While you may know Ooma as an Internet phone provider, this year the company is pushing into smart home protection with a range of devices that include a smoke alarm, door, window and motion detectors, and today’s focus, the Ooma Butterfleye Camera.
Billed as “The World’s Smartest Camera,” Ooma acquired the product at the end of last year when it gobbled up Butterfleye, Inc., an Indiegogo start-up launched in 2016. Priced from $199, Butterfleye is a compact, wire-free 1080p security camera packing the intelligence to detect people, pets and various sounds.
With an internal battery backup, storage, and seven days of free cloud recording support, the camera is designed to be a convenient, “set and forget” home monitoring solution. It takes on the likes of Netgear Arlo Pro 2, the Swann Smart Security Camera and Logitech Circle 2, all of which offer the same, wireless operation and high definition imaging.
Available in black or white, the Butterfleye’s chunky, rectangular (3.7 x 3 x 1.5 inches) form factor resembles a mini-PC or media streamer rather than a smart cam, but it’s solidly built. Whether you’re a fan or not of the unconventional design, it does restrict the device to desktop mounting, unlike competitors that support standard wall or ceiling mounts. On the flip side, 16 or 32 GB ($249) internal storage and a battery supporting “multiple weeks” of usage on a single charge ensure the camera keeps operating through power and Internet outages.
If you’re thinking of letting Butterfleye spread its wings outdoors, note that the camera hasn’t yet received a waterproof rating, but is designed to withstand extreme temperature and humidity levels. Ooma is committed to replacing cameras that experience issues when used outdoors. That’s good news.
Rapid setup, patchy pairing
If you’re busy building out a collection of Ooma Home security products, you’ll be happy to discover that the camera now is integrated into the company’s home security app (it didn’t integrate before) and also works with Amazon Alexa.
The Ooma can now interact with all other Ooma Home sensors through the Ooma Home app, and the app shows the list of video clips recorded by the Butterfleye. For example, if a motion sensor detects activity in the front entryway, a camera in the living room can automatically record a clip to show if an unauthorized person entered the house. Or if a camera hears a loud noise while the Ooma Home app is set to “Away” mode, a siren could automatically start blasting to scare away an intruder.
Butterfleye did a better job than most of adjusting contrast for views that include bright window areas.
We found setting up the camera with our smartphone to be tricky. The Butterfleye app instructs users to power on the camera and a Bluetooth connection and set up should be automatic. It wasn’t. We paired the camera manually and prodded around for five minutes or so until setup magically (and mysteriously) sprang to life.
High-quality, if narrow, imaging, but no night vision
Butterfleye’s 1/3-inch, 3.5 megapixel CMOS sensor does a great job of capturing a sharp, clear daytime image, although despite claiming a 120-degree field of vision, we felt the view was rather narrow compared to other recently-reviewed smart cams. On the plus side, video didn’t suffer from any noticeable fish-eye effect.
The camera is equipped with auto-adaptive white and black balance and exposure, which helps to optimize image capture. We found the feature works, but you may need to play around with positioning to get the best results. Butterfleye did a better job than most of adjusting contrast for views that include bright window areas (in tests, we’ve found most smart cameras suffer from overexposure here), although it did lead to a much darker interior image than we’d like. As we see with many smart cams, Butterfleye lacks manual imaging controls, which could help.
One more significant omission is night vision. Pretty much all smart cameras we test include an infrared sensor to illuminate areas of darkness – a sensible inclusion for a security device. Unfortunately, Butterfleye only includes a “low-light high-sensitivity” feature that, in fairness, does a decent job of boosting low-light images. In pitch darkness, however, Butterfleye simply can’t cut through the gloom, which is a show-stopping weakness.
Intelligent features, locked behind a paywall
Despite this obvious imaging issue, Butterfleye’s developers have clearly worked hard to add intelligence under the hood, but much of the magic is tucked behind a paywall, which is a real shame. While the camera records continuously (on AC power), it conserves storage space (and saves you time when monitoring activity) by only capturing recordings when an event is triggered, such as motion or a sound detected. A five-second buffer of video before the triggered event is added, ensuring you can see everything that happened. Recordings run for 20 seconds when the camera is plugged in and 10 seconds when battery-powered.
We found Butterfleye’s motion detection to be sharp and responsive, with push notifications hitting our phone in seconds when triggered. Similarly, it’s smart enough to detect when it’s being moved and will alert you accordingly. Loud noise alerts can be triggered by bumps or window breaks, although we found audio capture overall to be very noisy and unrefined. The camera also supports pet alerts, reducing the number of false alarms when your furry friends wander around the home. However, despite enlisting the family cat to join the Digital Trends review team and wander round the room, we were unable to trigger a pet alert.
The camera is equipped with auto-adaptive white and black balance and exposure, which helps to optimize image capture.
Facial recognition is another useful addition to Butterfleye’s feature cabinet. However, it’s one that’s disappointingly locked behind a subscription paywall. You’ll have to pay $100 a year or $10 monthly to extend the camera’s features to include some that are available out of the box on many competitors. Two-way audio, geo-fencing (arming the camera when you’re away from home), multi-user support, and a notification “quiet mode” are only available when you purchase Ooma’s Home Secure membership, alongside 30-days cloud storage.
We’re not big fans of pay-as-you-play smart cam subscription models, particularly when they lock away features we’d expect to find in a $199/$249 device. Unfortunately for Ooma, it only dilutes what could have been a more competitive proposition for Butterfleye in a market packed with choice.
Ooma Butterfleye is protected by an excellent 60-day money back guarantee and generous three-year warranty.Our Take
While supporting some intelligent features out of the box and packing several more away behind a subscription paywall, Ooma Butterfleye is a confusing proposition that ultimately fails to live up to its ambitious billing. A combination of wire-free operation, high quality (if narrow) auto-adaptive imaging and free seven-day cloud storage is a tempting proposition, but a lack of night vision is a critical flaw in any smart camera.
Facial recognition is an exciting, emerging feature that could set Butterfleye apart from mid-range competitors, but alongside other more basic features available out of the box in other cameras, you’ll have to pay $100 a year to find out just how well it works. Given Ooma Butterfleye’s lack of night vision support, few will bother.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re looking for a wire-free, weatherproof, premium smart cam and have money to spare, the Netgear Arlo Pro 2 may be pricey ($480 for a 2-camera system) but performs well and includes the night vision feature missing from Oomla Butterfleye and a security siren. For a budget pick, the $149 Swann Smart Camera may have had a recent security wobble but offers a good value blend of features and performance.
How long will it last?
Ooma is new to the smart home game and has a reputation to build in this category. While the Ooma Butterfleye package has a number of flaws, a strong money-back guarantee and three-year warranty suggests the company is committed to customer support.
Should you buy it?
No. Ooma Butterfleye has some solid features, but buying a smart camera without night vision support isn’t a smart choice. And with many of the great features of the camera only available through a costly subscription, you’d be wise to go elsewhere.
Updated in August 2018 to note that the Ooma Butterfleye now integrates with the Ooma Home Security system and Amazon Alexa.