Why you should trust me
I’ve written about consumer electronics for more than 15 years, and I’ve tested a variety of smart-home items—everything from remotes and security cameras to AV receivers and speakers. As a former editor for Electronic House and Big Picture Big Sound, I’ve written buyer’s guides for multiple consumer-electronics devices. I’ve also done tech-related work for The New York Times, Wired, Men’s Health, and others.
Who should get this
Having a Wi-Fi surveillance camera on your front porch, over your garage, or attached to your back deck can give you a peek at what’s really going bump in the night (or the day), whether it’s someone stealing packages off your steps or trash pandas rummaging through your garbage cans. A camera will not only alert you to dangers but also create a record of the events that happen outside your home. It should also help you identify someone—whether it’s a welcome or unwelcome guest—or just allow you to monitor pets or kids when you’re not outside with them. (Just know that some uses of surveillance cameras can wade into ethically questionable waters.)
If the camera captures video of something while you’re away, it can send you a smartphone alert and save the footage for later viewing. Some also integrate with other smart-home systems to trigger sirens, lights, thermostats, and other devices when motion is detected.
If that’s not enough peace of mind and you want to step it up to 24/7, hands-off security, you should go with something that’s connected to a monitoring service. (For more information on what’s out there, see our guide to home security systems.)
How we picked
We started compiling a list of outdoor Wi-Fi cameras by reading professional reviews on sites like PCMag, SafeWise, and Safety.com, and by checking out the options and user reviews available on popular online retailers.
We narrowed our list by dropping devices that required a networked video recorder to capture video and instead considered only those that could stand alone, which kept our focus on models that were easier to set up and to use. Most outdoor cameras cost from $100 to $200 each, with several features helping to determine the price:
- Image resolution: Most outdoor cameras stream 1080p video. If a camera does only 720p, you shouldn’t be paying more than $100.
- Night vision: All outdoor Wi-Fi cameras should have night-vision capability. The night-vision range can be a factor, depending on where you plan to place the camera.
- Alerts: A good outdoor security camera will alert your smartphone or tablet whenever motion is detected. Faster alerts are better, but that’s often dependent more on the network you’re connected to than on the camera itself.
- Storage: Cloud storage (where video is saved on a remote server operated by the manufacturer, instead of at your house) is the norm these days, but some cameras store recordings locally on a microSD card or a connected hard drive. Onboard storage is nice, but it won’t be of much help if someone steals the camera.
- Audio: A good outdoor Wi-Fi camera should have a built-in microphone so you can hear chirps and chatter. Many also feature a speaker for two-way communication so you can talk to whomever is in front of the camera.
- Smart-home integration: Most outdoor cameras offer some type of smart-home integration, such as support for Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT (If This Then That), SmartThings, and more.
- Power: Battery-powered cameras offer flexible placement. However, many outdoor Wi-Fi cameras still require AC power, limiting placement to within reach of an outlet. Several of the ones on our list are hardwired into outdoor lights.
How we tested
We mounted our test group of outdoor Wi-Fi cameras to a board outside the house so we could point them at the same spot and expose them all to the same lighting conditions and New England weather. The exceptions were cameras that were integrated into outdoor lighting fixtures, which I had installed on the porch by a licensed electrician (who happens to be my husband). All of the cameras were connected to the same 2.4 GHz network via a Wi-Fi router indoors (approximately 40 feet from the cameras); service to the house was Verizon Fios.
With the exception of those hardwired lighting models and some battery-operated cameras that required separate indoor hubs, all of the cameras installed almost exactly the same way. Each camera came with all of the mounting hardware needed. Once placed, each camera connected to the Wi-Fi network easily. If you’re looking to put a camera in a spot that doesn’t get a good Wi-Fi signal, consider upgrading your router or adding an extender or repeater. (Check out our guide to Wi-Fi routers and our guide to Wi-Fi extenders for suggestions.)
Aside from good Wi-Fi, you may also need a nearby outlet. Most cameras require an AC connection, which means you won’t be able to place them just anywhere. Several of the cameras we tested offered the option to use battery power, but we have yet to find the perfect one. The models we’ve reviewed so far either record very short clips, leave giant gaps in between those short clips, or require charging on a regular basis.
