Wireless Camera Review
The Top Three Wireless Cameras
In our tests, three wireless cameras had outstanding performance. The top performer, the simplicam, earns our Gold Award for its balanced performance. It doesn't have the best video quality in our review, but it is above average in overall quality. In fact, its biggest strength is that it is easy to use and set up.
Our Silver Award winner, the Nest Cam Indoor, has excellent video quality, especially in low-light settings. It is compatible with DIY automation products from IFTTT and Wink, among others. Its warranty is the longest in our review and helps it earn the only perfect customer support score among the cameras we evaluated.
The Flir FX, our Bronze Award winner, managed a perfect score in our daytime video tests. This is a feat only two other cameras attained. In our nighttime video tests, the camera produced an above-average result, which combines with its daytime score to give it the highest overall video quality score in our review.
While the top three wireless cameras stand out in particular, each of the other seven products in our tests has remarkable traits too. Although no wireless camera can satisfy everyone's needs, you can find the best for you by exploring our experiences below, as well as the reviews we've written for each camera. We also have a collection of informative smart home articles on a variety of topics.
What We Tested
Most of our conclusions and scores come from tests we used to gauge the quality of a wireless camera in four categories: video, audio, ease of use and connection.
Our hands-on testing is designed to simulate real-world usage. We got test models on loan from manufacturers and through retail purchase. The manufacturers have no input on our testing methodology, and we do not share our rankings with them prior to publication.
Good video performance is essential to a wireless camera system, so it's the largest part of our overall scores. Instead of creating one score, we broke our test into two parts: daytime and nighttime performance.
Our daytime tests used a poster board with a simple phrase, similar to an eye chart, that we placed 16 feet away from each camera. We used two light settings to determine overall quality: daylight with the lights off and daylight with the lights on. We also looked at how the cameras handled clarity and movement.
Clarity is how sharp the video was and whether we could identify the poster's text. This relies on resolution, focal length and the video sensor. The camera's resolution had the most impact on a camera's clarity. We found that 1080p cameras performed better than their 720p competition.
We concluded our daytime tests by evaluating each wireless camera's ability to display moving objects. Some cameras showed movement well, while others had lag and image degradation. The quality of an internet connection can cause lag, so live video streams tend to show more lag than recordings.
For nighttime video, wireless cameras use infrared LEDs, which are invisible to the human eye, to light rooms in complete darkness. Video recorded at night doesn't usually show the same details or colors as daytime video. We used the poster from our daytime tests as a comparison point, and few cameras showed the lettering at night.
Because of the differences between daytime and nighttime video, we looked mostly at the brightness of the video recorded at night. Cameras with lighter video let us discern details better than those with dim video. The best wireless camera in our nighttime tests was the Belkin NetCam HD+.
To keep this test simple, we only listened to each camera's audio to hear if it was loud and clear. A few cameras performed well, though some that had no problems with loudness still produced garbled sounds. Similarly, some cameras had clear audio that wasn't loud enough to distinguish what was going on.
Each camera we tested has a built-in microphone, and nine have built-in speakers. The speaker allows you to talk to people near the camera via the mobile app.
Ease of Use & Connection
Our tests for ease of use looked at the mobile app and installation. During installation, we followed the manual and noted the problems we had. If we had to contact customer support during installation, we took that into account as well. If the installation went quickly and had a small number of steps, the camera scored well.
As important as installation is, it's a one-time deal, so we also looked at how easy the mobile app was to use for everyday tasks such as watching live video, reviewing recordings and setting up alerts. If the app made it easy to do these tasks, it scored higher.
Our final test involved testing the Wi-Fi connection on each wireless camera. For each test, the camera shared the Wi-Fi network with a video-streaming service and a smartphone. We counted the number of times the wireless camera dropped its connection. When the connection dropped on the camera, we only took points away if the two other devices still had a connection.
The purpose of our tests is to help you find the best wireless camera for your needs. While the cameras in our review have different strengths and limits, they're all good choices to consider. As you compare our findings with what you want in a wireless camera, a picture of the best camera for your home will come into focus.
Contributing Reviewer: Amy Smith