Coming off the back of a very successful 2014 Kickstarter campaign, the Blink range comprises of a set of affordable home security cameras that can be used indoors and now outdoors with the UK launch of the Blink XT camera.
The existing Blink indoor camera is a 720p battery powered wireless camera that will run for 2 years off 2 AA batteries. Because no wires are required, it can be mounted pretty much anywhere using the supplied bracket, which also provides for some scope of adjustment of viewing angle. Size-wise, the camera is a 7cm x 7cm square and so is relatively unobtrusive.
The field of view is 110 degrees and the fixed focus is from 3 inches to infinity. In terms of adjustability, there is little more that can be said – there are no zoom or panning functions here. Simplicity is the name of the game and the intent is to allow a user to simply bolt the camera into a handy corner and then forget about it until the battery warning comes on 2 years later.
The video quality produced is surprisingly good for such a small and inexpensive device. While not full 1080p like some of the competitors, the 720p images are clear with bright colours and good light management. Also unlike some of the competition, the camera does not use IR for night vision. Instead, a bright white LED fires up when movement is detected to provide illumination for recording. This works well, but does make the camera unsuitable for use in somewhere like a nursery.
Audio is handled well, but is only one-way.
The XT version of the camera is designed for outdoors use, and is certified to IP65 (so would be able to withstand some rain, but perhaps not a direct blast from a high-pressure washer). Unlike it’s shiny white sibling, the matt black XT will record up to full 1080p video and handle low light recordings with IR instead of using LED illumination. Even with that extra resolution, Blink still claim 2 years of life from a pair of AA batteries. Finally, skins for the XT camera are also due to be available shortly which will help camouflage the device since, while it shares the compact dimensions of the indoor version, it could still stand out a little.
Although wireless, the Blink cameras do not connect directly to Wi-Fi. Instead, a central hub is required to which the cameras connect. This matchbox-sized device then connects to the internet and is the only part of the Blink system to require a cable. Lights indicate power and connectivity and up to 10 Blink devices can be connected (soon to be increased with a firmware update). The justification for using this hub-based approach is the use of a bespoke wireless protocol between the cameras and the central hub in order to minimise power usage and maximise battery life of the cameras.
The cameras and hub have no local storage – Blink provides free storage for up to 7200 seconds of recording. This is shared between all devices connected to the user’s Blink account and should provide sufficient space at the default settings (the cameras will record 5 seconds of video and audio as a default when movement is detected, and this can be increased to a maximum of 60 seconds). There is no way to increase this cloud storage and files will be automatically overwritten (either scheduled by the app or as space is required). This could present a problem for some users, although not as much of a problem as the lack of local storage or battery back-up for the hub. A loss of power or internet connectivity to the hub effectively renders all the cameras useless.
The Blink App for IOS or Android is required to configure the hub, manage cameras and view storage. If you don’t have a relatively recent version of these devices, you should probably stop reading now.
For the purposes of this review I used the IOS version of the Blink app on an iPhone 6.
Credit must be given to Blink for making the app very simple to use. Once an account was created, adding a hub was straightforward and from there adding cameras was a simple case of either entering the unique number inside the cover of the camera or scanning a QR Code. Even then, Blink provide video guides within the app to walk the user through the process.
Once a camera is added, a variety of options are available within the app. As one would expect, alerts are triggered within the app if motion is detected and a recording made of the required length (although it is worth noting that the alert is NOT triggered until AFTER the recording is complete, which could present a problem for some). Additional alerts are fired off if the battery gets low or if the temperature of the camera goes outside pre-set limits, which is a handy feature.
The app also allows live video and audio to be viewed in 30 second chunks, which mostly worked well. I encountered a few time-outs from the Blink server when using this feature, although recorded video never failed. You will also note in the screen-shot below that I have set up the outdoor camera in the worst possible way – once armed, the camera recorded constantly as pedestrians walked past, filling up the storage and burning through the battery. There is no scope for tuning the area of motion detection, so careful positioning of the camera according to Blink’s instructions is highly important.
Finally, the entire system may be armed or disarmed through the app at a hub level. While it is possible to turn on and off motion detection for individual cameras manually, setting an automatic schedule for arming and disarming is also only possible at a hub level, which could be annoying for some users.
As with the majority of smart devices these days, Alexa can be used to arm the system (although not much else). More ambitious users can take advantage of IFTTT to use geofencing to arm and disarm automatically when the user leaves the house, and to send alert emails instead of being limited to app notifications. However, it remains impossible to get down to an individual camera level, so the lack of granularity may bother some users. Support for Google Home is due shortly, although Cortana users may need to be a little more patient.
The XT is a good addition to the Blink camera range and addresses some of the issues of the indoor version: full 1080p recording is now possible, and the quality of materials is markedly better (removal of the cover to fit batteries into the indoor version was a little unnerving; as though the plastic might crack or shatter). However, some of the faults remain: the lack of local storage and battery back-up to handle loss of power or internet could be a show stopper for some, one-way audio means a separate siren or alarm device is needed to frighten away intruders and integration, while improved, is still quite limited.
However, at £149 for a Blink XT starter kit (a camera and a hub), the system represents excellent value for money, and the ease of set-up (from the lack of wires to the easy to use app) makes this a tempting way to get started in the world of smart home security.