Nest Cam with battery review: Google is back with a smarter security camera

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Google is back in the smart home security saddle with a new $180 Nest Cam. It’s battery-powered, rated for outdoor or indoor use and stands to rival Arlo and Wyze for smart features and tech specs. But is it really the best?

At $180, it’s not the most or least expensive. The specs are also mid-range and par for the smart cam course. What you do get for the first time from Google is free smart alert features, activity zones and on-device processing thanks to a new machine learning chip. Ultimately, it’s hard to recommend over its aforementioned competitors, unless you’re living in a strictly Nest-only household. 

Don’t Like

  • Still pricey
  • Only 3 hours of clips included
  • Heavy and large

Design

Technically, the new Nest Cam is called the “Nest Cam (outdoor or indoor, battery)”, but that’s a handful to type, so we’ll refer to it as simply the Nest Cam in this review. 

The new Nest Cam is designed for indoor or outdoor use. It’s IP54 rated, which means while it’s weather resistant, it’s not entirely waterproof. It comes in one color, Snow (read: Google white) and you can mount it either magnetically or with the included wall plate, screws and anchors. It is battery-operated, but you can buy a $35 weatherproof power cable to go with it if you’d rather opt for a wired outdoor installation.

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The Nest Cam comes with a charging cable and wall plate for mounting. 


Molly Price/CNET

The camera itself is magnetic and snaps onto the included base easily. Even though this thing is nearly a pound at 14 ounces, the magnet feels strong enough to hold the camera firmly on the base. The Nest Cam is 3.27 inches wide, about 1.25 inches larger than the Wyze Cam V3.The design is sleek and simple, but those stats add up to one very chunky feeling device. 

If you’re opting for indoor use (I wouldn’t; more on that later) you can place it on a $30 sold-separately stand that comes with a charging cable to act like a dock of sorts.

Specs and battery life

This new Nest Cam has all the camera stats you’d expect to see, like 1080p HD video, night vision, a 130° diagonal field of view, 6x digital zoom and two-way audio. Those aren’t standout specs. No, you really don’t need better tech than that to surveil your backyard. 1080P resolution will serve you well and the night vision works just fine.

I would’ve liked to see a wider field of view, especially since the camera on the magnetic stand isn’t very adjustable. I had to find just the right height shelf to perch it on order to view my whole living room and not the ceiling. The indoor stand improves this slightly.

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A charging stand for indoor use is sold separately. 


Chris Monroe/CNET

Battery life is the big question with smart home devices like cameras, locks and doorbells. Remembering to add AAs to your August lock is annoying and so is having to remember to charge your doorbell or security camera. Google told me the Nest Cam’s battery life depends on factors like activity, temperature, and camera settings. 

Google estimates the battery to last somewhere between 1.5 and seven months depending on those factors. I charged our camera to 100% and 24 hours later, I was down to 97% in default battery mode with the automatic battery saver enabled. That’s about four months of battery in those exact circumstances. There are options in the Home app to adjust frequency of event recordings, video quality and length of clips. There are also three battery modes to choose from if you don’t want to cherry-pick your power settings. 

The Google team provided these estimates for battery life: 

  • Busy: About 1.5 months battery life (about 20 – 25 recorded events per day)
  • Typical: About 3 months battery life (about 9 – 12 recorded events per day)
  • Quiet: About 7 months battery life (about 2 – 4 recorded events per day)
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Home app screenshots using the Nest Cam.


Screenshots by Molly Price/CNET

Feature freebies

Google is sunsetting the old Nest Cams and Nest Cam IQs. A refresh to this lineup was long overdue and I was happy to learn that Google includes more features for free in the new Nest Cam and new wireless version of its Nest Doorbell. 

Without a Nest Aware subscription, you’ll still get alerts for customizable activity zones. You can set those up in the app in a menu buried deep in the camera settings. Each zone can have its own group of alerts. For example, you can set half the view to notify for animals and the other half to notify for vehicles.

That level of specificity is nice if you’re monitoring a large area with multiple spaces. I can imagine creating a zone that alerts me if the dog leaves the yard and escapes onto the driveway. There are also alerts for people and general motion. That’s all thanks to a new machine learning chip onboard the Nest Cam.

