The tumultuous tale of the smart dashboard camera Owlcam isn't over yet. It launched in 2018 as an innovative, LTE-equipped dashcam from Apple's former iPod lead, Andy Hodge. But the company faced a troubled launch, went out of business at the end of 2019, and was revived under new owners, Callpass and Xirgo, last year. After facing plenty of heat over a much more expensive subscription plan and failing devices, Callpass spent the rest of 2020 learning the difficulties of consumer customer service. Now, the company is ready to unveil something new: Owlcam 5.0 ($259 at launch), an updated dashcam with IR sensors for night recording, instead of the bright floodlight from earlier models.
And if you're not into those IR capabilities, you can also snag the previous Owlcam 4.0 for $199, and the first-generation Owlcam 3.0 (don't ask why the numbering started there) for $149. All of the cameras feature unlimited LTE connectivity, which you can use to upload your videos for $20 a month or $192 annually. Owlcam 4.0 and 5.0 also feature 160GB of on-board storage, which can record 160 hours of HD video.
Additionally, there's a WiFi mode that lets you throw footage right to your phone, but you'll need to subscribe to Owlcam's LTE service for at least one month to activate that feature. According to CallPass CEO Jason Ashton, that's a limitation from the way OwlCam originally set up its onboarding process. When it first launched, customers received some free LTE connectivity, which the camera used to enable the WiFi mode. But if you tried to activate the Wi-Fi mode after your free trial period disappeared, it just wouldn't work. That was a problem many first-gen Owlcam customers brought up with CallPass last year.
"It's a very difficult market, we're really trying to come up with a clean way to activate that [Wi-Fi mode] without a subscription," Ashton said in an interview. For now, the only solution is to have new Owlcam customers sign up for at least one month. "The gift that kept on giving from Owlcam Inc. [the original company] was the landmines and pitfalls everywhere," he added. You can easily enable and disable your subscription as you need it — you're not under any contract, though there's more of a gamble with the discounted annual pricing.
While this latest version of Owlcam is twice the monthly price of the original version, it's at least significantly cheaper than the camera's $349 launch price. Ashton says CallPass's 4G LTE connection is also truly unlimited, so you won't have to worry about managing any bandwidth credits (another annoyance from the first camera). The company is also optimizing voice commands across all OwlCams — now you can say "Hey Presto, I'm being pulled over," and it'll automatically upload your encounter to the cloud. Ashton says that the company is working on bringing back automatic 911/emergency responder calling in April for all of its devices.
You can pre-order Owlcam 5.0 today for $259 (the price will eventually rise to $269), with shipments expected on March 19th. Don't expect to see it making a return to Best Buy, though. Ashton says that the company is aiming to cut costs by relying on online distribution.
"I think we've learned a lot," Ashton said, when asked what CallPass has taken away from its first year reviving Owlcam. "Being a B2B (business-to-business) company foremost, your service levels are very different than what a consumer needs... Consumers want it now, not 48 hours away. We learned we need to bolster our staff, bolster our level of communications, and invest in social media to resolve issues."