Clever Pet Feeding Hub Review

Hi friends, Opal and I are back again with another product review, and I am very pleased to share our experiences with the Clever Pet. This is a long one, as it covers 30 days of use and my own dog’s progress as she moves from level to level, but I hope this provides insight into what to expect from this product. If you’re not interested in all 30 days, there is a final verdict at the end.

I’ve broken down our review with a rating scale of 5 key components each worth 1 point on an overall scale of 5. A perfect score is 5/5.

  1. Aesthetic
  2. Support / Applications
  3. Ease of Use
  4. Difficulty & My Dog’s Progression
  5. Does the Dog Like It?

Finally, I will also be including a video of our overall personal thoughts, experiences & takeaways.

The Review

What is the Clever Pet?

Originally a Kickstarter, the CleverPet Hub is a dog feeder and puzzle toy that increases in difficulty as your pet progresses through the levels, and it is available for purchase through CleverPet’s website for $299.99.

“Combining world-class design with PhD-level expertise in computational neuroscience, CleverPet aims to reduce the loneliness and anxiety caused by daily isolation. The Hub allows dogs to solve puzzles created by touchpads, lights, and sounds that grow harder or easier in real time, uniquely adapting to dogs’ levels of interest and challenge. With this product, the CleverPet team is taking cognitive behavioral training technology previously available only to researchers, and bringing it into the home to provide pets with the daily mental and physical stimulation they crave,”

– CleverPet

As a young twenty-something professional working full time, I’m always looking for new ways to keep my dog, Opal, busy during the day. I learned about the CleverPet online, and was interested to see if it could be a good fit for us – Opal is an Australian Cattle Dog, and this breed is known for being quite intelligent. She can be prone to boredom if not properly occupied, and the challenge is that she usually breezes through puzzles relatively quickly. I’m hoping that the CleverPet can be a fun way for her to entertain herself while I’m away.

Aesthetic

The Hub itself was a little smaller than I anticipated but feels sturdy. It takes up an 18 inch by 19 inch square of floor space and is easy to tuck in a corner out of the way. The status light in the front of the dome is not overly bright to disturb others, but a useful tool for insight on the Hub itself – different colors will indicate low food or jamming errors. The base has several large nonslip pads that prevent the Hub from being pushed around the floor as the dog interacts, which worked very well on our hardwood floor.

Overall, it reminds me of a little flying saucer of doggy-fun! I do wish that the Hub came in other colors beyond white, but it does look sleek and well put together.

Support / Applications

The CleverPet Hub comes with its own companion application for your smartphone, also called “CleverPet”. Here I was able to make a profile for my dog, set a schedule for when the Hub should offer puzzles, check progress, restart challenges, and read weekly reports put out each Saturday.

I especially liked the ability to check in on how many rewards and plays my dog had done in this app – it really allows you to gauge overall progress for your dog. For us, this came in handy when I noticed that a level was too difficult for Opal. Also within the application, I was able to restart an earlier challenge or go all the way back to the initial introduction and start over.

My only complaint with this process is minor but noticeable – when you reset a level to an earlier one or the initial level, the reset will not take place until after the dog has completed their current play. I wish that the reset would occur immediately instead, as I noticed that if my dog became too frustrated, she would not complete the current play to allow for a reset. If you are home supervising your dog, you can prompt them to interact with the Hub again or complete the play yourself, however, if you are checking in remotely there is no way to complete the play to allow for a reset.

Also, this isn’t a complaint but rather a suggestion, I wish that the application could give me a real-time notification on my phone’s home screen when my dog advanced in a level or the Hub became low/empty on food. I can, of course, see these updates when I open the app directly, but I’d like to see these notifications in real time. (UPDATEas of the week of 9/10/17, the app does give push notifications! Due to hurricane Irma I wasn’t able to update, but wanted to let everyone know that CleverPet has added this feature)

Ease of Use

The Hub is very straightforward and comes with simple instructions. The printed instructions included with the Hub were extremely helpful for setup, and learning how to assemble and disassemble the Hub for filling and cleaning can take a moment to understand.

I do like how the domed lid of the Hub latches to the base – you need to press two separate points to remove it from the base, and I’m confident that my dog will be unable to take it apart herself.

One thing I did notice is that the kind of kibble used in the Hub can influence jamming of the system – smaller kibbles with a more uniform shape are going to be your best bet while using the CleverPet. Still, and I’m not sure why, sometimes the food pod does not make a complete rotation to line up with the exterior white shell of the Hub for refilling. This is simple to fix, I just pop the dome top off of the Hub off and manually move the food pod, replace the dome and refill, but felt like it was worth mentioning.

Difficulty & My Dog’s Progression

There are 11 levels of challenges, each with varying difficulty.

