Home se­cu­rity cameras

Keep an eye on ev­ery­thing pre­cious to you with home se­cu­rity cameras. MICHAEL ANSALDO looks at your best options

Tech Advisor - - Contents - Michael Ansaldo

Whether you rent or own, you want the best se­cu­rity cam­era sys­tem for keep­ing an eye on your home while you’re out. That used to en­tail sign­ing on with a pro­fes­sional – and pricey – se­cu­rity ser­vice, but a boom in con­sumer-level smart-home tech is put­ting in­door and out­door home sur­veil­lance into our own hands.

These close cousins of we­b­cams re­quire min­i­mal in­stal­la­tion and of­fer flex­i­ble set­ups and a range of

se­cu­rity features. In­deed, the of­fer­ings vary widely by cam­era, and de­cid­ing what to buy gets more daunt­ing as this cat­e­gory grows ever more crowded. But whether you’re look­ing for an easy way to check on your chil­dren and pets, or a full-ser­vice sen­tinel to mon­i­tor for in­trud­ers, we’ll help find the right product for your needs.

What to look for

Most home se­cu­rity cameras per­form the same ba­sic func­tions – they de­tect an event, record the event, and send you an alert – but they don’t all per­form them the same way. And some cameras have spe­cial features that go beyond those ba­sics. Here are some com­mon features you’ll en­counter while shop­ping

and why they’re im­por­tant (we’ve listed them in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der). In each of our re­views, we’ll dis­cuss how the cam­era de­liv­ers on these features.

Alerts: Home se­cu­rity cameras push no­ti­fi­ca­tions to your smart­phone when they de­tect events. With­out watch­ing the live feed all day, this is the only way to keep tabs on your home in rel­a­tive real time. Depend­ing on the cam­era, it may send text alerts when it de­tects mo­tion, sound, a face (known or un­rec­og­nized), or all three. Some can send alerts to mul­ti­ple peo­ple, usu­ally any­one else in the house­hold us­ing that product’s app; oth­ers will send emails in ad­di­tion to text mes­sages as a fail-safe in the event you can’t ac­cess your mo­bile de­vice.

Bat­tery backup: Power out­ages hap­pen, and clever bur­glars cut elec­tric­ity be­fore break­ing into your home. When that hap­pens, your cam­era goes dark and, if there’s a crime tak­ing place, you lose all foren­sic ev­i­dence. For this rea­son, some cameras can also run for a short time on bat­tery power. It’s a fea­ture worth look­ing out for.

Cloud record­ing: Many man­u­fac­tur­ers of­fer cloud stor­age plans with their cam­era. With one of these, your recorded video is sent to a re­mote server and stored for a pre­de­ter­mined time – usu­ally any­where from 24 hours to a week – and then deleted to make space for new videos. Though some­times free, these cloud plans usu­ally re­quire a monthly sub­scrip­tion, but are worth it both for their con­ve­nience and if you want a

sur­veil­lance record dur­ing a va­ca­tion or other ex­tended time away from home.

En­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing: This is the fea­ture that sets all-in-one home mon­i­tors apart from strictly-se­cu­rity cameras. Though the home ‘vi­tals’ that these units track vary by model – we’ve seen ev­ery­thing from mo­tion to lu­mi­nos­ity in­cluded in home health pro­files – three tend to be ubiq­ui­tous:

• Tem­per­a­ture mon­i­tors for spikes and dips in in­door tem­per­a­ture and alerts you when it falls out­side a range you de­fine.

• Hu­mid­ity tracks rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity in­side your home. Hu­mid­ity out­side op­ti­mal lev­els – usu­ally de­fined as be­tween 30- and 50 per­cent – can con­trib­ute to prob­lems such as static elec­tric­ity, si­nus ir­ri­ta­tion, and mould growth.

• Air qual­ity tracks pol­lu­tants rang­ing from cook­ing odours to car­bon monox­ide. How­ever, most mon­i­tors don’t iden­tify the pol­lu­tant in their alerts, merely warn­ing that the air qual­ity is ‘ab­nor­mal’. Be­cause of that, this fea­ture should not be con­sid­ered a sub­sti­tute for po­ten­tially life-sav­ing de­vices such as smoke and car­bon monox­ide de­tec­tors.

Fa­cial recog­ni­tion: A few newer cameras are ex­per­i­ment­ing with fa­cial recog­ni­tion. This fea­ture could more ac­cu­rately be called ‘fa­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion’, as in prac­tice it’s much bet­ter at dis­tin­guish­ing a face from, say, a lamp, than it is at ac­tu­ally dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween one per­son’s face from an­other’s. If you opt for a cam­era with this fea­ture, know that it typ­i­cally

learns faces through in­creas­ing ex­po­sure to them, so be pre­pared to spend a lot of time in front of the lens.

