ArcSoft Simplicam review

ArcSoft’s simplicam shouldn’t make criminals shake in their boots quite yet

ArcSoft’s simplicam is a home-security camera with some competitive features, but its stand-out facial recognition is definitely still in beta.
ArcSoft’s simplicam is a home-security camera with some competitive features, but its stand-out facial recognition is definitely still in beta.
ArcSoft’s simplicam is a home-security camera with some competitive features, but its stand-out facial recognition is definitely still in beta.

Highs

  • Small
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Good video quality
  • Reliable sound and motion alerts
  • Customizable

Lows

  • Facial recognition didn’t always work
  • Two-way talk and sound capture worked intermittently

DT Editors' Rating

The saying “I never forget a face” is basically true for those known as “super recognizers.” Even if they haven’t seen people in decades, they’ll still be able to recognize the men they knew as boys. While it’s surprising no one’s made a TV show about such a person, technology has been trying to catch up with this remarkable phenomenon for decades. It’s been at work in London, where it was used to track down rioters in 2011. Now ArcSoft wants to bring facial recognition into your home with simplicam.

First and foremost, home-security cameras are meant to give homeowners peace of mind and a sense of safety, and that’s simplicam’s aim as well. Its facial-recognition feature should alert you when, and only when, an unrecognized person enters your home.

Hands on video

Simple cam

The simplicam is small and lightweight, about as wide around as a coffee cup, plus an extra inch around for its silver base. The camera pivots up and down, letting you choose the best angle for capturing footage, and if you want to zoom in on something, you can use the feature inside the Closeli app. Its 10-foot USB cord means you can put it in the least conspicuous place possible, and wall-mounting equipment comes in the box.

ArcSoft wants to bring facial-recognition technology into your home.

The simplicam works with iOS or Android, but you can also plug the USB plug into your computer and use it from there. It’s easy to get to directions and videos from the app, in case you’re having trouble, but the separate times we tried it, everything went smoothly. Once you’ve opened the Closeli app and plugged in the camera, you press the “set” button; it will beep, and you connect it to your Wi-Fi. Next, a QR code will show up in the app. Use the camera to scan it, and it will begin to connect once you hear two beeps. ArcSoft claims setup takes just three minutes, but it took us closer to six or seven, including downloading the Closeli app, but not customizing our settings.

Those settings are numerous. You can choose if and how frequently you want it to receive both sound and motion notifications; whether you want push, email, or both kinds of alerts; and can schedule times you want the camera to turn off. “Most people turn it off when they get home,” says Caroline Tien-Spalding, ArcSoft’s Senior Marketing Director. They want its protection when they’re away from home, but would rather not stare at its glowing, green light all night, à la Gatsby.

In terms of frequency, users can opt for “I want to know it all” and get continuous alerts, or get a summary every 10, 30, or 60 minutes. When I had the camera set up at home, the motion notifications were just too much, thanks to my cat’s swishy tail. Unfortunately, that meant turning the motion notifications off completely, as there was no way to just get an hourly summary of just motion, while leaving the sound and facial recognition options on all the time.

Cloudy vids

If you don’t care about preserving your 720p HD vids — which actually look pretty decent, even with night vision — you can keep your simplicam off the cloud. You’ll still be able to watch the live stream, use the two-way talk feature, and get sound and video notifications.

For $5 a month, you can get some storage that holds up to one hour of clips, or “events,” and save them for 24 hours. After that, they disappear, but you can always download them before then if your kid did something particularly cute on camera. Or someone broke in. Whichever. There are other plans that give you 11 and 21 days of storage for $15 and $23 a month, respectively. All that extra (but costly) time might actually come in handy, as we routinely forgot to save videos in that 24-hour window.

Since I live in a secure building, the most exciting thing to happen with the simplicam review unit was the ability to stream video of my cat eating and drinking. Riveting stuff. But I used the camera’s two-way talk feature to call his name, which resulted in him perking up his ears. If he meowed back, I couldn’t hear it. For some reason, the app would only play and record sound intermittently. The camera was picking up noises, because the app got sound alerts, but the event playback was silent.

Two-faced

The simplicam’s facial recognition, which is currently in beta, really sets it apart. Only available with the cloud-storage option, it sends alerts when it sees a face it doesn’t recognize; you can save up to 10 people, so you can have family members and friends set up profiles. That means the camera can automatically stop recording when it recognizes a friendly face, so you don’t have to go back and delete your “I just woke up and stumbled to the coffee maker” videos. By the same token, you can get alerts if a stranger enters your house, and the camera can auto record that, too. As a safety precaution, there’s a whole procedure to teaching the camera to recognize a face. You’d need your babysitter’s permission, for example, before you start the process.

Once you have the facial recognition screen up in the app, you stand 10 feet from the camera, so your entire face is in view. You hit the “Ready” button, and the camera audibly directs you to turn slowly to the left then right as it takes lots of photos of your good, bad, and ugly sides.

It takes about a week, according to ArcSoft, for the camera to get better at recognizing you, but even after a couple weeks, I found the camera still had problems identifying me. One of the main problems seemed to be my glasses. I finally created two personas: Jenny and Alt Jenny, one with my glasses and one without. Still, even when I was the only person in the room, I got alerts telling me the camera “saw an unrecognized person.” This seemed to happen a lot when I looked down at my phone or was walking by instead of standing still.

Conclusion

The simplicam’s facial recognition feature is in beta, and it’s really the only part of the camera that was a problem. At first, alerts weren’t showing up to my Digital Trends email, but they worked just fine with an Outlook address. The motion and sound events seemed to pop up reliably, and I got a notice when I unplugged the camera, too.

When you compare simplicam with something like Dropcam, its pros and cons become clear. Its videos are lower resolution, and the camera has a narrower field of view. If you’re looking for something smart and connected, simplicam doesn’t sync with other Wi-Fi-enabled devices. On the other hand, Dropcam doesn’t offer a one-day, $5 option for its cloud service, the hardware costs $50 more, and lacks simplicam’s unreliable (but still impressive) facial-recognition capability.

If simplicam ever reaches super-recognizer levels of accuracy, Dropcam will have to watch out.

Highs

  • Small
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Good video quality
  • Reliable sound and motion alerts
  • Customizable

Lows

  • Facial recognition didn’t always work
  • Two-way talk and sound capture worked intermittently

Available at: Amazon

Update 2/17/2014: Updated to reflect that the simplicam does have a zoom feature. 

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