  1. Eating the Food
    The Hub opens freely and offers food or treats to the dog so they can become more accustomed to its sounds and movements
  2. Exploring the Touchpads
    All three touchpads on the Hub light up, and touching any one of them will earn a reward
  3. Engaging Consistently
    This continues from the previous challenge and encourages your dog to make the connection that touching the pads causes a reward to appear and that it is not just occurring randomly
  4. Avoiding Unlit Touchpads
    Only two of the three touchpads will light up, pressing one of the lit pads will earn a reward while pressing the unlit pad will not. This helps to teach the dog that touching different pads will have different results.
  5. Learning the Lights
    This continues from the previous challenge, and now only one of the three touchpads will light. Pressing the lit pad will earn a reward while pressing the unlit pads will not.
  6. Mastering the Lights
    Again in this challenge, the dog will be presented with one lit pad and two unlit pads. They will need to select the lit pad to earn a reward, and this level emphasizes the difference between lit and unlit pads.
  7. Responding Quickly
    In this challenge, after pressing the one-lit pad, the dog must press a second newly lit pad to obtain a reward. As the dog progresses through the challenge, the allowed time diminishes and makes the game harder!
  8. Learning the Brightness
    This challenge strives to show the dog that now all lights are the same. Multiple pads will be lit, and your dog must select the brightest pad to earn a reward
  9. Learning Double Sequences
    Multiple pads will be lit in this challenge, and the dog must first select the brightest pad, then press a second lit pad
  10. Matching the Two Colors (New from the 7/25/17 update!)
    Each time the dog presses a lit pad, it will cycle between blue and yellow in color. The dog must cycle through the colors until three lit pads match one another.
  11. Matching More Colors (New from the 7/25/17 update!)
    Like the previous challenge, the dog must cycle through colors to match all three pads, but a 3rd color, white, is introduced on this level making it more complex.

Dogs progress to the next challenge by meeting goals of either frequency or accuracy. It should be important to note though that all dogs will not progress through these levels in the same way or the same speed. Some dogs, based on their performance, may advance faster than others and that’s totally okay! Part of CleverPet’s goal with this product is to make challenges that take a LONG time to finish as well as opposed to other puzzles that can be solved in a shorter amount of time. Dogs may spend weeks on a single level before advancing to the next.

Opal’s Progression:

Day 0 –

It’s a work night and our Clever Pet just arrived! I figured that even though we wouldn’t have a full day, Opal could at least see the new Hub and try to interact with it a little before tomorrow. I unboxed, and after I had set up the unit and paired it with my smartphone and Wi-Fi, I unplugged it to allowed Opal to check out the Hub powered off. Once I felt she was comfortable, I plugged it in and she started at Level 0 “Eating the food” and let her progress up to Level 1 “Exploring the Touchpads”. Opal then became more interested in bedtime after an hour or two and fell asleep on the sofa.

Day 1 –

I decided that we would start slow, especially on Day 1, which was a workday, and a Thursday. We woke up early; she started at Level 0 “Eating the food” once again for a refresher from the night before. Opal seemed interested in this treat giving wonder and progressed up to level 3 “Avoiding the Touchpads” throughout the course of the day while I was at the office.

Day 2 –

After leaving for work, I checked in Opal via the camera and saw that she was not interacting with the Hub very much. It didn’t appear as though she had really made the connection that she was the one initiating the game. I reset the Hub to Level 0, and asked my sister (who was home) to point the dog to interact with the Hub. Once directed there, Opal was very interested with interacting with the Hub to earn food and progressed back through the levels to Level 3 relatively quickly. It still seems like she is relying on guessing where to touch the Hub, however – sometimes in-between pads or on a random pad – rather than looking at the lights been on vs. off.

Day 3 –

In the morning after waking up, Opal walked over to her old food bowl and nudged it with her nose – her normal way of asking for breakfast. Instead, though, I filled up the Hub and directed her to play with it. Opal didn’t want to play with the Hub and instead went to go thrash toys around the living room. An hour or two later though when it was obvious that the usual food bowl was not getting filled, she did start to paw and sniff at the Hub. She remained steady at Level 3 today.

Day 4 –

Today Opal didn’t go straight to her old bowl. She sat next to the Hub on the floor and sighed at me with a huff… so I think she’s starting to realize that she’s going to have to work for her meals! I’m taking this as a positive. I added some kibbles and she started to paw at the Hub, both on the buttons and on the dome itself. Opal is still a little unclear of how or why the Hub opens, but at least she knows that something that she does triggers it!

Day 5 –

Opal started the morning off at Level 3 again and is still working on making the connection that touching lit pads will cause a reward to appear. She’s not “digging” at the hub in the same way she was before, although she will still paw at it in other places besides the touchpads. So far, her success rate is around 65.9%, so that’s just about where I’d expect her to be for purely guessing which pad to touch each play. I still had to prompt her to begin to play this morning, and I don’t quite think she understands that she can initiate. I checked in at 2pm and saw that she had not attempted any plays after I left! I restarted back on Level 2 (my sister once again had to point the dog to begin interacting).

Day 6 –

While at work, I noticed that the dog wasn’t interacting with the Hub today. The count had remained steady at 5 kibbles and 8 plays until I returned home, even though the Hub was functioning correctly and not low on food. As it turns out, I found that Opal had gotten into a pizza box that was left out on the counter and had eaten 2 slices of Domino’s white pizza with chicken and spinach! Needless to say, she felt full, happy, and maybe a little smug even based on how she was looking at me….. and unmotivated to interact with the Hub.

