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Nest Cam / Nest Aware

Posted on May 19th, 2017

Dave!Internet-enabled security cameras are all the rage even though there are inherent risks to having them. Hackers are exploiting webcams with increasing regularity, which means that your privacy could be violated if you're not careful. Personally, I'm okay with the risks. Being able to remotely view my cameras from wherever I am in the world is the whole point of getting them in the first place. I want to be able to see what my cats are up to and check on possible security problems, and this is the easiest way to do it. But I don't put them in private areas (like bathrooms or bedrooms), I change the default passwords, and I have all interior cameras turn off when I walk in the door, so... if somebody wants to look at my kitchen while I'm away, have at it.

I actually have two sets of cameras. One is all local storage only with battery back-ups in case the power or internet goes down, the other is my webcam system that records to the cloud. After buying four different brands that were rated "the best" so I could test them out, Nest is the one I liked most and bought into...

Nest Cams!

Like anything in life, it's a mixed bag. There are good things and bad things to the deal.

THE NEST CAMS...
Despite my many issues with Nest, the quality of their cameras is absolutely not one of them. Indeed, the only thing that keeps me a customer is that the cameras are just so nice. Dead simple to set up. Beautifully designed. 1080p resolution with a generous wide-angle view. Excellent night-vision. When it comes to security cameras, they are the total package. You pay for it, of course. An indoor Nest Cam is a whopping $199 (around $169 street) and the outdoor Nest Cam is also $199 (around $179 street). I don't know that they are worth the price tag... $129 seems a more reasonable cost (especially considering you have to pay an additional fee for all the features)... but I've found nothing out there that compare at any price.

NEST AWARE...
Where things go off the rails with Nest Cams is the necessity of paying for their Nest Aware cloud service. Yes, your cameras work perfectly fine without it, but all the best features of Nest Cam are unavailable unless you pay. And it ain't cheap...

Nest Aware Pricing!

The least expensive program gets you 10 days of video history at $100 for the first camera (annually), then $50 for each additional camera. I have ten cameras. If all of them were on Nest Aware, that would be an insane $550 a year. I can't afford that, so I only have some of my cameras using the service. What you get when you subscribe to Nest Aware is the afore-mentioned video history retrieval (with the ability to create downloadable clips or time-lapse videos) plus the ability to define "activity zones" so you can choose which locations in the camera's view will trigger an alert. Without Nest Aware, you can tune into a live view any time you want... and you can get a "motion snapshot" history for the past 3 hours (but only on your phone, not from a web browser). I wish they had a 2 day history option for $20 per camera so all my Nest Cams could be Nest Aware... or even have a 1 day history freebie so all Nest Cams could be Nest Aware. But, alas...

NEST AWARE ACCESS...
The Nest Aware service can be accessed from an app on your phone or a web browser. Both have an easy-to-use interface that's beautifully designed. A while back Nest added a "spaces" overview of all your cameras, which is what you see when you login. The only problem is that if you have Nest Protect smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, they bundle them together for some stupid reason, ruining the perfect grid of cameras. I've blurred the feeds so you can't see how messy my house is...

Nest Aware Dashboard View!

No clue why they do this, but it's incredibly annoying and I haven't found a setting to "unbundle" them. Hell, I can't figure out any reason why you would want them bundled in the first place.

NEST AWARE INSANITY...
Recently I have been having major problems with the video stalling on the screen when I view it on a web browser. Things have been working great for a year now (assuming I had a good internet connection), so what's the deal? I chatted with Nest support, telling them that the video is definitely getting to Nest Aware because I can download a clip as a Quicktime movie and the motion is there... I can even view it in motion on my iPhone... but 9 times out of 10 on my browser, the image doesn't move. Whether I am trying to watch the video live or review my video history, the image is static. So obviously there's something wrong with the Nest Aware streaming service for browsers, right? WRONG! First they blame the browser (that's tech support 101). But stalled video happens regardless of which browser and which computer I am using. Then I'm told not just once... but multiple times... that the problem is probably my router because the Nest Aware Service is "fine." This, of course, is insane. If the problem were my router, then motion video wouldn't be getting to Nest Aware. Except it is. My router doesn't even enter into the equation when it comes to getting video OUT of Nest Aware, only into it...

Nest Cams!

Long story short... the problem fixes itself when I use shitty "Flash" instead of "HTML 5" video to connect to Nest Aware. I thought of relaying this back to Nest but, given their fixation on my router, they probably wouldn't believe me.

NEST AWARE ZONES & PEOPLE DETECTION...
My favorite feature of Nest Aware is being able to define "zones" where I want motion reported. In my front yard, for example, I want to know if somebody is on my driveway or walk... or trying to steal my garden hose. I don't care about the people cutting across my yard or the tree moving when the wind blows. Defining a zone where I'll get alerted is a piece of cake (shown below in orange)...

