One of the most popular first smart home purchases is a monitoring camera. These are often acquired to keep an eye on the pets while at work, or the family while parents are away. They are also installed to act as a security camera or to act as reassurance and peace of mind.
Evolving from PC web cameras, these smart cameras are now powerful devices in their own right. They have rapidly gone from low-resolution hunks of plastic, to sleek designs capable of broadcasting HD quality video.
Sensors help trigger them when motion or sound is detected, and they can send footage to a smartphone or cloud backup system.
As one of the most popular types of smart home product, there are many makes and types of product on the market. This review caters for those looking for a casual smart home camera, not a fully-blown security system, which we will cover in another piece.
Choosing what to buy
With little variation in terms of specification and connectivity, camera makers can only offer variety when it comes to software and services, so ensure you buy the right product that gives you the type of recording or coverage you need.
The one key physical differentiation they can offer is a rotating or moving camera to provide greater coverage. Others can provide waterproof models for outdoor use, but ensure they are battery powered for true flexibility.
Leader of the pack – Nest Cam
Available in an indoor model, and the new outdoor edition, Nest Cam is part of the same family as the Nest Thermostat, released after Google acquired Dropcam and packing much of the same features.
Offering up to 1080p video, depending on your connection, the stalk-like indoor model offers a free Nest Aware trial that provides automatic alerts when the motion sensor is triggered.
With night vision for 24-hour security, a 130-degree wide angle field of view to monitor a room or locale and 8X digital zoom, it users software to distinguish between people and things, to prevent false positive alerts. It also has a microphone and speaker so you can talk to whoever’s in the room.
The Nest Cam can be mounted anywhere by the use of a magnetic stand or the wall mounting plate. However, it does need to be wired into a power source. The Nest Aware monthly subscription gives you access to greater saving of files and monitoring abilities.
It can also help in the home automation role, using the app and Z-Wave to monitor door sensors, control lights, and other appliances directly.
Unlike the Nest Cam, it can run off three AA batteries, so can be placed literally anywhere within WiFi range for short-term use.
- High-quality product with proven design
- Works with most smart home products
- Not much product evolution since Dropcam
Read my full review of the Nest Cam IQ here!
The Secure Choice – Canary All-In-One
The Canary isn’t just for checking on your pets, this is a full security system with a 90 decibel alarm, and high quality audio monitoring as well as 1080p video with high-quality night vision, so you can see and hear what’s going on.
As a security device, it can be armed and disarm on your smartphone to prevent false alerts, and can contact the local emergency services if needed. It also comes with a home health monitoring system to track air quality, temperature and humidity.
To maintain its utility, there’s no contracts with free cloud storage, although you can pay for more data.
- Loud alarm and good audio for peace of mind
- Requires power and Internet to work
A budget solution that just works – Zmodo EZCam
Offering 720p HD video, the Zmodo can be picked up for a good price (For the latest prices and discounts, check here) and is easy to install and use. It offers the usual features with night vision up to 30ft and two-way talk, and can send motion alerts direct to your smartphone.
One major benefit of this product is on-board recording to an SD card for people who don’t want to bother with cloud storage. It makes a great pet monitor and can record for around three days on a 32GB SD card so you can see what really goes on around your home.
- Cheap and effective, with local storage
- Few bells and whistles
Other Smart Camera Options to Consider
Arlo has a decent history in smart home cameras with the 1080p Arlo Q and the 720p battery-powered Arlo Smart Home Indoor/Outdoor HD Security.
These devices come with seven-days of free cloud recording but use heat-based motion sensing, so may not be the most accurate depending on the climate you live in. The Q provides both motion and sound detection alerts
If you want to keep an eye on a wider space, newer cameras come with rotation built into their units, like the Zmodo Pivot.
This offers a wide angle 1080p camera with night vision and 16GB of built-in storage for recording the day’s events for you to catch up on with no cloud storage needed. This model can detect motion and then spin the camera to provide a total view of what’s going on.
The package also comes with door or window sensors to help alert the system to entry and has two-way voice chat.
|Product||Angle/Motion||Resolution/Zoom||Color||Price||Monthly Cloud Subscription|
|Nest Cam||130°, static||1080p, 8x digital||White or black||(For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||See here|
|Nest Cam Outdoor||130°, magnetic base||1080p, 8x digital zoom||White||(For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||See here|
|Zmodo EZCAM||105°,||720p,||White||(For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||Coming soon|
|Zmodo Pivot||135° field of view with 360° rotation||1080p, 4x digital zoom||Black||(For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||Coming soon|
|Arlo Q||130° static||1080p, 8x digital zoom||White||(For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||See here|
|Arlo Smart Home Indoor/Outdoor||Fixed, 4 x CR123A battery powered||720p,||White||(For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||See here|
|Canary All-In-One||147°||1080p, 3x digital zoom||(For the latest prices and discounts, check here)|
Smart Camera Comparisons
While the above represent some of the most popular options, our review team has also covered other devices in direct comparisons. If you are deciding between specific devices, these can be quite effective at making the choice clear:
- Logi Circle 2 vs Nest Cam: Consider the Logi Circle 2 if you just need something that works well on it’s own (no other Nest devices).
- Arlo vs Ring: Which Security Camera is Best?
- Blink XT vs Arlo Pro
Recommendations and Advice
Before buying a camera, consider where you will locate it and what you want to do with it. Many people want to keep a wary eye on their front door or driveway. Others will want to move the camera around the home. Consider if the model you want is battery powered for added flexibility.
When it comes to resolution, most models are 1080p, but a 720p model will do fine for casual scanning. Even full HD is pretty limited when it comes to trying to identify someone 50 feet away, so you may need a camera with real zoom capabilities to use in a high crime area.
Smart Cam Issues to Look Out For
One tricky issue for all these cameras is motion detection, which is a major science in its own right. Most devices end up triggering many false alerts and will require “training” by the user to ignore them, while some will never shut up when facing a changing scene.
Another problem can be the quality of the app, with the likes of Nest focused on their software, while others seem happy to provide good hardware and a fair software experience, without trying to innovate in this area.
Fortunately apps can be improved, so keep checking the reviews on the Apple or Google Play store to see what features are on offer.
Finally, most of these devices connect directly to you WiFi router, so will need to be kept in range to provide a strong video signal. Move them to the edge of its range and video will be slow and quality will reduce. Most provide iOS and Android smartphone apps, but some will work on PC browsers.
With all those considerations in mind, the 1080p products are the current standard, and video technology won’t get much better due to the high bandwidth for higher video quality. Therefore now is the perfect time to buy a smart home camera.
Those with a Nest device already at home would be wise to stick with the brand and get the Nest Cam here, but otherwise any of these devices will work well with a modern smartphone.
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