Stem Innovation just announced the stylish new iZON Remote Room Monitor on Monday, so it was a big surprise to find one in a package at my office on Tuesday. The new US$129.95 iZON (pronounced "eyes-on") is a Wi-Fi webcam that is definitely designed with Apple users in mind, as it is simple to set up and comes ready to send video to your iOS devices. In this review I'll provide a geek's-eye view of the specs, setup, and use of the iZON Remote Room Monitor.
As you'd expect for a product that is targeted for Apple users, the iZON has a very eye-catching and unique design. The camera is going to be sold through the Apple Store, which means that it had to pass muster with the retail powers-that-be at Apple.
The camera itself is a slim white cylinder measuring about 1.2 inches in diameter and 3.25 inches tall. One end of the cylinder has a spherical dish in it -- this sits atop a magnetic hemispherical base. The base comes with mounting screws, helpful if you decide to attach the camera to a wall or ceiling. The strong magnets in the base firmly hold the camera in place in any position you leave it in. Since the weight of the camera is less than an ounce (.74 oz. to be precise), you could even stick it to the side of a refrigerator!
Power is provided by a small cylindrical AC adapter or by a powered USB 2.0 port. A cable runs to the camera and plugs into a mini-USB port on the back. Unlike many webcams, the AC adapter barely covers one plug and is so lightweight that it wouldn't be out of place while traveling. When plugged in, the camera starts by flashing an amber LED, which then turns to a flashing green and orange.
The camera uses the same free Stem:Connect app that is also used with the TimeCommand clock / dock. Stem's idea is that you'll use the same app with any of the app-enabled accessories that they'll produce now or in in the future.
The resolution of the camera appears to be fairly low -- my guess (I can't find any specs that show the resolution) is that it is 320 x 240. While this may seem really inadequate considering that many of us own HD webcams, think about what this is being used for. When you're streaming video constantly to a 3G-connected iPhone or iPad, the lower bandwidth requirements are perfect.
Setup of the iZON is incredibly easy; when you load the Stem:Connect app on your iOS device and request to set up a new device, the app leads you step by step through the process (check out the gallery for screenshots). To use the iZON, you need to set up a free Stem account, which creates a secure connection for access your video and audio. The setup requires just an email address and a password. Next, you plug the device in and position it somewhere. The device sets up its own "iZON" network that you connect to for identification of the unit. Once it appears on your iPhone or iPad, you tap the device button on the iOS device, and then it has you select your home network and enter its password.
Seconds later, you're seeing video on the screen. The image that you view in the Stem:Connect app is time and date stamped, and there's a volume slider at the bottom. That's right - a volume slider, since the device also sends sound in real time. If you want to start a recording of what you're seeing and hearing, there's a tiny record button next to the volume slider that you can tap.
The app is customizable so that you can set up various alarms. There are motion alarms, which "watch" for changes in a particular area. The motion alarms can be set to watch a door, stairs, or any other location, and you can set the sensitivity for the alarm. I found this to be rather tricky, since if I set the device to be insensitive, it wouldn't set off an alarm unless I was doing something obvious right in front of it, but if I sent it to be really sensitive it started sending alarms whenever a cloud passed by and blocked the sun.
The next type of alarm is a sound alarm, which "listens" for sounds in the area of the camera. Once again, setting the sensitivity can take a bit of time, but it's fascinating to see how this works.
Both the motion and audio alarms can be set to send video to a private YouTube account. This is very interesting -- the Stem server apparently captures a real time stream of video all the time, and when an alarm occurs, it "backs up" a bit so you can see a few seconds of video leading up to the alarm event. For example, I set up the iZON to watch a set of stairs in my house. When I go up or down the stairs, I get an alert message a few seconds later. Watching the YouTube video that is captured, it starts before the event and shows me walking by the camera to head down stairs. Alarms can also be set up as push notifications on your iOS device.
There's some latency in the video, which makes sense since the stream is going out to a server and then sent back to your device for viewing. I found that the latency ranged anywhere from a 10-second low to about 18 seconds on the high side.
The iZON is meant to be used in well-lit areas and does not include infrared lighting for nighttime viewing. If you want a camera that can watch a baby in a darkened room or check for raccoons walking around your garden at night, you're going to need something else -- or you'll need to leave a light on.
My only complaint with the iZON is that I can't check the video stream from my Mac unless I'm looking at an alarm video on the private YouTube account. Being able to link to the camera from a Mac would be nice.
Sure, you can find less expensive room monitor webcams. You can find higher resolution webcams. There are webcams with motorized bases that you can control remotely. But I don't think you're ever going to find a webcam that's as easy to set up or as iOS-friendly as the iZON Remote Room Monitor. All I have to do is think back on my nightmare weekend of setting up two cheap IP webcams to realize that the 10-minute-maximum process for setting up the iZON makes the product worth the extra cost.
As a way of keeping an eye (and ear) on a child, an elderly parent, a pet, or just your home, the iZON Remote Room Monitor is perfect for anyone who uses an iOS device. The design and ease of use makes the iZON like something that Apple would create, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the highest praise I can give any third-party product.