ComfortCam WiFi and Internet Baby Monitor review

ComfortCam and some of the partsComfortCam is a baby monitor with night vision, remote pan and tilt functionality, and the ability to remotely view and capture images and video on a smartphone or tablet.

With the addition of a MicroSD card you can also record and store hours of video on the camera for viewing later.

It also comes with a camera phone press-on stand to aid you in using a phone as a baby monitor (or a stand for your child so you can Netflix Elmo,) or you can flip it back so it’s out of your way when you put the phone in your pocket.

The ComfortCam Setup

The primary selling point of the ComfortCam over other cameras is that it advertises it can be up and running in your house in about 90 seconds. This is mostly true. You might, like I did, have a little problem with the fact that you need to have it hardwired into your network to set it up the first time.

As most people don’t store their networking equipment in with the baby, you’ll need to initially configure it near your router, and then move it into the baby room if you’re wanting to use WiFi. I’d put that 90 second claim to about three minutes, but it’s entirely possible.

ComfortCam boxComfortCam boxComfortCam boxComfortCam Box

At configuration time your phone or tablet needs to be on the same router/subnet/ip as the ComfortCam. This probably isn’t an issue for 95% of the households out there, but if you have multiple access points (eg your Comcast home router broadcasts an XFinity network you find yourself connected to occasionally,) just be aware to change your WiFi network on your phone/tablet to wherever your ComfortCam is being set up.

The application makes it alarmingly easy to locate the cam after it’s started up (give it a minute to do this,) and once you’ve connected with the default username and password (admin, 123456,) you are good to go.

ComfortCam boxComfortCam contentsCell phone stand included with the comfortcamComfortCam Box

I’m not going to walk through the options, but they’re laid out pretty simply – what you need to get up and running, and a whole lot of other stuff that’s neat that you can do later if you want to. You don’t have to use any of the other things, we’ll cover some of them in a bit.

So now you’re running

ComforCam plus adYou’re invested about $149 at this point, the camera up, and can see your baby from anywhere in your network. If you want to access the camera from out of network however you do need to sign up for the ComfortCam Plus service.

This service is free for 30 days, and then about $0.27 a day from there on ($99.99 a year.) The ComfortCam Plus service gets talked to by your ComfortCam occasionally during its operation, and when you’re out and about the app you’re using talks to the plus service to find out where the cameras it’s previously associated with are.

If you’re familiar with DNS, that’s what the ComfortCam Plus service essentially is – a server that knows what IP your camera is at, however they don’t do anything beyond this such as store your password or host any images or video streams for you.

I have a problem with the pricing on the Plus service as after the first 13 months of operation we’re now looking at a $248.99 investment. I’m a network technician however, I set up DNS style servers before breakfast.

I will point out that if you’re not interested in dealing with discovering your IP, setting up port forwarding on your router, setting up a static IP for your baby camera in your network, you’re going to pay the price, and that price is about $100 a year. May be worth it to you.

Night Vision

Picture this, but with a baby, now imagine you’re waking up to it. That’s what all night vision looks like these days

Is the camera within 10 feet of your baby? Yeah you’re going to see them. Night vision is a little grainy, and it tends to look like you’re looking at an image with a flashlight dead center, but that’s what works.

I wish I had good photos of a baby in night vision to put here, but trust me, it works as well as any other camera I’ve seen, which is to say it makes things look a bit scary and you hope your baby doesn’t look at the camera because it’ll make pale green glowing eyes.

Comfortcam image quality

I figured a good test would be to have an image off of it next to an image taken by a high quality cell phone. Here you go.

Up first is an image from the ComfortCam – it’s about 3 feet out:

ComfortCam

Taken at the offices of theITbaby

HTC One M9 comparison shot against the Comfortcam

While slightly out of focus as I couldn’t see what I was doing, this is a decent comparison shot.

The HTC One M9 I used was approximately two inches to the right of the ComfortCam.

Things to notice are the ComfortCam has sort of a fisheye lens which distorts everything in order to pack more image into less space. This isn’t a bad thing when you’re trying to locate a pacifier remotely before you venture into the den of the Almighty Cranky One, but it will make everything look just slightly off.

This is not a ComfortCam-specific failing, just something to note if you’re a pure image snob. Most baby monitors do this, and it’s by design.

The one thing to note is they do not seem to really advertise online is the resolution you’re going to get – while image quality can suffer from a lot of factors, if you want to see detail (the pacifier stuck in the corner of the crib,) you’re going to need some resolution.

According to the side of the box the resolution on this camera is 640×480. While I’m not a pixel snob this doesn’t allow for much detail and in low light situations the images suffer. Good enough for a baby monitor? Yes. For a pixel snob or using it as a door monitor after your baby’s done with it? Maybe not.

You’re not going to take a school portrait with it.

Should also note that the ComfortCam app also stretches the image to be the size of the screen you’re on. That’s why everything looks so wide on the CC images.

Connect to the ComfortCam anywhere?

First off you’ll need the Pro version of the software. I received the ComfortCam with pro software included as part of a review unit (I review it, I got an account,)  You’ll need that if you want to watch your baby while you’re outside.

