The Best Home Security Cameras
If you want a home security camera, you have a ton of options. Our goal was to find the ones that were most reliable and easiest to use. After compiling a list of the 29 most popular devices currently on the market, we honed in on 10 contenders that offered video streaming, mobile alerts, and two-way audio — then tested each to see how they stacked up.
A $200 home security camera that makes video surveillance almost effortless. We were impressed with how easy it was to set up, and with the quality of its video streaming and mobile alerts. We also loved its affordable $8-per-month cloud storage plan.
The range of home security cameras on the market right now is dizzying. Picking through jargon-filled spec lists and cryptic product names (we’re looking at you, Samsung) to find the best fit can be a pretty major undertaking. So we took a look at 29 of the most popular home security cameras — and, in the process, discovered that splashy features don’t actually matter if the camera isn’t also functional and easy to use. We narrowed our list to ten standout options and did some hands-on testing for ease of use, mobile alerts, streaming quality, and two-way audio to find the best home security camera.
Our Picks for the Best Home Security Camera
The Withings Home maintained a slight edge at every turn. From ease of setup to build quality and two-way audio functionality, it offered the most polished experience of all ten cameras that we tested. If you want a home security camera that’s incredibly easy to use and has an air quality sensor, the Withings Home is a solid choice. If you want the most affordable cloud storage plan available ($8 per month for a 30-day video history), it’s equally great.
Withings Home Cloud Storage Plans
24-Hour Video History
$8 per Month (per camera)
30-day Video History
Slice a can of soda in half and you’ve got a rough idea of the size of the Home. It’s a small bookshelf camera covered in a wrap that reminded us (pleasantly) of a bamboo window shade or a fancy candle. When we held it during testing, it felt solid, unlike the SpotCam Sense and Samsung Smartcam, which had an overwhelmingly plastic feel to them.
Our one quibble was that, given the Home’s design, we weren’t able to mount it on the wall or in corners. If you want to adjust the angle, you instead have to slide the camera around on its base — a concave circle that’s magnetized to the bottom of the camera. This design worked decently: we were able to get almost any view we wanted, but the magnet was weak enough that the camera sometimes slid out of position due to the weight of its power wire. Certain situations took quite a bit of finagling before the Home would stay put.
The Arlo Q’s streaming quality (on the left) wasn’t quite as clear as the Withings Home (on the right).
The Home shares features with most of our other top picks (motion sensitivity controls, two-way audio, mobile alerts, camera modes, and night vision), but our experience using those features on the Home was faster and smoother — basically flawless. To pair the camera, we synced it with the app via Bluetooth and created a new Withings account. It worked like a charm on the first try. (Even the Arlo Q app gave us a few issues during the pairing procedure.) We also loved the Home’s live video quality. It was consistently the most reliable stream on both WiFi and LTE connections, and the cleanest to look at. The Arlo Q’s stream was a really close second but could sometimes be overly sharp.
The Home’s alerts didn’t disappoint, either. It monitors noise, motion, and air quality, and push alerts arrived on our iPhone 6 and first-gen Apple Watch within five seconds of activity. We really liked being able to adjust the sensitivity for all three of those triggers. Interestingly, quite a few of the reviews we read dinged the Home for having an extra-sensitive motion sensor — but that wasn’t our experience. Once we set our camera to “Fewer Alerts,” we no longer got notifications when the tester’s small dog (Hadley, a six-pound Yorkie Poo) entered the room. The Canary Flex and Samsung Smartcam also had sensitivity controls, but with the Home it was easier to actually notice a change.
The Withings app was the only one that gave us a live video feed directly on our Apple Watch.
Another thing we loved about the Home? The camera has four modes. Active Monitoring mode is kind of like arming a home security system — you get alerts immediately when it senses activity. Baby Monitor Mode is similar, but it also brings the app to the forefront of your screen automatically so that it’s easy to peek in on your child. Do Not Disturb mode continues to record activity in the cloud, but you don’t get alerts. Finally, Camera Off is exactly what it says: The camera goes completely offline.
We were impressed with the Home’s two-way audio, which was an Achilles’ heel for most of the competition (especially the SpotCam Sense): if the audio stream wasn’t seriously choppy, then the talkback volume was often too low to understand over background noise. The Home, on the other hand, had a consistently strong audio feed (to and from the camera), and while the volume from the camera itself wasn’t quite as strong as the Zmodo Pivot (the loudest of all), it was easily understandable from about twenty feet away.
