Have you ever heard of a remote controlled network camera? You probably have, but have you ever seen one that claims to integrate with a variety of social networks? Well, now Astak’s Mole Wireless IP Camera claims do exactly that. It retails for $279, which at first thought sounds a bit pricy but when you take into consideration what it can do and all the features it has built into it, then it could make you feel like you got your money’s worth. However, we all know that just because something is jam packed with features doesn’t automatically make it user friendly, so we decided to test it out for ourselves.
Astak Inc. is a leading home and business security solutions developer, manufacturer and marketer producing aggressive annual growth in the security and surveillance industry. A distinguishing feature of Astak Inc. is that the Company has a dedicated Research & Development department that strives to continuously improve the quality of the Company’s security products. Astak Inc. has also developed overseas manufacturing partnerships that enable the Company to produce innovative and leading technology solutions. Product offerings include wireless and wired cameras, IP Network cameras, and security DVRs, catering to a broad range of end users from DIY customers with residential needs, to big-name resellers, to installers for commercial business needs.
With world-wide branch offices, our technology solutions have boosted Astak Inc. to the forefront of security solutions in this fast-growing market segment. Astak Inc.’s products are distributed through a network of retail and distribution partners including leading national retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club, Future Shop, Wal-Mart, Costco Canada, as well as major regional chains like Fry’s Electronics, and E-commerce retailers like Newegg.com, WalMart.com, Buy.com, Amazon.com, Frys.com and many others throughout North America. Other retail locations include Costco in Mexico, Sam’s Clubs in Puerto Rico, and PriceSmart in the Caribbean.
What is the MOLE?
The MOLE is the all-in-one network camera for all your social network communities. A simple 3-step setup gets this Wi-Fi camera up and running, so that you can automatically send video clips to YouTube or Facebook, even if you’re not there. Sophisticated built-in motion detection controls what you record, and will notify you via Twitter or email if the Mole catches something. You can remotely control the pan & tilt angles, and monitor or record video from anywhere in the world.View it from your iPhone, or any web browser.
Note that the ASTAK Mole is being marketed as the CM-IP700 IP Camera by ASTAK and is essentially the same camera as the ASTAK Mole.
ASTAK MOLE Unboxing
When you open the box you will find a network Ethernet cable, power cord, Wi-Fi antenna, mounting screws, user manual, and software.
ASTAK MOLE Hardware
The back of the Mole’s hardware has connections for audio in/out as well as Ethernet, power, a Wi-Fi antenna, and an SD card reader. The need for the SD card is for integrating the camera with social networks. The Mole can automatically save still shots to the SD card and then mail them out to users on a fixed time schedule. Keep in mind that the SD card is optional; you can use the card and archive videos on it, or use the Mole simply as a live viewing device without recording and forgo its capabilities. Alternatively you can use 3rd party or computer based video recording software.
ASTAK MOLE Specifications
- Video compression: H.264
- IEEE 802.11g & 802.11b Compliant
- Video resolution: 320 x 240 (QVGA), 640 x 480 (VGA)
- CMOS sensor parameter adjustment: Automatic white balance (AWB), automatic gain control (AGC) backlight
- compensation(BLC), automatic light control/electronic light control (ALC/ELC)
- Video frame rate: 1-30 frame/second
- Video compression code rate: 64Kbits/S-2Mbits/S
- Audio input: One linear input, impedance: 2.2K Ω
- Audio compression: G.726
- Audio output: One linear output
- Call input: One microphone input
- Communication interface: One 10M/100M adaptive Ethernet interface supporting download of high-speed dome and decoder protocols, and transparent protocols
- Input power: DC 12V/1A
- Maximum power: Less than 6W
- System requirement: Microsoft Windows 98/ME/2000/NT/SO/XP/Vista/MacOS
- Size: 5.1″(L) x 4″(W) x 5”(H)
- Weight: 12 ounces
MOLE Software and Configuration
Although one might think that there would be a lot of quirky setting up involved, we were pleasantly surprised with only a 3- step setup. All we did was plug in the power and Ethernet and we were on our way. To access the Mole itself there is a web browser, so no worries having to install too much software on to your computer.
-We did however install the Astak Mole software for good measure
A third party company called Yoics provides the service for the user to access their webcam via an Internet connection. The first step in setting up the Mole is to create a Yoics account, which involves creating two separate login credentials. One is for logging into the browser, and the other is for connecting to the Mole itself. But before you think that this is annoying and redundant each login serves its own purpose. Yoics will allow you to give others access to your devices, and the Mole provides its own three levels of access should you choose to grant certain permissions.