I’m going to preface this section with that you’re most likely not running a corporate firewall + active packet scanner and antimalware/antivirus router so you’re probably not going to have any of the following issues.

 
Above: just poking about the ComfortCam where it wouldn’t connect

My tests of the remote viewing were pretty much hit or miss. It would work sometimes, not others. I’ve think I’ve tracked it down to the router I’m using. It doesn’t play nicely with letting the ComfortCam through. As we’re testing this in a fairly highly secure IT setup, my guess is you’re not going to have this problem.

Connections when they worked were kind of slow. Not terribly, but if you’re out of network and attempting to check on baby it will be a few seconds before you’re able to get there. One of the things I’ve loved about other cameras was the near instant connect outside the network.

It’s nice when you hear something and need to check on the baby quick. In my tests this was about 10-15 seconds to connect outside, and three seconds inside. Not terrible, but if you’re not on the WiFi and want to know what the thump was and whether you need to open incredibly squeaky door, those seconds can tick by.

What is really nice about the ComfortCam setup is when it works, you’ll connect regardless of whether you thought to turn on your WiFi or not.

We’re going to assume the offices of theITbaby are not your standard router setup, and go on best case connects, which were acceptable.

ComfortCam documentation

There doesn’t seem to be a detailed manual that goes along with it. Either that or I lost it in unboxing. There’re options with the camera to slap in an SD card to do local video recording, the ability to upload photos and videos to a remote FTP location, motion detection triggered events, and the ability to slap it inline with a remote alarm system.

ComfortCam documentation

I didn’t have a remote alarm system to trigger it, but I played with some of the other options and for me they were pretty much what you want in a camera, I’ll go into some detail on them.

Adding a MicroSD for motion triggered video recording

MicroSD cardIf you’ve stopped using this as a baby monitor and want to use it as a dog/door/motion-triggered camera, you’ll want to get a MicroSD card. With the lowish resolution and the decent compression on the video, I’d suggest getting an 8GB MicroSD, which is what I’m using.

This will set you back a whopping $4.29 when ordered through Amazon. This should be enough recording media for several days worth of motion activated video. The ComfortCam setup will overwrite old video as required.

Adding a MicroSD card is not for the weak of heart as if you put it in incorrectly you’ll have to turn the MicroSD over and try again to put it in correctly. I’m joking, should take 10 seconds.

I don’t remember if the camera needed rebooting after inserting the SD card to get it to recognize it – I’d actually installed it incorrectly the first time I did this (hadn’t pushed it all the way in,) and ended up banging my head against the wall trying to figure out why the ComfortCam wouldn’t accept it.

That was, of course, because I failed at life that day.

If you’re wondering how many MicroSD cards you could potentially need throughout the life of the ComfortCam, I suggest two if you plan to be recording constantly (which is an option,) during certain hours (maybe you want video of your child sleeping, maybe you’re attempting to capture a cat who move too slowly to trigger the motion detection alarm.)

One MicroSD card should last about a year and a half of extreme use before failing. Under average use with how they’re made these day you’re probably looking at eight years before a failure.

Buy one card if you’re planning on just recording normally.

Wall mounting the thing

ComfortCam on a wall mountTwo screws. It comes with the hardware. The thing’s light enough you can just use the screws and not the expanders that come with it. If you just want to use one screw you can as well although this might cause some safety concerns as one screw is easier to rip out than two.

I’d suggest mounting with one and testing how the image works. If you like it go for a second screw, if not you’ve only got one screw hole to repair.

Considerations when placing the ComfortCam

With any baby camera you’re going to have a short power cord. Living in an old house with walls where there’s one plug and it’s waaaaaaay over there I notice it more than most. The power cord is maybe  four or five feet long after the adapter, which means to keep it out of the unsafe zone around a crib you might have to do some extension cord finagling.

You’re not supposed to have cords or equipment within three feet of the crib, so if you want to mount this somewhere above baby you’re going to need to get creative.

Of course, longer extension cords = more hazards, so you know, it’s a lose-lose situation unless you have really high plugs in your house, in which case I envy you.

Issues encountered

ComfortCam battery usage
Fairly high usage for not even having looked at the camera.

The WiFi performance in the office was slower than other cameras I’ve tested at the office. I don’t put much stock on my office being a normal setup however, this is more the “every extreme possible” setup. If you’re living in an apartment building and can see 47 different WiFi access points, you’ve got about what my setup was.

I was getting roughly 1/3rd of a frame a second. There’s a lot of WiFi cross talk, this isn’t a normal setup. I decided to abandon the WiFi and found there was no way to disassociate it from WiFi. Once you’ve connected you’re stuck with the connection. You can change to another WiFi, but it won’t default to the wired connection, and there’s no way to choose the wired connection.

Unfortunately this requires resetting the unit, which is done by putting a paperclip or something into a little hole on the bottom of the unit while it’s plugged in and running. I had to unmount the unit to get to my reset, but that’s just how I had it set up.

This was annoying as I had FTP locations set up, email notifications, I’d gotten the thing just like I wanted. Might be an issue for you also if your WiFi blows out. They need to fix that in the updates to software.