One reason for that clarity is Home’s walkie talkie-style control — a feature shared with the Arlo Q and Nest Cam. To speak through the camera, you have to press and hold a button on the live view screen until you’re done talking, which mutes incoming audio and prevents ambient feedback.
You should know that there’s a second-generation Withings Home (called the Home Plus) in the works. It was expected to ship in early 2017, but as of this writing, that hasn’t happened yet. There’s no definitive word from Withings about the delay, but it’s possible that a patent issue with Withings’ parent company, Nokia, has something to do with it.
When you buy a Nest Cam, you’re buying into one of the most widely supported ecosystems in the home security business. ADT and Vivint both offer direct integration with the Nest Cam, and there are a variety of DIY systems (like Scout and Abode, our top DIY picks) that work with Nest as well. The Nest app also serves as a hub for the Nest Thermostat and Smoke + CO Alarm, and it can control a small selection of third-party devices. If you want to upgrade your current home security system with video surveillance, the Nest Cam is probably your best option.
The Withings Home gave us a slightly more polished experience, but the Nest Cam is a seriously high-quality competitor. Pairing the camera involved scanning a QR code on its backside, and that was pretty much it. Aside from the Withings Home, it was the only one of our top picks that didn’t encounter some sort of issue (however brief) during pairing.
The camera is well-built and a lot more versatile than the Home. You can set it on a shelf, use a single screw to hang it on a wall or in a corner, or mount it on metal surfaces thanks to its magnetic base. What’s more, the Nest Cam is available in an outdoor model (which will run you an extra $30), effectively making Nest a one-stop-shop for your entire home. As a note: The camera gets pretty warm to the touch after about 15 minutes of use. Don’t be startled if you go to move your Cam and it feels like it’s working extremely hard.
Our office via the Nest Cam.
The Nest Cam’s video quality wasn’t quite as sharp as the Withings Home or Arlo Q, but it did seem slightly more stable — once it actually got started. The Nest generally took a little longer to pull up its camera feed. But once up, we noticed fewer streaming pauses while on LTE than with our other top picks. Another nice touch? Nest’s email alerts include an image of what caused the activity, a feature we didn’t see on other cameras.
We did get really tired of seeing popups reminding us about the Nest Aware paid account option. But if you’re planning on getting cloud storage to begin with, that won’t be a problem. Nest Aware offers two levels of subscription: a 10-day history and a 30-day history ($10 per month and $30 per month respectively, and one of the most expensive upper ranges we saw). But if you want to add multiple cameras to your surveillance network, Nest only charges $5 per month for extra cameras on the 10-day subscription and $15 per month for extra cameras on the 30-day subscription. By comparison, the Withings Home is $8 per camera, no matter how many you have (although Withings winds up being cheaper if you also want a 30-day history).
First, the bad: We experienced some hiccups while updating the firmware for Arlo Q, which required a couple of full restarts. The Arlo Q also had the second-longest lag time of all the cameras we tested. (The Netatmo Welcome was the worst at eight seconds. The Q landed at five seconds.) If not for those two minor issues, the Arlo Q would have been neck-and-neck with the Nest Cam. It’s a well-built camera that, despite having video lag, gave us instantaneous motion alerts.
One thing we loved was that Arlo’s paid subscriptions include multiple cameras. The other options we looked at required additional fees for each camera you add to your network. So if you plan on outfitting your entire house, the Arlo Q is probably your cheapest bet. Subscriptions run $8.25 per month for a 30-day history, and $12.41 (such odd numbers) for a 60-day history. The 30-day subscription supports up to 10 cameras, and the 60-day subscription supports up to 15 cameras.
But wait, there’s more: The Arlo Q also has a free seven-day video history. It’s not continuous, like the Withings Home’s free 24-hour log, but it does save clips of any activity that takes place, including a buffer of a few seconds before and after the event. That’s the most free video history you’ll get from any of our top picks.
We should also mention the Arlo Q Plus, the Q’s slightly upgraded, slightly more expensive sister (around $200). They’re basically the same camera, with two distinctions: The Q Plus can be powered by ethernet, and it also has an SD card slot.
