NOW THAT ALL that iPhone business is out of the way, I've had time to get back to my occasional series on building a smart home. This time, I'm going to talk about security cameras.
Now, we've had a ludicrous number of these offered up for review over the summer, with different pros and cons. Some offer face recognition. Some detect whether you are at home or away. But they almost all have the same thing in common.
To paraphrase Richard Ayoade, it's an "automatic lock-in situation". Unlike other parts of the smart home, there are very few options to mix and match security cameras, which is surprising as CCTV been around a lot longer than most of the other things in the sector.
It's unsustainable, but at the moment, to make the most of almost every camera you're about to see requires you to sign up to a bespoke cloud service from that manufacturer.
Yes, most of them work without a fee, but in a very stunted sort of way and they still won't work with other brands.
What's particularly frustrating about this is that there actually is a standard for home security cameras. It's called ONVIF. But none of the big brands are supporting it. Even D-Link, who co-founded ONVIF and many of whose cameras in the past were ONVIF compatible, have come out with something bespoke.
So first, let's talk about a simple old school solution. A DVR - digital video recorder - which will take any generic cameras.
The one we're using is made by Annke, it starts at £99.99 with no camera, or for £169.99 you can get one with four wired camera included. Which seems like a bargain to us.
Wired is a bit fiddly, so you might want to consider getting some wifi cameras. In theory, the Annke recorder will detect any wifi cameras on the network that are compatible and you can wire them in.
The other option is to use your NAS. Synology have a great surveillance manager package as part of their NAS range (I'm using a Synology 216+ from last year) and that will pick up all your wireless cameras. Then the only reason to use the Annke would be to wire in your wired set-up. That's a bit belt-and-braces (but not completely daft either).
Right, having got that out of the way, if you want something more modern, there are a lot of options, so let's have a look at the major ones. And before I am too down on them all, let's remember, almost all of the below still work with IFTTT. And in the unlikely event that doesn't mean anything to you, we'll tackle it another time, but even a smart home virgin needs IFTTT in their life.
Ring Stickup Cam
The Ring ecosystem is primarily aimed at a "perimeter fence" outside your home. And it does so beautifully, offering motion detection that is exceptional, with very few false positives. Ring's "hero" product is its video doorbell, which we're saving for another day, but the unique selling point of the Stickup Cam is the (optional) solar panels which means you can put it up and forget about it most of the time, and definitely worth the extra investment. Even in midwinter in the gloomy UK, it was able to sustain over 90 per cent charge most of the time.
All Ring cameras come with the option to select the "field of vision" for alerts, from under its nose, through to halfway across the garden, though it's worth noting that the further out you go, the more false positives you get. We had issues with buses on the main road, but reangling the camera fixed that.
Incidentally, we asked if Ring had any plans for an indoor camera and they told us they did not, which means it will never be your "all in one" fix, but there's equally no reason why you can't put up Stickup cams indoors, though you'll lack the definition and the whistles and bells of other indoor systems.
Speaking of floodlight cameras, our second contender, and easily the most French, is Netatmo, a company we adore for its chic design and superior ideas. No, the cameras aren't universal, but they have more whistles and bells than you can shake a baguette at.
The most important of these is the brilliant facial recognition, that came a good two years before most of its rivals, and still wipes the floor with them.
It can tell you who has just got home, and you can decide how long since you have seen that person should be counted as them being "out". With a bit more integration it could be incredibly powerful at detecting friends and foes. It can spot pets and random animals, and combines them in the newer Presence camera with a powerful spotlight triggered by movement - and you can even select if that movement is human or animal.
Best of all, the indoor camera (Welcome) stores to SD card by default, so there's no cloud service to worry about, unless it sees someone coming too close, as if to attack it, or disconnect it. In that case, a picture of their face goes straight to Netatmo's servers for you to download and pass to the police.
In short, it is on paper the perfect system. The only major problems are price (its premium) and we've found the set up a little temperamental. Just a little mind. On the whole, if we had deep pockets, we'd go for this. No brainer.
That may surprise you. After all, isn't Nest supposed to be the daddy? Well yes and no. The build quality of the latest indoor and outdoor cameras is nothing short of spectacular. But Nest is designed for use with an ecosystem and unless you want to go "all in" then it becomes a brick pretty quickly. With Nest, as you'd expect from Google, almost everything is cloud based and without paying a subscription the camera alone does very little, is compatible with nothing else and generally really irks me.
Latest UK releases are an indoor camera and an outdoor camera. The main differences are that one is on a stand, the other on a magnetic holder, and the outdoor one can be connected directly to the mains supply.
As we were putting this piece together, we heard that Nest were planning a whole new range of stuff. But with so much of the features like facial recognition completely cloud dependent, it feels like we're reviewing the software not the hardware, and unless you are already tied into the works with Nest framework, it's probably not the best buy here. And that's from a Googler.
A more refreshing alternative comes from Blink. The cameras may feel a bit flimsy but they are full-featured, even down to a light, and best of all, the price includes cloud storage. They're completely wireless with a battery that should last around two years. At present, there's little in the way of integration but it has IFTTT and Alexa and that's a ruddy good start. Meanwhile, motion detection wakes up the camera and starts in filming. An outdoor version is on the way, but we kind of like it as it is, a cracking indoor system.
