ecobee SmartCamera on a table top in front of a windowSource: Christopher Close / iMore

Over the past few months, smart thermostat experts, ecobee, have been working on a transition from a single device category company to an effortless home security company. New products from ecobee include a smart camera, and a door/window contact sensor that works alongside a new home monitoring subscription service named Haven.

I have been testing out ecobee's new gear over the last week and a half, and have come away rather impressed by the company's camera debut. A simple set up process, excellent video quality, HomeKit support, and a fantastic Smart Focus tracking ability make it one of the best options around, but it does come with a cost, both upfront, and monthly.

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ecobee SmartCamera

Bottom line: ecobee's camera debut comes with impressive visuals, Alexa integration, HomeKit support, and intelligent Smart Focus tracking. If you can afford the high upfront price and the subscription fee for video recording, then this camera will not disappoint.

The Good

  • Excellent image quality
  • Digital pan controls
  • Person detection and focus mode
  • On-device processing
  • Supports Alexa (built-in) and HomeKit

The Bad

  • Expensive
  • Video recording requires subscription
  • Notifications do not include images


Packed-in

ecobee SmartCamera: The features

ecobee SmartCamera stand and cameraSource: Christopher Close / iMore

The ecobee SmartCamera features a clean visual design, with an all black front, white frame, and sleek metal stand. The camera's stand allows for slight vertical adjustments, and its clever design allows it to mount on a wall with just a single screw. The camera is rated for indoor usage only and does not have an internal battery, so if the power goes out, the camera will not be able to be accessed.

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Image quality of the camera is 1080p HD resolution, with an 180 degree field of view, and records at 30 frames per second. For night vision, the camera utilizes 3 infrared wide angle LEDs, and the camera supports 2-way audio with an integrated microphone. There are two physical buttons on the top of the camera which are used for voice control, one is a mute switch, and the other is a manual Alexa activation button which also serves double-duty as an on-device configuration menu.

ecobee's camera connects directly to a home network via Wi-Fi, over both 2.4ghz and 5ghz without needing a separate hub. The camera has Amazon's Alexa voice assistant built-in which enables voice commands for the camera and for other skills and services. The SmartCamera also supports HomeKit for streaming live footage on demand through the Home app, and while it doesn't support the Google Assistant, it does work with the ecobee Android app.

ecobee SmartCamera on  windowsillSource: Christopher Close / iMore

Software features include digital panning, zooming, and a siren activation option that works with other ecobee devices. Image processing, which is performed on device by an 8-core processor, can distinguish between humans and pets, and enables Smart Focus, which tracks activity by panning around to follow people within its view.

While the camera has 4GB of flash storage on-board, it does not save video locally. Footage is encrypted and sent to ecobee's cloud storage, which is available through the company's Haven Home Monitoring subscription service. A one month free trial is included with the camera, and after that, pricing for Haven starts at $5 a month for a single camera. The service offers a rolling 14-day timeline of events, and snapshots and videos can be saved to your phone's storage at any time.

Haven Home Monitoring works with other ecobee devices within the home such as its thermostats, room sensors, and the newly added contact door and window sensors. Haven's approach to home monitoring leverages the motion and occupancy sensors on existing devices to automatically arm and disarm the home, bypassing the need for keypads or fobs. Through location tracking, family members who are logged in to the ecobee app allows the system to distinguish if an unexpected entry into the home warrants a security notification.

Visual appeal

ecobee SmartCamera: What I like

ecobee SmartCamera daytime viewSource: Christopher Close / iMore

Setting up the SmartCamera was quick and easy, with the entire process taking less than 10 minutes from unboxing to pairing. Attaching the metal stand doesn't require any tools, and all that is needed is to plug in the camera to an outlet. Pairing the camera through the ecobee app was straightforward with a series of prompts guiding the way. As a HomeKit fan, I like how ecobee integrated HomeKit into the setup process and not requiring additional set up later on.

ecobee SmartCamera night visionSource: Christopher Close / iMore

Navigating the ecobee app is simple, with the newly added camera appearing in the list of home devices upon launch. Pulling up a live feed is just a tap away, and I like how ecobee put all of the camera's controls and settings into its own dedicated section. Speaking of controls, I enjoy having the options for panning the camera's view, siren, and manual recording alongside the live stream in both portrait and landscape views. These controls are responsive and fluid, with each firing pretty much as soon as you touch the associated button.

