Wi-Fi home security camera buying guide

Setting up a Wi-Fi home security camera system has never been easier. You can choose from a range of brands that offer home Wi-Fi cameras running on batteries, solar power, or mains.

Wi-Fi cameras aren’t just for security though, they’re also a convenient way to keep an eye on everything happening around your property. Did you remember to take the bins down? Just glance at the side camera. Get a notification on your smartphone when a parcel hits the doorstep. And reassure yourself and your family that the horrible crashing noises at one o’clock in the morning are just the dogs breaking into the pantry again…

What is a Wi-Fi home security camera?

The Wi-Fi home security camera – sometimes also called a smart camera – has become a catch-all term for networked cameras originally designed for home security. You can think of them as sophisticated, app-enabled relatives of the venerable CCTV cameras used by businesses.

A home Wi-Fi camera is much easier to set up than a CCTV network, costs far less, and is much easier to use. All a home Wi-Fi camera needs is a solid Wi-Fi signal wherever you choose to set it up. They’re weather-resistant, and the same camera can be used indoors or outside – you can even move the camera to different positions as the mood takes you. 

Uniden security camera
A blast of light from the Uniden Guardian App Solo Pro can stop intruders (and cats!) in their tracks

As far as the home Wi-Fi network is concerned, each camera is just another Wi-Fi device, with its own IP address. Indeed, a few years ago you might remember these being sold as ‘IP cameras’.

Since the cameras are on your Wi-Fi, you can use your other devices to access their live feed. You can use a browser on your computer, an app on your smartphone or tablet, and even control the cameras using voice assistants, such as Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri.

And because your Wi-Fi connects to the internet at large, you can set up your home Wi-Fi cameras so they can be accessed remotely. That means, wherever you are, you can log in to the cameras with a username and password, and check out what’s happening at your house, live.

Cloud recording, motion sensing, networking ding-dongs

Of course, you don’t need to keep an eagle-eye on the cameras at all times. Each home Wi-Fi camera can have the capability to record footage to internal storage – usually an SD card. Many also upload a limited amount of footage to a cloud account, which again you can access remotely with a username and password.

Arlo on a phone
Assign names to your cameras and monitor the feeds via an app on your mobile device

Home Wi-Fi cameras include a smart heat-activated motion sensor too. This means the camera will start recording when it detects certain heat signals. Obviously, humans get a high priority, and using thermal sensors prevents false alarms from waving curtains, passing tumbleweeds, and so forth.

When you set up multiple home Wi-Fi cameras, they organise into a security network. You can give them names ­– such as ‘Kitchen’ or ‘Side of house’ – and if one is activated by motion, the others will know to be ready to record too. Remember, they can go inside or outside, so you no longer have to buy separate kinds of cameras for either location.

Home Wi-Fi cameras aren’t just passive observers, either. Most come with a speaker and a microphone, so they work as a two-way communication device, between you and whoever is in front of the camera.

Some are even designed to work as a digital doorbell, neatly integrating with your front door (or fitting in the slot of a traditional doorbell). A visitor presses the button, and the Wi-Fi camera alerts your preferred device. You can then scope your visitor and decide whether to come to the door. Some of these doorbell models also integrate with digital locks and door mechanisms, so you can ‘buzz in’ a friend or relative without having to go to the door.

Wire-free setup and solar charging

Amazon’s Ring doorbell
Amazon’s Ring matches a Full HD outdoor camera with doorbell and intercom features

Home Wi-Fi cameras focus on ease of set up and use, so many now don’t even need to be wired into the home’s electrical mains. Instead, they have their own rechargeable batteries, which you can either recharge manually every few months, or even hook up to a dedicated, compact, solar panel, which keeps the battery topped-up during the day. Naturally, a good home Wi-Fi camera is ruggedised to withstand the usual weather conditions outside your home, with waterproofing and dust-resistance. And at the same time, the design of these cameras is low-key, so they can integrate inside the home without standing out like… well, like a CCTV camera!

What to look for in a Wi-Fi security camera

When it comes to choosing a home Wi-Fi camera, the main points for consideration include:

  • How easy the camera is to set up
  • How many extra functions it has, such as night vision and two-way communication
  • How well the camera works with its app.

Set up should be simple. Position the camera, switch it on, and then use the app or even your preferred voice assistant to give the camera a name and hook on to your home Wi-Fi. Positioning, with a battery camera, is as simple as sticking the camera up somewhere, using the included bracket or adhesive tape. Some cameras require a power-point, so will need to go somewhere their power cord can reach. Some let you hook them up to a small solar panel (not your main home solar though) via a cord. These are usually limited to outdoor cameras, though.

Recording attributes

Let’s look at some of the key hardware features. Remember, these cameras don’t need to capture cinematographic-quality movies, they need to show you what’s going on in and around your home. That said, some premium models provide 4K recording (a challenge for some Wi-Fi networks), while most offer full 1080p HD recording, which gives plenty of detail.

An equally important feature is the camera’s field-of-view. Measured in degrees, this basically means how much the camera can see side-to-side. A wide-angle view of 130 degrees gives good coverage of any area outside the home when mounted on an external wall, and inside the house, it means you don’t necessarily have to put the camera in a corner.

For those awkward properties where you just can’t seem to get everything you want in the shot, there are home Wi-Fi cameras with pan-and-tilt functionality. You can send a command from your device (or computer) to adjust the angle of the camera, and the camera will respond in real time.