Each camera comes with a hinged wall mount which can only be tilted in one direction, but if you need it to pivot automatically, this really isn't the camera for you. But the remote quality is superb for checking on the go and not being tied into a monthly fee is a major, and we mean, major, selling point. If this starts to get adopted by the likes of SmartThings then it's going to be major.
Most importantly, the modest pricing means its one of the few systems here that doesn't make me baulk at the idea of kitting every room with them and still having money to eat.
Logi Circle 2
While we were impressed with the Logi Circle's promise, it didn't really do a lot. In fact, it felt more like a webcam than a security product, which given Logitech's pedigree, isn't that surprising.
The new Logi Circle 2 is a slightly different proposition. It's waterproof and can be chopped and changed between a range of accessories from an outdoor mount to a flexible arm. There's even a suction pad so you can stick it to glass and monitor outside from inside.
This makes it the most versatile item we've seen, though many of the accessories are yet to come to market. It also now has IFTTT and Alexa support and can interweave with the original Circle camera, but again this is a solution that works best with its own kind. Cloud recording is premium and expensive, and we've had reports from testers that viewing the camera remotely is almost unwatchable compared to some others.
Both Logitech and Nokia need to decide why they are in the home security camera market before releasing much more.
The newly rechristened Nokia Health (better known previously as Withings) has a similar French chic to the Netatmo. With such a gorgeous range of watches and body sensing nick nacks, it's difficult to know exactly where the Home fits. It has a separate app and doesn't really do much for an otherwise tight ecosystem.
Its USP is its ability to measure air quality and tell you when it is less than good. Which is great, but for something that is otherwise for keeping an eye on the house, seems a bit misplaced.
We're told that as Nokia evolves the old Withings range, its place will make more sense, but in the meantime, you're left with this as the "odd duck" of the list. And yes, storing recordings comes courtesy of an additional charge.
Canary has been around a while now and as such should be a no-brainer, representing as it does, an all-in-one system with camera and siren. This was recently augmented by the Flex, an indoor-outdoor camera that can run off battery or mains, and sticks up with a magnetic grip like the Nest (and with a similar build quality).
Where Canary comes unstuck from our point of view is that, alongside the usual proprietary cloud subscription, it is way behind on integration. So much so in fact, it doesn't even have an IFTTT channel. Weirdly, its only current integration apart from the ubiquitous Alexa is with US-only smart home hub Wink. Which is a shame as it has all the makings of a powerhouse. We're told Canary is "always looking into" new partnerships. We hope that means soon as we like Canary.
Arlo is the system all the others want to be when they grow up. It's far from perfect, mind you, with a huge clunky hub which attaches to your router required to use its wireless cameras. Add in the fact that although, yes, they're wireless, but they guzzle fairly expensive batteries (123A size, if you're interested - price them out and sob). The good news is, Arlo is a bit more willing to open up its system and will play nicely with Gideon, SmartThings and of course IFTTT.
The Arlo Q range adds a plug-in camera with 1080p definition and the Arlo Pro adds ethernet. Both work without the central hub.
The big kicker is the pricing. This is a premium product from the Netgear stable, and one that you need to commit a couple of grand to doing inside and out properly, if that's what you're planning.
Somfy is a company better known for electric window blinds, but it recently took over MyFox and has rechristened it as Somfy Protect. The new flagship is a very similar product to the Canary, with a super-loud alarm alongside the camera.
But Somfy goes a step further, using the Somfy One as a hub to a network of cameras, motion sensors, and keyfobs. Some of these are hangovers from the MyFox days, with the keyfobs doubling as presence detectors to arm the alarm when everyone is out of range.
Somfy's "Intellitags" which mount on doors are similar to a part of the Netatmo offering. Both work without the need for a magnetic sensor, relying on an accelerometer to check if there's been movement. Somfy's work far better though, and although it has some way to go, the Somfy One offers more integration than the Canary.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment on the list is D-Link's new sub-brand Omna, which is primarily aimed at Apple HomeKit users, and boy do we know it. In fact, Android users, are faced with the bleak prospect that in order to use it, they need to update the firmware, and to do that, they need an Apple Homekit device. Seriously, that's how badly thought out this is.
But it goes on. Omna, a device from a member of the ONVIF alliance, doesn't support ONVIF, but instead has a… you guessed it… proprietary cloud service.
D-Link has something of an identity crisis right now. Its cameras now run on three different systems, with some supporting its smart home platform, while other, seemingly identical items don't. D-Link desperately needs to work out who it is, find a single system and stick with it. Quickly.
Aukey IP Camera
Aukey's proposition is simple. Good camera with tilt and zoom. Slightly Chinglish app. Cheap enough to do the whole house, but little room for integration. And if that's what you need, Aukey's camera is one of the better of the myriad of similar looking items on Amazon. Don't expect miracles, but for a simple solution that records to an SD card (yay no cloud server!) you can't get much better
In summing up then, any attempt to set up a home security system at the moment means taking a gamble. You either go for the simple solutions that sit alongside the rest of your home but don't form a particularly exciting addition to it, or you buy into a system that may or may not integrate in a few years time.
But there's one more thing to consider. If you got an alert whilst sitting on a beach somewhere telling you there was someone breaking into your house, would you actually want to know? It seems like an obvious answer, but in reality, it's a moral maze. µ
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