Nest Aware Zones!

The system works really well. Alerts are messaged to my iPhone quickly and, unlike other cameras I tried, motion outside the zone is actually ignored (this turned out to be a bigger problem than you'd think). An additional feature of Nest Aware is their claim to be able to send you "People Alerts" when your camera "thinks it spotted a person"...

Nest Aware Zones!

Nest's website claims that its system is so smart that it can distinguish a person from a thing or a pet. Except... not so much. Their accuracy rate, so far as I can recall, is 0%. A team of landscapers arrive to mow and trim and not one "people alert" is ever sent. The only people alerts I get always turn out to be my cats. The alerts above, for example, were Jake and Jenny wrestling in the catio...

Jake and Jenny Wrestle!

So... if your sole reason for buying into Nest is the "people alerts," then you might want to keep looking.

NEST AWARE SETTINGS...
The settings available for Nest Cams are fairly standard, but organized really well. Some settings can switch automatically based on whether or not I am home (the system uses the Nest App on my iPhone to figure that out). As an example, I have all the interior cameras automatically turn off when I am home, then turn back on again when I am gone. If you don't want your location reported to Nest, you can always set home/away manually by clicking on the big toggle button that shows up at login...

Nest's Home or Away Toggle Button!

If that's still too much information for you, there's also the ability to set a schedule for your cameras to follow. The rest of the settings allow you to decide whether or not you want to have the microphone on, what kind of alerts you want, what kind of image quality you're sending, whether or not to use night vision... that kind of stuff...

Nest's Home or Away Toggle Button!

A feature I wish were available is setting the video quality based on whether I am home or away. When I'm home, I'm using the internet for all kinds of things and would prefer the cameras send low-res video so they're not hogging my bandwidth. When I'm away, I don't care how much bandwidth the cameras are hogging, and want them to automatically switch to maximum resolution. Don't know if this is possible, but boy would that be handy.

NEST AWARE PAYMENT...
If there were one thing that could be a complete and total deal-breaker for me when it comes to Nest, it's the disastrous billing system that they have in place for Nest Aware. It's insanely stupid. Beyond insanely stupid. First of all... if, like me, you bought your Nest Cams six months apart so you could split the annual Nest Aware payment into two parts so the financial hit isn't so terrible... Nest would like to kindly ask you to go f#@% yourself. They don't allow it. If you already have cameras on Nest Aware and want to add more of them six months later, they pro-rate the annual fee for the new cameras so the billing cycle is in-sync with the original purchase. There is absolutely no way to do otherwise unless you have multiple Nest Aware accounts, and I don't even know how that would work. I'm guessing you have to set up guest access to your own damn cameras on the new accounts? I'm sure Nest thinks they are doing you a huge favor with the pro-rated billing, but it should at least be the customer's choice as to whether this is allowed.

And, oh yeah... about that pro-rated account syncing bullshit...

It's horrendous. The system billed me twice... with wrong amounts... but not really. At least according to Nest. I spent months trying to reconcile the statements I received with what was actually charged to my credit card and simply could not do it. And neither could Nest. They ultimately told me that I would just have to trust them that everything was billed the way it's supposed to be, even though nothing they could produce would back that up. To this day I have no clue if I was billed correctly.

And that's not all.

Not by a long shot.

Because of the absolute nightmare I had when I added my second batch of cameras, I thought I would be smart and add my third batch after my Nest Aware expired. Since Nest is forcing me to pay for everything all at the same time, I might as well make sure that they don't screw things up again by taking matters into my own hands.

Except you cannot tell Nest Aware not to automatically renew.

Thinking I could outsmart the system, I decided to remove my credit card so they couldn't automatically renew.

Except Nest doesn't allow you to remove your credit card information from their system.

Yes. You read that right. Once Nest has your personal information, it belongs to them! Something I verified after spending a crazy amount of time in chat with Nest Support. Apparently the only way to remove your personal information and credit card from the system is to cancel your entire service... even if it's pre-paid in an annual payment!

SUPPORT: Here is how to cancel the Nest Aware subscription:
   
ME: Again... I know how to cancel the subscription. That is not what I am asking.
ME: I want to cancel THE AUTO RENEWAL.
   
SUPPORT: I understand. Currently the only way to cancel Auto Renewal is to cancel the subscription for the Nest Camera, itself.
   
ME: And you cannot remove my credit car so that it won't auto-renew that way?
   
SUPPORT: I definitely cannot remove your credit card but I am checking on the steps you can use to get that done.
   
ME: Wow.
ME: Okay.
   
SUPPORT: Thank you for waiting. After you go to the "Nest Aware" part of the app, you will see the type of subscription and be able to change your payment information. Please know that as long as you have an active subscription, at least one credit card will need to be in this account.
   