Day 7 –

Opal is at level 3 still today post-pizza snatching yesterday. I checked in on her progress at 1PM and saw that she has gotten 104 kibbles over 254 plays – a success rate of 41%. I can see in my records of her plays that she is truly just button mashing on the Hub in the hopes of something happening without putting much thought into the why or the how. Still, I had hoped, even if she was purely guessing, for an average around 66% success since 2 of the 3 pads are lit at during Level 3. I looked through the app more closely however and saw at some point during the day Opal actually made it to Level 4 “Learning the Lights!” which would explain the drop in performance.

  Completed & Current Challenges Notes & Thoughts
End of Week 1 0 – Eating the Food

1 – Exploring the Touchpads
2 – Engaging Consistently

3 – Avoiding Unlit Touchpads

4 – Learning The Lights (current)

· Pizza is more fun than puzzles

· Tendency to “dig” or “button mash” when frustrated

· We had to go back to level 2 reinforce touching the pads before returning to level 3

 

Day 8 –

This morning I refilled the Hub and left it on Level 4 – I’m hesitant to take her back down to level 3 in fear of her button mashing again. I’d really like her to learn to look at which touchpads are lit! I checked in around noon and saw that she’s only tried to play with it 4 times and earned reward twice. Maybe she is becoming frustrated? By the end of the day, she had completed 258 plays with 55 rewards (21.31% success) and seemed hungry. I decided to give her a break and gave her a “traditional” dinner out of the dog bowl with some wet food to make sure she wasn’t going to bed on an empty stomach. We’ll try again tomorrow!

Day 9 –

We’re starting out on Level 4 again this morning to give it another shot. Before work, I sat down with her on the floor to try and give some encouragement with this challenge and to get her started for the day.

Checking in at 12pm noon, I can see that she’s done only 9 plays with 4 rewards (44% success), which tells me she really isn’t interacting too much with the Hub in my absence. Opal went on a walk today with the dog walker for a little over an hour at this time, and I decided to reset the Hub back to level 0 and allow her to build some confidence again with easier challenges.

Day 10 –

Today we received our second progress report on Opal’s Performance and Plays. Tuesday understandably had a drop in the number of plays after the pizza incident. Opal and I ended up traveling to visit family on the west coast of Florida today, and due to the size of the Hub, left it at home. She seemed happy to have a break for a day and eagerly ate her meals from her old bowl.

Day 11 –

Laaaaaaazy Sunday. We arrived home in the afternoon after our Saturday trip, and Opal seemed disinterested in the Hub. I lowered the difficulty to Level 3 and she still seemed unenthused… so I reset the Hub back to the initial challenge. That got Opal interested, and in a short span of time, she worked back up to Level 3. She still button mashes, but less intensely now, and heavily favors the center button on the Hub. I was curious to see if she’d progress back to Level 4, but she did not.

Day 12 –

Monday again! Today I actually spoke with Dan Knudsen of Clever Pet for a 10-minute customer call to check in how we were doing. All customers are encouraged to reach out for not only support but to give feedback. I really enjoy that I can keep in touch and get new ideas for helping my dog. Opal is still currently on Level 3 despite having worked up to Level 4 last week. Dan recommended that increase interest with the Hub, I can try limiting her time with it.

Day 13 –

Opal is still hanging out on Level 3, but we are trying some of the recommendations from our phone call yesterday! I put some very smelly and high value treats in the Hub and I’ve been limiting the time that it’s turned on for Opal to interact with it. This morning I had it set to be on between 8:30am and 10am to give her a solid hour and a half of time to play. During this time, Opal did interact quite a bit with the Hub but managed to knock over a potted plant as well. Lesson learned – the Hub should probably be placed away from things that can be tipped over.

Day 14 –

It’s the end of week 2 and Opal is still hanging out on Level 3. I limited the time that the Hub was available for her to use today with the same schedule as before (8:30am-10am). So far, it seems like limiting the access to the Hub may be increasing her overall interest in it,

  Completed & Current Challenges Notes & Thoughts
End of Week 2

 

0 – Eating the Food

1 – Exploring the Touchpads
2 – Engaging Consistently

3 – Avoiding Unlit Touchpads

4 – Learning The Lights

· Frustration can take the fun out of the game if a level is too hard

· Resetting back to Level 0 can boost overall confidence

 

Day 15 –

Per suggestion, I’ve still been limiting the amount of time that Opal can interact with the Hub. She hung out on Level 3 for the first half of the session, and there was very little button mashing. Opal did level up to Level 4 during the second half of the session, however! She seemed frustrated and really began to button mash – it doesn’t look like she has figured out that the lights actually matter yet.

Day 16 –

Opal began on Level 4 today after leveling up yesterday. I limited her session to two hours per suggestion, and she was enthusiastic to start! Quickly though, I noticed her frustration. Opal would paw at the Hub, whine and then look to me for assistance. After resetting her back down to Level 3 previously, I really wanted to give her the opportunity to struggle through the level, so I did not reset it. Opal continued to engage with the hub regularly, though she would take a 10-minute break here or there.

Day 17 –

Another weekend, another trip to the beach!

Day 18 –

We arrived home late in the evening from our weekend trip and though the Hub was set up, Opal decided that she would rather go to bed to resume in the morning.

Day 19 –

Upon returning from our trip, Opal began the morning at Level 4. Unlike the previous day on this level, however, she did become too frustrated with the level and walked away from the Hub completely. I did try to encourage her to play with treats and other high-value items, but at most she would button mash for a few moments, groan, and walk away. It was near the end of our session and Opal had barely engaged – I reset the Hub back to Level 3.

