There are a variety of devices available to watch your pet at home while you’re not. The Petcube Play Wi-Fi camera is one such device, and Petcube sent me one of their new wi-fi cameras to try out. This article outlines what you receive if you purchase a Petcube Play, how to setup and use the device, and my thoughts on both the hardware and software you use to control the camera and how it records. Interested in setting up a surveillance system for your dogs? Read on!
Unboxing the Petcube Play: what you get
The Petcube Play, the latest device in the Petcube family, arrives securely housed in a pretty deluxe box.
It reminds me of unboxing any higher-end device and is a promising initial experience. The camera supports 1080p video with a wide-angle lens, has night vision, sends alerts, and will store your video in the cloud (more on that later).
Everything you need has its own compartment. The sum of your package is seen below:
You also receive a nice bandana that you can tie to your dog. Here’s Mort modeling the bandana.
With a great unboxing experience, quality was expected at this point. And the Petcube didn’t disappoint. I was very impressed with the dimensions of the product, overall design (slick looking), and that it’s using USB-C (recent-ish hardware). The device is light, and the thoughtful design includes a tripod mount and surface grip as well.
Lasers and night vision!
The Petcube is one of few cameras that ships with a laser pointer you can use to play with your pets. We used it, it works – although there was quite a bit of lag between the software and hardware, and at one point it wouldn’t turn off despite tapping the software to disable the laser several times. It worked a few taps later, so a temporary glitch. Neither of our dogs were interested in the laser, as to be expected. Apart from checking it out there was no further action. Cats on the other hand could certainly be enticed.
We immediately used the Petcube in a low-light scenario, and it did not disappoint. You could easily make out Mort and Tig wandering past the camera, and us humans too, thanks to the infrared based night vision. We turned out all the lights except for the TV, and same deal. Not only this, but your dogs get that zombie eye look which is always amusing to us. I don’t know why. But the feature is useful, assuming you don’t leave all of your lights on when you’re not home and want to actually check in on the dogs. Here’s an example I took of our dogs rough-housing in the bedroom.
The Petcube play also has a microphone and speaker, which means you can listen to your dogs or even talk to them. If we left the house, this could be useful or at least entice a good number of head tilts and confusion from the dogs. But we’re hermits and tried this all while sitting in the living room and a second trial in a bedroom. It works really well, even if yelling into your phone to have the speaker yell the same thing out a fraction of a second later ended up in a multitude of head tilts from a very confused Mort.
Petcube Play software
The Petcube has an app that you can download for your device. You set up a free account to integrate with your camera hardware.
The app software isn’t too bad, but we did have a couple issues. First the good: the app is pretty easy to use once you are logged in. It’s not totally intuitive, we had an issue making our way to the list of videos in the cloud, but most other functionality was straight forward. And of course, you may receive updates as these issues are resolved and pushed into the app stores and will get used to where to find things as with most software.
One of the hangups for us: my husband and I were both installing the app and trying to connect to the camera using Bluetooth. Don’t do this: the Petcube doesn’t work like this (at the time of writing). If you have two phones, you will need to login using the same account, or you will have to “friend” each other and share the camera (but only one viewer at a time, so you can’t both watch your dogs at home simultaneously). This will of course limit the interactivity in a family situation.
There also appears to be a limitation about how many cameras you can connect to your software. It seems like you can only connect a single camera, so you may be limited to viewing your dog’s presence in a single room. If you really want a home security system, there are options without the pet features for this specific purpose from other manufacturers.
Privacy and this camera
So right off the bat after the “this is super amazing!” reaction passed, I wondered just where the video was being shared. After all, one of the promoted features of the Petcube is cloud-based videos. The settings look like this:
The one shared family member you see in the above photo is just me (since my husband and I couldn’t both watch video together – this was the only way we could achieve both using this device).
I think what prompted this reaction was the social features in this app, unlike other similar devices designed for personal use. When I returned to my video feed later in the evening, there was a list of videos of my husband and I cooking dinner, wandering back and forth to the couch, blabbing about our day… audio and video all up somewhere in the cloud. So you need to keep this in mind when sharing your camera: if you have settings to share with friends and family or the public, people might be watching and hearing everything you say and it’s being saved to a server too. Also remember that only one person can watch the feed at a time. If you open your app and someone else is watching, you will see a Busy signal. Make sure you understand how to use these settings:
So, folks, this is absolutely something to be aware of and make sure you set up your privacy and make this consideration for yourself (this goes for any similar device, not just the Petcube). Make sure you are aware of where and when you share out your privacy, and that your private conversations would be stored up on a third-party server.
As above, this isn’t just the Petcube Play. For instance, we also have a wifi enabled clock/camera/weather device in our living room that has a camera for home security purposes and of course there are many other devices (such as security device by Nest) that focus on home security. Our clock? I ended up putting a decal over the camera because I felt too weird about pictures of me eating my lunch, practicing my dance fitness choreography, or wandering around the house was going somewhere “into the cloud” even when there wasn’t a social feature integrated into the app. As boring as I am, I just didn’t like the thought of this someday getting hacked and pushed out into some company’s server some place.
And of course, there are stories about your computers and smartphones being hacked and video from your cameras being captured unscrupulously. Not the same thing of course, but something to be aware of.
Maybe I’m just really paranoid, but the entire “camera recording in my living room and storing it online” gave me the creeps and we just unplugged the device when we didn’t need to use it. When we leave the house and need to monitor? Plug it in, no problem. I really hope for another day there will be a more secure way of saving the video for personal-use only (encryption or device-only and bluetooth transmission).
I am excited for alternative uses for this device. I could see using it in our greenhouse to monitor plant growth and security, perhaps. It would also be fun to share this with family and friends (particularly if they want some of our produce and to know when it’s ready!)
Is the software free?
The app is free, but naturally if you want to store a bunch of video in the cloud it is not, as is probably expected. This is called “Petcube Care” and here are the options:
You receive the 10 day history as a 30 day trial, but after that you have to either pay for the 10 or 30 day history, or degrade to the free 4 hour history subscription. There are also annual plans available for 10 or 30 day histories that will save you a bit of money. For more information, visit the Petcube Care FAQ here.
My trial subscription has just expired. I won’t upgrade to the subscription service for now: I’m simply subscriptioned out and the service needs to be really compelling or important for me to buy in to a recurring cost at this time. I would consider it for a compelling use case, however, and could be really relevant for some people (such as if you hire a dog walker, dogs who regularly get in to no good when you’re gone, or have significant security concerns).
Summary of the Petcube Play
So check it out and think about how this could integrate into your home. It’s an exciting new device and software package that could make a big improvement in your daily routine. The hardware is fantastic, the app is good and you’ll get used to it, and there are plenty of useful features you could potentially work into your household. Figure out the privacy features so you set things up as you personally need and have fun!
Disclosure: As noted at the beginning of this article, Petcube supplied the device to review for this article. The review is entirely the views of the author. We always write honest reviews – good and the bad.
Great device, but consider privacy
Great high quality hardware. Some software usability issues, but overcome to a certain extent with continued use. Make sure that your desired use case for using the camera is supported, and that the subscription can be budgeted for if you require saved video for more than the past 4 hours.