Indoor Wi-Fi Camera Buying Guide

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We are so past baby monitors these days. There used to be a time when a good baby monitor with two-way audio (what was the baby going to do, we wondered—tell us why they're gassy at 2:00 in the morning?) was expensive, difficult to set up, and easily interfered with. These days, with advances made in home surveillance, you can probably hook yourself up with an indoor security camera and just as effectively keep an eye on your loved ones without fussing with overly bright screens and tiny fields of view.

I recently began considering home security monitors for another good reason. I have a parent who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease, and between checking in on them, getting the kids off the school bus, and running errands, I needed a solid and dependable way to keep an eye on everyone while giving myself some time to do chores, write, and, let's face it—relax just a minute or two throughout the day.

Before that, I had a latchkey child in the house, and to know when they were home, what they were doing, and what they were getting into constituted a barrage of phone calls between us for something as trivial as finding out where I hid the peanut butter (in the cabinet next to the soup) or determining if the child's guinea pig was dying (turns out it was just moody), all while phoning in from work or shopping or somewhere with even less privacy.

It turns out an indoor wireless camera does all that, and the ones equipped with two-way audio can do things that the baby monitor could not. Also, to make sure we’re clear, we’re talking about wireless indoor cameras—these should not be used for surveillance on the outside of your home or business. They’re not built to withstand adverse temperature or moisture changes, and should only be used inside.

But what should you look for in a quality wireless indoor camera? The short list is this:

  • Good resolution
  • Night vision
  • Live view
  • Two-way audio
  • Plug-and-play ease of use
  • Pan, tilt, or zoom capability
  • Motion detection

Good Resolution

Let’s just start by saying, currently, with prices for these units dropping, you should not settle for anything less than 1080p resolution. 720p is barely acceptable, and when you want to know just what Junior opened the fridge and is drinking out of the carton, 720p won’t give you the details to make that call. All the top three cameras we picked can do this. Anything less may save you a few bucks, but will annoy you in the long run. 1080p resolution (running at a minimum of 30 fps) will also help you identify people more easily, so you don’t blame the wrong child for sneaking cookies into their room. Conversely, in a typical home setup, you don’t need anything more detailed than 1920 x 1080p resolution at 30 fps. Stick with 1080p.

Night Vision

What good is a camera that stops working when the lights go out? Always look for night vision and low-light recording capabilities—their absence can be a deal breaker. The level of detail in night vision mode is also important. Some camera manufacturers claim that their cameras' night-vision abilities will work better at a higher resolution, but may include noise and speckling. Others will change the color on the night vision (the ezviz mini 360, for instance, showed all night scenes with a purple tint). Others claim night vision, but will degrade video quality depending on the level of light present. Our tip: when shopping for wireless indoor cameras, make sure the manufacturer includes a still photograph or actual video footage of the cameras' night vision capabilities.

Live View

Almost all app-controlled Wi-Fi cameras will include live view, which means that you can see what is going on wherever it is set up, through your phone, in real time. This is where the rubber hits the road, in my opinion. If you have an easy-to-use app, and you can check on the camera from anywhere, you are afforded the flexibility to walk away from the person or persons on whom you're keeping an eye. Checking in on an elderly relative? Seeing if the kids are really sleeping or merely plotting a coup? Live view makes that happen. In the past, video surveillance footage was stored to a server, and you had to wait to check it if you weren't in the immediate vicinity of the monitors. Now, you can check it anywhere, anytime. Storing the footage is a whole other process that we'll get to later.

Two-Way Audio

This is a relatively new feature, but in the last year or so, it has been popping up on more and more items. Two-way audio lets you listen to ambient audio in a room, but also lets you speak into your phone and have that audio relayed through the camera’s speakers. Guilty secret—I use it to sometimes scare the kids when they’re up to something they shouldn’t be, but it’s also a good way to keep track of my elderly relative, as well, usually asking her what she’s doing or if she needs help with something. If she’s in distress, I have audio and video to help me determine if her need is immediate or can wait.

Plug-and-Play Ease of Use

This is important for the less technically minded, like me. The levels of frustration I've experienced at the hands of inept engineering and difficult-to-install security cameras are enough to make the faint-hearted give up. Good wireless indoor cameras require three things: a power source (either AC or a battery), a Wi-Fi connection, and camera-to-phone pairing. That's it. I've seen some wireless systems that were easy to set up, and then a nightmare to pair. Check to see if there's a more direct way to pair; the Amazon Cloud Camera and the ezviz mini 360 both allow you to use a QR code to initialize the pairing.

Pan, Tilt, and Zoom Capability

Although not a deal breaker, these are helpful features. Of the top three wireless indoor cameras, the ezviz mini 360 has the most pronounced PTZ functionality. On the Amazon Cloud Cam and Nest, you have digital zoom features through the app, but the ezviz allows you to pan over a room, which is helpful when a person or persons try to dash out of view after stealing a late-night soda from the fridge. The pan/tilt functions of the ezviz allowed me to find the guilty party or parties crouched in a corner of the room.

Motion Detection

Motion detection is key for two reasons: it alerts you when motion is detected so you can react quickly if something is amiss, and allows you to save on storage space, whether internal or cloud-based. Motion detection on most cameras can be activated to only record footage when something is happening, as opposed to 24/7 recording that can eat up a ton of storage.

So, that's what you should look for, but what should you be cautious about when investing in a home surveillance system?

  • Multiple Cameras
  • Storage
  • Security

Multiple Cameras

One camera can only cover one room. You should have seen this coming. You should prepare to buy a camera for every room you want covered (or get ready to haul the camera from room to room). This gets expensive. Our picks below for the best indoor Wi-Fi cameras are relatively inexpensive, ranging from $60 to $299, but if you're covering multiple rooms, the cost will mount. Quickly. Look for multi-packs of cameras sold as kits, like these, which include Google Home units.

Nest Cam Indoor Security Camera (Pack of 3)

Storage

Where does all your surveillance footage go? It depends on what you pay for. Some devices, like the ezviz 360, come with an SD card slot so you can store your footage locally (be aware that a 128GB microSDXC card can hold about 1,920 minutes of standard MPEG-4 AVCHD/H.264 at 1920 x 1080 resolution. That’s about 32 hours. Amazon and Nest cameras record everything to a cloud service, and although they offer a limited amount of storage space for free, you’ll have to purchase an additional plan to store footage on their cloud servers. Check plan pricing and limits with each manufacturer before you purchase.

Security

We've all seen the reports of IFTTT devices being hacked and people getting into surveillance feeds by hacking Wi-Fi signals and passwords. It’s a real concern. You don’t want footage of your children at rest or play leaked to anyone. The best practice is to make sure your home Wi-Fi is secured (consider getting a VPN to lock it down even more), and to never let anyone access your Wi-Fi without your permission. As for cloud storage services, they employ their own security protocols, so you should be safe storing on the services provided. If you use a different cloud storage service than that which is provided by a camera’s manufacturer, your trust level is of paramount importance.

Other key features that are an added bonus are the ability to view your footage on your television (the Amazon Cloud camera, for instance, works with Alexa to show real-time footage on the Echo Show and televisions connected to FireTV devices.

Amazon Echo

With this info in hand, let me say that buying and setting up a wireless indoor camera is easier than you think, and the benefit of being able to keep an eye on multiple rooms at once is every mother's dream. My mother had eyes in the back of her head—mine are mounted to various walls in the house.

Let us know what other uses an indoor security camera might have in your house, and tell us in the Comments section about your experiences with wireless indoor systems. We'd be happy to hear from you.

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