Also had the random connecting ability, but seriously, you don’t have a corporate level AV firewall sitting in between you and the internet, and if you do you probably want a different camera anyway.

The walkie-talkie effect isn’t particularly good. It’s too quiet, delayed, choppy. I wouldn’t try and sing to my baby through it because it would be kind of scary. Good for telling your partner where the pacifier is however.

Fairly high battery drain reported with the app. I wouldn’t say this is a dealbreaker, but there’s no quick way to exit the app on Android. You tap back twice, it runs in the background. The app will alert you when something happens, but at one point it was responsible for a very large chunk of my battery usage for the day (about a third if I remember correctly).

Motion detection annoyed me. When it detects a change it starts recording. Unfortunately there’s a little delay so if a bug flew in front of the camera I’d never know what triggered the alarm, just that it started recording and now you have a video of unmoving everything. I also managed to get through a door and out of sight before the thing started recording in at least one video of me walking through the area.

I’d like to see them store X number of seconds before in the camera’s onboard memory and then spew those out so we see what’s leading up to the triggering event. I’m pretty sure the unit should be able to do that with all the other things it can do, so hopefully a software update will address this as having 19 completely uninteresting triggered videos is not fun.

The questions that remained

I debated over how to present this, this is what I decided. All of the questions I asked my rep and my rep asked the manufacturers are probably out of context and jumbled, so I’ll just list the question and write the answer. Both are in my words using information from them, so if I’ve written anything incorrectly it’s probably on me.

Everything eventually gets hacked or cracked – how will the software be updated when hackers finally crack the camera? Manufacturers will email you a patch.

Can this be viewed on Windows / Mac / etc? Not yet, they’re working on it.

Who actually is supplying your mobile with the images? Your phone is talking to the camera, there are no cloud servers between it. The only servers there are act as pointers for your camera and your phone to meet.

Can images be intercepted? The cameras are encrypted end to end so grabbing image data would be pretty much useless.

Are there extension cords for the things? No.

Who’s behind this?

ComfortCam was created by Kelley and Ray Spoljaric, parents to two young children who felt there was a need in the baby monitor market for a safe, secure monitor with all of the bells & whistles, that helped them easily & securely stay connected to their kids when it came time to return to work.

Is it worth it?

Have you ever been to a mechanic and they tell you what needs to be done to repair your car and how you can save about $500 just by dropping the engine out and delivering it to them? Yeah, I’m that mechanic (in the IT sense,) and I can tell you how to save a lot of money by doing the job yourself, however you’re probably the parents who are two or three months in and so sleep deprived you would look at me like I was telling you to just pop the car’s engine out and drop it by.

The ComfortCam business model should be them making their money on either the residual service income, or the product. This is how these things generally go – an XBOX or Playstation loses the company money on sale, the games (and XBOX subscription service,) make up for it in price.

In the case of ComfortCam it appears they’re using a manufacturer of similar quality to others I’ve worked with that are roughly $80 cheaper, and then there’s the nearly no-cost peering DNS they’ve got that they’re charging $9 a month for.

Keep in mind they’re not paying for bandwidth for your images. This makes the ComfortCam, coming in at $149 without the service, a fairly expensive piece of hardware. If you’re not planning on getting the service, there are options that are significantly less expensive and do a better visual job in a local area network.

If you’re getting the service, there’s not much out there I’ve run into yet to compete. The CC service is where they’ve got the lead.

In my case, I’ve got better cameras spread throughout my house and work, however I set up static IPs, punched holes through firewalls, hardwired several drops, set up repeaters, and did stuff that would cost you about $300 to get a network tech in to do.

So, you either pay with your time to learn, or you pay with your dollars to play (which cost you time to earn.) Either way there’s no free ride in the baby game.

I’d really like to see the camera at about half the cost they’ve got it now. Then it would be competing directly with similar hardware, and then they could make their money entirely on the back end with the service.

Not knowing exactly where they’re at in their business gameplan and how much capital they’ve had to invest, I can’t call them any names, nor guess where their business is at.

Overall, if you’re not a techie, I don’t have a problem with this product.

Some things to consider

Although you can connect to open and password protected WiFi access points, there’s no method in place that I can see to connect to an access point that that requires you to accept an agreement in order to use the WiFi.

Examples of this are hotel WiFi where you have to enter your room number and say you’re not going to use this for illegal activity – if you want a WiFi camera in your hotel, you’ll probably need to invest in a travel router as well in order to accomplish this. Not a biggie, just something to note if you’re traveling.

The camera is only as good as the weakest link. Bad WiFi reception, power that flickers, an internet connection that goes down, etc – all of these will take the camera down when you’re out. Not to mention your remote service.

Wrap up

It’s a well made camera, you can be up and running with very little technical knowledge in just a few minutes. Please make sure to change your password after you’ve got it set up or you’ll probably be among the first to be hacked when someone figures out a way finally.

Decent camera, well built, little on the pricey side considering service is not included, but overall it will get the job you want it to get done.

The ComfortCam is available from Amazon for $149.00

3 / 5 stars