Day 20 –

So, we leveled down again to try and build up Opal’s confidence. In another limited time session, she stayed firmly on this level with constant engagement. It is definitely easier for her on this level, and out of 81 plays she has earned 62 rewards! (76%!)

Day 21 –

Opal began on Level 3 again today resuming from yesterday. I sat with her in the morning before work and let her watch me add some much-loved treats into the Hub for further motivation. After a kiss on the head, I was off the work and she started to paw at the touch pads. After checking in around 12pm noon, I saw she was Level 4 once again!

  Completed & Current Challenges Notes & Thoughts
End of Week 3

 

3 – Avoiding Unlit Touchpads

4 – Learning The Lights

· My dog always wanted to get her meal in the easiest way possible, so it may take some “tough love” and leaving the Hub on the current level to encourage engagement

 

Day 22 –

Unfortunately, due to an unplanned family emergency, Opal and I had to pack up and drive across the state. We did not bring the Hub with us and fed “conventionally” out of a slow feeder bowl.

Day 23 –

N/A – Conventional Feeding

Day 24 –

N/A – Conventional Feeding

Day 25 –

After our impromptu trip across the state, we were able to drive back home to Orlando in the evening and resume our time with the Hub. I was curious to see how she’d do with it after an extended amount of time away from it and feeding more conventionally. I filled the hub and turned it on for Opal to use, but instead, she stretched, walked away, and snuggled into my bed to sleep for the night.

Day 26 –

It was Monday and the Hub was filled up and ready to go, but Opal seemed unenthused. She sniffed the floor by where I used to keep her old food bowl, looked at me, and whined. I wanted her to really enjoy her time with the Hub after eating easily for the past few days – It’s really important to me that she has fun with it! I reset the Hub back to Level 0 knowing that she could at least breeze through the levels up to Level 3 again, and hopefully build up some enthusiasm. I went to work for the day and checked in around 1pm to see that she had actually moved all the way back up to Level 4!

Day 27 –

It really seems to be that Opal is more interested in the Hub now that we’ve been gone for a few days – maybe our absence has made it a novelty again? I left the Hub on Level 4 again today and went off to work – when I checked in later on, I saw that Opal had engaged with a high number of plays! She had attempted 526 plays with 178 rewards! This is just over 33%, and I was thrilled that she was getting back into it.

Day 28 –

Level 4 again this morning, and once again when I check in remotely, Opal had attempted a high level of plays. I removed the limited time restriction on the Hub so she could engage with it across the day. It really seems like she is visiting the Hub several times per day to play, which is keeping her busy! When I came home, she was content and curled up on the sofa – the Hub empty.

  Completed & Current Challenges Notes & Thoughts
End of Week 4

 

3 – Avoiding Unlit Touchpads

4 – Learning The Lights

· Absence of the Hub can renew interest when it is re-introduced

· Opal has skilled up to level 4 again!

 

Day 29 –

Opal is holding strong at Level 4 still; the number of plays has dropped slightly, but overall Opal is averaging around 34% accuracy. Since only one lit pad is available at this time, that’s about what I would expect from her if she were still just guessing which pad to press.

Day 30 –

It was Friday and day 30 of our time with the CleverPet – I feel happy ending up these 30 days on Level 4. Opal is still interested to play with the Hub, and this morning she pawed at it and whined at me to fill it! She understands that this is the way she needs to earn her meals now, and overall I think she’s enjoying having something to do. In a new development, however, I did notice her trying to bribe the Hub by bringing it her favorite toys!

Current Level after One Month of Play: Level 4 – Learning The Lights

Remaining Levels: Levels 5 – 10

Does the Dog Like It?

While the CleverPet was certainly frustrating for Opal, I do think she benefitted from the mental exertion each day. She displayed signed of mental fatigue and contentment each day, especially after long sessions working on the Hub, which made for a happier dog! I also noticed by checking in on our camera, that she was spending less time napping on the sofa and more time being active by playing with the Hub.

Beyond that, I think the CleverPet has given Opal a sense of independence that she didn’t have previously. Before the CleverPet, I really had to instigate all puzzles and play sessions for her, but now she is able to approach the Hub on her terms when she wants to play and begin a challenge. With how often she chooses to start playing with the Hub and the enthusiasm she shows by wagging her tail and whining for me to fill it, I can only assume that she does enjoy it!

Standalone Review – The Final Verdict:

The Clever Pet is a fun, challenging, and adaptive experience that your dog can enjoy when you are home or on the go. The ability to regress to easier levels keeps the “game” fun and not overly frustrating while allowing your dog to think through puzzles to earn rewards.

I like that the levels can take a significant amount of time to learn and overcome – Opal typically figures out other puzzle toys within 30 minutes, and afterward they are always solved the same way. Meanwhile, Opal spent the better part of this past month on Level 3 of the Clever Pet and is only just beginning to scratch the surface of Level 4. To me, this speaks of many more weeks of thinking and solving new puzzles instead of repeating known tasks in the same way. I like that the Clever Pet is a long-term investment that will allow my dog to grow over time and think in novel ways – even more so with updates of new challenges!

