News & Blog

Wireless Camera Buyer’s Guide – 2017

News & Blog

Wireless cameras are one of the hottest items in the residential security world today.  With property crime rising in many cities, homeowners want to have the peace of mind of being able to “see what’s going on” at home while they are away.  However, with so many products out there, how do you choose which one? We have compared the top 3 wireless cameras by testing them in our own homes, and rated them based on different categories to help you pick!

Almost every major electronics manufacturer has taken a stab at the wireless security camera, and there is no shortage of new companies being added to the list every day.  However, it is important to understand a little about video surveillance before shopping for a wireless camera.

One of the most common requests we get at Security Central is for security cameras.  But to provide a solution, we have to ask two questions:

  1. What do you want to see? (Security concerns or just general-life activities?)
  2. How do you want to see it? (Onsite recording, cloud, phone app, live view, etc.?)

The answers to these questions should help determine where the cameras are located, how they are connected, how they record, what is being recorded, and how the video is accessed.  This helps us make a recommendation on what type of system to use.

Every video system type has pros and cons, and wireless is no different.

Pros: Wireless cameras provide greater flexibility when it comes to mounting locations, and are generally less expensive and easier to install than a traditional hardwired camera system.

Cons: Wireless cameras typically rely on your Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi is less secure, less reliable, and has bandwidth limitations.  In addition, your Wi-Fi signal strength can potentially limit mounting locations, especially with outdoor-mounted cameras.  Also, most wireless cameras are not completely wireless.  They still need to be wired to a power source (typically the closest electrical outlet).

If you are looking for a commercial-grade professional security solution, then a wireless camera is not the best choice.  But if you are looking for a simple, cost-effective way to add a new security layer to your home or a general purpose “lifestyle camera,” then read on!

Three of the most common wireless cameras on the market and most widely supported by security companies are the Honeywell Total Connect 1080p Indoor, Nest Cam IQ Indoor, and Alarm.com 1080p Indoor.

Design

Each of the cameras all have a similar “look.”  The indoor cameras are low profile and can inconspicuously sit on a countertop or shelf to avoid your home looking like Fort Knox.  In addition, each can be easily mounted on a wall or ceiling with the included mounting screws.  The only limitation to be aware of is that all of them need to be plugged into a standard power outlet.  This can limit your mounting locations, as you might not want an ugly cord hanging down your wall.

Winner: 3-Way Tie

Picture Quality

The Nest’s 4K CMOS sensor helps it win this category.  Although the Total Connect (3 MegaPixel) and Alarm.com (2 MegaPixel) sensors provide quality HD video, the video from the nest cam is just clearer, crisper and better adjusted to low-light situations.

Recording motion is another important feature of cameras, and many wireless cameras significantly drop quality when someone walks across the screen.  This is where the Alarm.com falls significantly short.  The video clips are choppy, and pausing the video results in a blurred image of anyone walking by.  The Total Connect camera and Nest camera both handle motion much better.

Winner: Nest Cam IQ

Features

All three cameras have an associated phone app where the user can set up recording settings, notifications, and view recorded video.  You can easily create motion boxes around areas that you want to record activity, allowing you to avoid wasting recording space on activity in the picture that you don’t care about.  For example, if the camera view includes a window with a tree behind it, this feature can help avoid recording every time the tree is blown by the wind.

One feature that the Alarm.com camera falls short on is the lack of audio.  Both the Total Connect and Nest Cam IQ can record audio and allow for two-way audio communication.  This means that your wireless camera can double as a baby monitor or front-door camera if needed.  The Total Connect Camera even contains built in audio analytics that can alert you when it hears a baby crying!  However, be aware of your state laws regarding audio recording.  Some states prohibit recording someone’s conversation without their permission/acknowledgement.

Something that make the Nest Cam IQ stand out is its true 24/7 recording.  While the Alarm.com and Total Connect cameras record video clips, the Nest Cam records continuously and flags motion events for easy viewing.  This makes it easier to quickly review previously recorded footage.  WARNING: this constant recording and streaming requires extra bandwidth and can slow your Internet/Wi-Fi speed.  For the people who purchase the cheapest Internet plan and rely on the router provided by the cable company for every device in their office, this feature may be a bad thing.

The Nest Cam IQ also comes with some pretty cool video analytics such as facial recognition and voice detection.  It can differentiate between a person and other movement, and even automatically zoom in on activity during an alert.

For the person who wants it all, the Nest Cam has the most features and best user interface.  However, the Total Connect camera is a close second.

Winner: Nest Cam IQ

Integration

An important feature to note is that the Total Connect camera supports IViewNow video verification integration.  This is a technology that allows your video system to be integrated with your alarm system and allows for central station monitoring of video clips during an alarm.  This can significantly reduce false alarms and increase police response times.  However, Nest just announced that this integration is coming soon for their cameras as well.

The Total Connect and Alarm.com cameras also provide a lot of integration options with the more common home security and home automation systems.  Nest is only compatible with other nest products which currently are more limited than traditional home security products.

Winner: Honeywell Total Connect 1080p

Set-Up and Installation

If you don’t plan on installing the cameras yourself, your local security provider can do it for you (for a fee…).  However, it is important to note that Nest is designed primarily as a DIY product and you may struggle to find quality dealers who can install them for you.

If you do plan on installing the camera yourself, the Nest and Total Connect cameras are pretty much ready out of the box.  Simply download the app, go through the prompts to connect the cameras to your WiFi, and plug it in to a nearby power outlet.

One note about the Total Connect camera is that it currently requires your local Honeywell dealer to activate an account for you prior to installation.  This creates an extra step in the process, but also provides you with more support during installation and service down the road.  However, this will be changing soon once they are available for purchase in big box stores early next year.  You will still have the option to purchase directly from the dealer if you want.

Winner: Tie – Honeywell Total Connect and Nest Cam IQ

Price*

Let’s face it.  Most of us are shopping for wireless cameras because they are a cheaper and easier alternative to a traditional hardwired system.  This fact makes it really hard to swallow the $300 sticker price on the Nest Cam IQ.  There are cheaper models in the Nest line, but you quickly lose the features that make the Nest Cam IQ stand out from the rest.  In addition, many of those features such as video recording and video analytics have a monthly cost associated.  The NestAware service currently runs $10/month for only 10 days of storage and is an additional $5/month for each additional camera.  This service is optional, but what’s the point of owning a $300 camera that doesn’t record?

The Total Connect Camera comes in at a much more reasonable price point of around $150 and has a flat monthly rate of $10/month for 7 days regardless of how many cameras.

Both cameras have 30-day recording plans if needed.

The Alarm.com camera falls in the middle.  The monthly cost is about $15/month and the camera cost is a little high at around $200.

*All prices can vary significantly between dealers.  Some dealers may sell the cameras for less in return for a higher monthly rate.  Some dealers may sell for more with additional support services included.

Winner: Honeywell Total Connect 1080p

Conclusion

Overall, the camera with the most features and best picture quality is the Nest Cam IQ.  However, you definitely have to “pay to play.”  A four-camera system would run you $1200 and $300/year for the basic plan.  At this price, you may want to look at hardwired solutions instead.

The best “bang for your buck” is Honeywell Total Connect.  It is more affordable at $120, is easily supported by your local security dealer, and can either be professionally installed or shipped to you for a DIY installation. It may lack some of the fancy features of NestAware, but it is still a good quality HD picture and meets the typical needs of most homeowners.

Overall Winner: NestCam IQ

Best Bang for your Buck: Honeywell Total Connect 1080p