August 17, 2017
Initial review and 1.5 year update.
After one full week of usage, I'm ready to review the YI 1080P camera system. Take that description with a grain of salt, because you get more than just a simple camera at a price that's almost stupidly low. Over the next few paragraphs I'll go over the included hardware, features, setup and value and compare each of those aspects to other systems on the market. Start your engines.
So let's talk about the included hardware. Each camera comes in a small box similar to a new cell phone. They are so small that you will believe that they've forgotten something. Nope, inside that tiny box is everything for a single camera system. Open it up and you'll get the camera itself which is attached to its own base and, again, like a cell phone, a micro USB cord and outlet plug. This means that if anything ever happens to your power cord, you can get a spare very quickly. You'll also get some literature on setup and all that, which is pretty standard. There is no base unit like Arlo has. It's just a camera, similar to the Piper/Nest/most other systems. The quality of the hardware is also very decent. We all know the quality difference between Lego and Duplo, an iPad and a $60 tablet, a Yugo and a Honda. These cameras are decent quality. Maybe not at Nest standard, but good all the same. They are not Duplo or Yugo but won't break the bank like Nest will. That about sums it up for the hardware or included materials. As I stated earlier, the box the camera comes in is super small, so if you order two cameras like I did, you'll be underwhelmed at the size of the box they come in. Don't worry, good things come in small packages too.
Moving on to features. These 1080P YI cameras come with a boatload of features. You can of course view them from your phone in and outside of your wifi network, so if you are at work and want to check in on your home, you can do that. They have two way audio so you can talk with someone or mess with your cats while you are away (not that I've ever done this...). Is it nighttime? No problem, these have very decent night vision capability, so they can see in pitch black darkness. Did something move over there? These sense motion and record it. Is something in the room always moving, like a fan but don't want that to set off the motion detection? You can select a specific area of the room to detect motion in, and not other areas, so if you have animals like cats or dogs that roam around during the day, set the selection area higher so it won't detect them. You can also set the motion sensitivity and alert frequency. Maybe your cat is chasing a reflection on a wall from an open window and you don't want to constantly get an update every few seconds. You can set the frequency lower and get fewer notifications. You can also take videos or pictures of what your camera sees at will. Of course all of this motion and recording can be set up to be stored on the YI servers or be saved to a micro SD card (not included, but you can get a 32 gb Samsung from Amazon for $12) for further review. Have a set schedule? Maybe you don't want it to record motion at night, but you are gone for ten hours during the day. Set it up to record while you are gone. You can of course turn it off at will from your phone. There's also a crying baby setting. I don't have a baby, nor am I going to borrow one to test the feature, but it does exist. I'm guessing that it will listen specifically for that type of sound and send notifications specifically for it. You can also add a bunch of cameras to a single system and jump between those cameras at will. YI also makes a camera that can move and pivot 360 degrees. I have no idea if that camera would integrate into this system, but I bet it would. Most other good systems on the market have something along these features, so its par for the course here. The lack of a giant siren that the Arlo system has can be seen as a downside, but none of the other major systems have these either, so take that how you want.
So what about setting these things up? How hard is it? What's involved? Well, this can be accomplished in just a few really simple steps. The first thing you want to make sure of; that your phone you are using to set these up is on the same network as the cameras will be. I run two separate wifi networks, a 2.5 and a 5ghz. These cameras will currently only work on 2.5 ghz, so I had to jump over to the other network, no big deal. So first, download the YI Home app and start it up. Let the system guide you from here. It will show you everything you need to know, but it's pretty basic. Next you'll hit a small plus button to add a camera. Plug in your YI camera and wait. It will take about 30 seconds to turn itself on and it will begin talking. Click on the app that you've heard the camera speak and your phone will display a barcode. Simply show this barcode to the camera and it will log into the network. That simple. Then you simply set up the preferences I spoke about in the features area above. It's so simple that a child could do it.
Value. Here it is. If you've read this far, you know what's coming. This system represents a value that cannot be ignored. I bought it figuring that if I didn't like it, I'd force Amazon to take it back. At $60 a camera, I figured I'd either get a great deal or return it to get something else. Luckily, I got a fantastic deal. For two cameras and two micro SD cards I'm well under the cost of a single Nest/Piper camera or the dual camera Arlo system. The features and hardware quality are a serious contender against nearly any other system on the market. Look, I know how it appears; cheap Chinese made cameras with an app system that can't be good, with features that probably don't really work. All of that is wrong except for the "cheap" part, and that doesn't apply to the camera build quality. This system WILL impress you. It is however a more basic system in terms of its compatability with other things you may have in your home already. I doubt that it will integrate with Alexa or any other system. It's its own thing, and that's not bad. The value is clearly there though and is easily seen once you directly compare this system to just about any other system on the market. There is no reason to take my word for it, so go and view a couple of youtube videos and watch for yourself. You can read any of my other reviews, and I think you'll find a common theme; value. I always look for the value in something, especially in lower priced options. Sure, the Nest cameras are nice. Yes, the Piper system is good. But at $60 a camera, are those systems worth $x more? No, not to me they aren't. I bought two cameras and the only thing I regret is not buying another one. Maybe I'll remedy that right now....
1.5 year update!!!
So what's life been like with this camera system over the past year and a half? Well, the road is bumpy and there are some faults, but overall, for the price you pay, it's a decent system. Let's start with the good.
The software seems to receive updates every few months, so that shows that the developers continue to work on the system. The overall quality of the equipment is still good, no complaints here. I did try out their premium service by paying for a subscription, and it worked well, but I didn't continue it as I just didn't think it added any value.
The bad stuff. Well, interacting with the system while away from home is mixed. Occasionally I just can't access the cameras, and it isn't like I don't have good signal. The system is laggy and it can take quite a while to get a live image to show up on the phone. Sometimes you simply can't get one no matter how hard you try. I usually just wait a few minutes and try again.
There was a period of time a while back where no notifications would show up about movement detected. I'd randomly open the app and see a pile of movement notifications that the system never let me know about....that angered me a great deal. So I unplugged the cameras and logged out of the system to try to reboot the whole setup and it didn't work. It took a whole update from the company to finally get notifications back.
And the last problem I have with this system, is that sometimes it will tell me that there was movement on one of the cameras and when I go to look at the video, it gives me an error that simply says the video isn't playable. This doesn't happen often, maybe around 5% of the time or so, but still, that shouldn't happen, ever.
I deducted two stars from the review because of these failures. I'm still using the system and I do think it's worth the money you pay for it, but it's far from perfect. It's a great way to get into home security for low cost, but if you want something with more stability, look to higher priced options.