Update: Cleverloop have resolved problems I highlighted. They replied rapidly to the security issues and have closed the holes. I’m super impressed by their responsiveness.
Home security cameras come in three broad categories these days: cheap and cheerful Chinese IP cameras (often wireless); cloud-connected cameras like the Nest Cam (formerly DropCam); and full-on surveillance cameras tied to a DVR. All of these options come with some limitations:
- The cheaper IP cameras usually have appalling web interfaces, and are often a security nightmare thanks to their default passwords and dynamic DNS settings.
- Nest Cam is a bit easier to set up and has a much nicer interface, but comes with a fairly hefty monthly charge to unlock alerts and cloud storage.
- “Proper” surveillance camera systems that tie multiple cameras with local storage are bloody expensive.
Cleverloop (launched as an Indiegogo campaign in 2014) tries to bridge across these three categories. Combining cheaper IP cameras with a smart hub to provide local monitoring, cloud storage, and alerting for a one-off price. How does it measure up?
I’m fairly impressed by the cameras Cleverloop has bundled in their NZ$549 two-camera package. They’re generic Chinese IP cameras, but the Cleverloop setup process does a reasonable job of masking their provenance behind a decent user interface. Both indoor and outdoor cameras are 720p with “night vision” (IR illuminator LEDs basically).
The indoor camera has a good wide-angle view, and comes with two-way audio: you can opt to listen in to the noise in the room, and also speak through the camera to shout at any burglars you may spot.
Where the indoor camera feels light and flimsy, the outdoor camera is the opposite. Contained in a sturdy metal case with claimed IP66 ingress protection rating against dust and water, it feels bullet-proof.
Both cameras provide wired and wireless connections, although it’s easier to set them up via the wired connection first (see below). Unfortunately neither camera supports Power-over-Ethernet, but if you’re particular about it, you could use a PoE splitter.
About the size of a hockey puck, the Cleverloop base station provides the smarts for monitoring movements and sending alerts to your phone.
You are required to use Cleverloop’s iPhone or Android app to access the system. There is no option to access footage via a website. The plus side of using an app to access the system is that it unlocks Cleverloop’s most convenient feature: geo-fencing. You tell the base station where it is located (using your phone’s GPS), and from then on the system can automatically arm when you leave the house. I’ve tried this with two users on different phones, and it works perfectly – only arming when both phones have left the area.
Apart from that, the app is simple and utilitarian. You can open the app at any time and view the live camera feeds (and listen/speak on the indoor camera). You get alerts when suspicious movement is detected, and can see a low-resolution gif immediately, or the full HD footage after a few seconds.
Tagging individual alerts as “movement” (things like pets etc) or “alert” (burglars!) will train the system to not send notifications for movements that are unimportant. I had to read the Cleverloop website to understand this because it was not intuitive.
Setup & Security
Update: Cleverloop have resolved these problems. They replied rapidly to the security issues and have closed the holes. I’m super impressed by their responsiveness.
I’ve left the text here for completeness, because I think it’s interesting how quickly Cleverloop fixed the issues (within a couple of days). However rest assured that the criticisms below are no longer valid.
This is where I didn’t have a stellar experience. The base station and application are extremely simple to set up, but I tried and failed several times to follow Cleverloop’s setup process for the cameras in wireless mode. Eventually I gave up and used a network cable to set up the cameras, which worked perfectly first time, after which I could unplug the cable and run the cameras via WiFi. Ironically, it’s easier to set up the cameras for wireless operation by first plugging them in.
The Cleverloop process is still easier than setting up the IP cameras using their native web interfaces, but I’m suggesting it could be even better.
My second disappointment is that Cleverloop have done a very poor job of defending users from unwanted snooping. The IP cameras are set up using default credentials (username admin, password 1234), and the camera’s built-in dynamic DNS feature is enabled by default. So accessing something like [random hex string].nwssvr1.com directly over the internet would allow anyone to log into the camera using those default credentials. Really not good! In my case my firewall protects me, but your average user will probably be exposed.
I’m particularly upset about this, because Cleverloop is otherwise a great solution. It would be trivial for them to disable DDNS on the cameras and change the default credentials as part of the setup. It’s no worse than any other Chinese IP camera of course, so maybe I’m just being picky.
Cleverloop does a good job of taking commodity IP cameras and adding a clean interface and useful smarts like cloud storage, geo-fencing and alerting, for an overall great experience, at a reasonable price.