Review: Does the CleverLoop security system keep you in the loop?

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The CleverLoop system configuration we reviewed consisted of the base station and two cameras(Credit: CleverLoop)

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Once the reserve of the rich and the tech obsessed, home security systems have become as affordable and simple to use as a wireless stereo speaker. Yet another entry into this ever-expanding field is the CleverLoop video security system, which comes in a variety of configurations and is aimed at renters and small businesses. We recently got hold of one and put it through its paces.

The configuration we received consists of a base station, an indoor surveillance camera, and a weatherproof outdoor camera. The heart of the system is the CleverLoop base station, which allows the system to operate independently of a cloud server that most other systems depend upon.

The base station is powered by a 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9 Quad-core processor and connects to a home network by means of an Ethernet cable connected directly to the router. From there is acts as the central control unit for up to three cameras and analyzes video in real time, which it then stores on an 8 GB SD card, external hard drive, or cloud server.

According to CleverLoop, no subscription fee is required and the cloud server can store up to seven days of saved clips with free unlimited downloads and sharing, while up to 45 hours of continuous video footage from a single camera can be stored on a one-terabyte hard drive connected to the base station.

Our configuration consisted of two Wi-Fi cameras along with their mains adaptors and Ethernet cables. One is an indoor 720p high-definition camera with a 115-degree wide-angle lens, night vision, and two-way audio, and the other is a weatherproofed outdoor 720p high-definition camera with a 60-degree lens with a longer focus than the indoor version, night vision, and an adjustable stand with screw mounts.

The cameras and base station are controlled through a mobile app available for iOS and Android. This is used to install and uninstall cameras, control settings, and guides the user through the setup process. The app also shows the status of each individual camera and allows the user to set up security alerts, a geofence to activate alerts, schedules for timed alerts, and sends offline alerts when a camera is deactivated. The system uses an algorithm to analyze local movements in real time and learn what's normal and what's out of the ordinary. Unusual movements or an activated or deactivated camera trigger alerts.

In using the CleverLoop system, we found the set up a bit complicated. Creating an account was very slow to the point where we thought that something had gone wrong and we made the mistake of trying again. The result was a string of emails with cancelled passwords and a great deal of confusion. Installing the base station was easy enough, but needing to link it physically to the network router did seem like a distinct step backwards when competing system such as the Canary and Angee can connect wirelessly.

In addition, each camera required a direct Ethernet connection to the network router during setup before a Wi-Fi link was established. This took a good deal of fiddling with Ethernet and power cables on an already crowded desk, and we never could get the Wi-Fi link to work on the outdoor camera, so we had to test it using the Ethernet link.

On the plus side, the app did a good job of walking through the normal setup process and CleverLoop puts a commendable emphasis on customer service and is very willing to help. The website has plenty of FAQs and general hand holding, as well as links to software that could help in setup. The customer service representatives were prompt, patient, polite, and pro-active. They were very willing to replace the outdoor camera to eliminate the possibility of a physical fault and showed us how to change the replacement back to factory settings. Unfortunately, the replacement camera showed the same unwillingness to work on Wi-Fi as the original.

Physically, the installation of both cameras was easy. The indoor camera simply needed a discreet area to be set in and the outdoor camera is no more difficult to install than a lamp that can plug into a mains socket. The latter even came with a hex wrench to set the base to the proper angle and lock it down.

The CleverLoop system indoor camera SD card slot(Credit: David Szondy/Gizmag)

The Wi-Fi link for the indoor camera was stable throughout a 30 m (100 ft) radius through several walls with little distortion, and the app was simple and intuitive. Setting the alert status through the app was simple and the geofence function started out quirky – arming and disarming the cameras seemingly at random, but the algorithm's learning function soon kicked in and it consistently knew when we were in or out. The video timeline and generous recording and access were a plus, though the proprietary alert tone was a bit annoying for someone used to selecting something a bit more subtle.

Both cameras can be set for capturing standard or high definition video. The resolution on the indoor camera is fair to good, though the brightness and color reproduction are not all they could be. The wide angle is not very wide, but there's also less distortion than in other systems. However, video in both recorded and live modes has a framerate that is choppy and tends to pixilate. Meanwhile, the night vision on the outdoor camera is very good, though that of the indoor camera is what one might expect of an infrared penlight.

Overall, our impression of CleverLoop is of a security system that tries to take a small step forward by taking a large step backward. Though the large local storage with the cloud acting as support is a very good idea and offers savings on other systems with expensive subscription services, the base station with its Ethernet connection is a distinct disadvantage over self-contained cameras that connect directly to a Wi-Fi network.

The setup of the system was overly complicated and presents the user with a sense of unreliability at precisely the point when it should be building post-purchase confidence. The technical support and customer service behind CleverLoop are well thought out and trained with plenty of resources for the user, though no one wants to contact customer support, no matter how good it is.

As to the cameras, the outdoor has a rugged, simple design with excellent fixed optics, an IP66 rating to withstand water and dust, and a good night vision system. In video tests it was definitely the better of the two and it came through splash tests with flying colors. The only real downside was the inability to get it to work over Wi-Fi. On the other hand, the indoor camera seems both unnecessarily large and the plastic case lacks in both the aesthetics and robustness departments.

The CleverLoop system in available in different camera combinations starting from US$279. The one we reviewed sells for $349.

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