Lo­cal stor­age: Some cameras in­clude mem­ory card slots in lieu of, or in ad­di­tion to, cloud stor­age, so you can store video right on the de­vice. It’s an at­trac­tive fea­ture as it can elim­i­nate the cost of monthly stor­age fees. The down­side (if there isn’t a cloud backup) is that if a thief steals your cam­era, they take your foren­sic ev­i­dence with it.

Mo­bile app: Most of to­day’s home se­cu­rity cam­era’s are ac­cessed pri­mar­ily through a smart­phone/tablet app. In ad­di­tion to offering you a re­li­able way to view the cam­era’s live feed, it should of­fer plenty of options for cus­tomiz­ing the way the cam­era per­forms. The abil­ity to cus­tom­ize no­ti­fi­ca­tions, ad­just mo­tion and sound de­tec­tion sen­si­tiv­ity, and set de­tec­tion ar­eas are some of the key features to look for. The app should also be in­tu­itive and easy to mas­ter.

Mo­tion de­tec­tion: As­sum­ing you’re mon­i­tor­ing your home when it’s empty, mo­tion de­tec­tion is one of the most de­sir­able features in a se­cu­rity cam­era. Built-in sen­sors pick up move­ment within the cam­era’s field of view

and trig­ger video record­ing. Be­cause these sen­sors are sen­si­tive to any move­ment – event a shift in light­ing or leaves blow­ing out­side a win­dow – it’s im­por­tant the cam­era sys­tem also of­fer the abil­ity to nar­row the range of de­tec­tion, ad­just the sen­sor’s sen­si­tiv­ity, or other­wise cus­tom­ize this fea­ture to cut down on false alerts.

Night vi­sion: Most break-ins oc­cur af­ter dark, so this fea­ture is nearly as im­por­tant as mo­tion de­tec­tion. Tech­ni­cally, most home se­cu­rity cameras sup­port in­frared LED il­lu­mi­na­tion, ver­sus true night vi­sion based on im­age in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion or ther­mal vi­sion. Be that as it may, some cam­era’s will switch to night vi­sion au­to­mat­i­cally in low-light con­di­tions, while oth­ers al­low you to cus­tom­ize when and how it should be ac­ti­vated.

Pan/Tilt/Swivel: Most se­cu­rity cameras – in­clud­ing all the ones in this guide – can be man­u­ally tilted and swiv­elled to fo­cus on a cer­tain view­ing area, but this is a purely set-it-and-for­get it fea­ture. A true pan/tilt cam­era is equipped with a mo­tor so that you can move its lens – or even fol­low a mov­ing ob­ject if you’re watch­ing a live feed – us­ing its app or browser-based app.

Res­o­lu­tion: No amount of se­cu­rity video will help you if it’s blurry, jit­tery, or other­wise dis­torted. Look for a cam­era that of­fers the high­est pos­si­ble res­o­lu­tion. Most cur­rently of­fer 720p (of­ten re­ferred to as ‘high def­i­ni­tion’ or HD), but some newer cameras are com­ing out with 1080p (of­ten re­ferred to as ‘full HD’). Keep in mind higher-res cameras use more In­ter­net and Wi-Fi band­width and bat­tery life. Many cameras also of­fer a soft­ware zoom fea­ture (which is not the same thing as hav­ing a phys­i­cal zoom lens).

Schedul­ing: Schedul­ing features al­low you to tell the cam­era to turn on and off, de­tect mo­tion, and/or send alerts at spec­i­fied times. This is use­ful when you, say, only want to be no­ti­fied when your chil­dren get back from school or just want to mon­i­tor your home when you’re away. It also re­duces the amount of false alerts.

Se­cu­rity: There have been plenty of head­lines about hack­ers com­pro­mis­ing home cameras, baby mon­i­tors, and other Wi-Fi de­vices to spy on peo­ple, so be sure to check what steps has each man­u­fac­turer taken to elim­i­nate this prob­lem. Look for a cam­era that sup­ports up-to-date wire­less se­cu­rity pro­to­cols, such as WPA2,

and make sure it en­crypts In­ter­net trans­mis­sion of your user name, your pass­word, and the live feeds. Never in­stall a se­cu­rity cam­era (or a router or any other de­vice on your home net­work) with­out chang­ing its de­fault user ID and pass­word.

