“The Allie Camera feels like it is overreaching. It shows promise, but it lacks refinement.”
- Live 360 streaming to YouTube
- Android, iOS, Windows, and MacOS compatible
- Looks cool
- Non-live 360 support in YouTube, Facebook
- Weird file management limitations
- Lacks many security cam features
- Expensive cloud storage options
It’s difficult to say exactly what the Allie Camera ($300) is. A home security system? A portable, live-streaming, virtual reality camera? A 360-degree baby monitor? The $299 camera wants to be the one-size-fits-all solution for immersive video, but it seems to be having an identity crisis. Perhaps Allie is simply playing all the angles while it waits for the 360 video industry to shake itself out, but at this point, we’re not exactly sure who this camera is for.
The Allie Camera is a generalist, capable of performing a multitude of roles but specializing in none of them. Does it see everything clearly, or is this simply a camera that lacks focus?
Design and specifications
Immersive video has led to the most striking new designs in the camera world since the dawn of digital photography. From large, multi-camera professional rigs, to pocket-sized dual-lens action cams, 360 cameras look anything but ordinary. The Allie is no different, a shining (literally) example of clean-lined industrial design. The deep black lenses framed by glossy white plastic give it an unmistakable air of modernity. Placed next to an old film camera, it’s hard to believe that the two devices share a common ancestor.
Some may see its exterior as refreshing, others stark, like the anonymous white suit of a storm trooper. The latter view may be fitting, as it evokes the Orwellian nature of such an all-seeing camera. Either way, mounted to a wall or ceiling it will be unobtrusive enough to go unnoticed in your home.
Overall, the Allie feels well built. It also comes with all of the mounting hardware you need in the box (but it is not weather sealed, so don’t mount it to an exterior wall). It weighs in at a hefty 10 ounces, nearly twice that of the somewhat similar looking Samsung Gear 360.
We tested the camera with the optional Allie Go battery pack handle. The cylindrically shaped accessory costs $60 and enables the Allie Camera to be taken anywhere, by providing two hours of juice and a MicroSD card slot for local storage (see “Cloud storage plans and pricing” below for more on this). Without it, the Allie is dependent on plug-in power.
The Allie is a shining (literally) example of clean-lined industrial design.
To attach the Go to the Allie, two screws and the piece of mounting hardware they hold in place must be removed from the bottom of the camera, after which the Go-specific mounting hardware can be screwed in. Next, the Go itself can be attached by rotating a threaded collar to secure it to the base of the camera. The process is a bit clunky for an otherwise sleek and modern device.
The good news is that the Allie can still be plugged into the wall with the Go attached, which charges the battery and powers the camera. The bad news is that you lose access to the USB port on the bottom of the camera, so if you need to perform a firmware upgrade (as we did), you’ll need to take everything apart again. Fortunately, there should be little reason to do this after the camera’s initial setup.
Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, the Allie captures spherical 360 x 360-degree video from its back-to-back fisheye lenses at a resolution of up to 2,448 x 2,448 pixels. Videos are recorded in the H.264 format.
Monitor your home in 360 degrees
For users picking up the Allie Camera as a home monitor, once it’s installed you won’t need to interact with it directly. The device is controlled entirely from the app (iOS or Android). In our experience, the app was straightforward and easy to use, although the instruction booklet didn’t quite reflect what we saw in the app due to recent updates that had renamed or replaced certain UI elements.
Still, everything worked as expected, and a simple Bluetooth setup agent will get your phone connected to the camera, and the camera to your home Wi-Fi network (you can also set up the camera from a computer). Once that’s done, one tap will bring up a live feed. Multiple Allie cameras can also be set up under the same user, and you can easily toggle between them from within the app.
There are two basic operating modes for the Allie: Home and Away. When set to Home mode, you connect to the Allie over your internal wireless network. Any videos or pictures you take will be saved to your phone (within the Allie app, not the camera roll). In Away mode, communication happens between the Allie and your device via the cloud, which incurs a significant time delay as the stream has to be passed through a server before heading to your phone, but it allows you to rewind video as far back as your cloud storage plan allows. Everything otherwise works as normal, though, and Away mode also gives the option to permanently save files to the cloud.
