Updated June 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best smart home cameras

Security and peace of mind are top concerns no matter where you live, whether you’re a homeowner in the suburbs or an apartment dweller in a city neighborhood. So, the popularity of smart home cameras and the many different brands and models available come as no surprise.

These smart devices combine the top features of security cameras with the ability to respond to intruders or emergencies as soon as they happen. Thanks to the cameras’ core connectivity feature, users can monitor their living space when they’re away from home. Best of all, the cameras are increasingly easy to set up and use.

Does a smart home camera fit your needs and budget? A good buying guide and trusted recommendations can run through the key features and concerns to help you decide which smart home camera will work best for you.

smart home camera
The presence of an outdoor smart home camera can deter thieves before they strike. Place your camera in a location where it’s easy to see.

How to buy the best smart home camera

A smart home camera allows you to record digital footage inside and around your home just as a connected security camera does. However, the smart camera lets you monitor your home even when you’re hundreds of miles away. These cameras make a good home security option for those who are worried about break-ins or package theft. While a smart camera won’t necessarily stop these types of crimes, it can alert you when something out of the ordinary is going on.

Connected security cameras record video and sometimes audio just as smart home cameras do. However, they do not offer the range of interconnected options that a smart camera does, and they can’t be monitored remotely from a smartphone.

How smart home cameras work

These cameras incorporate several options that can be controlled through an interface, such as an app on your smartphone. The device connects to your WiFi router. This allows it to send data to the mobile app on your phone no matter where you are. It enables the smart camera to connect to a data storage service (an option offered by most providers of these devices) to store the images it records, usually for an additional monthly fee.

Bluetooth connectivity is offered in most models today, a key feature that enables seamless, secure connections, without having to enter your WiFi router password, to smart home devices like Echo, Nest, and others. This provides another layer of communication to users, who can set up their camera through voice commands to their smart home device.

Setting up a smart home camera

Setup is pretty easy for these cameras. Just install the product’s app on your smartphone and follow the on-screen directions to plug in the camera and connect it to Bluetooth and WiFi.

Once you’ve established the connection and ensured that the camera works, you can look for a place to mount the camera. Some of these cameras come with a stand that allows you to set it upright on a shelf or table. Others, especially those meant to be installed outdoors, can be mounted with either screws or sticky mounts.

Indoors, outdoors, or both

Indoors: Smart home cameras for indoor use can point at doors to see who’s entering. They can be set up in the kitchen or living room or the nursery so you can keep an eye on the baby from your bedroom. They can be placed inside the garage to monitor the space and alert you if anyone breaks in.

Outdoors: Likewise, smart home cameras placed outdoors can alert you to someone walking onto the property or coming onto your porch. You can monitor the backyard or pool, and you can use them to see who’s ringing the doorbell before answering your door.

If you plan to use a smart home camera outdoors, choose one that’s rated for outdoor use. These can stand up to hot and cold weather and include sturdier mounting hardware so they stay in position even on windy days.

smart home camera
DID YOU KNOW?
Change the camera’s factory-provided password right away. Smart home camera apps will prompt you to change the default password at startup. Don’t bypass this important security setting or you might get hacked.
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Top features of smart home cameras

Connectivity and security

WiFi and Bluetooth: These are essential to accessing all the smart features of the camera, and WiFi encryption provides a layer of security.

Firewall: A built-in firewall allows you to control access to the camera, providing another layer of security besides the WPA/WPA2 encryption on your WiFi router.

Cloud storage: You can store recorded footage on a remote server, enabling you to access hours of video anytime it’s needed. This option is typically offered as a monthly subscription.

Monitoring

WDR: Wide dynamic range technology enables you to view much more of the room, porch, or yard thanks to a wider field of vision.

Audio: It’s helpful to be able to hear as well as see who’s in the camera view. Some models incorporate a speaker and play a prerecorded message when the motion sensor is triggered. Some high-end cameras allow two-way communication.

Facial recognition: With this feature, the camera can be set up to recognize the faces of family members and friends so that it only alerts you to people who aren’t in its recognition profile.

Real-time remote viewing: You can get a live view of what’s happening in front of the smart camera, which allows you to take action quickly.

Motion detection: A smart home camera relies on motion sensors to alert you to someone entering the house or approaching the door. This feature also enables other options like playing an audio message, recording video, and sending out alerts.

Geofencing

This feature uses your phone’s GPS to detect when you’ve left the house. It can be used to automatically turn on the smart home camera’s monitoring features so you don’t have to remember to do it every time you go out.

Battery backup

An on-board battery ensures that the camera will continue working during a power outage.

Fine-tune the motion sensor. Smart home camera apps let you set the level of sensitivity to motion so you won’t be bothered by false alerts every time the wind blows.

