The Best Interactive Pet Camera for Dogs: Furbo, PetChatz, PetziBy - 01/10/2019
Pets tend to be quirky, cute, weird, funny, sweet, naughty, or all of thee above. Unfortunately, we can’t be with them to admire or be amused by their antics all of the time. The solution? A pet camera.
What Makes a Good Pet Camera?
Technically, any security camera can act as a pet camera. In fact, as I review security cameras for a living and because I work from home, I settled on a pan-and-tilt security camera I recently tested to watch over my dogs. I have it set to record continuously, so it captures everything they do when I’m not at home. Thanks to its streaming feature, I can also check in on them whenever and wherever using the smartphone app. The two-way talk feature is also at my disposal, but I resist using it as my dogs bark like crazy when they hear me but can’t see me.
However, there are cameras designed specifically to act as pet cameras. Such products usually have features aimed at letting you interact with your pets wherever you are. So today we’re going to assume that a pet-focused camera is what you’re after. First, we’ll compare four treat-tossing/dispensing pet cameras and then two interactive pet toys with pet cam features. At the end of this article, you’ll also find an unusual option: a smart robot that can dispense treats and play with your pets.
Furbo vs. Petzi vs. PetChatz vs. Petcube Bites 2: Battle Of The Treat Dispensers
Treats are clearly loved by most animals, and Furbo, Petzi, Petcube Bites 2, and PetChatz are all pet cameras that can either toss or dispense treats. Each has its own strengths, disadvantages, and unique features.
Furbo has the luxury of calling itself “the world’s first treat-tossing dog camera.” Although it wasn’t the first treat-dispensing pet camera, it is the first one that can “toss” treats. You can access the treat popping feature via the Furbo app while accessing Furbo’s live camera feed. As a bonus, the app has a cool AR interface when tossing treats, kind of like tossing a PokéBall in Pokémon Go.
Furbo also has several other features aimed at making the treat-dispensing process a little more enticing for your pets. First, there is a cool blue light near the dispenser that lights up before launching a treat. Furbo will also make a clicking noise to train your dog to pay attention. And if those features fail to capture your pet’s attention, you can use two-way talk.
Technically, you can use Furbo as a pet camera regardless of whether you have a cat or dog. However, it has one feature designed specifically for dogs: bark detection. If it hears your dog bark, it will send you a notification so that you can check in on things.
Petzi was released way before Furbo, but it’s not the first treat-tossing pet cam because it doesn’t launch treats in the air. It simply dispenses them. That’s one difference between the two. Another difference is what type of treats you can use. Furbo supports treats that are less than one centimeter in diameter. Petzi can dispense treats that are a little larger than one centimeter but not larger than an inch. Another difference is that Petzi lacks all of the small features that make Furbo more attractive to pets. Instead, it only lets you speak to your pet via the camera’s speaker.
PetCube Bites 2
PetCube Bites 2 is a follow-up to PetCube and PetCube Bites. PetCube originally launched on Kickstarter as a pet camera equipped with a pet-safe laser allowing you to play with your pets wherever you are. It wasn’t a hit. Regardless, they’ve followed up with Bites (a treat-dispensing pet cam) and now, Bites 2.
Bites 2 works like the other treat-dispensing cameras. You fill it up with treats, which it dispenses on your command via the smartphone app. The app’s treat-tossing interface is similar to that of Furbo: an AR style interface where you fling the virtual treat. The cool thing is that how Bites 2 launches the treat depends on how you swipe the app. According to PetCube, it can launch treats up to 6 feet away at various heights and speeds.
PetCube is yet to announce the exact size and number of treats it can hold and dispense, but the press release for the product mentions that it “supports a variety of treat sizes.” For reference, PetCube Bites can hold up to 2 pounds of treats no larger than 1 inch in diameter.
Finally, two things set PetCube Bites 2 apart from the herd. First is its Alexa integration. Not only can you use the PetCube Alexa Skill to launch treats with voice commands, but you can also talk to Alexa using Bites 2 thanks to Alexa Voice Service. Second, PetCube offers a premium subscription service called Petcube Care. It enables the camera to notify you and record a short 30-second clip when either it sees a person (person detection), hears your pet meowing or barking, or notices your pet moving around. The subscription also provides perks and discounts from partner brands like Vetted and MaxBone. Plans start at only $2.99 per month or $29.00 per year.
