Who needs Big Brother watching you, when you can do it yourself? Pop a smart security camera in your flat, in the garden or by the front steps and in a few taps of your phone you can see what’s happening at home. A really simple measure, which stands first in any comprehensive security plan, in my view, well before considering assembled AR-10 rifles and manned security guards.
Smart security cameras are light years ahead of the old-fashioned CCTV of our misspent youth and are equally as adept at keeping tabs on your family and four-legged friends as they are at spooking strangers. Equipped with motion sensors, sirens, lights and a Wi-Fi connection, they can spot, scare off, and record would-be burglars – sending the footage to your smartphone. AI gives these connected cameras the smarts to tell the difference between a person and a tree branch, and even recognise specific faces as well as listen for sounds of trouble – or the dog barking incessantly while you’re at work.
There’s a lot of tech packed into these devices, which can make choosing the right one tricky. The most crucial feature is good quality video that you can view live or view later, when the camera’s been triggered to record by an event. 1080p is the sweet spot, anything lower and you won’t be able to make out much, anything higher and it’ll cost you on your bandwidth and your bill.
Battery-powered versus wired is another biggie. While going wire-free has its limitations (keeping batteries charged is a chore and you might miss some of the action), installation is a cinch and you can pretty much stick a camera anywhere your Wi-Fi can go. Wired cams are great for indoor-use – where there’s plenty of plugs to set up surveillance that lets you check Fluffy didn’t eat the sofa, break up your teenage daughter’s party, or just drop in and see if the house is alright when you’re on the beach in Fiji.
“But I don’t want my home life broadcast over the internet,” you say. Fair point. With now regular news stories around cameras getting hacked and connected devices listening in on your life, the thought of bringing more monitoring into your home might leave you with chills; so don’t. But the good news is these devices have got smarter about being dumber. You can easily disable recording with one tap in an app, by throwing a request at your voice assistant, or just by using your phone’s location, so you can be sure there’s no recording while you’re relaxing.
We’ve rounded up some of the best options for smart security cameras so you can find your new best fiend.
What’s the best smart security camera system?
The best smart security cameras you can buy right now come from Amazon-owned Ring. While they don’t have the top specs or the most advanced features, they are the most reliable, delivering consistently clear, crisp video, with excellent, affordable options to fit into any scenario you might want an all-seeing eye to cover. We particularly like the Ring Stick Up Cam (£69): it can be used indoors or out, has a versatile mounting system, comes in black or white, and can be powered by battery, solar or plugged in.
If you want some impressive smart features with a side of privacy, consider the Netatmo Smart Indoor Camera (£149): it looks gorgeous, learns who lives in your home and only records strangers or when your dog eats the toast off the table. While it stores everything locally for free, it also works with Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video. Ring aside, it’s the best indoor security camera.
For the non-Apple acolytes, Google Nest Cam IQ (£329) is the best outdoor smart security camera: it can record 24/7, never needs charging, has built-in facial recognition and a nifty zoom and track feature that keeps perps – or lawn pooping-dogs – in its digital sights.
WIRED Recommends: Ring offers the best home security camera system you can buy right now
Video quality: 1080p | Power options: Battery, wired, solar | Subscription fee: £2.50 to £5 a month | Works with: Alexa, IFTTT
If your top priority in a smart camera is security, Ring has you covered. Best known for its eponymous doorbell camera, the company aims to create a ‘Ring of Security’ around your house (and also around your neighbourhood, which has got it in hot water). And to be fair it’s succeeded. We think Ring has the best selection of security cameras, at good prices for any situation you might want covered, that all work well together.
There’s the teeny, tiny Indoor Cam (£49) that fits in the palm of your hand, the outdoor Spotlight Cam (£199) and Indoor/Outdoor Stick Up Cam (£69) that can be powered by battery, solar or a good old plug, and the imposing Floodlight Cam (£249) that blasts two, 3000 lumen lights at the hint of motion.
We like that there’s continuity too, every camera sports 1080p HD video quality, excellent night vision, and a good field of view (the range the camera can see), so you don’t have to get bogged down in specs when selecting the right camera for your situation. While the cameras lack some of the more advanced AI features (such as knowing if it’s a package, animal, or vehicle in front of it), they can be set to only tell you when they see people, cutting down on the alert fatigue that can quickly escalate when you install a smart security camera.
Ring’s app is also the best we tested. It sends alerts and shows you, crisp, clear video quickly – either on your phone or on a screen-enabled smart speaker, without you having to lift a finger. A timeline view in the app lets you scroll through all the events and see a sort of timelapse of the action thanks to a new Snapshot feature that takes a picture every few minutes between motion events. You have to pay for Ring’s Protect Plan subscription to get this feature and the person alert option, but that also includes access to recorded footage, which is a necessity with any security camera.
