThings app you’ll be asked if you want to activate SmartThings Home Monitor—and you probably should to make the most out of the system. This lets you use the camera as an ad hoc security device, complete with “stay” and “away” modes, and it also lets you tie in other SmartThings-compatible sensors, including motion, door/window, water-leak, and smoke sensors. If one of those sensors is triggered, the camera—depending on where it’s located in your home—can provide a look at what triggered it. The camera will also record video when motion is detected while armed (in “away” mode), and it streams a live video on demand whether it’s armed or disarmed (in “stay” mode). You’ll need to activate the away mode in the app.
Operationally, the camera works quite well. The motion detector is spot on and its sensitivity is fairly hair-trigger, but a handy motion-detection zone system lets you define areas where you specifically do and don’t want to watch for movement. (Be warned: Jostle the camera just a little and the zoning becomes inaccurate.) With a 145-degree field of view, the lens offers a very wide view of its surroundings, and a capable night-vision mode kicks in automatically when it’s dark. The overall image quality (captured in 1080p resolution with HDR) was exceptional in my testing, though the crackling and popping on recorded audio left much to be desired. The other bummer: Clips are limited to just 10 seconds each.
It’s important to note that the camera does not, in and of itself, constitute a security system. There is no onboard siren or professional monitoring plan, even as an option. And when the camera detects motion, it delivers a standard notification in your app—there’s no email or text message. If your notification settings are dialed down, you can easily miss the news that someone’s walking around in your living room. If you happen to have the app open, SmartThings provides a much more detailed notification, complete with a thumbnail image of the potential intruder. If you’re looking for a security system, you might be better served by Amazon’s Ring Alarm system.
SmartThings keeps a very verbose history of all of this, although it’s stored in two separate locations: Within the Home Monitor portion of the app, you get a digest of all alarm trigger events. Over in the management system for the camera, you get a history of every time that motion, sound, or a person (versus some other kind of motion) is detected—as well as when those things stop being detected. It’s not the most useful list of goings on, because a single day will typically comprise hundreds of events, but those with extreme need for detail might find some value here.
Of considerably more utility is the fact that the SmartThings Cam offers free 24-hour cloud-based storage of your video clips for up to four cameras per account. Accessing these clips is quick and easy, although it can be confusing and non-intuitive to move around the various portions of the SmartThings app. Some things are easier to manage in the more holistic SmartThings Home Monitor. Some are easier to deal with if you treat the camera like any other smart device and manage it independently.
Again, all features note above are completely free, but you can upgrade your service for $7.99 per month. A paid subscription provides 30 days of storage (instead of just one), support for eight cameras (instead of four), and clips are up to 60 seconds long (instead of just 10). That lattermost benefit is arguably the most attractive, though $79.99 per year (when paid annually) feels awfully steep for such a modest upgrade.
Overall, I had no significant trouble with the Samsung SmartThings Cam in day to day operation, and if you’re willing to slog through an unfortunately convoluted interface to work with it, it merits consideration—especially if you’re using SmartThings to control other parts of your smart home and you don’t need the features that require a subscription.