Unlike a traditional security camera, the Allie is best when positioned at the center of the room as its dual cameras can see everything in a sphere around it. The best place to mount it is probably on the ceiling where it’s most out of the way (provided it has access to power) but it will also work just fine on a wall. You don’t have to worry about how it’s oriented or what direction it’s pointing, because it simply sees everywhere. There are minor blind spots at the stitching line between the two hemispheres, which mostly affect objects close to the camera.
The Allie Camera is a generalist, capable of performing a multitude of roles but specializing in none of them.
Home surveillance is not the most exciting application of 360 video tech, but it’s one that makes a lot of sense. A single 360 camera can do the job of multiple traditional cameras and, as mentioned above, positioning it correctly is foolproof.
However, if a security camera is what you’re strictly after, the Allie is not the best option. While it offers some features useful for that customer, like night vision, two-way audio, and cloud storage, it lacks many things that modern, purpose-built security cameras have, including motion detection, object recognition, weatherproofing, alerts, and a siren. As such, it serves a more realistic role as a baby or pet monitor, but will also let you keep tabs on your home while you’re away on vacation.
Given Allie parent company IC Real Tech’s experience in the security and surveillance sector, it’s a bit odd that the Allie Camera doesn’t do more here. There is some evidence to suggest that Allie has distanced itself from the home security market: Home and Away modes were previously labeled as Event and Security, and the Allie Camera is not once mentioned as a security camera on its website (although it still is on IC Real Tech’s site).
360 video for every occasion
The Allie Camera’s main focus, then, seems to be on sharing life experiences. In this case, it’s really no different from other 360 cameras, but its big party trick is YouTube live streaming. Broadcast your garage band concert or share your birthday party with friends and family far away. Footage can be streamed in standard 360 or stereoscopic virtual reality (Allie also makes a VR viewer). You will need to enable live streaming on your YouTube channel first, but after that, the process is simple, with the camera handling stitching, compression, and transmission with little more than a tap of an on-screen button.
What’s a tad unfortunate, but understandable, is that streaming requires a Wi-Fi connection, so it’s not possible go live on your more remote adventures that the Allie Go battery allows for. Allie also supports non-live 360 uploads to YouTube, as well as Facebook; both sites will display the videos in their 360-degree manner.
Currently, the Allie Camera and the Go don’t integrate as well as we’d like. The battery may free the camera from its wired shackles, but it makes it considerably larger (and heavier) than other portable 360 cams. A second app is required to use the Go, and when using the standard Allie Home app, you won’t be able to save files to the Go’s MicroSD card. (The reverse is also true: when using the Go app, you can’t save files to your phone or the cloud).
Oddly, you also can’t share from the Allie Go app to Facebook or YouTube, but you can from within the Allie Home app. This seems a bit backward, as most users should be more apt to share while they are out and about, rather than sitting at home in their living rooms.
As the Home app can’t access files on the MicroSD card, the only way to share videos created while using Allie Go is to plug the memory card into your computer and transfer and convert the files using the Windows or MacOS versions of Allie Home software. Hopefully, this shortcoming will be addressed in future versions of the apps.
The Allie Camera, especially with the Go battery, is well suited for things like real estate tour videos. It could also be useful in a small business environment, giving owners the ability to check in on their storefronts or offices remotely from their phones.
The VR streaming capabilities also hold promise for live event coverage. With a VR viewer, remote audience members can enjoy the performance in a much more immersive way. It could also bring an opportunity for people to experience things like Burning Man or New Year’s Eve in Times Square without actually having to be there – although, we guess that misses the point.
The Allie isn’t the only solution for live 360 and VR streaming, but it is the easiest and least expensive by a fair margin.