All in, Ring comes out on top for a genuinely great combination of price, options, and ease of use. Nest and Arlo could be argued to have better hardware, but as an overall security system, Ring covers all the bases without costing a fortune or requiring complicated installation. Plus, the cameras integrate seamlessly in the app with the Ring Alarm system and any Echo smart speakers in your home.
Pros: Excellent Alexa integration; easy to use; simple setup; speedy app
Cons: No sound detection; no 24/7 continuous recording, lacking some smart alerts
The best budget smart security camera system
Video quality: 1080p | Power options: Battery | Subscription fee: none | Works with: Alexa, IFTTT
For a basic, budget camera system that’s equally at home indoors as out, the Blink XT2 system can’t be beaten. At £179 for two, battery-powered, fully weatherproof cameras that last up to 2 years on one set of AAs, the Blink XT2 is incredible value for money.
You don’t get a lot of bells and whistles here, there’s no person detection, audio detection or fancy zoom and track – but there is crisp 1080p video, an attempt at night vision, and no monthly fees. The field of view is narrower than most, just 110 degrees, and range was a bit of an issue in our testing – but we were stretching it by installing it in our bunny hutch halfway down the garden (which, yes, makes for some fun videos). You can comfortably put this about 20 metres from its small Wi-Fi Bridge and still get a good connection, any further and your recordings will drop out.
What we love about Blink – other than the price (and this is also an Amazon company, so you know you’ll never have to pay the RRP) – is how easy it is to set up. The design means you can just pop it on a flat surface anywhere – no stand or mount needed. We stuck one between two tree branches facing our front door and didn’t need to get out the drill. There is a small mount included if you do want to put the camera on a wall or other vertical surface.
The app is a bit of a mess though, confusing and unintuitive, and the arm/ disarm option – which turns your cameras on and off – has no customisation, it’s all on or all off. There’s also a minimum ten second retrigger time and clips are set to just five seconds, which means you can miss a lot of action. You can extend the length to a minute, but you can then say bye-bye to your two-year battery life.
Pros: Inexpensive; compact, versatile design; 2-year battery life; no fees
Cons: Poor night vision; narrow field of view; doesn’t get all the action
Netatmo Smart Indoor Camera
The best indoor security camera
Video quality: 1080p | Power options: Wired | Subscription fee: none | Works with: HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT
Putting a camera inside your home may raise some eyebrows among your housemates, and that’s a big reason the Netatmo Smart Indoor Camera (£150) is our pick for an indoor recording device. Privacy is its purpose. Well, as much as it can be the purpose of a recording device.
Facial recognition intelligence lets the Netatmo create a database of your friends and family members’ mugs so that you can tell it who to record and who not to record. At its most stringent it will only record if it spots a stranger.
In our testing, we used this feature primarily as a way to keep tabs on our kids – the camera can send an alert when a certain person arrives home. We also set it to never record when the adults in the house were in its view and were able to set it to turn on and off based on geofencing and our smartphones. Crucially, it doesn’t ever stop monitoring, it just stops recording. Which means you don’t end up with useless footage of you wandering around your house, but can feel confident knowing that if someone did sneak in, the camera would catch it.
As well as distinguishing between people, the Netatmo Smart Indoor camera can also watch for pets (or any other motion) and record or not based on your preferences. The great benefit of all these smarts is that we hardly got any alerts that weren’t useful, something that was a problem with most every other camera we tested.
The downsides are the app can be pretty slow and there’s a bit of lag time when viewing live video. You also really need to set this up by a main entrance for the people option to be useful, which limits your placement options. The lack of two-way audio is odd, it’s something available in every other camera we tested, although in practice we’ve rarely found a reason to use it.
The Netatmo is one of the smartest, least expensive indoor cameras we tested, and it’s by far the best-looking one – precisely because it doesn’t look like a camera. It also stores all its video on the camera, so your video never leaves your home, and there are no monthly fees. If you want a cloud backup – in case someone pinches the camera – you can hook it up to a Dropbox account. If you’re an iPhone user, it’s compatible with Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video, which gives you ten-days of video history with an iCloud subscription.
Pros: Great design; good price; facial recognition; smart alerts; no fees
Cons: Slow app; no two-way audio; narrow field of view
Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
The best outdoor security camera
Video quality: 1080p | Power options: Wired | Subscription fee: £5 to £10 a month | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant
If you’re going to go all Big Brother on your neighbourhood, the Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor (£329) is what you want. A giant white camera with a glowing blue LED ring that looks like it might be hailing the next alien invasion, the Nest Cam IQ does not blend in, but that’s sort of the point.
It also takes a bit of effort to install, including drilling through your walls to snake the two metre cable to the nearest indoor outlet, but if you want a top notch security camera that you never have to worry about charging, that will keep an eye on your property and record video 24/7, this beast is your best bet.
