Review: Zagg Now Cam
The new Now Cam ($80) from Zagg is one of the most peculiar products we've seen in some time. A tiny Bluetooth speaker/camera, Zagg says that Now Cam "frees you from the confines of viewing life from behind a screen." That's a bit dramatic, and whether or not that's even a problem depends on the user, but Zagg is clearly positioning Now Cam as a way to quickly take still photos and videos without the use of a phone — or the benefit of a viewfinder. Now Cam can take still photos, videos, and 6-second video clips. Pictures and videos can be taken while away from your iOS device, then transferred to your camera roll later, through the Now Cam app. A small Bluetooth speaker is also found on the front of the small Now Cam. The camera/speaker combo comes in dark or light gray, and Now Cam ships with a micro-USB cable for recharging, and three different sized lanyards.
Now Cam is small — some would say tiny. It’s easily pocketable, and significantly smaller than any current iPhone. The front of Now Cam features the camera lens and Bluetooth speaker, and on the back you’ll find the camera power/shutter button and a small mounting magnet. The top of Now Cam has a small lanyard loop, a speaker power/control button, and a dial that allows users to switch between still photos, videos, video clips, and file transfer modes. A small rubber flap covers a micro-USB port for recharging Now Cam, which houses a predictably small 450 mAh battery. There’s nothing wrong with the basic exterior design here, and Now Cam is also weather-resistant for outdoor use. Now Cam has 4GB of available storage for up 1,600 photos or 30 minutes of video.
Let’s get the sound out of the way first: no one is going to buy Now Cam for its tiny 30mm driver speaker. Zagg’s own marketing materials claim that Now Cam “delivers robust sound louder than most phone speakers,” and while we’d argue with the use of “robust,” we can indeed say, yes, it’s a slight upgrade over an iPhone speaker in both loudness and quality. But considering the wide array of good $50-$100 Bluetooth speakers on the market these days, Now Cam doesn’t really register as a viable music listening option.
Now Cam’s camera reveals a whole other set of problems. Most obviously, there’s no viewfinder on Now Cam. Zagg is positioning this as a feature — it conceivably allows you to “live in the moment” — but you can’t see the pictures or videos you’re taking. Your framing is just a guess. And you can’t see what you’ve taken until you connect to the app, which isn’t an process we’d describe as quick or intuitive.
Below, a few shots comparing the Now Cam to the iPhone 6s Plus — the upper picture is from the Now Cam in both instances. We tried our best to take the same exact pictures, but there’s no way to tell exactly what you’re doing without a viewfinder. And quality-wise, Now Cam’s 5MP photos clearly don’t compare to the newer iPhones. Videos obviously suffer from the same issues. If you’re that committed to “living in the moment” without an iPhone, why take a picture or a video at all?
Even when you’re not taking pictures, using the Now Cam can be an exercise in frustration. The speaker will power off automatically if left idle for 15 minutes, and the camera will do the same if left idle for a mere 5 minutes — it’s quicker to access an iPhone’s camera from the lock screen than to turn on Now Cam again for a quick pic. Transferring data is no picnic, either. We had issues with the USB transfer, and the Wi-Fi method requires connecting to Now Cam’s own Wi-Fi signal — you have to be connected to Now Cam’s own ad hoc Wi-Fi network to access the Now Cam app (and the photos and videos stored on Now Cam). Otherwise, you’ll get nothing but a blank screen with a “connection unsuccessful” message.
It’s hard to see any reason to buy Zagg’s Now Cam. If you really want a standalone camera separate from your phone, you can get a far superior point-and-shoot in the same price range. If you want a Bluetooth speaker, almost any dedicated speaker would be a better purchase. And if weather resistance is a big perk to you, why not buy a tough, weatherproof case for your iPhone? (Now Cam’s separately sold waterproof case will set you back another $30.) Now Cam is a poorly conceived product.