Reviewed by Louise Totton
Home security is something that has really concerned me ever since someone sneaked into my family home and helped themselves to my mum’s handbag whilst we were all in the lounge watching TV. We lived in one of those areas where people don’t bother locking their doors, because that kind of thing simply never happened. Well… until it did! The police actually had a pretty good idea of who had done it, but there was absolutely no evidence so the whole thing was dropped.
I have recently moved home, so was fully renewing my home insurance for the first time, and when I was trying to decide how much value to assign to my contents, I must admit, I shocked myself. We don’t necessarily appreciate just how much the bits in our homes have cost of over the years, and a lot of these expensive bits are small, easily pocketable gadgets – my home has several mobile phones, tablets, kindles, smart watches, laptops… the list goes on. These items are the kind of thing that could very easily be swiped, and then there’s the property we own that might be outside. Expensive stuff in the garden shed, parcels left unsecured by delivery drivers and things we might have accidentally left in a visible and tempting bit of the car.
House alarms clearly aren’t going to be appropriate in these situations, and this is where security cameras can be an effective deterrent or provider of evidence. The cost and complexity of security systems have always put me off. It’s not that long ago that they needed to be wired in, connected to a hard drive and have high set up costs – at least ones suitable for outdoor usage did. The Blink XT camera system should theoretically solve some or all of these issues, making it an affordable solution and easy for a standard home user to set up themselves.
Blink is an Amazon company, and currently offer two different camera ranges – the Blink which is suitable for indoor use and the Blink XT which is more rugged and weatherproof and is designed to be used indoors and outdoors. Both ranges can accommodate multiple cameras and can be bought as a one camera system, which includes a sync module plus a single camera, or multiple camera sets which include a single sync module plus up to five cameras. If you decide you want to start small, you can add extra cameras to your system later. We were sent the One Camera Blink XT system to review.
Contained in the box was a camera, the sync module, a power cable, two AA batteries and a window sticker, to inform anyone who might be tempted that the property is monitored by security cameras. Setting the system up is incredibly quick – it literally took me and my other half five minutes. It is a simple case of installing the AA batteries, downloading the app to an Android or iOS device and following the instructions within the app.
The camera is fully controlled within the app, and all of the settings are changed within the app. The camera doesn’t constantly record like traditional CCTV, instead it detects movement and triggers recording when it senses that it needs to. By default, it is set to record a five second clip when movement is detected, but this time can be increased within the app. The sensitivity is set to 5/10 as standard, but again is easily altered within the app. This would be particularly useful for people with pets, or if the camera is placed in a high-traffic area and you do not want it to be triggered constantly. You can also set the quality of the video recording, the night view and the re-trigger time within the menu. When the camera is triggered, a notification is sent to your registered device and you can watch the clip on your phone. If you have switched the audio recording on, this is also played back.
Depending on what you see on the clip, you may want to either save or discard the clip – there are only so many videos of little Tiddles you will want to watch, or of the postman, gas bill in hand, approaching your front door. These clips are stored in the cloud on Blink’s secure servers for you to access at any time, and this storage is free. The system allows you to store 7,200 seconds, or 1,440 five second clips. When you have reached this limit, the oldest clips are overwritten so you won’t find yourself in a situation where your Blink stops storing clips when you most need them.
I found that the system worked really well. As a starting point, I placed Blink in the lounge, strategically placed so that it would trigger as soon as anyone entered the room. With the sensitivity set at the default level of five, I was half way across the room before recording kicked in, but when I adjusted it up to 10, it started as soon as I entered the room. The recording quality is excellent – the Blink XT can record in HD 1080p and the clarity of the clips really are fantastic. I have absolutely no doubt that you could easily identify someone from the videos that ping straight to your device when someone enters.
I used the system in the same way that I would with a burglar alarm – arming it before I left the house or when I needed to use it. If it were to be constantly armed, the sheer number of notifications would get rather annoying and you would eat through the battery in no time! Even when not armed, you can still use the live view function.
Blink XT also produces good quality clips in dark conditions as it has infrared night vision as well as low-light illumination. I was surprised just how good the quality of the recordings are, even in pitch black conditions.
Unfortunately, the outside of my house doesn’t lend itself wonderfully well to mounting a Blink XT outside. I had therefore assumed that I would be able to leave it on the windowsill overnight to keep an eye on my car (there has been a spate of car break-ins in my village recently). The Blink XT uses a PIR sensor, rather than in-video motion detection which means that one of its limitations is that it is unable to sense movement through glass. Whilst I do find this disappointing, I would imagine most houses wouldn’t have the same restrictions that mine does, so it wouldn’t be an issue for most.
I did, however, leave it on the kitchen windowsill on several occasions so it could keep an eye on the kitchen door and I have to say that it coped remarkably well with being splashed whilst I was washing up, so I have absolutely no doubt that it would cope with the British weather. If you are using your Blink XT purely indoors, you do not need to rely on the AA batteries and can power it with a standard micro USB cable.
As well as being triggered by movement, there is also a live view function within the app, whereby you can check out what is going on in your home from anywhere you have an internet signal. At present, there is no function whereby you can save this clip but it can provide peace of mind if you just want to check everything is ok whilst you are out. You can also take a single still image in this way too – again, this can’t be saved but I got around this by taking a screenshot on my phone.
I suppose in a time when even your kettle is a ‘connected device’, it should come as no surprise that you can hook the Blink up to Amazon’s Echo, Echo Dot, Tap and Show. At present, other systems are not supported but as Blink is an Amazon product, it makes sense that they are the first to be supported. With the Amazon devices, you can control your camera without having to lift a finger, using only your voice.
I think this is a great little system – the real benefit being how simple that it is to set up. Pretty much anyone could do this in less than 15 minutes and it only takes a small amount of tweaking to get the settings as you’d want them. Because it sits nicely and unobtrusively on the shelf without a need to be mounted, you can also move it around should you only have one or two of the cameras and need to monitor a different area of the house. I have already put mine in the kids’ playroom to keep an eye on them whilst I was changing beds and had it trained on the front door whilst I was expecting a parcel. There are some features that it doesn’t have – the sound is only one-way, so you can listen but cant talk back, and it will be very useful once the ability to record the ‘live view’ clips is available, but for the size, price and simplicity of set up, I think it does an awful lot!
For more information or to buy visit blinkforhome.co.uk.