No smile for this camera

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The AnkerWork B600 is a fairly competent webcam, but its flip-up light offers little illumination. (Photo: Anker Work)

Don’t like the way you watch Zoom calls? Blame your laptop’s built-in webcam, which is necessarily tiny (meaning it can’t let in much light) and likely on the low-quality, low-res side. Meanwhile, you probably don’t sound good either, thanks to your laptop’s limited built-in microphone. A helmet can help, yes, but it’s not always appropriate for the occasion.

AnkerWork’s B600 promises a substantial upgrade to your video conferencing, with a high-resolution camera, noise-canceling microphone array, dedicated speakers and even a built-in lightbar. While it works well in some ways, a few key issues left me struggling to recommend it.

$220 on Amazon

For starters, the B600 is heavy hardware, capable of clipping onto the top of a desktop monitor or screwing onto a tripod — but not recommended for use on laptop screens, according to AnkerWork. This is particularly ironic given the very short USB-C cable supplied; it is very unlikely that he can reach a PC on the ground. I ended up testing mine with a desktop monitor plugged into my laptop.

Oh, what if your PC doesn’t have a USB-C port? You’re out of luck unless you provide a USB-C to Type-A adapter or cable (which is what I ended up using). Meanwhile, the camera also requires power via an included AC adapter. The whole setup is just clunky and inconvenient.

At least you get decent speakers from this little brick, although they’re pointed to the sides, not you. I found them to be a solid improvement over the built-in speakers in my Asus laptop, which I often had to crank up to 100 just to hear my Zoom calls.

Because I’m sitting in front of a window, I was very excited by the B600’s flip-up light bar, which I hoped would illuminate my face enough to offset that bright background. Instead, it’s the most disappointing thing about the product. The bar barely produces any light, even at maximum brightness. Unless you’re in a dark room, it’s almost useless. You can adjust the color temperature, activate automatic light adjustment, etc., but all that does not really matter. This is a poorly implemented feature.

The news isn’t all bad, though: The B600 has brought a dramatic improvement via my laptop’s built-in webcam and microphone. Even without additional light, my face looked sharper and better lit than before. I could also hear callers much better than before, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, these upgrades aren’t worth $220 – not to me, anyway. There are dozens of USB webcams – almost all laptop compatible – for anywhere between $50 and $100. Some also have built-in lighting, and I guarantee it would be at least as bright as the B600.

Indeed, here are some top-rated webcam alternatives (by Amazon shoppers) that I’d recommend trying first:

Although I wanted to like the AnkerWork B600, I found myself frustrated with its usability quirks and high price tag. While it’s almost certain to be an improvement over a low-end laptop webcam, the same goes for products costing a lot less.

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