Its 1080p video is greatly enhanced by an eight-megapixel (4K) colour sensor and a 12x digital zoom – which serves up really clear images and a superb zoom that lets you focus in on anything in its 130-degree field of view. Plus, if it spots a person or animal it zooms in automatically, tracking the motion as it moves so you can keep a close eye on the action. It also listens for sounds, sending smart alerts such as “talking or “dog barking” and night vision is very good. Some of these features require signing up for the Nest Aware plan, which you also need if you want to view any recorded video.
The IQ stands for smart enough not only to tell the difference between a person or other motion but to tell you who that person is. Using facial recognition, you can teach it who lives in your home and get alerts like “Bob is in the backyard.” It’ll cost you though, £5 a month includes smart alerts and event recording for as many cameras as you want, or £10 a month for that 24/7 recording, which is one of the best features.
Pros: Zoom and track; 24/7 recording; facial recognition
Cons: No siren; expensive; tricky install
The best battery-powered security camera
Video quality: 1080p | Power options: Battery | Subscription fee: None | Works with: HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant
A newcomer in the smart security camera space, Eufy, owned by cable giant Anker, is making some waves with its high-quality, inexpensive cameras. With 1080p video, superb night vision, two-way audio, and a built-in tamper siren, the EufyCam2 (£330 for two cameras and a HomeBase) is an impressive security camera made even better by a battery that can last up to a year on a single charge.
It also has no subscription fees, even for advanced features like person detection and motion zones that others charge for. Video is stored locally on the required HomeBase, which can hold 16GB of family snapshots, as well as extend the range of the cameras. We placed them a good 30 metres from the base, way into our garden, and still got a clear, consistent live feed and recorded video.
One of our favorite features about Eufy is super snappy notifications – all its processing is done locally, so you don’t have to wait for it to send video up to a cloud to be analyzed before sending an alert. This means we never missed any action when tapping in on a notification to view a live feed – not the case for all the other battery-powered cams we tested.
And as for that battery life – a year may sound a bit gimmicky for a fully-featured camera like this, and it does depend on your settings and how many squirrels scarper by on a daily basis. After four months of use, one camera is showing 48 per cent battery, and the other – which we hooked up to HomeKit – has drained more quickly. But both are easily going to sail past six months, which is the most the comparable competition offers.
Pros: Snappy alerts; person detection; lengthy battery life, excellent night vision
Cons: No sound detection, limited zoom, no 24/7 continuous recording
Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Cam
The best smart floodlight camera
Video quality: 2K | Power options: Battery, solar, wired | Subscription fee: £2.49 a month for 1 camera, £7.99 for 5 | Works with: HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant
Arlo is well-known for its excellent system of battery-powered cameras, which go up to 2K and 4K video quality. But unless you feel a real need for that level of video quality, it’s hard to recommend spending upwards of £500 on a couple of cameras and a base station. And that’s in addition to a monthly fee for some of the best features. However, when it comes to the company’s Pro 3 Floodlight (£260), get out your wallet.
Yes, it’s expensive and needs that subscription for full benefits, but it doesn’t need a base station and it’s the only floodlight camera that doesn’t need to be hardwired to your electrical system. This makes it an extremely versatile, incredibly cool piece of security kit. You can put it anywhere it gets a Wi-Fi signal and flood that space in (an adjustable) 2,000 lumens of light the moment anything enters its whopping 160-degree field of view.
Essentially the popular Arlo Pro 3 (£258) with a blinding light attached to it, the Floodlight cam boasts a 12x digital zoom and the option of recording in up to 2K quality. This means you get a lot of detail, and thanks to the floodlight, color night vision. Smart alerts when it sees a person, animal or vehicle, versus just regular motion are very handy (Arlo Smart plan required) as is the built-in 80 decibel siren and 2-way audio.
With all these options, the Floodlight camera is a really good choice for covering a driveway or side passage with some top-notch security and illumination, without investing in an entire system or dealing with a complicated install. If you’re worried about having to charge it up frequently (the battery should last 3-6 months) you can attach a solar panel or pick up an Arlo outdoor charging cable, which also boost the power of the floodlight to 3,000 lumens.
A great bonus of Arlo’s system is the rich notifications it sends, we loved being able to just glance at our phone’s lock screen or smartwatch and see a snapshot of the action and not having to open the app. Which brings us to Arlo’s biggest flaw, its app is quite glitchy and slow to load, and we often had to wait several seconds to view any video. This last bit could be fixed by adding it to an Arlo Smart Hub base station if you decided to expand your system.
Pros: Multifunctional; no hub required; colour night vision, 2K video
Cons: Expensive, subscription required for recorded video, app is slow