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What we really think of the new Google Nest cameras


First came the leak from Slashgear, which got a lot of people excited. After all, Nest's last camera launch was the Hello back in 2018, so a scoop on new Nest cameras coming soon was a big deal: two new Nest Cams (battery and wired), a Nest Doorbell (battery), and a Nest Cam with Floodlight.


Then came the reviews when the cameras launched at the end of August, from CNet, Gizmodo and others: mostly positive.


And then came the posts from early customers on Reddit and elsewhere, and oh my: apparently there are a lot of unhappy Nest camera owners out there. Is this just the 'vocal minority', or are the new cameras really not that great? We decided to figure it out.


At Starling, we've probably spent more hours working with the new Nest cameras than all of the review sites combined, we've worked with a lot of Nest products, and we've talked with a lot of Nest customers, too. So what do we really think of the new cameras, and if you have any of the older generation cameras, should you switch?


To set the right context, Google has dramatically changed its target market since the Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor launched in 2017 for $349. At that price point, this was a camera that was targeted at near the top of the smart home camera market, and had specs to match, including an 8MP image sensor. With this camera now discontinued, the closest equivalent to an outdoor security camera is now the Nest Cam (battery).


But this new camera is a very different beast - it is positioned at $179 (half the price of the IQ Outdoor), and the design focus in turn has shifted from high-end image capture to features that have more mainstream utility, like a battery that enables monitoring to continue if there's a power cut. The new Nest Cam also makes mounting easier for homeowners who aren't comfortable with running new wiring to a camera. (Google claims a battery life of several weeks to several months depending on activity - our testing suggests this is quite optimistic, and the battery works better as a back-up than as the primary power source unless you are OK with frequent recharging.) Google also provides a free replacement if the camera gets stolen.


So if you compare, say, the image sensor specs of the two cameras, you'll probably be disappointed by the new Nest Cam's 2MP sensor, which for example will capture the faces of people on your property quite well, but will not capture sufficient detail to read license plates of cars driving on the street past your home. But for most people considering a new camera purchase, this isn't the right comparison.


A more useful comparison is with similarly-priced cameras like the Arlo Pro 4, which costs $200, just a little more than the Nest Cam (battery). The two cameras share broadly similar specifications, and many of the differences are matters of personal preference for home security applications.


For example, the Arlo camera has a wider viewing angle than the Nest (160 degrees vs 130 degrees). So the Arlo camera will cover a greater area than Nest, but towards the edges of the field of view there's more distortion and less detail than with Nest. And if you don't need battery power and are using the camera indoors (or at least out of the rain), the Nest Cam (wired), which is identical to the Nest Cam (battery) in all other ways, costs under $100.


It's also worth looking at ongoing subscription costs: to cover unlimited cameras, Arlo Secure costs $10/month, versus Nest Aware (starting at) $6/month. So if you already have Nest cameras and a Nest Aware subscription, you won't pay anything more on an ongoing basis if you add one of the new Nest cameras. Equally, if you are already invested in Arlo, you'll save money by staying with Arlo if you want to add more cameras.

Moving onto the new Nest Doorbell (battery), we see many things that Google has got right this time, compared with the Nest Doorbell (wired) - a rebrand of the Nest Hello that originally launched in 2018. For example, the 3:4 aspect ratio works better at capturing a wider field of view - a larger activity zone to see more of the people at your door and packages on the ground - than the 4:3 aspect ratio of many other video doorbells including the Nest Doorbell (wired).


We also like the fact that image processing (for motion detection, people and packages) is done locally on the device, rather than in cloud storage. And while we unfortunately don't see this translate into an increase in responsiveness for event notifications today, these are often the kinds of things that improve with future firmware upgrades.


The main issue for many with this device is the lack of 24/7 video recording - clips are only recorded when the camera detects a person/package event - even with Nest Aware. For many, the Doorbell doubles as a home security camera and the ability to view event video history - even when the camera has not detected an event at that time - is very important. The Doorbell (battery) is also huge, due to the included battery - it's almost twice the size of the Nest Doorbell (wired) - so you will need to check there's enough space if you are installing in place of an existing doorbell.


So out of all the new cameras, we are most lukewarm about the Nest Doorbell (battery), and think that for most people the Nest Doorbell (wired), which does offer 24/7 recording, is still the best choice - unless your living situation prevents you from installing a wired doorbell. Google has announced that an update to the Nest Doorbell (wired) is coming in 2022, so we are hopeful that'll combine learnings from both.


We just got hold of the Nest Cam (wired) and the Nest Cam with Floodlight last week, so we've had less time with them than the other cameras, but we think they are both excellent smart security cameras. The Nest Cam (wired) is essentially identical to the Nest Cam (battery) but it's less than half the size and, at $100, it's almost half the price. If you don't need battery power but are looking for a solidly-performing indoor security camera in that price range, we don't know of many better options, especially those that work with multiple smart home ecosystems (Google Home natively, and Apple HomeKit via Starling Home Hub).


For users who need more than the basic IR night vision offered by the other cameras, we love the Nest Cam with Floodlight. Although it's quite expensive for an outdoor camera ($280), the floodlight is very bright (2400 lumens) and covers a broader area compared with other floodlight cams, which can make a significant difference in usability. There's also a battery to make sure the camera continues to record video even if there's a power outage, giving you uninterrupted video history.


Where the new cameras are a 'downgrade' for many users is Google's decision to support only the Google Home app, and not the Nest app. Which app you prefer may be a matter of taste, but there is a real practical downside to this limitation: the Nest app can run in a web browser (home.nest.com) and was often used to view the older-model cameras on a large computer screen. The newer model cameras aren't viewable in the Nest app, only via the mobile-only experience that the Google Home app offers.


Fortunately, if you're an Apple household, Starling Home Hub solves this compatibility problem: once your Nest cameras are added to HomeKit via our hub, you can then view them on any Apple device, including your Mac (via the Home app) and Apple TV. With the Nest Cam with Floodlight, you can even turn on the floodlight via Siri, which is much quicker than navigating through the Google Home app if, for example, you hear a noise and want to quickly illuminate your yard at night.


Starling Home Hub has full support for all Nest devices, adding the Nest Cam (battery) and Nest Doorbell (battery) in firmware version 10.0. The Nest Cam (wired) and Nest Cam with Floodlight are supported from firmware version 10.1 onwards.


The new Nest cameras are all available from the Google Store, along with most tech retailers. (We don't have any affiliation with Google, and we don't earn anything from cameras purchased using this link.)

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