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Circuit Breaker

Blink wireless security cameras run for two years on a pair of AA batteries

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Hands-on with the anywhere (but outside) camera

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Thomas Ricker

Over the last year or so we’ve seen an uptick in availability of small and relatively cheap wireless security cameras. I mean truly wireless, using Wi-Fi to transmit data and batteries to provide power. That magical combination of features allows this new breed of cameras to be placed almost anywhere in, or around, a home. So I jumped at the chance when Immedia’s Blink offered to send me a couple of the tiny cameras we first previewed at CES in January.

Blink cameras are sold as one ($99), two ($169), three ($229), or five ($349) camera systems, with each additional camera costing $75. The camera itself shoots 720p video and features a microphone, temperature sensor, and an adjustable LED lamp that can easily illuminate an entire room when the camera’s motion sensor is tripped. Every camera system ships with a small sync module that joins your local Wi-Fi and then acts as a communication hub for the Blink cameras. The camera itself is small, about two-thirds the size of a deck of cards and weighing barely more than the two AA batteries you slot into the back. And after a Wednesday firmware update, Blink cameras can now function for more than two years before requiring a battery change based upon typical usage.

blink camera Thomas Ricker

I’ve been living for a few weeks with two Blink systems. A three-camera system installed in my home and a one-camera system in a little one-room surf shack I make use of when conditions allow. Both were dead simple to set up from my iPhone (there’s also an Android app), taking less than five minutes to go from unboxing to seeing live video. In daily usage, the cameras do exactly what they’re supposed to do. My home system is set up to automatically arm itself every night and to disarm itself in the morning before the house begins to stir. Conversely, I manually arm the beach house whenever I’m not there. While the systems haven’t caught any criminals, the home Blink did alert me when my son came home after I had been unable to reach him for several hours (dead phone) one night; and the beach Blink confirmed my suspicions that the guy who sold me the shack was showing it off to prospective buyers without my permission.

Busted Busted! Why are these people in my house?

Let me run through some additional pros and cons of the system. First the pros:

  • 110-degree video quality is excellent and lets me see most of the room where the Blink is mounted.
  • 5-second alert clips are captured when triggered by the motion sensor. These are stored on Blink’s servers for free. Each customer is given enough storage for up to 7,200 seconds of video (or 1,440 5-second events). The oldest clips are discarded for newer ones once you reach your limit.
  • Live view lets you look at your cameras at any time. It takes a few seconds to connect and then you’re prompted to stop the video after about 30 seconds of viewing to conserve battery.
  • The camera sits upright on any level surface, or can be mounted to a wall with the double-sided tape and bracket included.
  • Cameras can be automatically armed or disarmed via schedules. These can be disabled or enabled quickly through the app.
  • MicroUSB jack on camera can be used to power Blink if needed for long periods of Live viewing (support for USB storage for local video capture is coming).

Cons:

  • Hardware is plasticky, but at least it’s white so it blends in easily with most decors.
  • Blink doesn’t support Geofencing to automatically arm the system when you’re away (that feature is coming).
  • The cameras are not waterproof so they’re not suitable for outdoor use.
  • Blink is not accessible from the web (though that feature is coming).
  • You’re buying into a device, not an ecosystem — it doesn’t integrate with Nest or HomeKit or anything else.
  • No pan and tilt support.
  • Camera doesn’t allow two-way audio, you can only hear what’s happening in a room.
  • Ethernet jack on hub doesn't do anything, yet.

I’ve been super impressed with the Blink systems I’ve been using. And Wirecutter agrees, selecting it as its Budget Pick for inexpensive and scalable home security cameras. So, if you’re in the market for a little home surveillance and don’t require the sophistication of a Logi Circle, Arlo Q, or Nest Cam, Blink, in my opinion, is a very good place to start for relatively little money.

Correction: The original article said that the MicroUSB jack on the Blink camera was for future USB storage. While that's still planned, it can be used as an alternate power source right now. The article has been updated to reflect this omission.