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Blink Mini review: a strings-attached home security cam

Blink Mini review: a strings-attached home security cam

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This affordable home security camera has a few long-term costs associated

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Blink Mini
Photo by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

It’s tough not to love a good, super affordable home security camera. The Blink Mini is one of those, like the popular Wyze Cam and entry-level Ring Indoor Cam. It’s a $35 tiny plug-in camera that’s capable enough to meet most people’s needs when it comes to keeping an eye on their home. 

The Blink Mini records video in 1080p resolution, allows for two-way audio chat from the smartphone app to the camera, and it can alert your phone when it detects activity in one of your configured activity zones. The Mini has a 110-degree field of view that’s wide enough to see most of your room, and it can see in the dark, too. If you own other Blink cameras, like the recent XT2, you’ll be able to access the Mini’s clips and all of your other footage within the same app. 

None of these features are particularly impressive on their own — at this point, they’re expected out of a smart home security cam, even one that’s as affordable as this. The Blink Mini meets the bar, but doesn’t really exceed my expectations in any way. Much of my enthusiasm for the Blink Mini is chilled because there are other costs associated with getting the most out of it, which hasn’t been the case with previous Blink cameras.

If you already use Blink, you’ll get free cloud storage

It comes with free cloud storage through the end of this year, and if you already have a Blink account through an older Blink camera, you’ll continue to get free cloud storage as a perk. However, if you’re new to Blink’s ecosystem, cloud storage will start costing you $3 per camera each month starting on January 1st, 2021. Declining the cloud storage will still allow the Mini to alert you when its motion zones are triggered, and the camera will let you see a live view from a remote location. That’s about it in terms of functionality, though. For a device that’s made to do just a few things, losing some of those features to a paywall hurts a lot.

If you don’t want cloud storage, Blink’s upcoming Sync Module 2 will let you plug in removable storage to move your Blink Mini clips to a flash drive. It will also let you connect up to 10 Blink cameras on your network. It will cost $35 — as much as the camera — when it arrives in the coming months, and the good news: it’s a one-time purchase that lets you get around paying for cloud storage. Now, the less good news: it tops out at supporting 64GB of storage, so you’ll probably need to have a second flash drive on hand if you like to save a vast amount of footage. All told, that pushes a single-camera Blink Mini setup to nearly $80. I definitely prefer Wyze Cam’s simpler, more affordable microSD card solution.

The Blink Mini comes out of the box mounted on a ball-and-socket joint stand, and it includes a set of screws to let you hang it on your wall. I found that it works well enough propped up on that mount, especially since it lets you articulate the camera to just the right perspective. You can remove it, if you need it to have a smaller footprint. This device is tiny enough to put just about anywhere, though it doesn’t grant you as much freedom as the company’s wireless cameras. As I mentioned before, this is a wired camera, so where you’re able to put it depends where you have a power outlet or a USB port driving enough power to the camera. My PC’s USB 3.0 port was evidently powerful enough, but if all you have are outlets, the camera includes a power adapter and a Micro USB cable that’s about seven feet long.

I’ll admit that my testing methodology was done from the perspective of someone who, like most people these days, has been stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, I ran this little camera through its paces, and it passed my first test with flying colors: cutting back the barrage of motion alerts that I received when my cats were running around the apartment. It’s a good thing that the camera is so sensitive to movement, and thankfully, adjusting the sensitivity of alerts kept me from unplugging the camera and shoving it in a drawer. 

The rear of the Blink Mini (right) and the Wyze cam.
The rear of the Blink Mini (right) and the Wyze cam.
The Blink Mini (right) next to the Wyze Cam.
The Blink Mini (right) next to the Wyze Cam.

Under normal circumstances, I’d only be getting alerts like these while I’m out of the house. The Blink app allows you to set a schedule to arm and disarm the Mini, which can make it easy to set and forget the security features when you have a fixed schedule. Otherwise, you can manually “arm” the camera (either through the app or by asking an Alexa-enabled device to do so for you) to receive alerts, then “disarm” it when you’re home and do not want to be bothered. Either option is an entirely manual process, and perhaps this is exacerbated by the current circumstances being different these days, but I wish the Blink Mini could automatically detect whether I’m home and arm and disarm itself accordingly. If you want to dive fully into customizing your smart home, Blink supports IFTTT integration, and you can set the camera to automatically arm or disarm depending on your phone’s location.

Agree to Continue: Blink Mini

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

In order to set up and use the Blink Mini camera, you must create a Blink account through the Blink app for iOS, Android, or Fire OS. Creating one involves agreeing to Blink’s terms of service. You cannot proceed without an account. Adding the Blink Mini to your account requires you to, again, agree to its terms of service.

If you add an integration to the Blink camera, such as Amazon’s Alexa assistant, you will also need to create an account with that integration and agree to its terms of service separately.

To use the two-way talk feature of the Blink Mini, you’ll need to grant microphone access to the Blink app.

Final tally: two mandatory agreements and at least one optional agreement if you allow microphone access, and more if you link other services to your Blink account.

Video quality appears to be a little sharper than what I’ve recorded before with my Wyze Cam V2. This camera doesn’t have the ability to colorize night vision footage like the Ring Indoor Cam can, though it’s tough to be disappointed since Blink Mini costs about $25 less. If you have an Amazon Echo Show smart display, you can check out a live view directly through the display. The quality of the two-way audio is better than I expected it to be. This is a feature that I lean on as a last resort, so I don’t particularly care if the quality is good. To my delight, the voice quality picked up by the camera’s microphone sounded like an HD phone call, though the camera’s speaker was admittedly not as kind to my voice coming through.

With the Blink Mini camera, its main standout feature is its $35 price. Though, as is almost always the case with smart home tech, you have to consider the long-term price of owning a product. The Mini isn’t just $35 — that’s the starting price, and it’s easy to see this price double within the span of a year, be it with the paid cloud storage or Blink’s Sync Module 2. Some people won’t mind paying to jump through the extra hoops Blink set in order for you to get the most out of the Mini. After all, you’re still getting a good little camera. It handles most of what the Ring’s $59 Indoor Cam can, aside from the Ring-specific features and the ability to pair up with other Ring cameras.

Blink Mini

If you aren’t one of those people, you’ll merely have a $35 beacon that fires off movement-based notifications come 2021 when the trial for free cloud storage ends. The Wyze Cam is still the camera to beat. It costs just $25, works with microSD cards for local storage of your clips, and its cloud service stores 14 days’ worth of footage for free. You can even turn it into a webcam in a few quick steps. It’s proof that you can get more for your money in the short and long term.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

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