PetChatz is a little different from both Furbo and Petzi. It’s not just a pet camera that can dispense treats, but it’s an intercom that can dispense treats and release aromatic scents for your pet. It even gives your pet the option to call you anytime.
In addition to two-way audio, PetChatz offers two-way video. You can see your pet on your phone, and your pet sees you on PetChatz’s small screen display. If you purchase PawCall, a large button-type accessory, your pet can call you by pressing the button. You can set up which times during the day you’re available to “talk.” Once set, PawCall will flash during those times to attract your pet. If your furry friend presses it, a treat will come out, and you’ll get the call on your smartphone. PawCall also has a Game Mode. If your pet presses the device while it’s lit, they’ll get a treat. You are in total control of when PetChatz should enter Game Mode and when it should not.
The treat-tossing feature is similar to that of Furbo, but it’s not designed to work with any treat. Instead, PetChatz makes their own treats that they claim are all-natural, healthy, and free from fat, grain, wheat, corn, soy, and artificial flavors. Treats come in chicken and salmon flavors and are sold for $40 per pack. An entire pack can last for three months or more, depending on your usage.
Finally, PetChatz releases calming aromatic scents whenever a video call is ongoing. The scent helps to prevent your pet from getting too excited. You can use any essential oil. Just put a drop or two onto the PetChatz Scentz Pad ($7.99 for 10 pads) and insert it into PetChatz. However, PetChatz recommends using their own essential oil, which they sell for $19.99 per 10 ml bottle).
Camera Features Compared
If you’re interested in diving deeper into their camera features, I have compared the three below.
|Furbo||PetChatz||Petcube Bites 2||Petzi|
|Placement||Any flat surface. 3M tapes hold it in place so your pets don’t knock it down.||Wall mounted. Plugs into and covers a wall outlet.||Wall mounted or any flat surface.||Flexible placement. You can mount it on a wall or place it on a shelf. Mounting kit included.|
|Night Vision||Low-Light Camera|
|Video Recording||YES (On-demand only, saved to your smartphone)||YES (Triggered by motion or sound and on-demand)||YES ($$ Triggered by person detection, bark/meow alerts, and pet activity)||YES (On-demand only, saved to your smartphone)|
|Check Prices||Amazon||Amazon||Coming Soon||Amazon|
Treat-Dispensing Pet Cam Winner
Petcube Bites 2 offers the best value for a reasonable price, making it my top pick. The Alexa integration and Petcube Care service truly set it apart from the others. The only catch is that it’s yet to hit the market. If you want a treat-dispensing camera now, PetChatz offers the best features, but it’s expensive (around $300). The other two, Furbo and Petzi are inexpensive, but their features are limited. Between the two, I’d pick Furbo.
- PetCube Bites 2: Best value
- PetChatz: Expensive, best features
- Furbo: Inexpensive, decent features
- Petzi: Inexpensive, limited features
PlayDate vs. Pebby: Battle Of The Interactive Pet Toys
Giving your pets enough play time every day is a great way to ensure they stay fit and healthy. It’s also a great way to take their minds off of chewing your couch or trashing your kitchen.
PlayDate and Pebby are both Wi-Fi enabled, interactive toy balls aimed at giving you a way to play with your pets any time of the day wherever you are. Both are also camera-equipped.
My first concern with an interactive pet toy is durability. A pet toy, especially one that costs around $200, should be able to endure heavy roughhousing.
PlayDate and Pebby use the same methods to ensure their product is durable, not only on the outside but also inside. Both are protected by a tough, shatterproof, polycarbonate outer shell. Take note: shatterproof but not indestructible. The good news is that they’re replaceable. You can buy replacement outer shells from the manufacturer when you see the toy’s shell start to lose integrity.
Aside from a tough outer shell, a suspended inner shell acts as shock protection for the interior electronics. PlayDate features an orange plastic shell with an opening for the camera. The purpose of Pebby’s inner shell is the same, but you can choose from different inner shell designs.
One final thing to note is that PlayDate is available in two sizes: 3 inches and 4 inches (in diameter). The 3-inch variant is designed for small or toy breed dogs and average-sized cats. The larger variant is for medium to large dogs.
My second concern is how they cater to differing pet habits. Each pet has a unique play style. For example, my three-year-old Lab won’t play with his toys unless I tease him enough. His younger sibling, on the other hand, likes to initiate his own play time by bringing toys to me. Of course, cats have their own style. Can PlayDate and Pebby cater to such habits?