Smart de­vice in­te­gra­tion: If you have a home full of smart de­vices, con­sider look­ing for a se­cu­rity cam­era or an all-in-one home mon­i­tor that in­cludes a Z-Wave, ZigBee, or – even­tu­ally a Thread – ra­dio that can con­nect them. Sup­port for an au­to­ma­tion ser­vice such as IFTTT or Stringify is also use­ful. This al­lows the cam­era or mon­i­tor to re­act to var­i­ous sce­nar­ios, such as tak­ing a pic­ture when your Nest Pro­tect de­tects smoke, or telling your Philips Hue smart bulb to turn on when un­ex­pected sounds are de­tected.

Two-way au­dio: While the idea of a se­cu­rity cam­era im­plies eyes-on mon­i­tor­ing, the abil­ity to also hear what’s go­ing on gives you a more com­plete pic­ture of what’s hap­pen­ing on the home front when you’re away. It can also alert you to some­thing oc­cur­ring out of the cam­era’s field of vi­sion. This fea­ture can also al­low you to speak through the cam­era, a great tool for re­motely com­mand­ing an un­ruly pet or star­tling an in­truder in the act, but be aware that you might need to plug in a pow­ered speaker for this fea­ture to work.

View­ing an­gle: The cam­era’s field of view de­ter­mines how much it can see. As you’re prob­a­bly mon­i­tor­ing a sin­gle room, you want a wide view­ing an­gle. Most cur­rent cameras fall in the 130-de­gree range. These

wide an­gles can some­times cause im­age dis­tor­tion at the edges in the form of a fish­eye ef­fect, par­tic­u­larly when used in smaller rooms, but it’s not like you’re go­ing to use a se­cu­rity to cap­ture snap­shots for your photo al­bum.

Web client: Many cameras can be ac­cessed through a web por­tal as well. This is use­ful for times when you don’t have ac­cess to your mo­bile de­vice or a wire­less con­nec­tion. The web app should closely mir­ror its mo­bile coun­ter­part, so you don’t need to learn a whole new set of con­trols.

Wire­less range: One of the ben­e­fits wire­less cameras of­fer is the abil­ity to move them around your home.

Ideally, your home se­cu­rity cam­era should be able to main­tain a Wi-Fi con­nec­tion no mat­ter how far you move it from your router, even in a large home. Some cameras come with an eth­er­net port as well, so you have the op­tion of hard­wiring it to your lo­cal net­work. A cam­era that sup­ports Power-over-Eth­er­net (PoE) elim­i­nates the need for an AC adapter and re­lies on just one ca­ble (but your router or switch will also need to sup­port PoE. An­other al­ter­na­tive would be to use a PoE in­jec­tor.) Best in­door home se­cu­rity cam­era Net­gear Arlo Pro 2 (two-pack) Price: £565 Avail­able from: fave.co/2v3c9uk Just a year af­ter in­tro­duc­ing the Arlo Pro, Net­gear has re­fined the pop­u­lar in­door/out­door home se­cu­rity cam­era. The Arlo Pro 2 adds higher res­o­lu­tion, im­proved mo­tion de­tec­tion, and more flex­i­ble in­stal­la­tion options to an al­ready im­pres­sive list of features. It features Full HD 1080p res­o­lu­tion, up from 720p, put­ting it on a par with other Net­gear se­cu­rity cameras in­clud­ing the in­door Arlo Q (£169 from fave.co/2K8h02l) and Arlo Baby nurs­ery mon­i­tor (£269 from fave.co/2K7yvj3). It also now in­cludes AC power sup­port in ad­di­tion to its 2,440mAh recharge­able bat­tery.

The added power gained from plug­ging the cam­era in al­lows you to take ad­van­tage of video an­a­lyt­ics­driven mo­tion de­tec­tion that of­fers greater range and is more ac­cu­rate than the pas­sive in­frared (PIR)

mo­tion de­tec­tion the cam­era uses on bat­tery power. It also en­ables the cam­era’s new mo­tion zone fea­ture, which al­lows you to be alerted to move­ment only in spe­cific ar­eas, and a pre-buf­fer dubbed ‘look back’ that saves three sec­onds of video footage prior to the ac­tiv­ity that trig­gered mo­tion de­tec­tion.

If you opt to use the cam­era wire-free out­doors, Net­gear of­fers a new so­lar panel (£99 from fave.

co/2K8mI3W) that it says can full charge the bat­tery of ei­ther Arlo Pro model with a cou­ple of days of sun­light.

The cam­era sup­ports smart home in­te­gra­tion through IFTTT, Sam­sung SmartThings, and Ama­zon Alexa in­clud­ing view­ing the cam­era’s streaming feed on the Fire TV, Echo Show, and Echo Spot.