We were initially excited by this — we thought the SD slot meant free, local storage. But as one of their representatives explained, the Q Plus records video locally, but only as a backup in case your internet connection goes down. The only way to access your video history with the Arlo is via a paid plan. While this wasn’t quite as cool as we’d hoped, the fact that the Arlo Q Plus can continue to record video during an internet outage (or power outage) is an admittedly nice perk that neither the Nest Cam nor the Withings Home offers.
Two Other Cameras You Should Consider
The Canary Flex is a sleek, $200, pill-shaped device that doesn’t look like a camera at all and can be used just about anywhere: Indoor. Outdoor. It doesn’t matter. You can unscrew the Flex from its wall mount with a few twists and then tote it wherever you want — as long as there’s a WiFi connection for video recording. But even that limitation goes out the window if you buy a 4G LTE base from Verizon, which comes with its own data plan. We didn’t test the LTE base, but we can attest to the Flex’s battery life capabilities. After more than 18 hours, the battery was around 50 percent and still going strong.
The Canary app is on par with the Withings Home app. We had no trouble fine-tuning motion detection sensitivity, receiving notifications, or cycling through our video history. We did, however, experience a few app crashes while trying to access the live feed. The Flex has an affordable cloud storage plan ($10 per month for a 30-day history) and, all-in-all, would have been one of our top recommendations — except for the fact that its two-way audio feature is still in beta mode. One-way audio sounded just fine, minus the occasional pop, but we’d love to re-test the Flex once it offers full functionality (which, according to their site, is “coming soon”).
The Zmodo Pivot wasn’t as polished as our top picks in terms of overall performance, but it’s still worth considering. We saw it for as cheap as $100, making it the most affordable camera we looked at — and honestly, we didn’t feel like Zmodo sacrificed too much in terms of build quality. The Pivot also had strong two-way audio. It wasn’t as crystal clear as the Withings Home, but it was much, much louder.
Most notably, the Zmodo Pivot touts a feature we didn’t find anywhere else: 360-degree video. Like an owl, the Pivot can rotate completely around at your beck and call. It can also be paired with door and window sensors and even swivel to face a specific sensor if it detects activity. Be warned, though: We never actually got that feature to work. We were able to pair the included sensors (and even received notifications that our test door had been opened), but we couldn’t get the Pivot to turn toward the problem area on its own.
The Best Home Security Cameras: Summed Up
How we Found the Best Home Security Camera
We started with a list of 29 standalone, indoor home security cameras that regularly appeared on top-ten lists from tech blogs like CNET and Engadget. (We ignored cameras that require a base station or hub — those are for a different review.) Then we narrowed the list down to 10 cameras by focusing on the features we felt were most indispensable: motion detection alerts, 1080p streaming, and two-way audio.
The 10 Home Security Cameras We Tested
We focused on the cameras that were the easiest to use.
We timed how long it took to set up each camera and took lots of notes about the pairing process. We really wanted cameras that could go from in-the-box to operational in less than ten minutes. All of our top picks landed within a couple of minutes of that goal thanks to clear instructions and great apps. The rest easily took 30 minutes or more just to get synced up — and, interestingly, set-up time turned out to be a great predictor of how well the cameras themselves performed. Simpler setup seemed to correlate with better performance.
We also compared streaming quality.
Reliability was key. We grabbed screenshots on an iPhone 6, using both WiFi and LTE connections, to compare the overall streaming quality of each camera. We also evaluated how shaky the live feeds were during use, noting how many times we had to wait for each one to buffer to clear up a distorted feed.
And tested motion alerts.
Finally, we armed each camera and danced around to trigger the motion detector. (We even clapped a little bit.) Then we timed the number of seconds it took each camera to notify us of the activity on both WiFi and cellular connections. We also played around with motion sensitivity settings and alert customization options.
Cloud Storage Plan Comparison
$8/month for 30 days
$10/month for 10 days ($5/month for each additional camera)
Nest Aware 30-Day
$30/month for 30 days ($15/month for each additional camera)
$8.25/month for 30 days
$12.41/month for 60 days
$10/month for 30 days
Before you whip out your wallet to buy a camera, consider your overarching goal. If you’re looking to upgrade your current home security system with video surveillance, focus on cameras like the Nest Cam that might be able to integrate directly with your home security provider. If you’re looking for a quality camera but are concerned about the cost of subscriptions, Arlo Q might be more attractive. And if you want a great all-around system (and a way to keep a closer eye on the kids while they’re in the playroom), the Withings Home is an excellent home monitor with top-notch security features.