Illustration for article titled This Budget Pet Camera Is Perfect for Neurotic Pet Owners

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Despite my partner’s disdain for pet cameras, it makes sense that I, the neurotic dog mom, would want one. Every time we leave the house for several hours, there’s a small part of me that’s convinced our furballs have died gruesome deaths due to freak accidents. I imagine their ghosts staring at me dolefully, asking why, oh why, did we let them die disconsolate and alone? So even though he explicitly told me not to, of course, I jumped at the opportunity to review Petcube’s budget pet camera, the $40 Petcube Cam.

You did not misread. The Petcube Cam is only $40!!! That’s a fraction of the price of other pet cameras, which can go for as much as $200. Another thing Petcube’s trying to emphasize this time around is online Vet Chats. As in, if your pet has explosive diarrhea in the middle of the night, you can consult an actual vet without having to necessarily rush to the nearest emergency pet hospital. (RIP your wallet.)

I feel like this was a feature made specifically for me. I care more about my pets’ health than I do my own, particularly my elderly Yorkshire Terrier. I went 12 years without going to the eye doctor but you best believe that my dog never misses a regular checkup, vaccination, and if she so much as sneezes weird, I am googling to see if she’s possibly dying from doggie typhoid. Don’t ask me about vet bills.

Petcube Cam

What is it?

A budget pet camera

Price

$40 for the camera; Optional subscriptions start at $4 per month

Like

Good price for a pet cam. Can be mounted on walls so you can get better angles. Has a virtual vet service.

No like

Screen quality is meh. Issues with latency and distortion.

The direct line to a vet, plus the attractive price, made this seem like it could be a balm for my worst pet anxieties. The most highly rated pet cameras—like the ones that let you fling treats and shoot lasers—cost anywhere from $150-$200. That might be appealing if you’ve got pets that are destined for Instagram stardom. My pets are boring as hell. Daisy, the elderly Yorkie, sleeps all day. When he’s not blogging, my chubby cat Pablo also sleeps all day. Sometimes, he rolls over. Riveting stuff, I know. They don’t do much and aren’t prone to mischief, so a fancy pants pet camera isn’t really worth shelling out if all I really want is to check in from time-to-time when I’m away for longer periods of time.

Out of the box, the Petcube Cam is tiny. It measures 2.4 x 2.1 x 3.2 inches, and I’m pretty sure my balled-up fist is bigger than this thing. There’s a little swivel leg it stands on, or, if you’re inclined, you can turn it upside and mount it under a bookcase or on a wall. To do that, you just stick an adhesive on a magnetic disc that’s provided and the Cam will automatically attach itself. (This is pretty great if you’re in a rental and worried about scuffing walls.) I opted to mount it underneath a floating shelf, which actually gave me the ability to get the best viewing angle for my apartment.

In terms of the camera itself, Petcube isn’t doing anything too special here. This is a budget camera. You get 1080p HD screen resolution, a 2.8mm focal length, 8x digital zoom, and your field of view is 11o degrees. Not terrible, but you absolutely shouldn’t expect stellar video or photo quality. You do get night vision in the form of an IR light that Petcube says can see up to 30 feet in pitch-black darkness. As for interactivity, with the Cam, you’re limited to the basics. As I mentioned, there are no lasers to torture your kitty with or treats to fling at your dog. You can, however, do two-way audio via a noise-canceling microphone and a speaker.

Illustration for article titled This Budget Pet Camera Is Perfect for Neurotic Pet Owners

While picture quality was adequate, there’s occasionally quite a bit of lag. Most times, when my furballs are doing their best impression of lumps, this is isn’t a problem. However, when they’re on the move, it can be a bit frustrating. (You can see how choppy it is in the video above.)

For instance, while testing, I would sometimes try speaking to Daisy and Pablo via the Cam. I sounded like a tinny echo monster thanks to the distortion and latency. Still, it got the job done. Pablo usually came to investigate. Once or twice I got a money shot. Daisy, however, was easily spooked and clearly confused by my voice booming out of nowhere. This could be because the Cam only supports 2.4 GHz wifi which doesn’t handle quite as much data as 5 Ghz. That’s not uncommon for smart home gadgets, but for something like video streaming, while simultaneously voice calling on a teeny pet camera, limiting the device’s wifi to 2.4 GHz can be taxing. Annoying, but eh, it’s only $40. You get what you pay for.