The Arlo Pro 2 is of­fered in a starter kit with two cameras and a base sta­tion for £565. A four-cam­era bun­dle is avail­able for £879, and ad­di­tional in­di­vid­ual cameras can be pur­chased for £119 each.

Like other Arlo cameras, the Pro 2 comes with Arlo’s Ba­sic sub­scrip­tion, which stores video clips for seven days for up to five cameras, and in­cludes three months of lim­ited sup­port all for free. You can up­grade to the Premier plan for £6.49 per month or £64 a year and get 30 days of cloud stor­age for up to 10 cameras, or the Elite plan for £9.99 per month or £99 a year and get 60 days of stor­age for up to 15 cameras. Both paid plans in­clude un­lim­ited sup­port. Setup and us­age The setup process for the Pro 2 is ex­actly the same as its pre­de­ces­sor’s – you plug the base sta­tion into your router with the sup­plied eth­er­net ca­ble, then press sync but­tons on the base sta­tion and the cam­era in suc­ces­sion to pair them. You’ll know they’ve paired suc­cess­fully when you see the live cam­era feed in the Arlo com­pan­ion app.

As the Pro 2 re­tains the mod­u­lar de­sign of the orig­i­nal Pro, you can place it vir­tu­ally any­where – on any table­top sur­face, or on a wall or ceil­ing us­ing ei­ther the mag­netic or screw mount.

The Pro 2’s up­graded res­o­lu­tion de­liv­ers sharp im­ages, even when us­ing the 8x dig­i­tal zoom. The night vi­sion still suf­fers the same is­sue it did on the orig­i­nal Pro, though; it prom­ises a range of 25 feet, but in prac­tice, it only il­lu­mi­nates to about half that dis­tance be­fore fall­ing off into shadow.

The new cam­era still of­fers four modes of op­er­a­tion, ac­ces­si­ble from the live streaming screen. Armed is the de­fault mode and will trig­ger the Pro 2 to record 10 sec­onds of video when mo­tion is de­tected and

alert you via push no­ti­fi­ca­tion. These rules are mod­i­fi­able, al­low­ing you to make a range of cus­tomiza­tions, such as adding au­dio de­tec­tion or trig­ger­ing the base sta­tion’s on-board siren when the cam­era de­tects move­ment. De­tec­tion sen­si­tiv­i­ties and video record­ing length are also ad­justable.

The other three modes – Sched­ule, Ge­ofenc­ing, and Dis­arm – au­to­mat­i­cally arm the cam­era based on time or your lo­ca­tion or turn off de­tec­tion al­to­gether. You can cre­ate your own modes too, us­ing in-app prompts and as­sign them to spe­cific cameras.

The new mo­tion zone fea­ture is a wel­come ad­di­tion to the Arlo app, as it helps fine-tune the ac­cu­racy of de­tec­tion alerts. You can cre­ate up to three zones by plac­ing a bound­ing box over the parts of the room you want to mon­i­tor, such as doors and win­dows. The cam­era will alert you only to ac­tiv­ity in those ar­eas and ig­nore it in oth­ers – so, for ex­am­ple, the front door open­ing would trig­ger a no­ti­fi­ca­tion, but your cat jump­ing on the kitchen work­top would not. The only down­side is that the cam­era must be plugged into a power out­let to en­able this fea­ture.

I used the Arlo Pro 2 with Echo Show. The voice com­mand options are lim­ited, though. You can ask Alexa to show or hide the cam­era’s stream or to stop what­ever you’re do­ing and re­turn to the Echo Show home screen. There are far more ac­tions you can take with IFTTT, like hav­ing the cam­era turn on your Phillips Hue lights or call your phone when it de­tects mo­tion.

Ver­dict

Where the Arlo Pro marked a dra­matic im­prove­ment of the orig­i­nal Arlo HD, The Arlo Pro 2 sim­ply pol­ishes what was al­ready an ex­cep­tional cam­era. With Its unique in­door/out­door flex­i­bil­ity and easyto-use com­pan­ion app now com­ple­mented by even bet­ter de­tec­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the Arlo Pro 2 is heartily rec­om­mended for any­one look­ing for a doit-your­self se­cu­rity so­lu­tion. Best out­door se­cu­rity cam­era Nest Cam IQ Out­door Price: £329 Avail­able from: fave.co/2K3R1cd With the in­tro­duc­tion of the Nest Cam IQ last year (£299 from fave.co/2v0y­cBU), Nest be­gan to evolve the Drop­cam plat­form it had ac­quired sev­eral years ear­lier. That cam­era’s hard­ware and soft­ware up­grades ap­pear to be the blue­print for Nest cameras go­ing forward judg­ing by the fact they’ve been ported whole­sale to the new IQ Out­door.