ME: Sorry I remain so incredulous as to how Nest chooses to treat their customers, but this is the wackiest thing I have ever encountered for somebody providing me a service. 1) You get double invoices with different numbers for every transaction. 2) Nest is not able to offer any explanation as to how the billings work or even tell you how things were billed. 3) You are forced to have your service plans pro-rated so everything syncs up on a renewal date... even if you can't afford to renew everything at once, which is why you staggered the purchase of your cameras in the first place. 4) You are forced to auto-renew Nest Aware, even if that's not what you want. 5) You have no control over your credit card information and cannot remove such private information from your account. 6) Nobody at Nest finds anything odd about all of the above. I mean... wow... just wow.

This is some seriously sketchy shit.

Nest Aware is like the f#@%ing mafia.

And yet nobody at Nest thinks there's anything strange about the way they conduct business. Nor do they appear to have any interest whatsoever in updating their system so it's not so abusive and stupid. It's for this reason that I hesitate to recommend anybody buy Nest's shit. Yes, they have incredible products, but is dealing with their absurd billing practices worth it? If I weren't already invested in the system, I'd probably say "no." But since I am, I guess I'm stuck here unless somebody comes up with a "jailbreak" for the cameras that allows you to pair them to your own "cloud server" for storage and access.

But anywho...

As I mentioned, I have ten Nest Cams. In order to get the coverage I want, I really need one more. And if the cameras end up going on sale one of these days, I'll probably get it. Despite having to be chained to Nest Aware's high cost... despite the stupid billing system... despite my running out of bandwidth. Because even when all that's taken into consideration, it's still the best security camera system I've found.

For now anyway.

   

Sony KDL40W600B Review

Posted on July 5th, 2014

Dave!When my television died a couple years ago, I didn't want to buy a new one because it was rumored that Apple was coming out with an iTV. So I borrowed a television from my brother until iTV was released. Needless to say, I'm still waiting. And then my brother's television blew up in a cloud of smoke (literally) earlier this week, leaving me television-less with no iTV to replace it. Time to buy a new TV, I guess.

I don't have hours to be researching televisions, so I went to Amazon, put in the specs I wanted (1080/60p, 33-43", Wi-Fi internet connectivity, web apps for Netflix and Amazon streaming, 2014 model) and got one result... the Sony KDL40W600B. I've had excellent luck with Sony gear in the past and the price was under my $500 budget, so I bought it...

My New Television

Design & Construction
The screen size is 40' (diagonal) which is a good size for a smaller room like mine. Being Sony, the design is predictably clean and minimalistic. The narrow plastic bezel around the display is just under 5/8" wide, which is nice because the total set size is kept small... but it would be nice if it were a bit thicker as to minimize distraction around the screen while you watch. The metal stand stand is a little clunky-looking (reminds me of a cheap folding table) and a tad wobbly, but it gets the job done. The construction is... average... is the word I guess I'm looking for. It seems a bit cheap, plasticy, and of underwhelming quality for a Sony. Yet given the under $500 price tag it could have been much worse so I'm happy with it. Appearance-wise it doesn't look too cheap, so I guess it's not a big deal. The up-side of the minimal plastic construction is that the entire unit weighs a mere 15 pounds. Amazing, really. The lightweight build makes it ideal for hanging on a wall (and basic mounting hardware is included). SCORE: B-

User Interface & Remote
Proving for the millionth time that Apple is the only company who knows how to build a decent user interface and simplify a remote... Sony's KDL40W600B is pretty crappy in both arenas. The on-screen menus are poorly designed, inconsistent, laggy, and frustrating. Couple that with a shitty remote and using this TV is a near-painful experience. Once you get used to the baffling idiosyncrasies of the menu system they're serviceable, I guess, but the same cannot be said about the remote control. It fails in most every department. It's uncomfortable to hold. The Volume and Channel buttons are inexplicably at the very bottom, so you get thumb-sprain trying to reach them. For some stupid reason, the number keys (which are rarely used) are given a primo spot under the navigation keys. As if that wren't bad enough, the navigation keys are surrounded by six "function" buttons that are all-too-easy to press by accident when moving around the crappy menus. What a piece of shit. SCORE: D+

Inputs & Internet
The television comes with four... four... HDMI ports, which is pretty sweet. The down-side is that you only get one component video input. If you have a lot of pre-HDMI gear, that's probably a deal-breaker. Things are rounded out by a single composite video input (for that one piece of old, old gear you've got hanging around). On the audio side, you get a couple analog ports, a sub-woofer port, a headphone port, and a digital audio port). And lastly, for handling audio and video media, you also get two USB ports (v2, alas). Internet connectivity can be via the ethernet port or my must-have feature: WiFi. The WiFi set-up is dead simple because is can be automatically configured via your wireless router's WPS button (my Apple "Time Capsule" doesn't have a WPS button, but the "Connect Wireless Printer" option in the AirPort Utility worked perfectly). SCORE: A