In the future, I hope to see the ability to have more than one pet profile sync with the Hub and associated Smartphone Application, but for now, as a one-dog home, we are very pleased. I’d also like to see some updates to the notification system for both the iOS and Android applications. (UPDATEas of the week of 9/10/17, the app does give push notifications! Due to hurricane Irma I wasn’t able to update, but wanted to let everyone know that CleverPet has added this feature)

  1. Aesthetic – 1 point
  2. Support / Applications – 1 point
  3. Ease of Use – 1 point
  4. Difficulty & My Dog’s Progression – 1 point
  5. Does the Dog Like It? – 1 point

Total Score: 5/5

Highly and Enthusiastically Recommended!

 

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Petcube Play Wi-Fi Camera Review

Hello once again dear friends, I am very pleased to share with our new review of the Petcube Play Wi-fi Pet Camera and Monitoring System in Rose Gold. This has been a particularly fun thing to test, and I’ve done my best to get into the important aspects of this camera to help others who may be considering buying a home camera for the purpose of checking in on their pet.I’ve broken down our review for this camera into 2 parts, each with a rating scale of 5 key components each worth 1 point on an overall scale of 5. Each score is separate from one another, and a perfect score is 5/5 for each part.

Part One will be concerned with just the Petcube Play as a standalone product focusing on:

  1. Aesthetic
  2. Resolution & Overall Video Quality
  3. Support / Applications / Subscriptions
  4. Ease of Use
  5. Does the Dog Like It?

A perfect score on this scale is a 5 out of 5.

Part Two will be concerned in comparing the Petcube Play against three other readily available cameras and will focus on these components:

  1. Video Quality
  2. Smartphone Application
  3. Support
  4. Subscription
  5. Overall Value

These will also be scored out of 5. My aim in this two-fold approach is to give a detailed look at the Petcube in particular as a standalone product, but also to provide insight on how it falls in against other available cameras so that potential buyers can make the most informed choice possible.

Part One – Standalone Review

Currently, this model of the Petcube camera is available for $199 directly from Petcube, and for $154.17 on Amazon with Prime shipping at the time this review was published. The Petcube Play is one of three models available from the Petcube company and the middle child in price.

Aesthetic

This model comes in three colors: Carbon Black, Matte Silver, and Rose Gold.
Personally, I think Rose gold is the best, but so are many other items of my gear so I may be biased. I appreciate having more than just the standard “white or black” options that most cameras seem to have and enjoy that this camera fits in with my personal style. I think the black camera would fit in with most styled rooms, and due to the camera’s small size (just 3 inches tall!), it is very inconspicuous.

Something about the front face of the camera reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but overall the look of the camera is quite cute.

Technical Specifications

PetCube Play
Price $154.17
Dimensions 3 x 3 x 3 inches

1.1 pounds

Resolution 1080p HD

3x Digital Zoom

138° Wide Angle

Audio Two-Way Audio
Associated Subscription? Yes
Smartphone App Yes
Extra Functions Night Vision
Motion Sensor
Laser Toy
Does the Dog Like It? N/A

Resolution & Overall Video Quality

The Petcube advertises itself as having 1080p HD video quality, so I was surprised that while during initial setup, the video streamed at a lower quality or would disconnect completely. I reached out to customer support to see what was going on while receiving error messages like this:

I checked my internet speeds (72 Mbps download and 5.8 Mbps upload) and found them to be well above the minimums required for proper functionality of the camera. Still unsure if my network was to blame, I looked the other three cameras (each camera running one at a time to ensure no bandwidth was being stolen) and found them to be functioning normally, which will be discussed in greater detail in part two of this review. Unfortunately, after two calls to tech support, firmware updates, and various attempts to figure out how to improve the video quality, I really haven’t seen an improvement. The camera still does occasionally disconnect or pixelate.

When the camera is working, the quality is decent. I set up some items on my coffee table as a benchmark of how legible and in focus things seemed to be.

I do like the wide angle lens – the fact that I can see the entire room is nice so you can see more of the action! Sometimes Opal likes to sleep or hang out in different areas of the apartment, and the greater field of vision does allow me to see those spaces. Despite this, I was expecting more detail and a sharper image from this camera. The image seems dark and unrefined – and the camera does not switch to Night Vision when perhaps it should….


(you can’t see her, but Opal is on the loveseat on the right in this picture)

When it does switch, the Night Vision camera also does a nice job and maintains a high level of detail in the video. I actually prefer the quality of the Night Vision more than the normal camera view.

Support / Applications / Subscriptions

When I was setting up the camera for the first time, I had some difficulty and noticed that the image on my phone wasn’t in 1080p and that the camera would often lose its connection.

Petcube offers over the phone support as well as troubleshooting tips on their website. Due to the issues I was experiencing, I called support and was connected to a kind representative who was able to assist me with all of my concerns by pulling up my account by my username. From there, she was able to explain possible issues that may be occurring, and deduced that the camera itself needed a firmware update which she was able to do remotely! Within 20 minutes the camera had been updated (with no extra effort on my part) with the current firmware. Something that I really enjoyed about this customer service experience was how quickly I was put in contact with a human being – no automated voice prompts.