Nest al­ready of­fers an es­timable out­door cam­era in the Nest Cam Out­door (£179 from fave.co/2M2IurP),

and the all-new IQ Out­door shares many traits with it, in­clud­ing a 130-de­gree field of view, up to 1080p video, and a sim­i­lar stur­dily built cup-style de­sign. But in ev­ery other way, the IQ Out­door is a leap forward thanks to features cribbed from the in­door IQ cam­era.

The most im­pres­sive of these is ‘Su­per­sight’, which lever­ages a 4K im­age sen­sor, High Dy­namic Range (HDR), and per­son de­tec­tion. If the IQ Out­door sees a hu­man, it will zoom in up to 12x (dig­i­tally) and fol­low the per­son’s move­ments. It will also bal­ance light­ing con­di­tions, so that de­tails aren’t blown out in high­lights or lost in deep shad­ows. It’s im­por­tant to note, how­ever, that you’ll never ac­tu­ally see 4K video from the cam­era. The im­age sen­sor brings ex­tra clar­ity to the 12x dig­i­tal zoom, but the cam­era only ever streams 1080p video to the cloud.

IQ Out­door also im­proves au­dio – it’s 15x more pow­er­ful than the orig­i­nal Out­door, ac­cord­ing to Nest – cour­tesy of a more ro­bust speaker and a three-mi­cro­phone ar­ray with echo can­cel­la­tion and noise sup­pres­sion.

Weather­proof­ing has been up­graded as well. The IQ Out­door boasts an IP66 rat­ing (a bump from Nest Cam Out­door’s IP65), mean­ing its dust tight and pro­tected from blasts of wa­ter, and it has a greater op­er­at­ing tem­per­a­ture range (-40º to 45ºC com­pared to the Nest Cam Out­door’s -20º to 40ºC).

An­other wel­come change: per­son alerts come free with the pur­chase of the IQ Out­door; they re­quired a paid Nest Aware sub­scrip­tion with Nest’s orig­i­nal out­door cam­era. A paid sub­scrip­tion, how­ever, will trans­form per­son alerts into fa­cial recog­ni­tion and en­able Fa­mil­iar Face Alerts, a fea­ture Nest in­tro­duced with the in­door IQ that lets you to train the cam­era to dis­tin­guish be­tween peo­ple you know and strangers. It also un­locks In­tel­li­gent Au­dio Alerts, which dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween speak­ing, bark­ing, and other trig­ger­ing sounds. And a sub­scrip­tion is re­quired to use Su­per­sight.

Nest of­fers a pair of Nest Aware plans: Ba­sic stores 10 days of video for £8 per month or £80 per year, and Ex­tended saves video for 30 days for £240 a month or £240 per year.

Setup and us­age

One of the most at­trac­tive features of the orig­i­nal Nest Out­door is its plug-and-play in­stal­la­tion. With its mag­netic mount and weath­er­proof power ca­ble, you

could stick the cam­era on an eave or rain gut­ter, plug it into an out­side elec­tri­cal out­let, and be up and running.

In­stalling the Out­door IQ re­quires con­sid­er­ably more ef­fort. Its 7.5m power cord is not weath­er­proof, so it needs ac­cess to an in­door out­let. As the cord is threaded through the cam­era mount, you’ll need to drill a hole through an ex­te­rior wall if you don’t have a ready open­ing, and then screw the mount to the wall with the sup­plied hard­ware. The up­side is that the Out­door IQ is less likely to be pil­fered than the Out­door.

With the same hard­ware im­prove­ments as the in­door IQ, the Out­door IQ’s au­dio and video qual­ity were pre­dictably stel­lar. Video was sharp with vi­brant colours. With night vi­sion ac­ti­vated, the im­age had strong tonal con­trast with plenty of de­tail. The au­dio was full and loud with­out boom­ing or dis­tor­tion.

As soon as the IQ Out­door sees a face, the Su­per­sight fea­ture kicks in, track­ing that per­son’s move­ments. This is where you re­ally see the ben­e­fit of that 4K sen­sor as the cam­era zooms in on the per­son’s face with­out any de­tectable loss of im­age qual­ity.

