If you want to cover your property with smart security cameras, the list of options has never been longer. That can make it tricky to choose the perfect model for you, but aside from the upfront cost, and the night vision, and the field of view, and the weatherproofing, there’s one key feature to look out for: Subscription prices.
Almost all security cameras offer an additional monthly subscription package that you can pay to archive your video recordings in the cloud and access other features. In most cases these subscriptions aren’t compulsory, but they offer a substantial upgrade on the basic functionality, so it’s well worth comparing your options.
If you want something without a subscription, it’s possible: Netatmo cameras offer features like custom zones and smart alerts for free, with continuous video recordings saved to either a microSD card, your Dropbox account, or a FTP server.
Google just revamped and simplified its Nest subscription options, so it seems a good place to start. What you get for free is motion and sound detection, and alerts from those events sent straight to your phone, so you can view snapshots taken when motion or sound was detected for up to three hours afterwards, and view a live video feed from your cameras at any time.
Add Nest Aware, and those alert snapshots are available for much longer, and you can turn on continuous recording too. You can share clips with other people and set up activity zones as well, so only certain parts of scenes trigger motion alerts. Subscribing to Nest Aware also puts Google’s AI algorithms to work: Sounds (like barks) can be intelligently identified, and so can people (people alerts can be distinguished from general motion alerts, and the IQ cams will even be able to spot the difference between strangers and people you know).
The new, simplified pricing structure lets you pay $6 a month or $60 a year (so $5 a month) to keep your video events for 30 days, but there’s no continuous video history for you to browse back through. Pay $12 a month or $120 a year (the equivalent of $10 a month) and video events are kept in the cloud for 60 days, and you get 10 days of continuous recording stored in the cloud too. Those prices cover as many Nest devices as you own.
Hats off to Wyze, which makes security cameras that have both super-cheap up front prices and super-comprehensive free video recording packages. Short clips triggered by motion or sound are kept in the cloud for 14 days for free, while continuous video recordings can be saved locally to a microSD card.
Custom zones are offered for free as well, so you can set your Wyze camera to ignore certain parts of scenes (like a tree that’s always waving past a window). Wyze cameras can even detect people in frames, for free, though the feature is still in beta for now. That’s on top of the ability to view a live stream whenever you like from your phone, which all the security camera makers offer.
There is a subscription option though: Wyze Complete Motion Capture. This extends the video clips recorded when motion is detected, so instead of being capped at 12 seconds long, they’ll extend for as long as the scene is still moving. If you think it’s worth your while, it’ll cost you $1.50 per Wyze camera per month.
If you’re thinking about blanketing your property in Arlo cameras, the add-on subscriptions here are called the Premier Plan or the Elite Plan. Without either, you just get the basics: Motion detection alerts, and live streaming to your phone. The company used to offer 7-day rolling cloud recording for free, but not any more (if you bought an older camera when the feature was offered for free, you can carry on using it).
If you want any sort of cloud recording at all, you need to pay up, with the only difference between the tiers being video quality. The Premier tier is $3 a month for a single camera or $10 a month for up to five cameras, and that gives you 30 days of continuous video history in 2K resolution. The Elite tier is $5 a month for a single camera or $15 a month for up to five cameras, and in return you’ll have 30 days of continuous video history to access in 4K quality (assuming you have one of the 4K Arlo cameras).
Both Premier and Elite plans add activity zones, advanced object detection (alerts for people and alerts for pets can be set up differently, for example), and the ability to get alerts for smoke and carbon monoxide. Mixing the plans up is allowed, so you can, if you need to, buy the Elite package for one camera and the Premier package for all the rest.
Update 12/8/20: This guide previously suggested Ring products. As a rule, we do not feel comfortable suggesting those products to readers and apologize for this oversight. You can learn more about our feelings on Ring here.