Being able to keep an eye on your property when you’re not at home can be a comfort for many of us. In fact, when it comes to the crimes Americans worry most about, 35% say their property being burgled when they’re not around is their biggest concern according to market research firm Statistia.
This is where the best smart home security cameras come in, as they’ll send an alert to your smartphone if they detect motion so you can take appropriate action, and they’re far easier to install, and more affordable than traditional wired CCTV systems.
But just how do these smart home devices work, what you can actually do with them and do you really need one?
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So, how do home security cameras work
In the US, one in five homes has a home security camera installed (according to Safety.com’s home security survey) making them among the most popular smart home devices on the market right now.
However, they’re not just for home security – they can also be handy if you want to check the kids are home from school and doing their homework rather than playing outside or, thanks to the built-in speakers, soothe anxious pets that are home alone.
Home security cameras work in the same way as the best video doorbells, by connecting to the internet and sending a notification to your phone whenever motion is detected in the camera’s field of view.
If you receive a notification, or you just want to see what’s happening at your home, you can use the companion app on your smartphone, tablet, or if you’re home on a compatible smart display, such as the Amazon Echo Show 10 or the Google Nest Hub (2nd generation), to view a live feed from the camera to see what’s happening.
All security cameras also feature a built-in speaker and microphone that allow you to converse with anyone in the camera’s field of view too.
Home security cameras will also store the footage recorded when motion is detected so it can be reviewed back at a later date.
This is handy if you missed the notification when it arrived, but want to see just what triggered an activity alert. However, for many home security cameras, this does require a monthly subscription, which starts from $2.99 / £2.49 / AU$4.49.
Can a home security camera replace a video doorbell?
As they work in the same way, you may be wondering if a home security camera could replace a video doorbell.
While it offers the same basic functions; such as alerting you when it detects a person or motion at your threshold and allowing you to view a live feed from the camera and interact with anyone it’s field of view, there will (obviously) be no physical doorbell for someone to press. Similarly, you’d need a smart speaker, such as an Amazon Echo (2020), or smart display connected to the camera to ensure you got an audible notification inside your home if someone was to arrive at your door.
A security camera is often mounted higher up than a video doorbell to ensure it captures the full length of someone at your door, and with a secure mount that would make it harder for it to be removed by thieves.
So, if you’re just after being able to see who’s at your door, we’d still suggest browsing our list of the best video doorbells for ease of use – but if you’re more interested in home security then you’ll get most of the benefits, such as motion detection and alerts, from a mounter camera.
Base station or direct Wi-Fi?
Some home security cameras, such as those from Ring, Google and Swann connect directly to your home Wi-Fi network, which means they are very simple to set-up and don’t require any extra kit. Others, however, require a base station – sometimes called a hub.
The base station connects directly to your router using an ethernet connection and creates its own Wi-Fi link with the security camera. This connection is often more stable than a direct link between the camera and your router, and is also more secure, meaning the camera’s feed is less likely to be intercepted by unauthorized users.
The benefits don’t stop there either – base stations often offer local storage for footage recorded by the cameras too, removing the need to subscribe to the camera’s cloud storage service.
For some, this is in the form of a micro SD card slot located in the base station, while others use flash memory under the hood of the hub.
However it’s worth noting that with Arlo home security cameras, for example, if you use the base station for local storage, you won’t be able to view the stored videos through the app – you’ll need to remove the micro SD card from the base station and plug it into a computer if you want to review the footage.
Outdoor home security cameras
Many of the home security cameras available right now are mains-powered and designed to be used indoors only.
These are best suited to anyone wanting to check on their pets or kids, rather than those looking for a home security camera to catch intruders, as by the time they are spotted on the camera, they’ll have already breached your home.
Instead, if you’re looking to keep an eye on anyone lurking on your property, consider a weather-proof camera for the exterior of your home, and they’re available in both mains-powered models and battery-operated designs.