We downloaded each camera’s app to an iPhone 7, an iPad, and a Nokia 3.1 running Android 9 Pie, when possible. The cameras spent weeks guarding our front door, alerting us to friends, family members, delivery people, and even the milkman. Once we got a good enough look at those friendly faces, we tilted the entire collection outward for another two weeks to see what kind of results we would get when the cameras faced the house across the street, which is approximately 50 feet away.
Our pick: Google Nest Cam Outdoor
The Google Nest Cam Outdoor is a reliable, weatherproof Wi-Fi camera. It records 1080p HD video straight to cloud-based storage 24/7, so you don’t miss any outdoor action. Plus, it has a truly weatherproof cord. It integrates with several third-party devices, so you can trigger lights, thermostats, and other smart-home devices based on movement in front of the camera; we plan to reassess those features once Google Nest shifts to the Works with Google Assistant program.
What really sets this model apart is Nest Aware, a subscription service that can be expensive but is essential. In fact, we don’t recommend buying this camera at all unless you plan to add the subscription. Without it, you won’t get the person-detection feature, customizable Activity Zones (which let you monitor designated areas within the camera’s field of view), or Sightline, a detailed, scrollable timeline of when and where the camera detected activity. Being able to distinguish between a person and a car, for example, allows you to cut down on unnecessary alerts. And Activity Zones are a nice perk, especially if you’re looking to monitor a specific corner of the yard, a doorway, or even garbage cans.
The Nest Cam Outdoor’s 1080p images and sound were impressive in our testing—during the day and at night—with a wide, 130-degree field of view and 8 x digital zoom that allowed us to get a closer view in live video. We should note that the camera would occasionally downgrade the picture quality based on available bandwidth, which could fluctuate throughout the day. Nest includes the option to set the bandwidth to low, medium, and high, but that may defeat the purpose of having a 1080p camera.
The Nest Cam Outdoor uses a separate mount, rather than an integrated one, so you’re not limited to viewing one area. The mount is magnetic, but it’s strong, so you can easily attach the camera and move it up, down, and everywhere in between.
Although it has a lot of flexibility in placement, the Nest Cam Outdoor does need a power source, so it must be placed within reach of an outlet. This can be a problem outside the house. The camera comes with an outdoor-rated 25-foot adapter and power cable. It’s lengthy, and that’s a good thing if your preferred mounting location isn’t close to an outlet. The Nest also comes with clips to make the installation clean and more difficult to swipe off the side of a house.
Even though it doesn’t have the widest operating temperature range (-4 degrees Fahrenheit to 104 degrees Fahrenheit), the Nest is one of the few cameras on our list that come with a truly weatherproof cord and plug. That treatment makes the cord quite thick, so you can’t really run it through a window opening.
The Nest app is easy to navigate, with a graphical timeline, clear imagery, and the option to zoom in for a better look. It can also integrate with other Google Nest devices, such as indoor and outdoor cameras, the Nest Thermostat, the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, and more. You can schedule the camera so that it won’t deliver hundreds of alerts while you mow the lawn and will trigger modes based on your mobile device’s location (for example, go into Away mode when you leave the house). And you can have the Nest turn on Lutron Caséta lights when motion is detected outside so it looks like you’re home when you’re away. (We will update this section once Nest switches to the Works with Google Assistant program.)
In addition to the standard username and password system for logging in, Nest also offers far more secure two-factor authentication (2FA), which requires you to input a special one-time-use code, received via email or text, to access your camera and recordings. (2FA is already a requirement to use Apple HomeKit, but Nest is one of the few outdoor camera manufacturers we know of that offers 2FA for its own devices.) Though it’s an optional step, we highly recommend it: To enable 2FA, go into the Nest app’s settings, tap Account, Manage Account, Account Security, and then 2-step verification. (For more tips on securing your devices, see our post How to Protect Your Smart Home From Hackers.)