Let’s start with PlayDate. With this toy, you have to option to make it play with your pet without your guidance or go hands-on. When auto-play is enabled, it moves on its own. We all know pets love playing with balls, and more so if it moves on its own. If you choose to take the driver’s seat, you can control PlayDate via its companion smartphone app. The app features a joystick interface and a live video stream from PlayDate’s camera to guide you in controlling the toy. (More on the camera later). To further pique your pet’s interest, you can use the mic feature to talk to your pet or make PlayDate play a squeaking sound. The squeak is pre-recorded, but you can record your own squeak sound via the app. Finally, there’s a tiny slit on PlayDate’s outer shell where you can tie a ribbon, perfect for cats.
Pebby also has auto-play and manual functions, but it has a few superior features as well. For one, they sell Pebby Collars, which are kind of like fitness trackers for pets. The collar sends data regarding your pet’s mobility and activity levels to help you decide when to initiate playtime. It also improves Pebby’s auto-play feature by guiding Pebby towards your pet so the ball doesn’t wander off while in auto-play mode. When using manual controls, you can initiate two-way talk, but there’s no squeak feature. However, if you have cats, you can activate a pet-friendly laser.
One of the things I like most about Pebby is it’s bark/nudge sensor. As I mentioned earlier, some pets like initiating play time by nudging or barking at their toys. If your pet nudges Pebby or if your dog barks at it, you’ll get a notification so you can initiate automatic or manual play time.
The camera is another concern. PlayDate and Pebby aren’t fixed cameras, unlike typical pet cameras. They are balls after all. So how does a rolling camera work?
Both use stabilization technology to keep their cameras steady, even as they roll. When they’re streaming video to your smartphone (while using manual controls), their inner shell is stabilized. But when using auto-play, the inner shell rolls along with the outer shell.
Regarding video quality, Pebby and PlayDate are evenly matched. Both include a 720p camera with built-in LED “headlights.”
Finally, my last concern is battery life. They are Wi-Fi-enabled devices after all, and we all know that Wi-Fi is power-hungry.
PlayDate has a promised battery life of up to 30 minutes of manually-driven playtime. You can monitor its battery life using the app. And when it’s almost out of juice, simply drive it back to its dock and it will recharge itself.
On the other hand, Pebby offers up to 90 minutes of playtime on a single charge. And unlike PlayDate, it can maneuver back into its docking station on its own. When its battery is almost drained, it will recharge automatically.
I have one last concern: Both products were products of crowdfunding campaigns that launched two years ago, but neither has shipped a finished product. According to the latest update, PlayDate is expecting to ship to backers this year. Pebby, on the other hand, has been less transparent. My advice is that you do NOT pre-order either of the two devices. Though the pre-order discounts are enticing, I suggest you wait until there is an actual working product on the shelves.
Interactive Pet Toy Winner
Due to availability, the winner in this category is neither. But if I were to choose, I’d say Pebby. On paper, it has more features that address and cater to the needs of most pets. But again, my suggestion is to wait.
Wild Card: Varram Interactive Pet Toy With Treat Dispenser
All of the pet products mentioned above can either dispense treats or interactively play with your pets. Varram can do both.
Varram is a mini-robot made of durable polycarbonate materials that can withstand heavy roughhousing. It has a cylinder-shaped body stuck between a pair of large wheels. It also has a tail to keep it balanced. It plays with pets by moving around, enticing them to chase it. You can even add accessories like a feather cat toy.
Play times with Varram are automatic. You simply have to schedule it. Once scheduled, it “runs” around on its own, guided only by built-in obstacle sensors. You can also control Varram using your smartphone. However, manual controls are only available when you’re home.
As for its treat-dispensing feature, Varram can dispense treats smaller than 1 inch in width from its container. As with play times, dispensing treats is automatic. However, you need to schedule when Varram should dispense treats. You can also set it to dispense treats on-demand via the app.
There are a couple of things you need to know about Varram. First, it lacks a camera, so it’s not a pet cam. It’s an interactive toy. Second, although it can move around on its own, it doesn’t have the ability to recharge itself as it lacks a docking station. Instead, you need to recharge it using the provided power cable and adapter. It has an approximate run time of 10 hours before needing a recharge. Finally, it’s not yet available. Varram is currently in its final testing stage. The estimated delivery date is January 2019, but their most recent update indicates that it will ship later than their target date.