One of the worst parts about having a pet is when you have to leave them alone at home. They’re stuck in the house and you’re out in the world! Pet cameras are ostensibly a great way to watch and interact with pets even when you’re away from home. While they used to feel like a kludgy gimmick that can’t rival a real security camera, pet cameras have improved dramatically in the last three years, so we grabbed the top three to see how well they hold up against a popular security camera and to figure out what the best camera for your pet monitoring needs is.
Going into this, I assumed the security camera, the £160 Nest Cam Indoor, would win. I already used one to check on my dog when I was away, and I really like how it alerts me if he barks or breaks out of his kennel, but shuts off as soon as I’m back in the house and connected to the same Wi-Fi. It’s handy, and I just couldn’t see how the pet cameras, all of which cost £200 or less, could possibly compete with its feature sets while also adding some pet-specific tricks.
Pet cameras are alternatively called treat cameras because, in addition to monitoring an area via camera and letting you speak through the built-in speaker, they also let you chuck treats at your pet’s face. We selected the £199 Furbo, the £179 PetCube Bites, and the $150 (£118) Petzi. They’re three of the most popular cameras available.
To figure out which was the best we tested to see which has the best app, which has the best audio and visual quality, and which is best at tossing those threats.
Which has the best app?
All four cameras require that you regularly interact with their apps, so it’s crucial that they work well. Surprisingly, given that it’s supposed to be so sophisticated, the Nest app is miserable to use. Checking on video can be slow and unintuitive, you can’t easily record video, and you’re tied into Google’s ecosystem, which isn’t ideal for those concerned with privacy.
The PetCube Bites.
It’s still better than Petzi’s app. The Petzi app is barebones. It’s super easy to share pics of your pet with other Petzi users, but you can’t set up notifications for noise or movement. The only camera settings you can adjust are toggling the night vision feature and changing the volume of the speaker.
Petcube and Furbo both have significantly better apps, but the PetCube bites had more connectivity issues in my experience, and features like alerts are behind a paywall. The Furbo app is better at connecting, provides more alerts for free and has a much more intuitive layout.
Video and audio quality
The camera and speaker on a pet camera need to be good. You should be able to see your pet clearly, with few digital artifacts. When you talk to your pet, you need to sound like yourself. Otherwise, your pet is more likely to be scared than comforted by your disembodied voice.
The poor Petzi was immediately at a disadvantage because it only shoots in 720p while the other three cameras do 1080p. It also took multiple attempts to speak to my dog through the camera, even when it was connected to the same network. I’d press the speaker button and nothing would come out.
NestPhoto: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
Plus I sounded terrible. The PetCube Bites also struggled to send my voice consistently. Its video was sharp, but it had a weird green tinge.
The Nest had decent video quality, and I sounded great most of the time. Sometimes it wouldn’t transmit my voice though. Worse were the occasions where it would clip my voice, leading to choppy and unpleasant audio.
Here, again, the Furbo just worked. The video was consistently clean with few artifacts, and when I spoke, I sounded like me. Best of all, I could actually get the speaker function to work every time, something every other camera failed to do.
Flinging treats is what sets the pet camera apart from something like the Nest. While you can create a treat camera using a Nest and some engineering, that’s not doable for most people. So the Nest instantly loses this battle, leaving just the Petzi, Furbo and PetCube Bites to compete.
The Petzi had the smallest reservoir for treats and tended to shoot out the most treats with each toss. That means you have to refill it every day. And while it’s easy to access the reservoir when the camera is wall mounted, it’s a major frustration if you have it set on a mantle or shelf.
The Furbo can’t even be wall mounted out of reach of pets, but it has a much more solid base than the Petzi. That means when you shoot a treat, and your large dog comes to the investigate, he’ll be less likely to knock it over which all his sniffing and licking. The Furbo is the only cam that consistently shoots just one treat at a time, it’s easy to reload, and it makes a little alert noise every time it shoots. When I reviewed edits of the video above, my dog came over every time he heard the alert.
While the Furbo is extraordinarily competent, the PetCube Bites is even better in the treats department. It’s a little top heavy, which means pets can knock it over, but it’s also wall-mountable, and its reservoir is amazingly easy to access. The reservoir is also the largest of the three, and it’s slightly translucent so you can see how many treats you have left without opening it up.
But the best part of the Bites is how you can control how many treats you toss and how far you toss them via the app. No other treat camera gives you that degree of control.
Winner: PetCube Bites
The PetCube Bites is easily the best pet camera for treat flinging and the Nest is still the best for pure security, but it’s clear that the Furbo is the best overall camera for monitoring your pets.
While it didn’t win the treats battle, it still did quite well, and it had the most intuitive app and most consistent video and audio quality. It’s also easy to record videos to send to others. Plus it looks more attractive than the other three cameras. Overall, it’s the most well-considered and feels like it was built for the explicit purpose of interacting with your pet while away from home.
All photos: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)