Most helpful critical review
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Software and manual translations are weak. Fair skill level required.
on July 11, 2012
I was conflicted when I decided to review this product that I ordered under my wife's Amazon account. I really like the hardware and attractive design, though the software setup is very obscure and was not for someone who didn't consider themselves technical. The quick start guide was not particularly helpful and I spent a lot of time (more than four hours) configuring it manually. On price point and value I'd give them five but for ease of setup I'd give them one star. A weighted average for me is three stars for technical users. I think for nontechnical users this could be one or two stars, though. What follows is a bit long winded but hopefully a complete and fair review for those who are thinking about buying this camera.
To start - what I like - The cameras are quite good for what they are - low resolution color and IR sensitive cameras with 640x480 resolution. The image is crisp at all ranges (2' to infinity) and the outward appearance is a little whimsical - I called my two cameras Huey and Dewy because they reminded me of the robots in the classic movie Silent Running. Once they were correctly configured, they worked as advertised, could be aimed and pointed remotely, used to trigger AVI video capture of motion events and I would say I'd buy more now that I understand what is required. I did all the hard work and cloning them into a system is easy after a steep learning curve. The first camera took hours; the second one only took minutes. The list of what I didn't like is much, much longer, but tempered by the fact that the device is quite inexpensive and they do exactly what they are supposed to do once correctly configured - all with little thanks to the documentation or setup utilities.
First, the manuals and quick start guide (QSG) would benefit from a major re-write by a fluent writer who understands the technologies involved but more importantly, how little most users will know about them. The biggest issue is that there is no setup wizard that allows you to get the camera working in pure wireless mode even with network security turned off. By default, the wireless is not even turned on. You must absolutely (IN BOLD LETTERS) plug the devices into hard-wired Ethernet router before it will do anything. Status LEDs and a USB configuration would increase the cost but make the LAN setup easier. This should be added in my opinion to make this device Plug and Play (PnP). It is definitely not PnP and I'd pay $50 to $100 more to save the hours of setup time required for a first installation. The IP Camera Tool is extremely minimal and the network must allow the device to join the hardwired LAN before the camera can even be seen by the utility. There is no network discovery in the tool to verify that the device is even alive. This is the biggest miss.
Second, the setup was not particularly easy and the software developers decided to make the device Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) dependent by putting the most useful functions in an ActiveX component that ONLY runs in IE. This was a very bad choice in my opinion. I never use IE and think a Java applet would have been better - maybe this was a performance driven decision. The instructions for launching IE are terse and there is a confusing dual login at the main screen. The screen shots are lousy and require interpretation. If you don't use the IE/ActiveX component, most of the cool functions (multiple camera view, for instance) simply won't work. You won't be able to record or alarm and write to a file because this is all done by the ActiveX component. I don't know what this camera/software does on a Mac. There was a Quick Installation Guide for both PC and Mac.
Third, once the hard-wired mode is completed, the separate wireless setup requires too much knowledge and should look more like network attachment process of printers and other devices that start the installation through the USB port. The user has to go to a lot effort to get to the wireless setup screen - first hard wiring, and plugging a lot of values into various HTML forms. Once there, if you are informed about the various security modes, you are there. I was only able to get it to work under the lower-security WPA2-PSK [AES] and not WPA-PSK [TKIP] + WPA2-PSK [AES] which is required for my work computer's VPN. Maybe it works and I didn't futz with it enough. I got tired of messing about and used weaker security than I wanted.
On a separate but related point, in my opinion there just is no good free service out there that accommodates this dynamic IP DNS resolution problem - such a service should be, but isn't, part of the basic internet service of Comcast or other providers. Why not? Beyond me. Even a lame URL like <User>.Default..com would be preferable to having none. I recognize that this is not Foscam's fault but their web cam solution doesn't address it well. This point is just unforgivable for any consumer-oriented technology.
Fifth, the whole manual and especially the port forwarding discussion is written by a non-native writer of English who knew too much about the technology themselves but had no idea how to give that information to a native English reader who didn't possess it. Let me quote the Quick Start guide with all the fractured grammar, word errors, capitalization and punctuation problems (page 10).
"How to do port forwarding within the router: Firstly, login the router, goes to the menu of Port Forwarding or Port Trigger (or named Virtue [sic] Server on some brands of router). Take Linksys brand router as an example, Login the router, and goes to Applications & Gaming->Single Port Forwarding. Secondly, Create a new column by LAN IP address & [...] Port No. of the camera within the router showed as below." AND so on, throughout the manual starting at page one and ending at page 11.
The picture and the instructions are tied to a browser view of one model of the Linksys/Cisco brand of routers. This is like giving oil change instructions for a specific model of car showing pictures of that car and only that car, never talking generically about the steps required in changing oil as a generic concept. Now imagine that you are a casual computer user - unless you have an Information Technology or Software Engineering background, the above quoted text is gibberish. Your router will definitely be different. Here's a solution - bundle the product with a pre-configured router OR, warn people that they will need the services of a person who has considerable savvy in setting up networks to help get the web cam operational outside the LAN.
To conclude, the product is a good value if you have the patience, persistence and technical wherewithal to set it up. I think I barely passed muster and, yes, I can now add up to nine cameras, all visible from external sources provided I know my current IP address for my WAN connection to the internet. I like what I got but pity the poor person who imagined one Saturday morning at 8am that they would be able to view their dog's every habit on their smart phone by 10 am of the same day and send the link for this to every Facebook friend. There were a gazillion applications in the Windows directory created by the setup disk and I think some of these might be parts of the cobbled application, but others may be Easter eggs that were thrown in for good measure. Nobody home-brews every part of their software anymore so what we get today is bloated, poorly documented, and often requires some tinkering. You definitely will test your IT skills and for some people it will be fun and challenging. I don't think that is what most people are looking for however.