There are many smart security cameras on the market. Nest is a popular brand offering cameras at $199 and $299. Netgear, another popular brand, offers the Arlo camera at $199, while Amazon offers the Cloud Cam for $119. Nest requires a subscription-based cloud service to store video in the cloud so that you can view it from anywhere. The Nest Aware cloud history service is $100 a year for 10 days of history and goes up to $300 a year for 30 days of history. It’s bundled with other services as well. When reviewing home technology, I often prefer to start at the bottom from a cost perspective and see if the features provided are sufficient before I move on to technology with a higher price tag. This month I’m reviewing the Wyze Cam, which sells for $19.99 at Wyzecam.com. No, that is not a typo; the camera costs 20 bucks and does not require a storage subscription. Interested? Keep reading.
When the Wyze Cam camera arrived in the mail, I was shocked at how small the box was: literally a 2-inch cube. Do good things come in small packages? My wife Bibi’s reaction was, “Wow, this camera is cute.” The camera comes with a flexible stand, which allows it to be raised, tilted and swiveled to point in any direction. It also comes with a magnetic base and an adhesive for wall mounting (although I did not mount mine). The camera requires a nearby power outlet (it is not battery powered) and of course a Wi-Fi connection.
Once plugged in, a simple application of the camera is as a baby monitor that will allow you to view your little ones from anywhere. I recommended this to a colleague who is a new father and he loves it. There is also a two-way voice connection that allows you to speak to the camera and hear sounds along with viewing live images.
Right out of the box the camera offers both sound and motion-detection options. When movement or sound is detected, the camera records and uploads to the cloud 12-second clips, which are saved for 14 days without a subscription. That is a huge advantage over some other services that charge hefty fees for a similar feature.
I found the motion sensor to be accurate, detecting primarily actual movement. Occasionally, I received empty motion clips that seems to be triggered by cloud movements and shadows. There is a sensitivity option that I dialed down to address this. The sound clips did not seem very helpful in my experience, though I did discover that houses make sounds—be it the air conditioning or heating or the refrigerator compressor switching on. I dialed down the sound sensor drastically, hoping it would still capture a glass breakage or other loud sound but not bother with the rest.
There is a separate smoke and carbon monoxide alarm sensor that will notify you if any of your external house alarms are triggered, which can be very helpful in a real emergency. The camera also has wide angle (110 degree) viewing capabilities. When I placed it in my foyer I was able to monitor both my front and side doors simultaneously since they are set at a 90-degree angle of each other. If you require coverage of angles wider than 110 degrees you can use two cameras and daisy chain from one power source to multiple cameras, avoiding extra wires.
There is also a night vision mode that I set to Auto; it produces high-quality videos even with all the lights in the house switched off.
The camera is only for indoor use, so I placed it on a windowsill facing the street to capture activity outside my front door. It worked well during the daytime, capturing all movements to my front door. The camera is compatible with the Alexa, so I can ask to view a live image of my front door from a compatible Alexa-enabled device (Echo Show). The wide angle and motion detection works against you in this scenario as the motion sensor picks up each car traveling on your block. Fortunately, a recent update to the software allows you to set a specific zone for motion detection. I set it to the narrow view of my front path while excluding any movement beyond the curb. This defines the motion-detection zone, but once motion is detected in that zone the full camera view is recorded. Nighttime video, however, was a little bit of a disappointment on my window due to the reflection of the glass. Perhaps if you have a better lighting in front of your house it will give you a better image. In a recent interview with the Wyze Cam CEO, there was a hint of an outdoor version of the camera in the company’s near future. I will hold off on purchasing outdoor cameras for a while until this is released.
Motion detection on Shabbat poses the big challenge for this camera as well as other smart cameras and smart home devices. When speaking with halachic authorities, the common opinion is that triggering motion detection that is not for your benefit is not a problem. However, where the trigger is for your benefit it can be problematic. For example, if your neighbor’s motion light sensors are triggered when you pass on your way home, this may not be an issue since the motion detection is for your neighbor’s benefit and not yours. However, setting up a motion-sensitive camera in your own home is clearly for your benefit and this may not be permissible if it will trigger events on Shabbat. In a previous article I quoted rabbinic authorities who believe keeping an Amazon Echo listening in your home on Shabbat is problematic for similar reasons (see Alexa get Ready For Shabbat ).
The app does allow for turning off the motion detection at certain times during the day but does not allow you to choose the day of the week, or to choose times based on sunset for Shabbat. Plugging the camera into a smart switch that turns the entire camera off for Shabbat is a solution (one that I previously recommended for the Amazon Echo itself). I did this for a while and it rebooted after Shabbat without issue. However, I wanted to find a way to keep the safety of the recording going 24/7 but to just turn off the motion-detection triggers over Shabbat and Yom Tov. I have found a solution and it is a solution that may work for other smart device integrations. It is a bit elaborate, so check back soon for Part II…