The Petcube cameras are great fun for pet lovers, but don’t represent great value compared to other cameras
- Firing treats for your pets is brilliant
- Clever, subscription model with petcentric discounts and freebies
- Bundling Alexa is a smart idea
- Some paid features should be free
- Not the best-quality video
Somehow, and I’m not exactly sure how, I’ve ended up becoming Expert Reviews’ go-to guy for security camera reviews. This, suffice it to say, wasn’t an ambition, but there we are.
But it finally paid off when I took receipt of two interesting looking boxes: the Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2. These are smart cameras specifically designed for pets, and my two rescue cats – Humphries, a chunky, grumpy grey tabby, and Hamilton, a 55-year-old man trapped in a black-and-white cat body – couldn’t be more thrilled, having already been treated to a smart cat flap and smart feeders.
Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2 review: What you need to know
Why on Earth would you need a smart camera specifically designed for pets? As anybody who has read my other security camera reviews will know, cats make frequent appearances and many of the top-line features are shared between product categories. Like the best security cameras, both Petcube products provide 1080p livestreams, and will alert you when they detect movement or sound, offer paid cloud storage for captured clips triggered by movement, and provide two-way audio so you can ‘chat’ to your pets remotely.
But they also have a couple of tricks up their sleeve. First, there are the pet-specific features and this varies depending on the product. The Petcube Bites 2 has a large container on the top that can be filled with treats to be fired from the front of the device either manually via the app or to a set schedule. The Petcube Play 2, meanwhile, is a smaller device with a built-in laser that can be used to play with cats even when you’re not around. Because both are also cameras, these happy moments can be recorded live for posterity, no matter where you are.
Secondly, the second generation of Petcube products has added Amazon Alexa into the mix. I don’t mean they connect with your current Echo, I mean they literally can become Echoes themselves, playing music and operating your smart home.
Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2 review: Price and competition
The Petcube Bites 2 costs $199, while the Petcube Play 2 comes in at a slightly cheaper $250. UK pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but you’d imagine that would be somewhere between £170 and £199 for the Play, and £220 to £250 for the Bites. We’ll update the review when UK pricing is confirmed.
Bluntly, that means you can get something cheaper if you just want to keep an eye on your pets with minimal interaction. Amazon has just released the Blink XT2 – which can also be used outdoors and offers a two-year battery life and free cloud storage – for £99. And if you want something really cheap for indoor use, then it’s hard to fault the Neos smart camera at £20.
Which isn’t to say that the Petcubes products are necessarily overpriced; in the pet-centric camera space, they’re about par for the course, with the Furbo treat-tossing dog camera selling for £180.
Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2 review: Optional subscription
That price can get higher if you want it to. Like many regular smart cameras, Petcube provides subscriptions to use its servers for extended cloud storage, but it also offers a little extra for pet owners with freebies, discounts and offers from pet-friendly partners.
To be clear, this is optional. If you don’t want to pay any more, you don’t have to, and the functionality will be only slightly impacted. Without paying anything, you still get some cloud storage, but clips expire after four hours and they can’t be downloaded (though you can still record directly from the app, if you like – though only for as long as you keep it open.)
There are two paid tiers of Petcube Care: Optimal ($5.99 per month or $47.88 for a year) and Premium ($14.99 per month or $99 for a year). With these subscriptions you get longer 30-second clips, smart filtering (where the app can alert for barks only, say), and an extra year’s warranty. Both let you download clips (unlimited for Premium, or ten per month on Optimal), and the cheaper option keeps clips for three days, while the more expensive for 90 days.
Both packages also offer “pet care perks” which is an interesting extra. Not all of these are available outside of the United States, but they’re certainly well tailored to pet owners, with offers of a free chat with a vet via Vetted, two free dog walks via Wag, and various discounts on food, health and toys. There are even vouchers for Dogs TV (!) and audiobooks for dogs (!!) in the mix, if that doesn’t sound too loopy.
At the moment, you need to get a subscription for each camera, but I’m told that the company is working on making multi-camera support part of the Premium pricing tier.
A 14-day trial membership to Petcube Care comes with every camera, so you’ll have some time to see if you need the extras or not. Though you do have to enter your card details to get it.
Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2 review: Design
Both of the Petcube cameras look about as stylish as you could hope for. The Petcube Play 2 is the more compact of the two: a small, silver and black cube that can be placed on a tripod or flat on a shelf.
The Petcube Bites 2, on the other hand, looks a bit like an oversized Ring Doorbell, only with the camera in the bottom section. It stands upright, and the entire top half is hollow for the storage of up to 1.5lbs of treats. These can then be fired out, up to eight feet, across the room from a small hole in the front next to the lens. The treat container is removable for cleaning, and entirely dishwasher safe. The lid doesn’t come off easily, either, meaning your pets won’t be able to break into the precious stash when your back is turned.
Both are powered via USB Type-C cables attached to included mains adapters. Mine didn’t come with UK plugs, but they seem to work fine with just any USB wall charger adapter. While the original Petcube cameras only worked on 2.4GHz Wi-Fi spectrum, the second generation models support 5Ghz too. Neither includes an SD card slot, which is disappointing: it would be a nice alternative for those looking to avoid the ongoing drain of a paid subscription.
You can’t really quibble with the physical designs though, which looks suitably modern and stylish. They may look out of place when fashions change, but for now they blend right in with modern tech. But you should be prepared for the size of the Bites 2; while the Play 2 camera is a compact 3.6 x 3.2 x 3.6in cube, the Bites 2 is 10.6in tall and 5.7in wide.
Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2 review: Purrformance
The Petcube cameras behave exactly as you’d imagine them to. Set them up and you’ll get notifications whenever anything comes into view or a sound is made. You can go to a live feed of the camera at any time, where you can switch on a microphone to talk directly to pets if you wish.
Then there are the special abilities of each camera. For the Petcube Play 2, this involves moving your finger over the live feed – where you trace a line, a laser will follow, albeit not quite as smoothly as it appears on screen. If your cat is enamoured by lasers, it’ll be very happy with this, though mine were distinctly underwhelmed – even when high on catnip. That’s not a reflection on the laser itself though – my cats just aren’t big laser fans. Your mileage may vary.
What they are huge fans of, however, are treats and for this reason the Petcube Bites 2 is the clear winner for me. Load up this camera, and you’ll see a small bone-shaped icon in the bottom left of the app’s live feed. Tap this, and with a swipe upwards the Petcube whirrs into life, ‘making it rain’ and firing a shower of treats in an arc upwards and out.
There are three distances you can fire, depending on the length of the swipe, but the number of treats ejected seems pretty random. Sometimes it was a single treat, other times five or six would fire out at once. The cats love it, and I can tell you it’s quite entertaining to prank humans with, too.
But as a camera? It’s not the best I’ve seen, unfortunately. While it’s technically a 1080p camera, I’ve not seen it record anything higher than 720p. I’m told this is related to variable network conditions, and that 720p is the most common adaptive resolution, but I’m on a pretty stable 100Mbps fibre broadband connection so that doesn’t quite add up.
In any case, you can see from the video above downloaded from the cloud storage trial, it’s not the best quality we’ve seen. Edges are blurred, things are grainy and frame rate is capped at a jumpy 14fps. Still, it’s fine for just saying hello to your pets which is, lest we forget, the main purpose of the camera. You’re not intended to record a Palm D’Or winning movie on it.
For two-way audio, it’s okay. You can hear speech from the app pretty clearly, in my experience, though audio from both cameras is patchy with a tendency to drop out. It’s quite difficult to hear clear sentences, so let’s hope your animals only have a casual grasp of conversational English.
One of the big advantages the second generation of Petcubes have is built-in Amazon Alexa. I’m not just talking about an Alexa skill – although there is one too – both versions of Petcube 2 can become surrogate Amazon Echos, using the mic and speaker to listen for your voice and respond to your questions. Oh, and according to Petcube, “support for voice assistants other than Amazon Alexa might come as an option with a software update in the future”.
It’s a nice feature, but not essential. Sound quality isn’t good enough to make playing music advisable through the camera, but as an extra point for controlling smart home stuff, it’s certainly welcome. And if you don’t own any other smart speakers, then being able to dispense treats with the power of your voice will give you a god-like quality for your pets. Just say “Alexa, ask Petcube to fling treats” or “Alexa, ask Petcube to play with my pet”, and it’ll spring into life, with the voice assistant saying things like “Bon appetite” or “Play time!”
If you already have another Amazon Echo in the same room, you can just give the same instruction to the better speaker, and the results will be the same, as long as the skill is enabled.
Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2 review: App and community
Here’s another area where Petcube differs from regular, boring smart security cameras: it’s attempting to make a kind of Instagram for pet lovers. There are inherent problems with this – most obviously that Instagram is already an Instagram for per lovers – but you can’t fault the ambition.
That means that within the app, you’ll find a section labeled “Feed”. Confusingly enough, this is nothing to do with the administration of treats, and more of a newsfeed of your friends, where you can see their latest cute pet photos to like and comment upon. It really is just like Instagram, only without the pretence of there being anything but cute cats and dogs.
Interestingly, there’s also a section labeled “Play” where you can tap into other peoples’ Petcubes in the form of a live stream. To be clear, this is entirely consensual, and by default your camera is private, but it’s certainly interesting. The app has a section labeled “adoptable”, where pet shops and animal shelters can livestream the animals they have up for adoption. Most of the regular live cameras I tapped on were empty pet beds, however, so if you’re just there for the animal voyeurism, it really is a game of chance.
Finally, there’s the main bread and butter of the app: a timeline of every event your camera has caught. These are presented in an easily digestible format, from most recent to oldest and can be watched for up to four hours on the free plan, and for between three and 90 days on the more expensive ones. You have to subscribe to download videos, which feels a bit mean-spirited – it wouldn’t cost them anything extra to let you download clips, as most other smart security cameras do. You can record videos live through the app, but as you can see below the quality isn’t great, and it only works if you keep the app open.
Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2 review: Verdict
There are two ways of looking at the Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2.
The first is to say that this is an expensive way of paying for a pretty average smart security camera. You can get better quality footage and more generous free cloud storage elsewhere if you shop around. In fact, some of the stuff Petcube puts behind a subscription paywall – the ability to download video and adjust the sensitivity of clips – is often free on others, and that just leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
But then, if you plonk a regular security camera in your house, the chances are that your pet will just ignore it. If you regularly have to check in on your animals, then being able to lure them to the camera with the promise of treats or playtime is definitely a plus.
Yes it’s expensive, and it’s clearly aimed at wealthy – or at least comfortable – pet owners. But for the cat or dog fanatic that has everything, you could certainly do worse.