Tech Review: Wyze Cams

alexanderskills

Tech Review: Wyze Cams

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Wyze Cam displays on an Echo SpotWyze Cam displays on an Echo Spot

You’re lying in bed when you hear a loud noise outside.  What do you do?

A) Run frantically to the front door, barefoot in your pajamas
B) Pull the covers up over your head and make believe you didn’t hear anything
C) Say, “Alexa show driveway camera” and look at the screen on your alarm clock.

I recently tried choice C for the first time, and I have to say that sometimes technology does make our lives better.  As gadgets have become ubiquitous they have been learning to talk to one another.  Amazon is a leader in this trend.  The Amazon digital assistant Alexa passed 80,000 skills in January.  In the Alexa universe skills are the connection between you talking to Alexa and some other device or action.  For example you can ask Alexa to find your robotic vacuum cleaner.  Or to turn on the lights in the family room.  Or to show you the live feed from your security camera.  But not all skills are as skillful as others.  You want devices that offer skills that connect to Alexa reliably and have a good range of actual skills enabled by the Alexa ‘skill’.  Inexpensive is good (also rare).

All that led me to try Wyze cameras, both the stationary Wyze Cam and the Wyze Cam Pan, which can view a 360 degree radius.

While I hate those TV shows that start with a shocking scene, and then flash ‘Six hours earlier…’ and spend the whole hour catching up, I am going to go back in time a bit.  I started thinking about IP Cameras when preparing to go away for a week.  I bought a bunch of Foscam cameras because they were inexpensive and had features I wanted.  Setting them up to be used remotely was a bit complicated.  In addition to setting them up on your WiFi router you had to go into your router settings and open a port for each camera.  Then you needed a DNS service through which you could access your cameras, and optionally attach your own domain name to it.

It was a geek project fer sure, but I navigated all the bumps and could see the driveway plus a number of rooms in my house on an app on my phone.  Aside from using the cameras as my ‘cheap security system’ I found a unique use for them.  At the time we had four cats, and one of them was thinking outside the box.  The litter box, that is.  But we couldn’t do anything about it unless we knew which cat was pooping on the floor.

So I set up a cat cam and downloaded an app on my computer that could record if it detected motion.  It took a few days to get the kinks out, but eventually I was able to review the footage and see for myself who couldn’t wrap her head around the concept of a litter box.  Mission accomplished (I nicknamed that cat ‘Stinky’).

The Foscam cameras were fine but finicky.  The WiFi on one of them never worked, and the others had their good days and bad days.  But it was a workable system until we started having all those blackouts here in Lansing, which fried most of the Foscam’s, or partially fried them so the WiFi no longer worked, or mostly didn’t work.  One of them connected OK but only showed a black screen.

wyze camWyze CamThis being a non-necessary piece of my life I rearranged the few surviving cameras. I wasn’t going to spend all that money again to replace the Foscams.  Then I saw a review of a camera I had never heard of by Wyze.  They were receiving really good reviews both by industry reviewers and in customer reviews.  The stationary cameras cost $20, so I bought a two-pack.

As with most devices these days, the instructions were terrible, but the setup turned out to be quite easy.  First you download the app on your phone and set up an account (email and password).  You open the app and tell it you want to add a camera.  You plug in the camera.  You press a tiny little button until the camera literally says “Ready to connect’.  Then you follow the prompts in the app.  At one point it tells you to point the Wyze Cam toward your phone so it can read a QR code displayed on the screen.  The app tells you to wait while it completes the setup.  At this stage you can view the live camera feed within the app.

The Wyze Cam has a micro-SD slot.  If you have a card to insert into it the camera can record things so you can go back in time, or you can tell it to make a time-lapse video.  The app can save the videos on your phone, and it can also take and save snapshots.  It has high and low definition modes.  The base of the Wyze Cam is magnetic, and it comes with metal disks and double sided tape to affix the ring to a windowsill or a rafter.  If you picked ‘rafter’ the app has a setting for each camera that causes the picture to flip 180 degrees.  So if the camera is upside down, the picture on your screen is right side up.