Included without any subscription, you’ll also get a three-hour event history and you can download each clip. That sounds like a lot, and at first I was impressed. Then I thought about the Wyze Cam V3 I use at home that includes 14 days of event history for free. In my testing, I encountered more than once an even that I was notified for and made mental note to look at later, only to realize that by the time I remembered to go back and check, it was no longer available.

In one instance, I was only able to watch half a clip because I just happened to be viewing it as it expired, at 2:59:30ish. That could be a personal problem for sure, but I’m probably not the only one who gets busy and forgets to go back to the app and download the clip. 

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Chris Monroe/CNET

That’s where the Nest Aware subscriptions kick in. Subscribe to Nest Aware for $6 per month and you’ll get familiar face detection and sound alerts (smoke alarm, glass breaking and carbon monoxide alarm), the ability to call 911 from the Google Home app and 30 days of event video history. Upgrade to Nest Aware Plus for $12 a month and you’ll get all of those options plus 60 days of video history and 10 days of 24/7 video recording if your Nest Cam is hard-wired. 

The included free smart alerts are likely plenty for most folks. Familiar Faces is a nice touch, but definitely something I’d categorize as a luxury. Add Familiar Faces and you camera will notify you of people by name, as synced in your Google account. Sound alerts for alarms are perhaps more practical, especially if you travel often and want to know when something’s not right. I’m glad those are included in the $6 option and aren’t behind the Nest Aware Plus paywall.

What really makes the Nest Aware subscription almost necessary is the limits of the free, three-hour clip storage. Going from three hours to 30 days will make a world of difference for most users. It eliminates the mental load of having to remember to download a clip quickly before it’s gone. 

Privacy and security

If you’re concerned about security, Google is ready to pitch you its latest promise. Video footage on the new Nest Cam is encrypted while in transit and while at rest on Nest servers. According to the Google team, these are the most vulnerable points in the data lifecycle. 

Processing for those animal, person and vehicle detections, as well as Familiar Faces recognition all happen locally on the device. The Nest Cam’s machine learning chip handles all of that. There’s no cloud processing happening. That’s not the strongest encryption on the market. Ring encrypts end-to-end, but only on wired devices and only if you opt in. 

A green LED light lets you know when the camera is processing or streaming video to a viewer. Add the camera to your Home and Away routines, and you can choose to only record video when you’ve left home. Home and Away presence detection is powered by either your mobile device or sensors in select Nest products. 

One other security related thing caught my eye on the Google Store’s page for the new Nest Cam. If someone removes your camera (easy to do with the magnetic camera-to-base application) they’ll replace it for free. What’s the catch? You’ll need to file a police report and provide Google with a copy within 30 days. You can read more about camera theft replacements on the Google support page. 

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Nest Cam mounts magnetically to its base.


Chris Monroe/CNET

What else is out there

You have options these days when it comes to outdoor cameras. Google’s Nest Cam isn’t the best when it comes to specs or price.

The similar, yet smaller, lighter and more weatherproof Wyze Cam V3 is just $37 and includes 14 days of clip storage. Even if you add on the Wyze Cam Plus subscription for people and object detection, you’re still well under that $180 mark at around $60 for the camera and a year’s subscription. 

Then there’s Arlo’s new $200 Pro 4 camera with a 2K resolution and wider field of view than the Nest Cam. We loved the Arlo Pro 3, and still recommend it as our favorite outdoor security camera. We haven’t reviewed the Pro 4 yet, but plan to in the near future.


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Should you buy it? 

If you have your heart set on a Nest Cam, don’t fret. This one works well and it isn’t even the only camera Google is launching this year. There will also be a wired version for indoor-only use. We don’t have an availability date yet, but Google tells us it will cost $100, their cheapest camera offering yet.  

The Nest Cam does everything I’d expect it to. It works seamlessly with the Google Home app and Nest Aware offers several nice feature upgrades. Still, it’s a hard sell for me at $180 unless you’re really invested in having Nest products in your home. 

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