When it comes to software, the interface has four tabs as your command center (Home, Media, Advanced and System). On the main tab, users can actively view and control the camera while the other tabs adjust light settings and other advanced controls. The Mole’s lens can pan 270 degrees horizontally and tilts 125 degrees vertically all of which can be controlled through the online interface. There are even controls to make the camera do a full range of panning or tilting motions, center the lens, and remember fixed angles. In the advanced settings, we discovered controls that connect the Mole to our wireless network, enable Twitter, YouTube, e-mail notification, scheduled recording times, and motion activation settings.
The Mandatory Firmware Upgrade
Like clockwork, one of the first things I did was check for ASTAK Mole firmware upgrades as I always get overly excited about performing firmware upgrades. As luck would have it, our Mole unit shipped with the production firmware 10-28-09 and a newer firmware was dated 02-16-10, which meant we could download the latest binaries and perform a firmware upgrade. Woo Hoo!
As with most connected and firmware upgradeable devices; I was able to do so from within the Mole web interface.
The actual firmware update is not that exciting and the red on gray font makes it difficult to read clearly.
We tested the Mole using Internet Explorer, FireFox and Google Chrome on a Windows machine, Apple Macintosh and an iPhone. Our findings lead us to believe that the video quality was much better on the phone (probably due to its small screen), and we were surprised how well we were able to control the camera using the phone. Some of the major features worth testing included motion sensing capabilities and the YouTube and Twitter integration. All three worked flawlessly when the camera sensed our movements in the room videos to YouTube, and automatically tweeted the YouTube links – it was rather cool to see this all in action. The only issues we noticed about the Mole is noise the microphone picked up when the camera was rotating; it is audible enough to drown out quieter sounds in the room. However, the main disappointment was in the blurring that motion creates on the camera. While the still shots were good enough, the smearing and blurring on the video was somewhat of a letdown. Then, when you take controls into your own hands (manual control) it is not as quick as we hoped it would be, and there is a bit of a lag on the directional controls.
ASTAK Mole Motion Detection
The motion sensing capabilities were among the cooler features we were looking forward to testing. When we first setup the social network integration features (YouTube and Twitter) we looked at the Motion detection page and activated that feature with a single mouse-click. Shortly after we had to step out for a little while and forgotten that the motion detection was activated. Upon our return we noticed that the ASTAK Mole caught us walking around and uploaded two videos to YouTube and tweeted links to the videos on Twitter – this was hilarious!
Needless to say that configuring the Mole as a social media integrated security camera is very easy.
ASTAK Mole Night Vision
We have tested quite a few network IP cameras claiming to support various degrees of “night vision”. So, going into this review we were not entirely convinced with a autonomous network camera named “The Mole”; after all, moles aren’t especially known for their great eyesight and 20/20 vision.
Well it turns out that the night vision capability on the Mole is fantastic and is among the best we’ve tested.
Here is an ASTAK Mole night vision and motion detection test illustrating the night vision and recording quality, this video automatically uploaded to YouTube. Turns out we may have captured a little extra (watch closely!)
Conclusion and Verdict
The Mole is a compelling pick for those shopping for a network camera loaded with features, while we have some hesitations we believe the ASTAK Mole does offer a lot for its price. Its features are a great concept for those who want it to integrate with their lives and social networks, whether you want to use it for security, or simply to check up on when someone got home, the Mole can be your eye in the sky.
- Very simple setup, just plug in an Ethernet cord from your router, then the power cord, log in to their site, register your camera, and you should be up and running in about 5 minutes, the Wi-Fi setup is a little more intricate
- Although ASTAK claims that it works on any browser, we experienced that some functions worked best in IE and not at all in other browsers
- Works on the iPhone but lags sometimes
- Supports up to five users logged into one camera at a time
- You can move the camera 270 degrees horizontally and 150 degrees vertically from your browser or iPhone
- Specify hotspots on the screen that will detect motion and if it detects motion, it will automatically send e-mail alerts, upload videos to YouTube, and Twitter that it uploaded videos
- Save all of your videos and pictures to an SD card (up to 8 GB), or to your computer, YouTube and even to your Windows Home Server
- Even though it might stutter while real-time streaming, it will record up to 640×480 resolution at 30 fps just fine
- Fantastic night vision mode, white balance adjustment, and other manual controls