When the IQ Out­door sees a face it doesn’t rec­og­nize, the Nest app shows you a screen­shot and asks you if you know the per­son with the op­tion to tap a check­mark for ‘yes’ or an X for ‘no’. For each

per­son you know, you can add a name in the app’s Fa­mil­iar Faces li­brary. This isn’t a one­and-done ex­er­cise, though. You’ll con­tinue to get generic per­son alerts for peo­ple you’ve al­ready iden­ti­fied, but as you con­tinue to ‘teach’ the cam­era who your fam­ily and friends are through this process, you’ll start to get more ac­cu­rate fa­cial recog­ni­tion alerts over a cou­ple of weeks. A perk of us­ing the Nest sys­tem is that any faces al­ready rec­og­nized by the IQ in­door can be matched against those de­tected by the IQ Out­door, ef­fec­tively short­en­ing its learn­ing curve.

In­tel­li­gent au­dio alerts, on the other hand, were ac­cu­rate right out of the box. The cam­era eas­ily dis­tin­guished be­tween my dog bark­ing and my neighbours hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, and iden­ti­fied each ac­tiv­ity in the no­ti­fi­ca­tion with a zoomed-in screen­shot.

The day’s event-trig­gered videos are logged in a ver­ti­cally scrolling time­line un­der the Nest app’s streaming win­dow. You can tog­gle through the past 10 days of video his­tory by tap­ping a cal­en­dar icon at the bot­tom of the cam­era’s home screen. You can add any video to your Nest Aware ac­count with the tap of a but­ton, but as with the other Nest cameras, video clips can only be edited and shared from the

Nest web por­tal. This is also true of the ac­tiv­ity zones fea­ture. Us­ing the web client, you can cre­ate mo­tio­nand/or sound-de­tec­tion zones by drag­ging bound­ing boxes over the cam­era im­age. Each zone you cre­ate is de­noted by a dif­fer­ent colour and num­ber, and you can shape a zone around ob­jects by push­ing and pulling a boxes han­dles. Ac­tiv­ity zones greatly re­duce false alerts as you’re only no­ti­fied about ac­tiv­ity within the de­fined ar­eas.

This be­ing a Nest cam­era, you can ex­tend the IQ Out­door’s se­cu­rity ca­pa­bil­i­ties by pair­ing it with a range of third-party smart de­vices avail­able through the Works With Nest pro­gram or through IFTTT ap­plets. IQ Out­door also works with Ama­zon’s Echo Show – us­ing Alexa com­mands, you can have it dis­play the cam­era’s live feed so you can check on things when you’re home with­out hav­ing to grab your phone or lo­gin on your com­puter.

Ver­dict

There’s no ques­tion the IQ Out­door is a more fea­turerich cam­era than the Nest Cam Out­door. Whether that makes it a ‘bet­ter’ cam­era for you prob­a­bly comes down to price and con­ve­nience. The IQ Out­door costs £150 more than the Nest Cam Out­door, and that’s not tak­ing into ac­count the added cost of a Nest Aware sub­scrip­tion to un­lock each cam­era’s ad­vanced features. And the ease of Nest Cam Out­door’s plu­gand-play in­stal­la­tion shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Given all that, it makes sense to lean to­ward the Nest Cam Out­door if you’re buy­ing your first out­door cam­era. But if you’re al­ready all-in on the Nest sys­tem,

and par­tic­u­larly if you al­ready own one or more Nest Cam IQs, the IQ Out­door is the way to go. Best se­cu­rity cam­era/ out­door light­ing combo Ring Spot­light Cam Wired Price: £199 Avail­able from: fave.co/2OvsS1p The Ring Video Door­bell 2 (£179 from fave. co/2M34JxN) and Ring Stick Up Cam (£279 from

fave.co/2K7Ecxr) pro­vide easy and ef­fec­tive ways to set up a pretty strong se­cu­rity perime­ter around the out­side of your home, but it could be made con­sid­er­ably stronger with the ad­di­tion of the nowA­ma­zon-owned com­pany’s Spot­light Cam. This out­door cam­era/porch-light hy­brid, il­lu­mi­nates the area and records video when its mo­tion sen­sor is tripped.

Ideally suited for the darker nooks on your prop­erty that are sus­cep­ti­ble to breach af­ter sun­down, it comes in three models: Spot­light Cam Wired, Spot­light Cam Bat­tery (£199 from fave.co/2Ou1lxy), and Spot­light Flood­light Cam (£249 from fave.co/2v3rHyc). The cameras in all three models are the same.

I tested the Spot­light Cam Wired and the Spot­light Cam So­lar sep­a­rately. The Wired is a great op­tion if you have eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble out­door power out­lets. The 126x69.1x75.9mm cam­era has a 6m power ca­ble at­tached at the back as well as a built-in wall mount, and un­like with the bat­tery pow­ered models, you won’t have to worry about dead bat­ter­ies or too many over­cast days in­ter­rupt­ing your sur­veil­lance.

