Google is refreshing its camera and Nest doorbell products as well as launching an outdoor light and camera combo device. As part of the product launches Google is adding new features and tweaking its Nest Aware subscription plans. The new devices fit the new Nest hardware aesthetic with softer colors and a rounded look, but I am unimpressed with how Google is using AI in these products.
There are four new products. The first is a new Nest Doorbell that can operate on wired or battery power.
At a little over 6-inches tall, the doorbell is larger than the original Nest Hello doorbell because it has a rechargeable battery inside, but the design is flatter and pretty striking. Google uses its own sensors and has tried to incorporate a green LED on the doorbell to indicate when the doorbell is recording someone. When someone is viewing the doorbell live stream the green LED will flash to indicate that someone is watching the camera stream at that moment. The doorbell will cost $179.99 and will go on sale August 24.
The second product is a wired camera with two outdoor lights. It’s new to the Nest portfolio but a necessary element for any home security setup.
That product will cost $279.99 and Google will share its availability date later. All of the versions of the Nest Cam offer up to 1080p and 30 frames per second. They also provide night vision and HDR. Additionally, all of the new devices will provide some local storage fallback for recording in case of an internet or power failure.
The third and fourth products are stand-alone cameras. The more expensive camera will run on a battery and can work inside or outside. The camera will sell for $179.99 and will be available on August 24.
The second camera is the cheapest camera Google has offered at $99.99 (which is not going to beat Wyze’s latest $35.98 indoor camera price). This camera works indoors, has a wire, and comes in four colors that include blue-grey, beige, traditional white, and pink with a wood base. As with the Nest Audio devices launched last year, Google is leaning hard into the idea that most people don’t want their smart home devices to look like tech gadgets. Hence the wood base.
The new features
Hardware is fun, but Google is all about building an intuitive smart home and services that take advantage of all of Google’s engineering talent and data. So I was excited to hear about what Google is adding to these products on the image recognition side.
The cameras can now locally detect nine object classes including dogs, cats, people, vehicles, and packages. It uses those insights to deliver better notifications and to determine when a battery-powered device should record. Google has offered some image classification for packages on its Nest Hello doorbells for a while now, and the additional image classification is nice.
I was especially excited to see that the image classification is done locally, as opposed to relying on the cloud. This is machine learning at the edge, and Google expects that batteries in these devices to last about 2.5 months in the doorbell and three months in the camera for typical homes. The busyness of the home, the video length, alert preferences, and more can impact battery consumption.
Yet, I was disappointed that I can’t use the knowledge of what’s happening or Google’s knowledge of what it calls unfamiliar faces to trigger different reactions from the smart home.
For example, when the Hello Doorbell sees a familiar face walking the dog it doesn’t really need to capture the video and waste battery power. Users should have the ability to tweak settings specific to the types of events or things that the cameras detect optimizing for power savings or even certain behaviors. I’ve long wanted Google to use its ability to track familiar faces as a mechanism for automatically arming the security system when none of those faces have been detected for a while.
In addition to the enhanced image classification, Google has improved the ability to set activity zones for all of its cameras. People have been setting activity zones for years on doorbells, and even some indoor cameras, and again I wanted more from Google.
For example, a user might want to set an activity zone around a swimming pool and use people detection to alert a parent if children came too close. These are the reasons I might spend $180 or $100 on a Google smart camera.
Of course, I’d also need a subscription for many of these use cases. The ability to detect familiar faces, for example, is part of the Nest Aware subscription. Google has tweaked that too.
It has two subscription offerings. The cheaper version costs $6 per month and provides 30 days of event history, familiar face detection, and the ability to call 9-1-1 within the Google Home app. A Nest Aware Plus subscription costs $12 a month and gives 60 days of video event history and the option of 10 days of continuous video recording for devices that are plugged in. If you buy these devices and don’t subscribe you get three hours of video history and basic object detection.
With these products, Google is trying to build in several laudable security and privacy features. I like the emphasis on showing people when a camera is processing video and when someone is actually watching via the camera in a live view. Google is also providing 128-bit AES encryption for the videos while they are in transit and in the cloud. The processors on the devices have a secure boot capability and the products are governed by the security rules Google has set forth and its guarantees about security updates.
Google also tweaked the Google Home app so you can view all of your camera feeds easily, and see an event stream with notable moments from all of your cameras at once. And because it’s Google you can search for events or people and get all of the available results. So if you want to see all of your package deliveries for the last three hours (or 30 days with a paid subscription) you can.
This is a good update, and also lends credence to my idea that we can expect Google to revamp its smart home devices roughly every three years. The last new Nest Cam came out in 2017, but I think COVID probably caused a bit of a delay in getting these out. We saw a new version of the Nest thermostat hit the market last fall after Google had last launched the Nest E thermostat in 2017. Google launched the Hello doorbell in 2018.
I do wonder if that means Google thinks all smart home devices have a roughly three-year life, or if it sees these devices getting a longer life, but wants to have a regular refresh cycle to entice buyers to upgrade in a five-to-seven-year time frame.