The Bell+Howell Spy Pen is a pencam we have been asked to review by a number of readers, and we were excited when our shipment arrived in office.
Bell & Howell for those who are not familiar, is century plus old American manufacturing company headquartered in Wheeling, Illinois. Initially they specialized in motion picture machinery, before moving onto other consumer electronics. That being said, it is important to note the brand “Bell & Howell” is also licensed to various electronics manufacturers who benefit from the strong history and brand equity built over the years. This is important to note because the name itself is used in our case for marketing purposes. This pen camera and other spy gadgets utilizing the name are actually manufactured and sourced from China. Now that that’s out of the way, onto the review.
The Bell+Howell camera pen boasts 1280X960 pixel resolution at 30fps which records to an internal 4GB of memory in the .AVI format with m-jpeg encoding. That is a high resolution spec for any spy gadget, and above average for the majority of spy pen camera devices currently available. That being said, the high resolution seemed to choke the DVR and playback in our test hidden cameras were choppy, ranging between 10-15 fps. Setting the resolution to a lower 640×480 however resulted in a buttery frame rate. The device loses some points here for this very reason as it clearly touts the HD ability as a selling feature.
This spy camera takes 1600X1200 pixel resolution with its 2MP sensor, saving files in the JPEG format. We found still image quality to be on par with most other spy gadgets in this price range.
This video pen has an audio detection ability which supposedly initiates recording when sounds above 45 db are heard within an unspecified proximity, when set. Unfortunately we could not get this feature to work on either of our two test devices.
On playback, audio in general was OK, a little too much static noise for our liking, and if your purpose of purchase is within a professional capacity, we would suggest you move on to other spy pens.
This pen camera is slimmer than most, a definite plus, but we just weren’t impressed with the feel. It felt light and, well, plastic-y. It did come with a keyring which is unique, however somewhat out of place on a pen camera. The hidden device writes smoothly and has re-fill-able ink slots.
The Bell and Howell spy pen is both Mac and Windows compatible, and worked on all systems we tested. No software drivers are needed. The 150mAh, Lithium-ion polymer battery lasted for 1 hr at full resolution, slightly longer when recording at a lower image size. Video date and time is set up by creating a .txt file, the included instructions do a ho-hum job of explaining this, but we’ve done this on so many other spy cameras it was a snap. New users may have some difficulty.
As far as spy gadgets go, 1-year warranty seems to be the unfortunately discouraging norm. This pen cam is no different, Ben and Howell Eyepen comes with a 1-year manufacturers. Meh.