I’m guess­ing, how­ever, most peo­ple will need one of the bat­tery-pow­ered cameras.

The spot­light is pro­vided by LED light strips on ei­ther side of a 140-de­gree wide-an­gle lens, which ac­ti­vate when mo­tion is de­tected. The mo­tion sen­sor, en­cased in a dome on the bot­tom of the cam­era, has a 270-de­gree de­tec­tion range. The cam­era streams and records video in up to 1080p res­o­lu­tion and sup­ports two-way talk with noise can­cel­la­tion and night vi­sion up to 9m.

The Spot­light Cam comes with 30-day free trial of Ring’s cloud stor­age for recorded video. At the end of the pe­riod, you have the op­tion of up­grad­ing to one of a pair of Ring Pro­tect plans: Pro­tect Ba­sic al­lows you to store, re­view, and share video for up to 60 days

for £2.50 per month or £25 a year per cam­era. Pro­tect Plus pro­vides the same for un­lim­ited Ring cameras – in­clud­ing the Ring Video Door­bell – and adds a life­time war­ranty and dis­counts on Ring prod­ucts for £8 per month or £80 a year.

If you pur­chase a Ring Pro­tect Base Sta­tion smart home hub when it be­comes avail­able, the Plus pack­age will also pro­vide Ring Re­sponse 24/7 pro­fes­sional mon­i­tor­ing. The hub comes with a backup bat­tery of its own, along with cel­lu­lar con­nec­tiv­ity so you can see your cam­era feed even if your In­ter­net con­nec­tion goes down.

Con­nect­ing the cameras

Re­gard­less of which model you choose, it’s rec­om­mended you con­nect your Spot­light Cam to your Wi-Fi net­work be­fore mount­ing it out­side. (In the case of the non-wired Spot­light Cams, you’ll first need to charge the bat­tery us­ing the sup­plied Mi­croUSB ca­ble.) Once you add the cam­era to the Ring com­pan­ion app, the cam­era’s voice prompts guide you through the con­nec­tion process.

I in­stalled the Spot­light Cam Wired at the front of my home, where there’s an out­door out­let within the power cord’s 20-foot range. I put the Spot­light Cam So­lar in the back­yard, where there’s more un­ob­structed sun­light. Each cam­era comes with its own mount­ing tools, in­clud­ing a screw­driver, drill bit, mount­ing bracket and screw set with wall an­chors.

For the back­yard cam­era I also in­stalled the so­lar panel, which is pack­aged sep­a­rately with its own mount­ing kit. Once it’s mounted, you plug the

con­nec­tor wire into the back of the Spot­light Cam and se­cure it with two screws. It fits flush to keep wa­ter out of the port. Ring rec­om­mends one- to two hours of di­rect sun­light per day to keep your bat­tery charged, and you can an­gle the so­lar panel’s mount­ing arm to en­sure it soaks up as much sun as pos­si­ble. The days I tested the Spot­light Cam So­lar were mostly over­cast, but I still saw a 3- to 4 per­cent charge in­crease each day, and I’d ex­pect much more on sunny days.

I had a suf­fi­ciently strong sig­nal from my router to each cam­era, but re­sults will vary depend­ing on the lay­out of your home. If you do see streaming is­sues, such as res­o­lu­tion de­te­ri­o­ra­tion or loss of sig­nal, you might need to in­stall the cam­era closer to your router or use a Wi-Fi range ex­ten­der, such as the Ring Chime Pro Wi-Fi range ex­ten­der (£49 from fave.co/2OtUfsJ).

Like its cameras, Ring’s range ex­ten­der is an 802.11n de­vice that op­er­ates on the 2.4GHz fre­quency band only.

You set up the Chime Pro, which also adds a chime sound to your mo­tion de­tec­tion alerts, in a process that’s sim­i­lar to the cam­era in­stal­la­tion: you plug it in to an AC out­let some­where be­tween your router and the cam­era to re­peat the wire­less sig­nal. I used a spare out­let in my kitchen as that was roughly the halfway point be­tween my liv­ing room router and the cam­era on the front of my house. Once the Chime Pro is plugged in, a voice prompt will tell you it’s ready to set up. You then add the de­vice in the Ring app then fol­low the voice and app prompts to con­nect it to your wire­less net­work.