Video
Ultimately, the only thing I really care about is the picture quality. Fortunately, this is where the KDL40W600B's LED LCD panel shines. The display is evenly lit, super-sharp, and gorgeous. The blacks are nice and dark which makes for beautiful contrast in the image. With some tweaking of the manual controls, I got the color just how I want it, and I couldn't be happier with the fidelity. I've seen some LED-based televisions that looked terrible when there was quick motion on the screen, but this Sony model has none of that thanks to a host of proprietary technologies onboard. The only down-side to having such terrific video is that non-HD content looks a bit crappy, but you can't fault Sony for that. I wanted very much to not get a 120hz (or higher) set, because I hate the artificial "look" of it. I thought that would be impossible, but this set was 60hz which was a huge plus for me. SCORE: A-

Audio
Given how thin and compact this set is, there's no room for a good set of speakers. This is just bizarre to me, because it seems like it would be a no-brainer to add 3 or 4 inches to the bottom of the set for a proper audio experience... but, alas, no. And it's not just Sony. A quick glance at other sets shows that they are the same way. It's as if all the manufacturers just decided to put shitty speakers in their televisions so they can sell you a separate soundbar to get the sound you want. And you will want it, because this is pretty pathetic. Overall sound is kind of tinny and weak. Even knowing this going in, I thought I'd be okay because my living room is fairly small. I was wrong. The audio is borderline unpleasant to listen to, so I'll end up getting add-on speakers when I can afford it. SCORE: D

Apps
I already have Apple TV, which I like a lot. But it doesn't have Amazon Prime Streaming, which sucks. There's stuff on there I want to watch while I work. So one of the requirements for my new television was that it be able to stream from Amazon, which the KDL40W600B can. It also streams from Netflix and a few other services. This is great and all, but they feel slow to navigate and a bit klutzy compared to how Apple does things (does Netflix REALLY have to ask me to choose "Netflix" or "Kids" EVERY DAMN TIME I OPEN IT? Put "Kids" in a separate app or something, because I don't give a shit about it and am tired of dealing with it). Apps are on the "Opera Browser" platform, which wouldn't be too bad except it's horribly slow and every time you dump out of them, you get an Opera TV Store advertisement. Check the weather? Opera ad. Look at Instagram? Opera ad. It's stupid and I got so sick of it that I stopped giving a crap about apps after my second day. For a set made in 2014, I'd expect much faster performance, much quicker load times, and a much better interface. Oh well. I can at least watch Amazon Prime Streaming, which is nice. SCORE: C

UltraViolet
Without a doubt one of the shittiest internet services ever created, UltraViolet is a studio-owned digital movie distributor. I fucking hate UltraViolet. It's never worked properly for me no matter what I've tried. Even so, I've got movie content in there... including five movies I got for free when I bought this television. But here's the thing... so far as I can tell, there is NO way to play UltraViolet on the KDL40W600B! They don't have an UltraViolet app. They don't have a CinemaNow app. They don't have a Vudu app. The do have a Flixster app, but I couldn't find a way to access my UltraViolet library from it. This is hilarious, given that Sony is a major player in the shitty UltraViolet consortium. So... if you've got a massive UltraViolet library, I hope you have a secondary device to watch them. SCORE: F- (if you give a crap)

Extras
There are a lot of extras on this set that I either don't understand or have no interest in using. The KDL40W600B is a "PlayStation Now" device, which means you can plug in a DuoShock controller and download games from the PlayStation library to play. It sounds like a cool idea, but I've read that the games are crazy-expensive to play, so I'll take a pass. One feature I thought I might use is that "Social View" overlay. It's supposed to be able to display stuff from your Twitter feed... except mine never did, no matter how many times I verified my Twitter account. Oh well. As for the rest? Meh. I'm sure there's some things that some people will find interesting, but I'm not really interested. SCORE: C

   
SONY KDL40W600B CONCLUSION
If you're looking for a (relatively) inexpensive television backed by Sony quality with terrific image quality, this may be it. Video is beautiful. Audio is pretty bad. Design is a bit on the cheap side, but looks pretty good. The remote is total shit. The user interface is almost as bad. Apps are painfully slow for a 2014 model television, but at least it can stream Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon without issue. There's a lot of extras and crap, but the ones I was interested in using seemed more trouble than they're worth. My reason for buying this set was to watch TV and streaming services, for which it's perfect, so I'm quite happy with my purchase.

If you're wanting more info, here's a link to the Sony KDL40W600B on Amazon.

   

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