(Pocket-lint) - Smart home cameras are a great way to add a dash of security to your home. Enabling you to keep an eye on your loved ones and possessions from afar and to have peace of mind when you're not in. However, such devices are often expensive and perhaps considered a bit of a luxury purchase. Especially when you add in the extra subscription costs for cloud storage of captured footage.
The BT Smart Home Cam might be an affordable solution to this problem as it's not only cheap to buy, but also uses microSD card storage to keep costs down. But is it too cheap to be any good though? We've been living with one to find out.
A mixed-up design
- Built-in microphone and speaker for two-way communication
- Wall- or ceiling-mountable design
- Five integrated melodies
The BT Smart Home Cam is cheap and cheerful, offers easy setup and mounting options, along with free recording to microSD card. On those specifications alone, you're getting a useful smart home camera without the hassle of monthly subscription costs. It is, however, a bit of a mixed bag with some confusing design features and hit-and-miss recording functions.
Firstly, like the TP-Link Kasa Cam we reviewed recently, the BT Smart Home Cam only records when it detects movement. There are no continuous recording options here, so you cannot see what happened on either side of the motion detection. This sort of logic is fairly limiting as it means there's no way to get a full view of the day or, indeed, any wider form of an "event" that happened in the home. This might be crucial if you're trying to review footage of a burglary - only to see a short video snippet of one of the unwelcome guests in your house.
Secondly, another problem arises in the way the camera records footage. You can download video snapshots to your phone easily enough, but they're not in a share-friendly format. Unlike other cameras we've tried, we couldn't simply share the videos via WhatsApp, for example, as the video format wouldn't open and play that way. Again, limiting.
Thirdly, the BT Smart Home Cam seems to be confused as to what it's meant to be. It features an unsubtle design that stands out in the room, including a blue LED power light that you cannot turn off. At night, that light is a bit of a giveaway as the entire room is basically bathed in a blue hue. Not great for keeping out of sight of burglars, also not amazing for the kids if you're using it as a monitor for your nipper. Plus this camera also features a selection of melodies that you can play over the built-in speaker - likely a carry-over from the company's excellent range of baby monitors - but which seems like a bit of an odd feature here.
Simple setup and control options
- Setup and control via BT Smart Controls app (iOS and Android)
- Sound and video detection/notification options
- Downloadable video clips
- 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz Band Wi-Fi connection
That said, the BT Smart Home Cam is fairly capable, especially considering the price point. You have numerous options within the accompanying BT Smart Controls app (available on Apple iOS and Google Android) to change settings, access recording and adjust notifications. The app makes it easy enough to setup and control the camera too.
As you'd expect, you can get access to a live view of what the camera can see. From there you have the ability to take a photograph or video snapshot of any moment while that live view is open. You can also use that to zoom in on any part of the room via the 120-degree lens. It is a digital zoom though, so quality degrades quite quickly - especially as the sensor resolution is only 1-megapixel.
You can also use the two-way communication option from here, giving you the ability to talk to family, pets (they probably can't talk back though) or unwanted visitors while you're out of the house. Or play them one of those nice relaxing melodies, should the mood take you.
This camera is also fairly flexible in terms of installation options. It can be moved into a variety of positions, including sideways and upside down. There's a ceiling mount option and the ability to flip the image 180-degrees to account for that. The power cable might be a bit of a restriction in this area, though, as it's not terribly long.
Reasonable recordings and notifications
- Automatic motion detection and night vision modes
- 720p video capture with 120-degree viewing angle
- microSD card storage
When it comes to recordings the camera is a bit hit-and-miss in our experience. You can adjust the sensitivity levels of detection for both motion and sound. Doing this adjusts not only how many snippets are captured, but also the number of notifications you get on your smart device.
We found with sound detection turned on, we were getting bombarded with unnecessary notifications. That's obviously going to be a subjective experience and will depend on where you have the camera located and how many notifications you need. It is nice to be able to tweak these settings to suit.
Having notifications about events is obviously an important part of owning a smart home camera. If you're out of the house and motion is detected then it's good to get alerted and to be able to quickly and easily see what's going on. Of course, motion can include all sorts of things - not just people in the camera's view. We found our cats were regularly setting the camera off and forcing recording of snippets. Tree branches moving in the wind and shadows could do the same.
We did also find it wasn't 100 per cent reliable, as sometimes movement that should have been picked up wasn't. If this happens at vital moments during the day then you simply won't have any access to recordings.
The recordings will automatically overwrite existing ones when the microSD card starts to get full. If the camera isn't in a high-traffic area of your home then it could capture days or even weeks of video snippets, so this overwrite feature shouldn't be a problem.
The process of reviewing records can also be a bit frustrating. Footage needs to buffer onto your device, which means trying to watch a clip can take a few seconds, which isn't something we've regularly encountered with other smart home cameras.
Footage itself is good enough, so long as you're not expecting Ultra-HD. The BT Smart Home Cam is only capable of recording 720p video, which you wouldn't think would be amazing, but it's clear enough to see what's happening in the room. You also get a good field of view, day or night, thanks to the automatic night vision switching.
The BT Smart Home Cam isn't without its frustrations and oddities, but it's a fairly decent device considering the low asking price.
With microSD card storage, it's also much more accessible than other smart home cameras that require a monthly subscription to get the full experience. This does mean you'll need to buy a card and that card could be easily removed by anyone though, so it's less secure in that regard.
The snippet-style video recording might be a downside for those who are hoping for full-on day-long views and backup - for which you'll want a pricier cloud-based storage solution - while the fact it's not easy to share video snapshots in a common file format is irksome in our view.
From a value-for-money point of view the BT Smart Home Cam isn't too shabby. But then it's not too smart either.
TP-Link Kasa Cam KC120
This smart home camera is slightly more expensive than the BT Smart Home Cam. It does offer 1080p footage and two days of free cloud storage for that extra cash though. It too operates on motion-based recordings rather than a constant live feed but is an excellent affordable smart home camera alternative.
Logitech Circle 2
The Logitech Circle 2 is around double the price of the BT Smart Home cam, it remains one of our favourites though. It's also more flexible as it comes in a wireless format and can be used outside too. With a live-scrollable timeline, timelapse features and encrypted cloud storage it's also very versatile and user-friendly.