The next step is to con­nect the Chime Pro to the Spot­light Cam. The Ring app dis­plays all the Ring de­vices con­nected to your net­work, with a but­ton be­neath each that says ‘con­nect to Chime Pro’. Just press it and the Chime Pro’s voice prompt lets you know it’s look­ing for the cam­era and when the con­nec­tion has been com­pleted. You can ac­cess the Chime Pro, and any other ac­tive Ring cameras, from the Ring app’s My De­vices screen. Here you’ll also see a running feed of all de­tected ac­tiv­ity, which you can

fil­ter to view only those trig­gered by mo­tion, by but­ton presses (in the case of the video door­bell), and those you’ve starred as note­wor­thy.

An in­tu­itive app

Tap­ping the Spot­light Cam icon in the Ring app opens a ded­i­cated screen with all the cam­era’s con­trols laid out. The Ring app is one of the best in this re­gard, as it doesn’t re­quire you to go hunt­ing through nested set­tings menus to find what you need. At the top are on/off tog­gles for the cam­era’s lights and mo­tion alerts. Us­ing a se­lec­tion of but­tons be­low these, you can open the cam­era’s streaming feed, event his­tory light set­tings, and more.

The im­age qual­ity was sharp, with even light­ing and none of the colour tint­ing I en­coun­tered with the Ring Stick Up Cam. When you’re view­ing the live stream, you can com­mu­ni­cate with a vis­i­tor – or in­ter­loper – us­ing a pair of phone icons over­laid on the im­age. You can also man­u­ally turn on the spot­light from this screen.

Mo­tion de­tec­tion was re­spon­sive and ac­cu­rate with the de­fault set­tings, which placed the sen­si­tiv­ity mid­way on a scale be­tween ‘peo­ple only’ and ‘all mo­tion’. You can ad­just this to your lik­ing with the slider, or use it in com­bi­na­tion with cus­tom­iz­a­ble mo­tion zones. With each alert, Chime Pro si­mul­ta­ne­ously emit­ted a dig­i­tal Ring. This en­sured I was kept aware of de­tected ac­tiv­ity even when I was home, as I don’t usu­ally carry my phone around the house. You can change the chime’s sound and vol­ume and ‘snooze’ it for pe­ri­ods of time in the Ring app.

The Spot­light Cam em­ploys the com­mon method of us­ing bound­ing boxes over the cam­era im­age to de­fine de­tec­tion zones, but you can use the box han­dles to twist it into any kind of geo­met­ric shape, not just squares. That al­lows you to work around out­door ar­eas where you don’t have as much con­trol over the en­vi­ron­ment as you do in­side your home. There’s also a schedul­ing op­tion to dis­able mo­tion alerts dur­ing cer­tain times of day.

You can set mo­tion zones for the lights, too. In this case, the app shows a graphic rep­re­sen­ta­tion off the mo­tion sen­sor’s 270-de­gree range, and you can de­fine where you want move­ment to turn on the lights by tap­ping up to three pre­set zones and then ex­pand­ing or re­duc­ing cov­er­age in those zones us­ing a slider. Depend­ing on your set­tings, the light will stay on for one- to 15 min­utes.

At max power, the cam­era’s lights were more than enough to light up my mod­est-sized side yard. Depend­ing on the size of yours, you might want to dial down the in­ten­sity in the app.

Ver­dict

Whether you opt for one of the wired or bat­tery­pow­ered Ring Spot­light Cams, you’ll get an im­pres­sive

cam­era that ef­fec­tively fills a nec­es­sary niche: pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for gar­dens, drives, and other spots around the perime­ter of homes that be­come par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble af­ter dark. While it will work great as a stand­alone cam­era, it will shine as part of more com­pre­hen­sive se­cu­rity set up with other Ring de­vices – I used it in con­junc­tion with the Ring Door­bell and a Stick Up Cam – for seam­less 360-de­gree sur­veil­lance of your prop­erty.

Home se­cu­rity cameras push no­ti­fi­ca­tions to your smart­phone when they de­tect events

The Arlo Pro 2 of­fers im­proved mo­tion de­tec­tion

The Nest Cam IQ Out­door’s night vi­sion of­fers plenty of de­tail

Many cameras can be ac­cessed through a web por­tal

Net­gear Arlo Pro 2 (two-pack)

Arlo Pro 2’s ‘armed’ mode rules can be cus­tom­ized to your lik­ing

Nest Cam IQ Out­door

In­tel­li­gent alerts dis­tin­guish be­tween hu­man and non­hu­man sounds

The Nest app makes it easy to find daily videos of recorded ac­tiv­ity

Ring Spot­light Cam Wired

The Ring Chime Pro Wi-Fi range ex­ten­der can come in handy if your Ring door­bell or se­cu­rity cameras are too far from your router

The Ring app pro­vides a running feed of ac­tiv­ity on all your con­nected cameras

The lights’ mo­tions sen­sor range can be ad­justed up to 270 feet

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