Loading up the live stream takes just a few seconds through the ecobee app, and rather oddly, is even faster using Apple's Home app. Footage streamed and captured by the SmartCamera is detailed, and clear, even staying smooth with high motion activity in front of it. Image quality remains crisp through black and white night vision, easily providing enough details to identify people or whatever the action may be within its view.

Ecobee Smartcamera Review App FeaturesSource: iMore

The SmartCamera's microphone quality was also quite impressive. When viewing a live feed, quality was good enough for actual conversations, without any weird lag or delays often seen with other cameras.

The camera's speaker quality is pretty much what you would expect for this type of device. Music streamed through Alexa was tinny, and lacking bass, I would put it on par with a 1st generation echo dot. Alexa voice responses were loud and clear, and for some reason, sounded richer than actual audio playing through the speaker.

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ecobee SmartCamera: What I don't like

ecobee SmartCamera app alertsSource: iMore

Make no mistake about it, the ecobee SmartCamera is expensive when compared to existing offerings on the market. While the camera offers impressive visuals and the ability to track motion, it doesn't offer features like an internal battery or a local storage option.

Even though the ecobee SmartCamera sports on device processing, video that is recorded is stored in the cloud. Recording video requires a subscription to ecobee's Haven Home Monitoring service, which only adds to the already high cost of ownership.

Without a subscription to the service, the camera is well, not much of a security camera at all. Sure, you can stream live video on demand, and you can utilize it for use with HomeKit and on-device Alexa, but lacking the ability to record is definitely an issue. Obviously, I would have liked to have seen the company offer at least a day of recording ability, or a local option available, but I do understand that storing video in the cloud certainly isn't free for ecobee. I inquired about HomeKit Secure Video, Apple's privacy centric iCloud storage solution, and was told that it is something that is in the works, and should be available in the coming months which will give users a recording option without a Haven subscription.

My final complaints surround how the SmartCamera handles notifications for motion events and for sharing its video stream to HomeKit. For motion events, ecobee's iOS app will send an alert within a few seconds of the activity event, however, the notification does not include an image of the action happening in front of the camera. The notification only displays the following: "Activity Alert! We've detected activity while your home was armed".

On the HomeKit front, I noticed that turning off the camera in ecobee's app did not affect HomeKit, and you can still continue to see live video through the Home app. Equally odd is that turning off the camera in the ecobee app shuts down the camera's automatic night vision mode, so the Home app view won't be lit up during the night. This is certainly a fringe issue that I don't believe many will come across, but it is worth noting for privacy sake.

Impressive debut

ecobee SmartCamera: The Bottom Line

4 out of 5

At the end of the day, the ecobee SmartCamera offers up some truly compelling features, including great image quality and on-device processing. While I expected great things from ecobee's hardware, I was still surprised just how well it performs considering that it is the company's first foray into category.

However, the SmartCamera is priced at the top end of the connected camera market, and it requires a subscription for recording. This makes the SmartCamera more of an investment, which takes it from being an easy recommendation for most, to a recommendation that hinges on price sensitivity.

If pricing is not of concern and you just want a solid, good-looking camera with great features and visuals, then you won't be disappointed with the ecobee SmartCamera. If you have reservations about price though, you may be better suited with another option, which is unfortunate considering just how good this camera is.

Premium protection

ecobee SmartCamera

Bottom line: ecobee's camera debut comes with impressive visuals, Alexa integration, HomeKit support, and intelligent Smart Focus tracking. If you can afford the high upfront price and the subscription fee for video recording, then this camera will not disappoint.

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