The never-ending new models of smartphones and tablets that come out each year means that a lot of us change devices on a regular basis. This begs the question, what do you do with the old one? Do you throw it in the bin? Do you reformat it and sell it? Throw it in a drawer and forget about it? Or do you re-purpose the device as something else? Maybe as an online security camera?
People are understandably concerned these days about security, both for themselves and for their family. It’s a dangerous world out there. But security cameras are expensive things to buy. Luckily, the whole “there’s an app for that!” philosophy has extended to security apps. You can install one on an old smartphone or tablet, and log in on another device or online to watch.
The Pros & Cons Of Using a Smartphone Or Tablet As a Security Device
There are many pros and cons of using a smartphone or device to act as your security camera. Let’s look at some of them.
- Since the whole setup is online, you can log in from another Internet-enabled device to see what the security app sees.
- You can receive SMS messages or push notifications when motion is detected. This enables you to respond faster and alert law enforcement.
- Video & images can be recorded, and uploaded to the cloud. This makes perfect evidence in court if the burglars are caught.
- You can use the app to not only watch your house, but also your pets when you are out. You can also use the app as a baby monitor if you are in the next room.
- To use a smartphone for a camera, you need to “activate” the phone – which requires a SIM card. If you have transferred the SIM card to your new device, you would need to buy a new SIM card to keep the old device activated. You can get round this by using an iPad as your camera, which requires no SIM card. Hiding an iPad though from a potential burglar would be tricky.
- Although the actual app is often free, to make any decent use of it, you may have to upgrade to a paid pro plan. Paying would give you more cloud storage space for video and images, for example.
- If a burglar suspects that there is an online camera, they may try to locate the Internet cable and cut it. A small chance, but still a possibility.
- Unless the device is plugged into the power, the battery may run down rather fast.
Two Free Apps Which Can Make a Decent iOS Online Security Camera
After sorting through the various security app offerings in the iOS App Store, I finally boiled it down to two options that looked promising. Both are free, with in-app purchases.
The advantage of Presence is that you can log into their website and view your cameras on their site. If you are at work (for example), you could leave one browser window constantly open with your camera feeds running. You can also change the options on your camera app directly from the website.
When you download the app onto your phone, there are some options to configure.
Here are some things I found cool about Presence –
- There is a button to snap photos. So if your burglar is standing right there with their face showing, shout “SAY CHEESE!” and take their photo.
- On the website, you can switch cameras. So if the device at home is currently using the back camera, you can remotely switch to the front camera instead.
- You can remotely turn the flashlight on and off to illuminate a dark room. Although that is kind of a giveaway to anyone there. Don’t be surprised to see them do a Usain Bolt out the front door.
- You can dim the screen if you don’t want to make it obvious there is a camera. This won’t affect the quality of the picture at the other end.
- You can set a PIN to stop a burglar from disabling and uninstalling the app.
- Specify the sensitivity of the motion capture. If you don’t want your cat constantly setting the alarm off, push the sensitivity higher.
- Allow audio streaming. Turn the sound right up and record the burglars talking.
- If the motion sensor kicks in, it can set off an alarm – which can only be turned off with a password.
The downsides with Presence (and a reviewer on the App store alluded to this too) are first, you have to specify a delay for the motion sensor to kick in. The minimum delay is 5 seconds. If someone is walking about my home, I don’t want the camera to wait 5 seconds before alerting me.
Secondly, no matter hard I tried, I could not get a totally clear picture on my phone. As you can see on the screenshot above, it looks a bit blurry – and this is on an iPhone 7.
Alfred is slightly better than Presence in my opinion. Mainly because the picture quality is MUCH better than Presence, and because of a few nice features.
- On the video screen, there is a microphone button. Press it down to use the app like a walkie-talkie to listen to the audio at the other end. The camera icon only snaps photos.
- In the settings, you can set up a “Trust Circle”. This is where you can use the iOS share feature to send someone a link to access the camera (the police? A relative? A neighbour?).
- The app can remind you when you are out or at home, whether or not you want the motion detection alerts switched on or off.
- Switch an “Auto Low-Light Filter” on and off when it is dark or gloomy in the room, for a better view.
To set up Alfred, you need two iOS devices, one to act as a “viewer” and one to act as a “camera”. The camera obviously sits in your home and you take the viewer with you for when you get alerts. An iPad works perfectly as the viewer. You also have to sign into both devices with a Gmail address, which will “pair” the viewer and camera together.
It comes with many of the features Presence does. Motion sensor sensitivity, dimming the screen, push notifications…..
Alfred has a lot going for it, but its biggest strike as far as I’m concerned is that it “doesn’t support video”. This is an iPhone 7 I am using, and Alfred doesn’t support video on it?! Until then, I was extremely enthusiastic about Alfred. But it seems you can only take photos. It looks as if it WILL record video for as long as there is motion detected, but as soon as the motion stops, the video stops. Which kind of limits its usefulness in this area.
A slightly smaller strike is that you cannot watch your camera in real-time from their website. You can log in, but it is merely a cloud storage space for those motion detection snippets and any photos you managed to snap from your device.
So Which One Is The Best?
If I had to choose one, I would say Alfred is the best of the two. Presence is fine, but its picture quality lets it down a lot, as well as the delay for the motion detection.
Alfred is not perfect either, but their downsides are a bit smaller by comparison. You WILL get video as long as there is motion, but the inability to watch your videos in real-time from their website, like Presence allows you to, is a bit on the annoying side.
There are many other security apps which I tried, tested, and discarded. Maybe you prefer one of those instead? If so, tell us in the comments why your nomination is better.