Gadget Review: Stem Innovation's iZON Remote Room Monitor

A smart remote camera system that keeps an eye on precious things while you are out of the room or the house.

By , Columnist

Images are courtesy of Stem Innovation.

If you spend a lot of time away from home, the security of your possessions could be a big concern. Thankfully it is now easier than ever to monitor your premises through the integration of webcams and the Internet. Two disadvantages of such systems, however, can be that you have to leave a computer running while you’re away and the location of the webcam is restricted to somewhere within a cable’s reach of that computer’s USB ports.

For users of iOS devices, Stem Innovation's iZON Remote Room Monitor provides a flexible alternative to a webcam in a home surveillance setup. It is basically a standalone colour video camera that connects to your home Wi-Fi signal. This means that you can access its video feed from anywhere you can get the Internet. Now that it has got over some early teething troubles, the iZON is an impressive solution that offers some advantages over a PC-based system.

In terms of design, the iZON leans towards Apple’s ‘white is wonderful’ aesthetic, which means that it looks modestly stylish and unobtrusive. It consists of a small cylindrical camera unit (about the size of a salt shaker) that sits on a concave magnetic base. This means that it can be oriented in a variety of ways. Moreover, the magnet is powerful enough to ensure that the two parts don’t become easily separated if the base if jogged.

The camera receives power from a mains lead and therefore has to be placed within reach of a power socket. Even so, it can be sited in many more locations than wired webcams. The option to use batteries would have increased the iZON's flexibility but potentially reduced its reliability so the reliance on mains is a worthwhile compromise.

The video feed from the camera can be directly accessed over the Internet via a free iOS app on an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad once the iZON is connected to a wireless network. The process of setting up the Wi-Fi link might seem daunting to anyone not well versed in wireless technology but it is straightforward in principle and explained well in the onscreen instructions. When I first tried setting it up out of the box it proved uncooperative. The problems I had seem to have been ironed out, however, in a series of firmware upgrades.

iZON-and-package-3000x3330.jpgAs long as the wireless link to the unit isn’t lost, the video feed can be picked up on Wi-Fi or 3G anywhere that you get a strong enough signal. To view the feed for the first time you start the app, create an account and register the camera with Stem Innovation’s servers. Thereafter, when you start the app you just need to select the iZON tab and click on the camera that you want to view (you can register more than one iZON if you want to keep an eye on several rooms).

It is advisable to make a note of your account password because I have had occasions when I had to request a new one through the app (usually after an app update) and waited in vain for the password reset email to arrive. This issue also seems to have been resolved by Stem Innovation but it is better not to have to rely on that.

The video feed takes a few seconds to load and the resulting image and audio are bright and clear enough in good light to show if anything is amiss at home. Using Stem's standard service, remote viewing is limited to five minutes but the chances are that you are not going to watch your unoccupied house for longer than that anyway. Indeed, when you first set up the iZON you might find yourself checking the feed obsessively and hoping that you won’t see anything happening.

A handy feature of the iZON is the ability to set movement and sound alerts that will get your attention when you are not watching the feed. These will trigger an alarm on your iOS device if something moves within the camera’s field or view or makes a sound above a certain volume. The iZON will also trigger an alert if it is disconnected from your home Wi-Fi network or the power for a certain length of time.

Don’t expect these alerts to sound in time for you to get back from the store and catch an intruder red-handed: their arrival will be delayed according to how far away you are and the strength of the wireless signal you are receiving. What you can do is set the app to automatically capture video when alerts are triggered and save it to an account on YouTube (make sure you set the account to Private, though, to ensure the world doesn’t know when you’re away). At least that way you might capture some incriminating evidence.

One weakness of the iZON is the lack of infra-red capability. As a result, the video feed is largely useless in complete darkness. Even so, the camera continues to pick up sounds and might detect intruders entering your house after dark if they set off an alarm or make a lot of noise. Motion alerts will continue to work in low light and can be a handy way to find out if someone has got home safely at night (assuming you left a lamp on).

Stem Innovation advertises the iZON as useful not only for home security but also for other purposes, including as a baby monitor. Given that you get unlimited video streaming on your local network, you could hook up your iPad to a TV and, with the aid of mirroring, enjoy the site of your infant snoring away while you're getting supper ready.

With this kind of flexibility in addition to its smart looks and handy features, the iZON is an effective tool for keeping an eye on precious things during daylight hours. At around $130 it isn't the cheapest option but it is one worth considering.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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