Cloud storage plans and pricing
It’s a shame that the Allie Home app can’t save footage to the MicroSD card inside the Allie Go, as this would give home monitoring users an alternative (albeit a limited one) to buying a cloud storage plan (remember, there are two apps at play; the MicroSD card is only used with the Allie Go app, not Allie Home). It would also help bring the Allie closer to par with other security cameras that offer local storage. As such, anyone wishing to use the Allie Camera in an always-on fashion will need to invest in one of three cloud plans, offering 24, 48, or 72 hours of storage at $7, $10, or $13 per month, respectively. Custom plans are also available, with a week’s worth of storage going for $25. (One year of 24-hour storage is included with the camera.)
If you’re in the market for a security camera, there are much better deals from other companies.
If you’re in the market for a security camera, there are much better storage deals from other companies. Most offer at least 24 hours of cloud backup included with camera purchase; Netgear even offers a full week for its Arlo system. Canary’s membership program costs just $10 per month and includes 30 days of cloud storage.
The caveat here is that most security cameras aren’t constantly recording to the cloud. They have motion or sound triggers to start and stop recording, so a day’s worth of backup doesn’t actually equate to 24 hours of video. The Allie, of course, doesn’t have these features, at least not yet, so 24 hours of storage is a full 24 hours.
Since the Allie doesn’t appear to be marketing to be a real security camera anymore, the cloud storage options seem to be more of an insurance policy against missing life’s important moments while one is away from home, such as a child’s first steps. That seems like a bit of a hard sell to us, and we’d still prefer to see more security monitoring features come to the Allie in the future.
The Allie Camera includes a three-year limited warranty.
Currently, the Allie Camera feels like it is overreaching. It shows promise, but it lacks refinement. We’re not entirely sure who it’s for, and the somewhat awkward integration with the Allie Go isn’t seamless enough for it to really be a 360 camera for every occasion. The live streaming capabilities are exciting, but won’t be enough for many users to overlook the Allie’s shortcomings.
Is there a better alternative?
With regard to home security, definitely. With more security-focused functionality, the Allie Camera could have been a real contender here, as there are definite benefits of 360 video in home monitoring. For now, its limitations outweigh its usefulness, while expensive cloud storage makes using it as an always-on camera an unattractive proposition.
As a general use 360 cam, the Allie has one big thing going for it: ridiculously simple YouTube live streaming. It also shoots higher resolution video than some competitors, like the LG Cam 360 and the Ricoh Theta S, but those cameras are considerably more portable. The Allie is an otherwise strangely limited device due to finicky file management and sharing procedures, and the necessity to purchase a $60 add-on battery if you want to be able to use it unplugged from the wall. There is a chance the file management issues will be addressed in future software updates, but unless you’re drawn to the idea of 360 live streaming, there doesn’t seem to be any rush to pick up an Allie Camera right now.
How long will it last?
It was nice to see the Allie came with a three-year warranty. It is well made and we wouldn’t expect it to have any issues over time, especially if it lives a stationary life mounted to a wall or ceiling. We also are hopeful that it will continue to receive new features via software updates, which should help extend its lifespan.
That said, the 360 video industry is still figuring itself out, and new cameras are arriving all the time. How the Allie will hold up against the competition a year from now is therefore hard to predict.
Should you buy it?
Probably not, at least not yet, unless you are intrigued by the idea of live streaming in 360. This is the Allie’s key differentiator and saving grace at this time. Other than that, the Allie Camera fails to offer any truly solid reasons to purchase it over its competitors, especially if what you’re really after is a security camera.
That said, we should note that at its new price of $299, the Allie is a much more compelling buy now than when originally announced at $599. If you’re looking to add 360 video tours to your real estate photography or just want an easy way to remotely monitor your living room, the Allie could fit the bill. But don’t expect too much from it at this point. There’s real potential here, but there are some kinks that still need to be worked out.
Should the company release firmware updates that increase the usefulness of the product and address the shortcomings, we will revisit and adjust our review accordingly.
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