Q. Can you recommend a good, low-cost (under a few hundred dollars), wireless security camera system that automatically records and notifies you when motion is detected?
A. You can find dozens of security camera systems on the market, priced from very low to extremely high, to meet virtually any level of digital security you desire. As a low-cost alternative, I have several Blink cameras installed at my homes and offices. When those security cameras detect motion, they not only capture and save videos to Blink's free cloud-based storage, but they also send notifications with hyperlinks to the newly recorded videos to my smartphone. As I receive video notifications, I can either watch the recorded security videos or view a live camera feed. I can also see, hear, and speak remotely to any person(s) in the room through the Blink camera system. Some of the advantages of the Blink camera security system are as follows:
- Lower cost. As of July 2016, a single Blink camera and sync module sold for $99, and additional cameras could be purchased for $60 each. Several other pricing options are available, and there are no additional or recurring fees.
- Easy setup. Setup was fairly easy. First, I connected/synced the base module to my Wi-Fi router, using my Wi-Fi router's password. Next, I installed two batteries in each camera and entered each camera's unique ID number into the downloaded Blink app on my smartphone. The system automatically synced the base module to the cameras and was ready to use in about 30 seconds (per camera). I then positioned each camera strategically to cover major entryways.
- Multiple remote devices. My cameras and the videos they capture can be remotely viewed from my various desktop computers and smartphone, and also from my wife's smartphone. Users can install and operate the Blink app on as many devices as they desire (although live feed for a given camera is limited to one remote device at a time).
- Camera quality. The camera records full-color, 720-pixel, high-definition video (which is fairly good given the price range) and automatically turns on an LED-illuminating flash to brighten the room as needed. You can connect as many as 10 cameras to a single sync unit. According to the company, the included lithium batteries should last about one year with normal use.
- Activation. I can turn the Blink system on or off from my smartphone manually, or, for more convenience, I can set a schedule for automatic activation and deactivation. For example, I might set all cameras in my home to activate automatically at midnight and deactivate automatically at 6 a.m., but I manually turn on all cameras when we take a trip.
Some of the disadvantages and limitations of the Blink system are as follows:
- Wireless range limitations. The Blink security cameras connect to your Wi-Fi network, hence the sync unit must be positioned in range of your Wi-Fi router or Wi-Fi repeaters (if any) (my sync units are located about 98 feet from my Wi-Fi router), and the cameras must be positioned in range of the sync unit (my cameras are all positioned about 30 to 40 feet from my sync unit). Based on signal strength readings provided by the devices, I think my sync modules and cameras are set at just about the maximum range possible.
- Limited video clips length. Recorded video clips are limited to 10 seconds each, with a maximum of two video clips recorded each minute. Further, Blink does not capture video when viewing a remote camera in Live View mode—you can either see what's going on remotely or record what's going on remotely, but you cannot do both at the same time.
- Mainly for indoor use. Blink cameras are not waterproof and should be used only in dry areas, such as under a covered front doorway.
- Limited storage capacity. The Blink cloud-based servers automatically store up to 1,440 videos (roughly); thereafter, newer videos overwrite older videos.
- Motion detection limitation. I initially installed a Blink camera inside my home pointing out through a window onto my driveway, but I discovered the type of motion detection Blink employs does not work through glass.
- No remote pan and tilt. My older security cameras could remotely pan, tilt, and zoom, which allowed me to look around; Blink cameras do not offer this functionality. (However, my older camera system was more expensive and more difficult to set up, and the captured videos were not automatically saved to the internet, so if a burglar stole the camera system and connected computer, the captured security video clips would also be lost.)
Hundreds of good wired security camera systems are available on the market with very sophisticated features, but until recently, the wireless security options priced under a few hundred dollars seem to have been complicated to set up and delivered mixed results. The Blink camera system seems to offer a fairly simple, low-cost solution that works.
About the author
J. Carlton Collins (email@example.com) is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.
Note: Instructions for Microsoft Office in “Technology Q&A” refer to the 2007 through 2016 versions, unless otherwise specified.
Submit a question
Do you have technology questions for this column? Or, after reading an answer, do you have a better solution? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret being unable to individually answer all submitted questions.