The image quality didn’t improve after the firmware update though, so I did call Petcube again on a separate occasion to see what else could be going wrong. I was connected to a different representative, and explained my concerns with the video quality (blurry, very dark, etc) and offered to email in screenshots from the Petcube and my other cameras as a comparison. After emailing in the images, the representative informed me that the camera was working properly and that there was nothing to improve upon or fix. I confirmed that the images I had provided to him from my Petcube were up to their standard, and then he ended the call as he was unable to “fix” what he didn’t think was broken.

Outside of the customer support, I particularly like the attention to detail that was paid to how this camera would be used – namely the application “Petcube” that can be downloaded on both Android and iOS phones. The Petcube app pairs with your home camera (or cameras). A pleasant (and unexpected!) surprise was Apple Watch compatibility!Within the app, there are also public cameras that you can view and interact with other people’s pets or with shelter animals in need of homes. Users are able to share images in their own feed and connect with other pet parents. When Opal’s birthday came around on the 6th, I liked the opportunity to share with everyone else!

Also integrated into the app, there is an optional subscription service PetCube provides that allows owners to review either a 10-Day or 30 histories of video snippets recorded by the motion-sensing camera. The subscription, if purchased, is $10 a month for the 10-Day history or $30 a month for 30 days. After purchasing the camera itself, users are entitled to a free 30-day trial of this service to see if it appeals to them, after which they can choose to link a payment method and subscribe. Without the subscription, users have 4 hours of video history. I decided not to subscribe to either a 10 or 30-Day history after the free trial ended, as I found myself checking in daily with the camera every 4 hours or so anyway. For pet parents who travel or are out of the house for long hours during the day that would like a complete play-by-play, however, I think this is valuable service.

Extra Functions

The big selling point for this camera that sets it apart from other pet monitoring systems is the laser toy. While I like the idea of the laser toy, it proved to be pretty lackluster. The laser itself can be laggy depending on your internet connection, which is to be expected, and calibrating the laser doesn’t seem to improve the accuracy very much.

Further, it didn’t seem like Opal was very interested in the laser. I would zoom it past her at high speeds in zig zags and encourage play, but she would stare at me with a “what do you want?” type expression that leads me to believe she wasn’t understanding what I wanted her to do. After some further testing, I came to realize that Opal may be unable to even see the red dot of the laser!

In a study performed by Jay Neitz at the University of California, Santa Barbara, results showed that while dogs do indeed see color, their spectrum is smaller and they see overall less color than human beings. For example, instead of seeing a typical rainbow as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and then violet, a dog would see it as dark gray/brown, dark yellow, yellow, light gray, light blue, and then dark blue.

Now in my home, we have predominantly brown furniture and brown flooring, so the laser (from Opal’s perspective) is not vibrant enough to attract her attention and stand out from the surroundings. Perhaps in future models, a blue laser would be more readily seen by canines who have difficulty seeing red. Cats may be more enthusiastic about the laser as they see color on a different spectrum. Even though the laser was ineffective for Opal, I do think this is a fun idea for remote play with your pet.

Ease of Use

Pairing and setting up the Petcube Play took me a few minutes to get right – my iPhone took a while to actually “find” the camera once it was powered on. Pairing itself failed twice before finally working, and was a long process. There is a lighted LED on the face of the camera that will flash or shine different colors to alert the user of the status of pairing. While this was helpful, I did need to I did need to refer to the manual several time to decipher the meaning.

Does the Dog Like it?

As much as I enjoyed this camera, for the most part, Opal did not react to it or seem to care about its existence. When using the two-way audio, she would cock her head and prick up her ears to listen, but when issuing trick commands like “speak!” she would not respond in kind. I am unsure that my dog understood that it was my voice coming through the speaker and not some new sound. This is not specific to the Petcube Play, however, as I have noticed this same trend in other cameras.

Standalone Review – The Final Verdict:

The Petcube Play is an okay contender for a pet camera system with a few hiccups. Its cute and subtle design would fit in well with most homes. Video quality is questionable and variable, but the Night Vision is very clear. The companion smartphone app is easy to use and interactive within the pet community with easy sharing of media. Setup of the camera can be a little frustrating, but support may be able to assist via phone and the Petcube website. The camera does function as intended and allows for two-way communication with Fido, and probably would work in the homes of many pet owners. Dog owners may find that pets ignore the laser toy and that this model may be more suited for cats.

  1. Aesthetic – 1 point
  2. Resolution & Overall Video Quality – 0 point
  3. Support / Applications / Subscriptions – .5 point
  4. Ease of Use – 1 point
  5. Does the Dog Like It? – .5 point

Total Score: 3.5/5

Recommended

Part Two – Comparative Review

All cameras were placed within one foot of the router in my apartment and used a wireless connection. To ensure that bandwidth was fair between tests, I only connected one camera at a time to the wifi, and the others were turned off completely in-between tests. For a fair image comparison, all four cameras were set to record the same room in my home.

