Blink: Wireless Home Security Cameras

Blink video
Hey, UPS is delivering a package!

Ever had a package stolen off your front porch, or just wonder who’s been by your house while you’re gone? Blink is a security camera system that lets you keep an eye on things, no matter where you are.

The system consists of a sync module and up to 10 devices—currently cameras, though there is an alarm unit planned as well. The sync module and cameras connect to your wifi network, and then you access everything through an app on your smartphone (iOS or Android). The cameras are small and run on 2 AA batteries, allowing them to be placed nearly anywhere. The system starts at $99 for a sync module and one camera, with additional packages that include more cameras. There’s no monthly service fee, since Blink uses your home network.

Blink system
The Blink sync module and camera are both small and fit in the palm of my hand. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I was sent a sample unit with three cameras to try out, and have been using it for just over a month now. The initial setup was pretty easy—you plug the sync module into a power outlet, and then run a setup wizard on the app, which connects your sync module to your wifi network. Then, to add a camera, you put in the camera’s serial number and it is automatically connected to the sync module via wifi.

Once connected, there are various settings you can pick for each camera: if a camera is enabled, it will automatically record a video clip when it detects motion. You can set the camera’s sensitivity, the length of the clip (from 1 to 10 seconds), and the delay between the end of a clip and when it will start recording again (from 10 to 60 seconds). The camera also has an LED light built in—you can have it stay off, or turn on every time it’s recording or just when it detects low light levels. The main screen of the app has a switch to arm or disarm the entire system, and then each camera can be turned on or off for motion-activated recording. There’s also a Live View mode, where you can tap the videocamera icon on any of your cameras to see what’s currently happening. Finally, there’s a folder that stores all of the clips that have been recorded, which you can play back. Blink provides enough storage space on its servers for 7,200 seconds of video—if you run out, the oldest clips will be overwritten.

Blink app screenshots
Screenshots from the app show your cameras, camera settings, and your saved video clips.

A recent update on the app also allows for a regular schedule—you can have the system automatically arm or disarm at particular times and days of the week, to conserve battery power on the cameras or to avoid unnecessary alerts on your phone.

I did have a little trouble picking the best place to put the sync module in order for it to have a good connection to my wifi network and all the locations I wanted to place cameras. I tried two cameras at first: one for my front porch, and one out the basement window near the door. My house has lathe-and-plaster walls, so I know that wireless signals sometimes have difficulty passing through them.

Blink-mounted
My front porch camera, mounted on the wall near the ceiling of the porch. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The other trick was figuring out the best way to mount the front porch camera. Each camera comes with a small mounting bracket that lets you angle and rotate the camera fairly easily. I wanted the camera to be able to see my front door and doorstep (where packages would typically be dropped), but at first it was picking up movement and triggering too often, or not often enough. At one point I realized it was triggering because it could detect when my next-door neighbors walked past to their porch; I redirected the camera and started picking up cars driving past our corner. It took some trial and error, but I did get it set up where it would consistently detect if somebody came to my front door, and generally not otherwise. I’ve got one other camera set up inside my house, too, which I only arm when I’m away—but I can also use it to check in on the kids at home if I want to. I should note that the little blue LED lights up when the camera is on, so if you really want to spy on somebody surreptitiously, this probably isn’t the right system for you.

The cameras can be used outdoors but are not waterproof, so you do need to find a place that’s protected from the weather, and it shouldn’t be left outdoors in freezing or sweltering weather, either, so I may need to bring it in during the winter. They don’t detect movement through glass, so if I put it inside and point it outside, it won’t detect the movement (but I could still use Live View to watch through the window). That does mean there are some limitations—plus I suppose the camera itself could be stolen (though you’d get a short clip of the theft as it happened).

Fortunately nobody has tried to steal a package off my porch in the past two months, but I am able to see when packages arrive, what time my kids get home from school, and so on. It has been handy even when I’m home, because if I’m in the basement playing games or upstairs folding laundry, I’ll often miss a knock at the front door. There is a bit of a delay, though, depending on the settings. I like having a 10-second clip because I can see what happened a little more—but it does mean that the recording has to be finished before the alert comes to my phone. The shortest delay between the end of recording and starting another one is 10 seconds, too—which means that the camera doesn’t record everything that happens. It would be nice if there would just be a rolling recording as long as there’s movement, though I imagine video storage space would quickly become an issue.

The Blink system is a nice, relatively inexpensive way to add security cameras to your home. It doesn’t require a monthly fee like the video surveillance my alarm company keeps trying to sell me, and the small, battery-powered cameras make it easy to move them around and monitor different rooms depending on the situation. There are some limitations, as I’ve mentioned above. If you’re looking for a handy way to keep an eye on your packages or watch over your house when you’re on vacation, take a closer look!

Visit the Blink website for more information. You can also purchase a system from Amazon.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.