Night vision works by the camera turning on infra-red LEDs to ‘illuminate’ the scene (in light humans can’t see) for up to 5–10 metres. Some cameras can even generate a colour night-vision image. The LEDs come on when the camera auto-activate using its heat-sensor, or whenever you check the camera using your phone or computer. Yes, using these IR LEDs does reduce the battery life, but not very much, and they aren’t on all the time.

Speaking of motion detection, by using a thermal sensor, a home Wi-Fi camera can auto-activate if it detects a human-sized heat source approaching. As mentioned above, the thermal sensor won’t trigger if a curtain blows in the wind, or an abandoned shopping trolley passes by in the street, or something just falls over in the house – all of which can be annoying problems for older motion-sensor systems.

App control and flexibility

Other features to look for are two-way talk, which means speaker and microphone in the camera, and an onboard storage option, where the camera can record to SD card.

This is important because if your Wi-Fi goes down, the camera can still work autonomously and record anything that activates it. Once back on the Wi-Fi, you can download any footage to your device or to the cloud.

Ah yes – accessing footage! A home Wi-Fi camera needs a robust app where you can control it, configure it, access footage, and set up multiple cameras in a home security network. The app should also be able to send you push notifications whenever the camera sees something, needs to be recharged (if a battery model), or requires some kind of maintenance. The app should also be smart enough to notice if a camera ‘drops off’ your Wi-Fi – this can happen if something interferes with the signal, such as a builder leaning a sheet of metal against the wall or similar.

Security camera
Buying extra mounts allows you to easily move wire-free cameras to different parts of yout property as needed

The app is where you’ll access the camera’s two-way talk feature too, and should look more or less like FaceTiming someone, except they’re at the front door peering at the doorbell.

Finally, there’s the question of flexibility. Even though you need to stick up (or screw in, for some) the mounts for your home Wi-Fi security cameras, the camera itself should be able to pop out of the mount easily, so you can move it.

You can buy extra mounts so you have multiple mounts around the home, and pop the cameras in the ones you feel you need at any particular time. What’s great about this is that you won’t need to reconnect the camera to Wi-Fi – as long as the signal is strong in the new spot, the camera will just start working. You might like to rename it in the app to something more suitable, such as if you move a kitchen camera to the hall.

Wire-free, wired, solar and 4G

Uniden solar
Uniden’s weatherproof Guardian App Cam Solo with pan-and-tilt function is rechargeable via a solar accessory

Most home Wi-Fi security cameras run on batteries to limit the amount of wiring and fiddling you have to do when setting up. These batteries last around six months (assuming one automatic activation a day), and you can swap them out for new ones or to recharge them, without having to pull the camera down from its mount.

The in-camera recharge ability also lets you use a small solar panel accessory with each camera. These panels ‘stick up’ like the camera, and are small enough to tuck the mount in under your gutters, and then angle the panel to get the most sun. Obviously, it only charges the battery during the day, but it will keep the camera topped-up at all times.

You can of course go more hardcore with your Wi-Fi home security cameras, including units that can communicate over a 4G mobile network, which is great if you have a remote property that can have home Wi-Fi but not a very good internet connection. Most home Wi-Fi cameras are set-and-forget, but look for those with pan-and-tilt functionality and built-in spotlights. These can be ideal for the front door area, or above a garage. Nothing dissuades undesirables like a sudden blast of light and your voice yelling at them through a speaker (and that includes the neighbour’s cat!).

Card or cloud storage and review

Google’s Nest cloud plans
Google’s Nest cloud plans allow continuous recording, or can record only events triggered by sound and motion

The last aspect of a Wi-Fi home security camera worth reviewing is how it records what it sees. Look for units that include onboard SD card storage, and which can also upload to the cloud.

The SD card is a good format because it is supported by so many devices. Your laptop probably has an SD card slot, so you can just pull the card from the camera and plug it right in. More importantly, the SD card can record even when the camera has no internet access, or indeed when your house has no power (because the camera uses batteries). Cloud recording means uploading footage via your home’s internet connection. For this to work, the camera must have a solid Wi-Fi link to your home router at all times, and your internet needs to be up and running.

Most cameras come with some free cloud storage, but it’s not much, and you can subscribe to get extra space or to store footage for longer, for a monthly fee.

To review your cloud footage, you may need to use the security camera’s app on your device, though some do let you access the cloud footage via a web browser. The SD card footage can be viewed in any video software.  

How secure are Wi-Fi cameras?

Like any internet device, a security camera can be hacked, giving someone outside your household the ability to potentially watch, listen and record your activities without you knowing. To help keep your Wi-Fi security network secure, you should:

  • Choose cameras from well-known, trusted manufacturers, especially if you’ll be using cloud storage
  • Change the default username and password that comes with your security cameras
  • Don’t use the same password you do on other accounts; create a strong, unique password for your Wi-Fi security network
  • Accept firmware upgrades whenever available
  • Use two-factor authentication where possible.

How much?

Pricing for individual cameras varies greatly depending on the feature set, from $50 for a bare bones unit up to $250. You can find economies by buying packs of multiple cameras (usually 2,3 or 4 in a set) or bundles that throw in battery rechargers, solar panels, mounts or a trial of cloud services.

Cloud plans are as various and tricky as mobile data plans, and can explode the cost of home monitoring far beyond your initial camera purchase. If it’s important, factor in $10-20 month, depending on the number of cameras you have and how long you want to store your recordings.

Learn more about security cameras from GadgetGuy reviews and news.

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Wire-free, rechargeable, spotlight and security camera in-one with free 7 days of rolling cloud back-up and bonus solar panel.