I Turned My Apartment Into a Surveillance State With These Petcube Cameras

I cannot stress how much Daisy hated posing for this photo with the Petcube Play 2(left) and Bites 2.
Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

All pet owners wonder what their furry ‘lil babies get up to while the humans are gone. That’s been especially true for me lately. While my partner’s sassy cat Pablo and my derpy, elderly Yorkshire Terrier Daisy mostly ignore each other, they do get into the occasional tiff. Recently, Daisy’s taken to hiding under the bed—a habit I noticed she picked up only when we leave for work and she’s left alone with Pablo for hours at a time. I couldn’t say for certain Pablo was bullying her, but that’s where the Petcube Bites 2 and Petcube Play 2 come in.

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Both cameras update Petcube’s original offerings, the Bites and Play, double as Amazon Alexa smart speakers, and feature a wider 160-degree field of view and more powerful zoom. Both cost $200, and the main difference between the two is the Play 2 comes with a built-in laser for playtime, while the Bites 2 lets you fling treats. Like the originals, they still come with night vision, 1080p camera resolution, and two-way audio.

I set up both cameras in my tiny 565-square foot studio apartment, the Play 2 in the “bedroom” and the Bites 2 in the “living room.” Setup was pretty seamless within the Petcube app, even for the Alexa feature which was a pleasant surprise. With the exception of a few blind spots, the cameras were able to capture the areas my pets frequent most often. Petcube says it plans to expand that view even further to 180 degrees via a software update sometime this year, but 160 degrees is probably sufficient for most rooms. Size-wise they’re virtually identical to the previous generation. The Play 2, which is intended for pets who chase lasers, is the more discrete option at 3.6 by 3.2 by 3.6 inches. The Bites 2 is larger at 5.7 by 3 by 10 inches, but a little top-heavy due to the treat dispenser sitting up top. That means, as with the previous generation, it’s easy for more rowdy pets to knock it over. Wall mounting is possible and recommended.

Spying on the furballs was pretty easy, as was managing multiple cameras from the Petcube app. There were a few issues with lag when connecting via my phone’s data, and the connection occasionally dropped out. Loading older clips into my feed also took a bit. This was common with the previous generation (and one reason Petcube was not considered our favorite treat cam), but aside from these minor annoyances, I never experienced anything egregious.

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As for video, I appreciated the app’s Care Awake scheduling options. Basically, you can set the cameras to only record during certain hours so uh, you don’t accidentally get footage of yourself walking around naked after a shower or other embarrassing activities. Pretty handy for those of us living in a shoebox. It also lets you fiddle around with what triggers a video recording (i.e., motion detection, sound detection, if a user interacts with the camera, etc.). If you’re not keen on shelling out for Petcube’s subscription plan, the free version gives you a 4-hour video history but any videos or photos you want to keep will have to be recorded or snapped manually. Subscribing will get you smarter filters—like pet, human, bark, and meowing detection—on top of video downloads, and expanded video history. That said, I found the app left something to be desired when it came to motion notifications. Sometimes I got 40 at once, or they came well after the chance to interact with a pet long passed.

The 1080p resolution is fine, but grainy. Don’t expect crystal clear photos or video.
Screenshot: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)
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Once, however, I did get a notification and lo, I snooped in to find, contrary to my expectations, my old biddy of a dog harassing Pablo, a cat three times her size. I tried intervening with the two-way audio, but alas, both ignored me. Fed up, Pablo swatted her once and Daisy ran under the bed. Mystery solved, and it’s her own damn fault.

Camera quality is fine, but not what I’d call stellar. The 1080p resolution is kinda grainy. That’s also true for the Night Vision mode, though it did make Pablo look like a monster RoboCop. It’s fine if you want to post a video, but I found the photos to be unworthy of my Instagram feed.

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Only one of my furballs knows how to pose for a product photo.
Photo: Victoria Song (Gizmodo)

The Alexa feature is also unreliable. Theoretically, it makes sense if you’re looking to minimize the number of smart devices in your house but I had trouble getting either Petcube to respond to me. This could be due to my tiny apartment’s acoustics and the fact that while testing I had five smart speakers—but even when I disabled the other three, I had difficulty getting it to work reliably.

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But now for the fun part. Flinging treats with the Bites 2 is a breeze, and like its predecessor, you get decent degree of control with regard to how far you fling treats. A new feature is the camera will chime when you’re peeping in, and if your pet isn’t a total dumb dumb, it should clue them in that it’s remote play time. In practice, Daisy is old and easily confused. I flung treats at her, but it was too much for her 14-year-old doggie brain to connect the dots. More often than not, I ended up having to clean treats off the floor once I got home.

I had more success with the Play 2 laser. While there was significant lag and the laser definitely did not always point in the area I wanted it to, it was workable enough and Pablo didn’t really know the difference. In the end, I’m not sure who had more fun: Me, or the cat. I whipped out the Petcube app for some laser time whenever I had downtime at a recent out-of-state wedding. So much so that I think Pablo had enough of me by the end of the day.

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After about two weeks of testing, I can’t say that my pets do anything worth recording while we’re away from home. Mostly, they just sleep, wake up, walk to another location, and then sleep some more. Sometimes they eat. On occasion, Pablo likes to pensively look out a window and contemplate all the pigeons he’d like to murder. Daisy, like the old woman she is, sometimes gets up, walks out of her doggie bed, gets confused, and goes back into her doggie bed. Neither has the decency to do something cute like spoon each other while napping.

That said, my air conditioner was busted during a nasty heatwave and we had to go out of town for two days. Like the neurotic pet mom I am, I set up a massive array of cooling fans, several trays of ice water, and had multiple people checking in on them throughout the day. Spoiler alert: They were fine. But I did spend an absurd amount of time checking, and then double and triple checking, to see if they were alive. More than once, I snooped in while my pet sitters were there. I chatted with a friend, who called me “borderline creepy and in need of a chill pill”, and confirmed that the audio quality was “fine, if a bit tinny.” Overall, I’m not certain if the cameras reassured me the pets were okay, or turned me into a paranoid, pet-version of Big Brother. For the record, while my partner enjoyed laser time with Pablo, he did politely ask when I was planning to relax and dismantle the pet surveillance state.

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At $200 each, both cameras are solid and do what you want them to. Whether the laser or treat dispensing is worth the dough, really depends on your pet—I have a feeling a younger pup would have a better time with the Bites 2 than my toothless granny Daisy did. If you have a rambunctious fur baby, I can see either camera as a helpful tool in cracking down on bad behavior. The thing is, that would have been true of the last generation of Petcube cameras as well. Yes, you have the option of using Alexa in these new cameras to order more treats or play Fido music, but honestly that’s not as useful as the wider field of view. Likewise, the better zoom would’ve been better if Petcube figured out a way to get a higher resolution. All these things would’ve been amazing if there was better connectivity and reduced latency. At the end of the day, you just have to accept you’re throwing down the big bucks for a toy for you, not them. Neither Daisy nor Pablo cared enough to comment for this review, but I’m pretty sure both would prefer more time with their humans than some dumb cameras.

README

  • The second-gen of Petcube’s cameras add Alexa, improve the field of view to 160 degrees (180 degrees with a software update later this year), and add zoom.
  • Camera is still 1080p resolution. Other features include two-way audio and night vision.
  • They’re also more expensive at $200 each.
  • The Play 2 lets you shoot lasers. The Bites 2 lets you fling treats. Both features have minor latency issues.
  • The free version lets you store 4 hours of video clips and gives you some light scheduling options and notification alerts. More advanced options are behind a paywall.
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About the author

Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.