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Nest Aware service is what makes this camera stand out—it’s what provides the video history and smarter alerts, for example. However, those features come at a comparatively steep price: $5 per month ($50 per year) for the first camera for five days of video history, $10 per month ($100 per year) for 10 days of video history, or $30 per month ($300 per year) for 30 days of video history. For each additional camera, the subscription is discounted to about half of the initial fee. By comparison, Arlo charges $3 per month for person detection with 30 days of cloud storage, and Logitech charges $10 for those features and bumps storage up to 31 days. But although those are nice features to add, they aren’t essential, as they are with the Nest Cam. If you choose not to add another monthly fee to the mix, you may be disappointed with what the Nest Cam Outdoor can (and can’t) do. It still delivers live video and alerts you when it detects sound or motion, but it stores those alerts for only up to three hours—and it gives just a snapshot of the action that triggered them.
We love the 1080p video the Nest Cam Outdoor produces, but the video quality may vary based on your 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz Wi-Fi connection. If you don’t have the bandwidth or placement is too far away from your router, the system will adjust the video quality automatically to make the experience as smooth as possible. Of course, that could also degrade the image. If it’s a recurring problem, consider installing a range extender or Wi-Fi repeater. Also know that because the Nest records and uploads 24/7, it may be a drain on your home’s allotted bandwidth, so check with your Internet service provider to make sure your subscription can handle the additional load.
Finally, if you don’t have an outdoor outlet, installing the Nest Cam Outdoor could be problematic. It comes with 25 feet of outdoor-rated cable, so placement options may be limited.
Runner-up: Logitech Circle 2
If our main pick is not available or you just want basic coverage without having to subscribe to a service, the Logitech Circle 2 is an excellent alternative that includes 24 hours of free cloud storage (with an option to purchase more). This camera performs very similarly to the Nest Cam Outdoor, with the capability to deliver crystal-clear 1080p images day and night and with two-way communication so you can hear and talk to whoever is in front of the camera. However, the supplied 10-foot power cord limits placement and isn’t weatherproof (you can add a weatherproof cord, but doing so makes each unit cost more than a Nest), and notifications that distinguish between people and general motion will cost you an additional $10 per month.
The free 24-hour cloud storage should appeal to those who aren’t interested in paying for a subscription, but keep this in mind: Unlike the Nest, the Circle 2 doesn’t deliver 24/7 recording, which means it records only when it detects motion. Although this seems like it could be problematic, in our testing it didn’t prove to be much of a downside: We found that the Logitech Circle 2 began recording as soon as action entered the frame. For instance, it would routinely catch the feet of someone coming down the stairs before the whole person was in the shot. It does cut off recordings at the 3:15 mark, but the good news is that a new recording starts immediately, so you don’t have to worry about missing even a second of the action. You’ll end up with a lot of clips if there’s a lot of motion, but if looking through 24 hours of video snippets is too tedious, the Day Brief button within the app can generate a handy highlights reel.
As with the Nest, if you add a paid subscription to this camera, it becomes a lot smarter (and, minus some subtle differences, the subscription plans put the Circle 2 on a par with the Nest in terms of features). A subscription also ensures that you’ll be covered if you go away for a few days. The Circle Safe Basic plan provides 14 days of video storage for $4 per month per camera (compared with $5 for five days for Nest Aware). The $10 Premium plan bumps that up to 31 days of storage (compared with $10 for 10 days for Nest Aware) and adds motion zones, filter options, and the capability to differentiate between people and other objects.
Instead of having sensitivity settings, Circle Safe Premium can filter event notifications by High Activity, Days, or Person within the Logi Circle app (available for iOS and Android devices and as a Web app). You can also opt to see everything, but that setting yielded more alerts of passing cars and rustling trees in our testing than our main pick delivered. There’s also an option to adjust alert frequency, so you receive alerts every minute, every 15 minutes, or every 30 minutes when motion is present. Logitech makes it easy to navigate through events by clicking on a series of bubbles.