Did you notice that setting up a Wyze camera does not include opening router ports, subscribing to a dynamic IP service, domain name, or setting a static IP address on your WiFi network?  Setting up the Wyze devices is a serious improvement for those of us who want the convenience of modern device, but don’t want an advanced degree in IT.

Now for the Alexa part.  First of all you need an Echo device with a screen such as an Echo Show or an Echo Spot.  There is no point in telling Alexa to display a camera feed unless there is a screen to display it on.  If you have one of these devices you go into the Alexa app and add the Wyze skill – in the Skills portion of the app search for Wyze, enable the app, and sign it into your Wyze account.  The final piece is to tell Alexa to search for devices.  She’ll search for a moment and then tell you she has found your camera.

That is it.  No running out of the house half-naked in a frenzy to see what made that awful noise.

I was so pleased with the two little Wyze Cams, that I decided to try one of their $30 Wyze Cam Pans.  This camera is bigger than the Wyze Cam, a rectangular cuboid you might get if you stacked three Wyze Cams on top of each other, with a small circular base.  The power cord (yes both types of Wyze cam need to be plugged in) plugs into the base so it won’t tangle when the camera turns.  Instead of a magnet this base has a receptacle you can screw a tripod or a mounting device into.  It sets up as easily as the stationary version, and, using the app you can tell it to continuously scan the 360 degree radius, or you can manually move it around with a little control in the phone app.

The picture quality is quite good, and while I haven’t tried the two-way sound feature, there seems to be less Internet static on the Wyze cams than on the Foscam versions.

There are two things about the app that could be improved.  First, the app is a battery hog, on iPhones, at least.  You might want to view your cameras with your phone plugged into a charger.  I inadvertently left the app running during a one-hour appoinbtment, and when i realized it was still running my phone battery, which had started in the high 90%s was down below 40%.  The second thing is that you can only see one camera feed at a time.

I had been using the Foscam cameras with an app that showed four feeds at a time, and you could scroll down to see more.  There is no app like that for the Wyze cameras on iPhones or computers, but if you have an Android phone you’re in luck.  An app called tinyCamPro‘ not only shows Wyze cams in multiple windows, but also a large list of other brands, including Foscam.  So I can use the app to not only see multiple Wyze camera feeds at a time, but also see the feeds from my surviving Foscams.

iPhone users beware – there is an iPhone app with the same name, but it is not this app, and it doesn’t do anything useful that I can figure out.  My good luck that Apple gives prompt refunds on the App Store when you ask them to (and tell them why).

wyze bluestacksThe Bluestacks window at upper left of my computer screenThat’s fine if you have an Android phone, but what about your computer?  Well, as the saying goes, there’s an app for that.  BlueStacks is a free Android emulator for PC or Mac.  It seems to be targeted at gamers, but it loads up an Android screen that you can use as a pseudo-phone, including downloading and using tinyCam Pro.  BlueStacks takes a huge amount of screen space, but I found a way to determine the height and width of the window (it’s a bit tricky if you’re not a computer geek, but not impossible).  So I just let it sit in a corner of my screen while working in other windows, for instance, to write this review.

Wyze recently introduced ‘Person Detection’ which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect a person, and can even push a notification on your phone to alert you that a person had entered its field of view.  This works on both models of camera, and simply requires updating the app and the camera’s firmware (which you do within the app) if they aren’t already up to date.

It is too early to tell whether the Wyze cameras flawless performance will continue over the long haul.  Most of the reviews I have read seem to be saying they will.  And if the next power outage manages to fry them, despite my new surge protectors, they are the most economical cameras I have seen, costing less than half of their Foscam counterparts (and Foscam cameras are about half what many brands cost).

The bottom line is that I am giving a thumbs up to both the Wyze Cam and Wyze Cam Pan.  My cheap security system just got significantly cheaper.  But it seems to be an exception to the rule ‘you get what you pay for’.  You get a lot of value for the very low price of these cameras.

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Published at Fri, 12 Jul 2019 04:07:30 +0000