Skype-Based Internet Camera Needs More Polish
Having talked about the Amaryllo iCam HD Internet camera as an interesting Internet of things example in presentations for a few months, I recently bought one and tried it out. Here’s how I got on.
The iCam HD is very similar in size, shape and styling to a Rubik’s Cube. As a connected home device, it’s interesting because it uses Skype as its communications layer. This was done in the wake of several high-profile hacks people’s webcams during 2012 — Skype provides a better layer of security than many camera manufacturers could do on their own.
Setting up the iCam HD is strictly speaking easy. However, it’s not fool-proof and, if you make a mistake (which is easy to do), it’s not obvious how to pick up where you left off and fix it. As a result I had four or five goes before deleting everything, resetting the device and starting again. Then it worked fine. In my experience, the set-up could certainly be slicker and more robust.
Once up and running, the iCam HD provides a good set of features. The device appears as a contact in your Skype list, and you call it to see and hear what’s going on in your house. The video quality is reasonable although the colour is rather washed out. It has a night vision mode, microphone, speakers and a motion detector. When it detects motion it sends a still image or message to your Skype account. It can record video to an SD card or upload it to a Google account, although there are no instructions on how to do the latter and I haven’t yet succeeded in getting it to work. It also has a privacy mode, which quite cutely turns the camera round to face the wall.
It also has a remote control feature that lets you pan and tilt the camera from within a Skype app. Using the messaging function, you enter L, R, U or D to move the camera. I found this worked most of the time, but not always. In the Android Skype app you can use your finger on the touch screen to move the camera remotely. The user manual also states that you can tilt a mobile phone to move the camera remotely, but neglects to mention that this only applies to Apple devices.
The Amaryllo app is perhaps the most frustrating aspect. It is not possible to see the user manual until the device is set up so, if you have installation issues, you can only refer to the paper manual. The app sends Wi-Fi set-up details and settings to the camera, then reads them from the camera each time the app is used. It’s not possible to store your Wi-Fi and Skype details permanently in the app, so if you do have to set the camera up again, you have to retype the same details. It’d be much better to set them up in the app, store them there, then update the camera as needed.
The app cries out for having some settings on a schedule, so that you could, for example, switch motion detection on during the night and when you’re at work but switch it off when you’re at home. Without this, you forget and keep getting Skype messages telling you that it has detected motion. My family weren’t keen on being snapped as they moved about the house. The only solution today is to go into the app every single time you go to work and come home, and again when you go to bed and get up in the morning. At this level the camera is making work rather than solving a problem. Lastly, there’s no Windows Phone app, which limits its use in my house.
The camera also highlights some issues with Microsoft’s support of Skype apps. The Windows Phone version of Skype doesn’t support file downloads, so you can’t see the pictures your iCam HD is trying to send you. Microsoft should be rebuked for allowing Skype — a company it owns — to offer an inferior experience on one of its operating systems.
My overall impression of the iCam HD is that it’s pretty good, but for £159 (€179) it has a few too many bugs and the app especially is not well enough thought out. It’s not quite ready for prime time and needs some product management applied to it before it has broad appeal. In its favour, Amaryllo has implemented over-the-air software updates, so all these problems could probably be overcome, even for existing users, without resorting to new hardware.
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