Side-By-Side Comparison with Petcube Play, Wansview K2, Nest DROPCAM PRO, and GoPro Hero 4 Silver

PetCube Play Wansview K2 Nest DROPCAM PRO GoPro HERO4 Silver
Price $199.00 New $32.99 New $218.00 New, $145.00 Refurbished $348.00 New, $319.00 Refurbished
Dimensions 3 x 3 x 3 inches

1.1 pounds

2.4 x 1.4 x 4 inches

9.9 ounces

4.5 x 3.15 x 3.15 inches

5.7 ounces

1.53 x 2.79 x 2.8 inches

12.8 oz

Resolution 1080p HD

3x Digital Zoom

138° Wide Angle

720p

4x Digital Zoom

120° Wide Angle

720p

8x Digital Zoom

138° Wide Angle

1080p HD

No Zoom

150° Wide Angle

Audio Two-Way Audio Two-Way Audio Two-Way Audio One-Way Audio
Associated Subscription?  Yes (optional) No Yes (optional) No
Smartphone App Yes Yes Yes Yes (several)
Extra Functions Night Vision
Motion Sensor
Laser Toy
Night Vision Night Vision
Motion Sensor
Waterproof
Portable

One of the things that I really wanted to delve into with this review was whether or not a pet-specific camera would provide better monitoring than other home surveillance cameras while keeping an eye on the pets at home. With that in mind, I decided to set up three other cameras, the K2 model camera by Wansview, the DROPCAM PRO for Nest, and the GoPro HERO4 Silver to test them alongside with the Petcube Play.

All of these cameras are readily available for purchase online on Amazon, eBay, and other online retailers as well as being available to purchase in person.

Image Quality Comparison

Petcube Play:

Wansview K2:

DROPCAM PRO:

GoPro HERO4 Silver:

Without question, the image quality of the GoPro is far better than the three other cameras. The 720p of the K2 and DROPCAM PRO is more than good enough to get a good read of what is going on but is noticeably less defined than the GoPro. Newer models of Nest cameras that have 1080p would likely be on par with the GoPro. Wansview also as an indoor camera that does 1080p, but I worry that despite the better resolution, issues with the companion smartphone application limit all models of Wansview cameras. I like the image quality of the Petcube the least from these for cameras, and looking at each image side by side can begin to show why:

Both the DROPCAP PRO and the GoPro did the best job of preserving the white balance of objects within the room. The Petcube box is the middle item on my coffee table, and while it looks white in color on both the K2 and Petcube, the box is actually pink!

Beyond the white balance and color temperature of the images, the words on the books and magazine are most easily read on the images from the DROPCAM and GoPro. The cover image of the dog does not even appear on the book for the Petcube.

Smartphone Application Comparison

I think some of this may come down to personal preference, but the Petcube Camera app was my favorite of the four. It felt the most polished and I liked how it was built to integrate directly with social media and to allow connections with other pet families. Both the Nest and GoPro App “Capture” were well designed, but less made for social media sharing. The Wansview application, while functional, is rough to put it lightly. Sometimes the buttons don’t work, sometimes the video gets flipped (and can’t be set back!) and sometimes the cameras mysteriously go offline and need to be reset.

Special Considerations

It should be noted at only the GoPro HERO4 Silver has the option of using a battery instead of a wired power supply. While using a battery, the camera can record for up to 4 hours. I chose to use a battery power source so that I could keep my camera in its protective case. The GoPro also does not have a digital zoom like the other cameras and only has one-way audio so you are unable to speak to your pet remotely.

Neither the GoPro or the Petcube are designed to be wall mounted, however, both the K2 and the DROPCAM PRO can be wall mounted if desired.

Only the Petcube and DROPCAM PRO have motion sensing capabilities, which can be useful in finding when your pet is moving around within the home or playing with toys as opposed to napping. Both Petcube and DROPCAM PRO can send notifications to your mobile about such activity.

Overall Value Comparison

For $32.99, the price of the Wansview K2 is hard to beat. It shares many of the same features as the Petcube and DROPCAM PRO, excluding the motion sensor, and keeps pace well with each. The companion application is clunky. Image quality is on par if not a little less than the DROPCAM PRO, but better than the Petcube.

At $145, a refurbished DROPCAM PRO did a great job. It has two features that I enjoyed including the motion sensor capabilities and two-way audio. Newer models of this camera begin at $166.00 and still come out cheaper than the Petcube.

The Petcube is $199 new directly from the manufacturer and has several features that I enjoyed. It has the motion sensor capabilities, two-way audio, and laser toy that could be fun with other pets. The companion application is also a useful tool to use with the camera. This being said, the image quality in comparison to the cheaper cameras was disappointing.

At over $300, the GoPro is the most expensive camera on this list, but it lacks two-way audio that would allow you to speak directly to your pet while away from home. It also lacks a digital zoom (you can adjust the FOV though), which makes it less suited for checking in on your dog. It is the most customizable camera of all four and video fans can tweak almost every aspect to their heart’s content, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to shoot in movie quality while seeing what Fido is up to. I really love my GoPro – Opal and I always take one or two with us on hikes or adventures to capture moments – but I love it more as an action camera. With that in mind, I think the GoPro has an overall poor value as a pet monitoring system despite immense video and customization power.

Comparative Review – The Final Verdict:

This is highly subjective – Ultimately, you do get what you pay for, and for better video and support there will be a higher overall price. The GoPro’s video was solid and clear, it’s app was easy to pair and simple to use, and consistently everything worked. Still, while the 1080p resolution of the GoPro was the best of all 4 cameras, I can’t help but notice that the GoPro was not designed with pet surveillance in mind. With this in mind, although I adore this camera for hiking and on-the-go (which is what is was designed for!), it falls short for this review’s purpose.