During our indoor testing, we sent the Circle 2 to Bill McKinley, executive director of Information Security at The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter), for hack testing. “There are no unencrypted connections, no weird IPs it’s connecting to, and the app looked solid with no vulnerabilities noticed,” he said.
The Circle 2 supports Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, and Logitech Pop. That integration enables you to use your voice to turn the camera on and off, capture a quick recording, or put it into privacy mode, as well as to call up a live view on a TV with Chromecast or Fire TV. Logitech says the Circle 2 will support HomeKit Secure Video, an end-to-end encrypted storage system using iCloud, later this year.
Despite having an operating temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the Circle 2 can be harder to install due to its limited, 10-foot cable and non-weatherproof plug. (You can protect that plug and add another 15 feet of cable with the $30 extension kit, or purchase a Window Mount or a Plug Mount.) This means the Circle 2 ends up being more expensive overall per unit than the Nest camera if you want a weatherproof solution. Logitech does make a cordless version of the Circle 2, though we don’t recommend it since its battery-saving routines can interrupt performance.
Also great: Arlo Pro 2
The Arlo Pro 2 is an easy-to-use outdoor Wi-Fi camera that’s compact and can be used hardwired or completely wirelessly—the latter thanks to a removable, rechargeable battery that, based on our testing, should provide at least a couple of months of operation on a charge (depending on usage). The Arlo Pro 2 is also the only cord-free 1080p camera on our list that offers seven days of free cloud storage (with more available for a monthly fee). However, the camera will reset the sensor in between recordings, which Arlo says will allow the camera to properly detect motion and not get stuck recording on a loop. That also conserves battery life, but it may leave you with recording gaps during important security events. If home security is your primary concern, we’d recommend one of our top picks, but the Arlo is great for checking in on family and pets—or stray cats slinking around your yard.
The Arlo Pro 2 produced excellent 1080p video with accurate colors during the day; a wide, 130-degree viewing angle; and two-way audio that was easy to understand on both ends. The system also lets you configure alerts based on motion and audio detection. When motion (or sound) is detected, the Arlo Pro can send smartphone notifications or emails, turn on a siren built into the indoor Base Station, record video clips, or do nothing. Adjusting the alert sensitivity will cut down on nuisance notifications, and you can also set up alerts based on a schedule or geofencing using your mobile device. The geofencing feature accurately recognized when we left the zone or returned, and it armed and disarmed the system accordingly. You can also expand the Arlo’s networking capabilities with Arlo Smart. Starting at $3 per month, this optional service can deliver notifications based on motion zones or whether alerts were caused by a person, an animal, a vehicle, or random motion. At $10, the Arlo Smart Premier subscription gives you access to Arlo’s e911 feature, which lets you guide emergency responders directly to your home, plus 30 days of cloud storage for up to 10 cameras; the Arlo Elite package ups that to 60 days of storage for up to 20 cameras for $15 per month.
Overall, we found the Arlo Pro 2 to be reliable when it came to initiating recordings. When plugged into an outlet, the device adds Activity Zones and the Look Back feature, which includes the three seconds before motion actually starts. You can set recording length to create clips from 10 to 120 seconds or opt to “record until activity stops,” up to five minutes. If motion continues beyond the chosen length, another recording should start after a short “reset” period, which will leave a small gap in between clips. When relying solely on the battery, the device averaged a five-second gap between clips. According to Arlo, this reset is to keep the camera from creating lengthy clips where nothing happens and to conserve battery life. However, the unit also leaves gaps when hardwired, although they’re shorter—about 2 seconds. Arlo also offers a Continuous Video Recording plan, for an additional fee per camera, which lets hardwired Arlo Pro 2 cameras record 24/7 to the cloud, similar to Nest Aware. However, having the Arlo plugged in also defeats the purpose of having a cordless camera—and Arlo has yet to release a weatherproof cord kit.