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How much do smart home cameras cost?

Inexpensive

If you only need to monitor one to two rooms, you can find single smart home cameras for indoor use for $35 to $99.

Mid-range

Outdoor cameras and dual or triple camera systems cost between $101 and $245.

Expensive

Look for premium features like solar chargers, two-way communication, and sirens in the $249 to $319 range.

How do I accessorize a smart home camera?

While most smart home cameras are closed systems that provide their own accessories (for example, if you want a solar battery charger for an outdoor Blink camera, you need to buy their solar kit), there are other smart devices that augment the system and connect through a smart home system like Echo or Nest.

Smart water leak sensor

This is a must-have for vacation homeowners who are away for weeks or months. Water sensors are placed around the house where water leaks may occur and can even be named individually.

Smart LED bulb

Versatile and long-lasting, this smart device can be controlled by voice or through a wide range of illumination settings and timers on your smart home system.

Smart home speaker

Not just stylish techy gadgets, smart home speakers have integrated features like two-way talk (through other speakers in the house). They connect to a smart home system like Echo or Nest.

Smart garage door opener

Solve one of a homeowner’s biggest worries with a smart garage door opener. You can check through a smartphone app to make sure the door is closed when you’re away.

smart home camera
DID YOU KNOW?
If you’re pointing a smart camera out the window, place the lens as close to the glass as possible to reduce glare and reflections.
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Tips

  • Position the camera where it will be most effective. Putting a home security camera where anyone can see it can help deter thieves. And use corners and height to your advantage. Placing the camera as high as possible in a corner will give you a wider field of view.
  • Be mindful of privacy laws. Before setting up a security camera, make sure it doesn’t violate your neighbors’ privacy. Make sure to aim the camera so that it’s focused only on your property.
  • Check for glare. Review footage to see if direct light like solar glare or a bright porch light is obscuring the view. Reposition the camera to correct the issue.
  • Clean the camera regularly. Outdoor cameras get dirty quickly. Regularly check your smart home camera to brush away dust and cobwebs and wipe the lens with a lens-cleaning cloth.
  • Test the camera before you install it. Don’t install the camera until you’re sure it works properly and connects to your smart device without a problem.
  • Protect the camera from the elements. Outdoor smart home cameras should be placed in a location that is sheltered from rain, snow, sunlight, and wind.
smart home camera
You can use your smart home camera to monitor a vacation home. The camera can instantly alert you to intruders, flooding, or other damage even when you’re hundreds of miles away.

FAQ

Q. Do smart home cameras need WiFi or an internet connection?

A. In order to use all of the features that a smart home camera provides, you must connect it to your home’s WiFi router (which in turn connects to the internet). The router should be password protected and provide a layer of encryption (WPA or WPA2) to reduce the chances of the camera being hacked. In fact, most of these cameras won’t work unless you connect them to either a smart device, WiFi, or both.

Q. How can I test mount my camera outside before permanently installing it?

A. Use removable two-sided mounting tape or hook-and-loop strips in the space where you want to mount the camera. If the spot doesn’t work, you can quickly remove the strips and try another location before committing to a permanent mount.

Q. Is my smart home camera vulnerable to hacking if I send it commands remotely?

A. There’s always a risk of malware or other intrusive programs accessing your phone or apps, but you can reduce that risk dramatically by following some key security steps. Always lock your smartphone screen when you’re not using it, and make sure it can only be accessed through a secure feature like a PIN or pattern, facial recognition, or fingerprint access. Don’t use your camera’s app when you’re connected to public WiFi, such as in a cafe or airport.

Q. Do these cameras offer two-factor authentication for extra security?

A. Two-factor authentication is slowly making its way onto smart devices, but few smart home cameras have this feature enabled. It will likely be added to smart camera apps first in the very near future, so stay tuned.

Q. How can I make sure a smart home camera isn’t constantly recording me?

A. Most of us prefer to not have a camera watching our every move when we’re at home. Set the geofence feature on the camera’s app to turn it off when it detects your smartphone is in the house. Look for smart home cameras that have a physical shutter. It’s a plastic cover that you can slide over the camera lens when it’s not in use. The drawback is that you must remember to open the shutter when you leave the house, but it does provide extra security that hackers can’t get around. Also, if you subscribe to cloud storage, you can set the amount of time to keep stored footage on the server before it’s automatically deleted.

Q. How do I connect a smart home camera to my phone?

A. Cameras by major manufacturers like Arlo and Ring have companion apps. Install the correct app (look in the user manual or start-up guide provided with the camera) and follow the on-screen instructions to activate the camera and connect it to your smartphone.

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