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SwannEye HD ADS-460 Wi-Fi Security Camera: OK camera, awful software

SwannEye HD ADS-460 Wi-Fi Security Cam

We've tested a number of webcams and security cameras here at TUAW, but out of those we've tested, none have been designed to work both inside and outside of your home or business. The Swann ADS-460 SwannEye HD Wi-Fi Security Camera (US$179.99) comes in a stout weather-resistant casing and is also billed one of the few security cameras that specifically caters to Mac and iOS users. While the specifications and build quality of the ADS-460 appeared to be quite impressive, the Mac app used to set up the device was so bad that I cannot recommend this device to our readers.

Specifications

  • Weight: 1.48 pounds (670 grams)
  • Resolution: 720p (1280 x 720)
  • Frame Rate: up to 30 frames per second
  • Night Vision: Uses infrared lamps for up to 32 feet (10 m) illumination
  • Microphone: Users can listen to what's happening near the camera
  • Weatherproofing: IP66 rating
  • Micro SD slot for onboard recording
  • OS X Requirement: 10.6.8 or later

Design Highlights

Many of the webcams and security cams that have been tested by TUAW are rather simple devices made of plastic that are obviously meant to be sequestered inside a home. Not so with the SwannEye HD. It looks like one of the security cameras you might find near a bank or government building, with a sturdy mount and a metal sun/rain-shade that fits over the top.

Surrounding the "iris" of the camera is an array of infrared LEDs that provide illumination when it's dark. During daylight hours, you'll see a full color image; at nighttime, the image appears in grayscale.

Since the camera is designed to be mounted outdoors if you wish, Swann provides a spool of power cable that makes it easy to plug the camera's AC adapter inside the home, then fish the cable through a small hole in an exterior wall to just about any location.

Like most webcams and security cams, the SwannEye HD communicates over Wi-Fi. If you have a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) compatible Wi-Fi router, setup is automatic. If not, you'll need to plug the camera into an Ethernet port on your router temporarily for setup.

Functionality Highlights

Even Apple's latest Airport Extreme Base Station doesn't support WPS setup, so I had to go through the "long process" to set up the SwannEye HD. This involves plugging in the camera, installing the software onto your Mac, then using it to create a user account and configuring the camera. If you don't have an external optical drive, don't worry! The SwannEye HD Pro software is in the Mac App Store, making it a cinch to download in seconds. Unfortunately, I found the app buggy, inconsistent, and in general a pain the butt to use.

The app seems as if it were written by non-native English speakers and translated to English, as some of the splash screens that appear during the first startup have very odd wording. During setup, you must create an account with Swann, which takes just a minute. Once that's done, you can sign in, and you'll see that your camera is offline.



This was the start of a real bout of frustration. Compared to other webcams like the Nest Dropcam ($199) that can be plugged in and almost immediately be up and running, this was like being waterboarded. I plugged the camera into an Ethernet port on my router, powered it up, and was able to log in to the SwannEye HD Pro app. The app differentiates between WAN and LAN connections, and I was able to view the video over the WAN connection, but had to log in separately to see the LAN image and set the device to run over my Wi-Fi network. However, regardless of what I tried to do over the course of the next two hours, I could not log into that LAN account. Finally, out of sheer frustration I looked in the troubleshooting section of the instruction manual and noticed a "default admin name and password". Although I had apparently set up a totally different account, all the camera would actually accept from me was that default name and password. I could seriously go on for about another thousand words on every wrong thing that happened during the setup process, but I won't -- let it just suffice to say that I wouldn't buy one of these cameras.

When I was finally online and had the camera set up, I was able to bump the resolution up to 720p and was reasonably impressed with the image. The living room I was pointing the camera to is quite dark, and yet there was still good detail and I was actually able to differentiate my two black kittens. On the bad side, the camera has a limited field of view. One thing that I absolutely love about the Nest Dropcam HD is that it can pretty much cover an entire room with its ultra-wide field of view. Not possible here.

For some reason, the OS X SwannEye HD Pro app kept dropping the LAN connection, although I could still view the live image from the WAN window of the app -- which means that it obviously it did a Wi-Fi connection. After about two hours of online use, the app let me know that there was a firmware update available. Why it didn't do that earlier is totally beyond my comprehension.

I tried the iOS app (also called SwannEye HD) and found it to be fine for viewing the live images from the camera. There are buttons for toggling between HD and SD views (SD being less bandwidth-intensive for viewing over cellular data), taking images of what the camera is viewing, starting video capture, toggling an intercom feature that's not available with the ADS-460, toggling a listen feature that didn't work on either the Mac or iOS software), and controls for panning -- which is ridiculous because this camera doesn't have that capability. Sure, I can understand having one app to control all of the cameras in your product line, but couldn't you have the app just recognize that a camera doesn't have certain features and eliminate the useless buttons from view?

Determined to find something good about the camera, I decided I'd test how it did looking out a window at a sunlit view and also how it did in complete darkness. The sunlit view really showed off the resolution of the camera; I could see the texture on individual leaves in a tree that it was pointing at, and I could see the leaves moving in a breeze -- at least on the iPhone app. The updates on the Mac version of SwannEye HD seemed to stop after a short while the iOS version worked just fine.

In a dark room, the infrared LEDs glowed red to illuminate the scene. As expected, the image was monochrome and the camera did an "OK' job of picking up the illuminated scene (a bathroom wall). However, considering how dim the image was from just four feet away, I'm not sure that those IR LEDs would illuminate up to 10 meters away as advertised.

Conclusion

Software-controlled web and security cams are only as good as the software that is used to setup, configure, and view the camera's image. While the SwannEye HD ADS-460 seems to be a fine camera, the Mac version of the SwannEye HD Pro application really kills what could be a good experience. Unless the company decides to either completely redesign the Mac application and actually test it, or makes it possible to set up the ADS-460 from an iPhone or iPad, I definitely cannot recommend this security cam.

Rating: 1 star out of 4 stars possible

One star rating out of four stars possible

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