I picked up one of these tiny Trek Ai-Ball wireless cameras from local electronics chain Jaycar yesterday afternoon, while visiting friends in Canberra. This impulse buy followed a heads-up from one of my Twitter friends, Jon. While I was there, I also purchased one of the cradle and adaptor accessory kits to go with it. The camera and accessory kit were AUD99.95 and AUD29.95 each, respectively.
The Trek Ai-Ball and accessories can also be purchased directly from Singapore-based Trek directly. See link here and here. Buying directly saves you ~30%, however you forfeit any support from a local retailer or distributor. Support that, as I learned, was quite valuable.
UPDATE: Complete flickr gallery for this post is here.
It was very clear to me that this was a new product for Jaycar. The young salesperson I dealt with on Saturday had next to no idea about what the product did and what was in the box. For example:
Me: “Does it include a rechargeable battery?”
Him: “I’m pretty sure it does… I sold one to another guy earlier.”
Me: “Can we just check? I don’t want to get home and find out that I need batteries for it, you know?”
Him: “Yeah, no worries” [opens box]
Me: “Ahh – that’s a CR2 lithium battery. Not rechargeable”.”
Him: “Oh yeah.”
Me: “It say’s I’ll get approximately one and a half hours per battery. Do you have any CR2 batteries in stock?”
Him: “I don’t think so, but let me check.” [walks over to battery section] “Here you go!”
Me: “No, that’s a CR123.”
Him: “Oh yeah.” [putting it back on the rack]
Me: “Here they are!” [pickups up an Energizer CR2 on a card] “$23?!…I think I’ll just get the unit for now. Sorry.”
Got back to my mate’s house and excitedly unboxed the loot. This is the wash-up of what I learned and experienced.
Out of box
From the packing through to the manual, instructions and camera itself screams “built to a price”. I’m sure the high gloss black plastic housing is functional, but it looks cheap and nasty. And that chintzy braided gold keychain/clip accessory? I was lost for words. My mate laughed his head off. Hey, at least they included a good quality brand-name battery.
First impression of the camera unit itself – wow, it’s VERY small. Of course there are “spycams” (et all) that are smaller but they are NOT packing a web server, DHCP server, wireless router et al:
- VGA (0.3MP) video (claimed 2MP stills?!)
- 802.11b/g wifi networking (with WEP 64/128, WPA, WPA2)
- internal antenna
- 30mm diameter and 35mm long
It just works. Simply insert the battery and switch it on. Within ~20 seconds a new (unsecure) wireless network becomes visible to nearby devices. We had an iPhone, three notebooks and an Android tablet connected to it simultaneously and it didn’t (appear to) drop a single frame.
The audio quality is surprisingly good. The tiny internal microphone is very sensitive and, notwithstanding the artefacts from compression, the audio playback was quite acceptable for most applications.
It’s small. Again, I can’t overstate how powerful this little unit is for its size.
I wasn’t expecting NASA-grade imagery from a VGA (640 x 480) camera but nothing could prepare me for the craptardedness (trust me, it’s a word….or should be) of the video which it pumped out. The fixed-focus lens appeared to be trying to lock onto low-flying satellites and nothing in the room looked even vaguely sharp. Colour reproduction was hit and miss, heavily weighted towards the latter. The noisy, washed-out footage was not enhanced by tweaking contrast, brightness etc.
Sadly, Trek has skimped on sensor and optics quality to bring this to market for the current asking price. They shouldn’t have. I’d be prepared to pay USD100+ for one (or more!) of these *if* they could address the appalling image quality. They’ve ruined an otherwise stellar gadget by cutting corners on one of the most important elements.
The claimed 20 metres range for the wifi was not obtained. We could get 10-15 metres maximum – and that was only after switching off every other RF-emitting device in the house which worked in the 2.4GHz range… including the microwave oven and cordless phone Clearly, this was NOT going to cut the mustard as a real time first-person video source for my radio control cars and aircraft.
A quick note on Jaycar
I thought that the initial salesperson might have been a bit eager to simply make the sale and get me out the door. However, it was like a completely different store when I returned today to seek a refund on the items.
The three staff today were genuinely attentive and asked lots of questions about my experience with the product. They acknowledged that it was a new product, and one of them made a series of notes for a monthly report of some description which they submit to head office regarding returns activity.
As a consumer affairs professional, I was impressed by the no-fuss, empathetic, and empowered customer service delivery.
Oh, Jaycar, feel free to add some/any/all of the thoughts here to that monthly report. Would love to see a version two of this device with some obvious tweaks to the optics and radio. And PLEASE continue sourcing innovative products for the Aussie market.