DEMON EYES. This is the picture quality you get in Night Vision.

DEMON EYES. This is the picture quality you get in Night Vision.
Screenshot: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Specs aside, what I was most interested in testing was the virtual vet service. It’s powered by Fuzzy Pet Health, which is basically telemedicine for your pets. However, if you want this feature, it will cost you $5 a month in addition to whatever other Petcube subscriptions you’re paying for.

And there are a few tiers to choose from. On the free tier, the only thing you get is live video streaming and a 1-year warranty. If you want more advanced video options, that will also cost you. The middle tier costs $4 a month ($47.88 if you pay upfront) and gets you features like streaming, a 1-year warranty, 3 days of video service, 30-second video clips, smart alerts, 10 video downloads per month, a web interface, and filters (i.e., you can opt to only get notifications when the camera detects a pet noise and movement). The highest tier is $8.25 a month ($99 a year) and gets you all the same things. The difference is it bumps up video history to 90 days, grants unlimited video downloads, extends the warranty to two years, and you can add as many cameras as you like to one subscription. While having to pay for a subscription is annoying, it’s nice that you have several options. Plus the middle tier plus the virtual vet chats is still cheaper than Fuzzy Pet Health’s own plan, which is $10 a month.

The question is whether that extra cost was worth it when I already spend a chunk of change on pet insurance. I got to put it to the test one day when after refusing to eat breakfast, Daisy hacked up some neon yellow vomit. Yet again, I was convinced it was a sign of pancreatic cancer or kidney failure. I felt a bit odd logging into the Petcube app instead of calling my vet, but I’ll admit I did get in touch with a vet faster this way.

Illustration for article titled This Budget Pet Camera Is Perfect for Neurotic Pet Owners

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

After my neurotic blow-by-blow of every single event leading up to the neon yellow vomit (interactions are chat only), I was informed the vomit was actually stomach bile because Daisy was hungry, but likely wasn’t in the mood to eat the food I put out. The vet suggested I try switching to a flavor or treat I knew she liked. Lo, she stopped looking like she was going to die and instead happily chowed down. I peppered my virtual vet with a series of questions about whether this is normal dog behavior and after a lengthy back-and-forth, I was told that yes, some dogs actually are evil masterminds. Daisy, a wily dog with an iron will, played a game of chicken with me, vomiting until she got the more palatable meal she wanted. This dog will be the end of me.

It did feel nice to have someone validate for me that the dog was fine, and didn’t need to be taken into the vet. My wallet was extremely happy. I appreciated not having to figure out the best way to get to the vet’s office during a pandemic. Given the current state of things, virtual vet chats are actually quite helpful even if you aren’t a worrywart. This is especially true if you have a sickly pet, if you don’t live near your vet, or if your local veterinarian has reduced hours or doesn’t offer telemedicine appointments. I also like that the $40 Petcube Cam gives me peace of mind in two areas:—not only do I not have to worry what my pets get up to when I’m gone, I can get advice from a vet much faster than I would otherwise.

In total, the Petcube Cam could cost you as little as $40. If all you want to do is snoop every so often to make sure your pet is okay, you really don’t need to spend any more than that. But say you do a little want more. There’s also a lot of flexible paid options that should fit most budgets; if your pet is frequently ill you could, for instance, just pay $5 a month for the virtual vet chats only. Any which way you slice it, the Cam is way more affordable than nearly every treat camera out there. So while this pet camera definitely won’t satisfy anyone who wants something with better picture quality or interactivity, it’s an excellent option for neurotic pet owners on a budget. Personally, I feel a bit more at ease that the next time Daisy pulls a fast one, it might not bankrupt me.

README

  • A cheap, wall-mountable pet camera
  • You get basic 2-way audio interaction, night vision, and 1080p resolution, but that’s about it on the free subscription tier
  • You can get virtual vet visits via the Petcube app, though that costs an extra $5 per month.
  • Nothing super special, but the range of features aren’t too shabby for a $40 pet camera

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