Regarding the remaining three cameras, the Petcube, the DROPCAM PRO, and the K2, I felt like they were better suited for pet monitoring. Petcube’s subscription options are identical to Nest Aware and I feel that $10 a month for 10 days or $30 a month for 30 days are reasonable for what you get. For me, the deciding factor between the remaining three cameras came down to the companion applications and image quality. I greatly preferred the polished Petcube app over the Nest and Wansview applications for both aesthetic and sharing purposes. Within the Petcube App public cameras, there is a sense of community and fun not found with Nest or Wansview (which has 0 community). However, if you are on a budget and don’t mind “flying solo” regarding support, I recommend the Wansview K2 as a basic camera that gets down to business. It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles or social community, but the K2 gets the job done with a much smaller price and no subscription fees.

The video and image quality between each camera ultimately decided the winner for me. Community and fun in companion applications aside, I was looking for clean images that were in focus that would allow me to check up on Opal and see exactly what she was up to. I had high hopes for the Petcube’s 1080p HD video, but it really fell short. Surprisingly, I much preferred the look of both the K2 and DROPCAM PRO over the Petcube, and those cameras are only capable of 720p! With that in mind, I cannot say that the Petcube is the best choice from the bunch, especially with a $199 pricetag.

Of the four cameras, I would choose the DROPCAM PRO as the best pick for overall video quality, ease of use, and overall functionality to monitor my dog. Also, my model of this camera is several years old, and newer models that can do 1080p may perform even better. Petcube is also releasing a new camera, the Petcube Bites, and I hope to see significant improvements.

  1. Video Quality
    Petcube – 0
    Wansview – .5
    DROPCAM PRO – 1
    GoPro – 1
  2. Smartphone Application
    Petcube – 1
    Wansview – .5
    DROPCAM PRO – .5
    GoPro – 1
  3. Support
    Petcube – .5
    Wansview – 0
    DROPCAM PRO – 1
    GoPro – 1
  4. Subscription
    Petcube – .5
    Wansview – 1
    DROPCAM PRO – .5
    GoPro – 1
  5. Overall Value
    Petcube – .5
    Wansview – .5
    DROPCAM PRO – 1
    GoPro – 0*
    * I have assigned a 0 for the GoPro in this category as I do not believe the camera has value for pet monitoring, not that that camera itself is not of good value.

Totals:

Petcube – 2.5/5

Wansview – 2.5/5

DROPCAM PRO – 4/5

GoPro – 4/5

Overall Best Choice: DROPCAM PRO

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Local Treasures – April 2017

At the beginning of the month, I moved from my college residence into my first “adult” apartment. Opal and I were excited and found ourselves in a fresh new city with everything at our fingertips.

We realized, however, after a particularly fun romp in the dirt, that our previous groomer was now too far away, so I needed to find a new grooming salon that was sensitive to my dog’s fear of being groomed.

Opal is a sweet girl that became afraid of the industrial cage dryers used at many commercial salons which made leaving her for an appointment scary and stressful. Thus began my search for salons that would hand dry my dog. Off to Google! After some clicking around and a phone call here and there, I came across Metropolitan Dog Spa, which was just a short 15-minute walk from the new apartment and right next to Lake Eola.

Jessica, one of the groomers, was kind enough to answer all of my questions over the phone. Not only do they use organic products and shampoos, they only hand dry the dogs. There are no cage dryers for my dog to cower in.

“It seems to be much less stressful for them, and we take it at their pace,”

Excited, I made an appointment for that weekend.

Upon arriving on Saturday, I noticed the open feel. There was only one other dog there at the time and the space was quiet. Opal remained unphased, sniffing around the shelves as I spoke with Jessica about what I wanted to be done (Bath, ears, nail dremel…).

I handed Jessica the leash, kissed my girl on the head, and left.

I spent the 45 minutes I had alone exploring more of the city, walking around Lake Eola and taking pictures of the baby swans on the Lake. My phone rang – Opal was done! After walking back, I came back into the salon to find my dog playing with a tennis ball in the waiting area, tail wagging. The fact that Opal was allowed to hang out in the salon to decompress and play with a tennis ball after being groomed instead of waiting in a crate really seemed to make a difference for her.

Beyond just being a happy dog, Opal was also now a clean dog. She smelled good and her fur was soft to the touch. Jessica let me know that she had used a de-shedding shampoo to help get some of that dense undercoat out now that things were heating up weather wise. Opal’s nails were neat and trim too!

I picked up a clean and happy dog from the groomer that day – and for the first time, I felt like I hadn’t had to sacrifice one over the other. We’ll definitely be back!

Graduated At Last!

After all the years of studying, lecture, lab, and term papers… we did it! I am proud to announce that Opal and I have graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science.

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Professional Photography Credit goes to the lovely Lauren of Lauren Rita Photography

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Action shot as we crossed the stage

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Also, big thank you to Edie on Etsy at PetDogTrainer for making such a fabulous custom graduation cap!

The American Disabilities Act FAQ on Service Animals

I am very pleased to share that the ADA posted a FAQ on service animals, detailing what a service animal actually is as well as the rights of their disabled handlers.

Here is a link to the FAQ on the ADA.gov website, and I urge everyone to take a peak at it when they have a free moment!

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