Those connected to the mains may require professional installation if you don’t have the relevant electrical qualifications, but they’ll constantly be monitoring for motion without worry of discharging.
Battery-operated home security cameras should last anywhere from three to twelve months before they need recharging.
However, this depends on a number of factors: how many times the camera identifies motion, how often its live feed is activated and the number of times the microphone and speaker are used to interact with someone in the camera’s field of view.
Obviously they’ll be out of action when the battery needs recharging – the camera will notify you when the battery level is getting low – unless they have a removable battery and you purchase an additional one, which can be swapped with the dead battery in seconds.
Plenty of smarts
Receiving notifications about motion detected by your home security cameras can be useful, if it’s about a real incident, but those that turn out to be about birds on your lawn, the wind rustling through trees or even car headlights shining through windows from the road can be frustrating.
To combat this, many home security cameras including those from Arlo, Ring, Eufy and Google also offer handy features to reduce these nuisance alerts; for example activity zones so you’re only alerted when motion is detected in these areas and AI that can identify whether an animal, vehicle or person caused the alert too.
Most home security cameras also offer integration with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or HomeKit, so they can be set to work with your smart speakers and smart displays; alerting you when motion is detected and in the case of smart displays, as well as some TV streaming devices, viewing the camera’s feed on its screen or your TV. Not all home security cameras are compatible with all voice assistants, however, so make sure you check it will work with your current kit before you buy.
Which are the best home security cameras?
This battery-powered weatherproof home security camera almost has it all, making it our top pick from those seeking a home security camera. Rather than use a subscription service, the Eufycam 2 stores footage recorded by the camera to 16GB of memory found in the base station that comes with the camera, so there are no ongoing costs associated with this camera. That’s roughly around a month’s worth of footage, and unlike Arlo’s home security cameras, the footage can be reviewed through a smartphone
Even better, Eufy says the battery will last an entire year before it needs recharging – based on 10 motion detections a day, with each resorting in a 30-second video being stored.
However, the battery is built-in, so the camera will be out of action when it needs recharging, although this only takes around six hours.
This is a Full HD camera, which means if you plan to mount the camera high-up on the exterior of your property to ensure it covers a wide area, the footage may not be as detailed as you’d hope. There’s no option for continuous recording either.
Read our full review: Anker Eufycam 2
For those that do want to mount a security camera high-up on the exterior of their property, this 4K battery-operated model from Arlo is the best you can buy, but it doesn’t come cheap.
Simple to use, the image quality is extremely detailed – on test we were able to pick out a car number plate clearly, even though the camera was mounted on the exterior of our property, in the middle of the second storey.
It’ll even identify whether motion was created by a person, animal, vehicle, or some other source.
Just like the Anker EufyCam 2 above – it uses a base station rather than connecting directly to your Wi-Fi network. There is a micro SD card slot for local storage in the base, but you won’t be able to view the footage in the Arlo app – you’ll need to plug the micro SD card into a computer.
To get access to the smart features Arlo cameras offer, you really do need to subscribe to Arlo Secure, which is priced from $4.99 / £3.99 / AU$7.49 per month.
Read our full review: Arlo Ultra 2
If you’re looking for an indoor security camera that lets you keep an eye and talk to your children or pets, the Blink Mini is one of the cheapest you can buy, without compromising on image quality.
The camera records Full HD footage when motion is detected both during the day and at night, while the built-in speaker and microphone means you can interact with anyone in the camera’s field of view. However, it’s mains-powered so you will be restricted on where it can be installed.
It offers both cloud storage and local storage, although you’ll need to purchase an additional sync module if you want to use local storage, which will set you back $34.99 / £34.99, as well as a USB flash drive up to 256GB (around $25 / £25).
Unsurprisingly when the free trial of the cloud storage ends, you’ll need to fork out $3 / £2.50 per month if you want to continue with that option.
Read our full review: Blink Mini