The Arlo Pro 2’s compact design and included battery made it one of the easiest to set up, but it required a bridge unit, called the Base Station. That 2.3-by-6.9-by-5-inch hub works with both the original Arlo Pro and the Arlo Pro 2, but not with the Arlo Ultra. The Base Station needs to be powered from an AC outlet, connected to your router via an Ethernet cable, and placed within 300 feet of the camera. It’s the brains behind the system, but it also has a piercing, 100-plus-decibel siren, which can be triggered manually through the app or automatically by motion or audio. The Base Station also has a USB port for storing recordings on an external hard drive, a nice supplement to the free cloud storage, and it’s more secure than systems that record to a microSD card in the camera itself: Because the storage is tucked away safely indoors, if someone steals your camera, they won’t get your video, too.
Arlo claims that you should be able to get four to six months out of a fully charged battery, depending on settings, usage, and surrounding temperature. In long-term testing of the camera, we typically got half that, unless the camera was facing a low-traffic area. If you’re worried about charging, Arlo sells a solar panel, which we have not tested. The Arlo’s operating temperature range is -4 degrees Fahrenheit to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. During testing, we had two Arlo Pro cameras set up outside in temperatures that fluctuated between 30 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. After one full month, the camera that saw less action was still running at 80 percent. The one pointed at a busy street was standing strong at 60 percent. During long-term testing, we put the camera in a business parking lot that saw a good amount of weekly traffic. This drained the camera down to the point where it needed a full charge once a month.
Arlo currently sells extra rechargeable batteries for the Arlo Pro and the Arlo Pro 2, for $45 each. The company also offers the Arlo Pro Charging Station, which can charge up to two of those batteries simultaneously. Charging takes about 90 minutes, so most people probably won’t need to bother with spares.
Available for iOS and Android devices, the Arlo app is easy to use. The home screen provides a view of each connected camera, with Wi-Fi strength, battery life, and alarm status. A menu at the bottom of the screen features one-touch access to recordings and settings. The camera currently works with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, and IFTTT, so you can do things like arm and disarm cameras with the sound of your voice, pull up live feeds on TVs connected to compatible devices, set up automations so your camera’s motion sensor can trigger lights and other devices, and more. The company also announced the Works with Arlo program, which is planned for the second half of 2019.
Arlo says that the system uses three layers of encryption, with restricted Web access on the Base Station and no local access on the camera or the Base Station. Also, in the interest of continually improving security, the company has been working with hacker crowdsourcing firm Bugcrowd to operate a private Bug Bounty program, which is open to the public as well.
Upgrade pick: Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
The Nest Cam IQ Outdoor streams 1080p video with the same subscription model and same app as the original Nest Cam Outdoor, but it adds in more-detailed person detection, a brighter image, an automatic close-up tracking feature (which follows a person around the viewing area), better audio, a stronger mount, and a wider operating temperature range (-40 degrees Fahrenheit to 113 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s also more tamper-proof than any of our other picks, but that added security makes for a trickier installation process, and it costs almost twice the price of the Nest Cam Outdoor.
Thanks to a 4K sensor and HDR, the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor captures images that are brighter and more detailed than those the Nest Cam Outdoor captures. If you’re wondering who or what is at the edge of your property, the 12 x digital zoom allows you to take a closer snoop up to 50 feet away. It also has a close-up tracking feature that will zoom in on recorded video and follow a moving object. For instance, if someone is walking on the edge of your lawn, the camera will automatically zoom in on the subject and follow them as they move toward your house or anywhere else within the field of view. If there are two moving targets, the camera remains zoomed out, so you get a full 130-degree view of both. The high resolution of the image sensor ensures the zoomed-in subjects aren’t pixelated, which happens a lot when zooming in with other, lower-resolution cameras. We were able to identify faces, license plates, and other moving objects. (When clips are downloaded, this tracking feature is not included on the clip, in order to provide the best image on a wider screen.)
Like the Nest Cam IQ Indoor, this model has Familiar Face alerts, which can identify people the camera is spotting using face recognition. When it spots a person in the frame, it will ask whether you know that person and if so to tag them by name. After a while, the camera will learn to identify those people and will send smartphone alerts with that info when they show up at your home. We think this feature (which requires a Nest Aware subscription) is more worthwhile outdoors, where you are more likely to want to distinguish expected visitors from random strangers. We also found the feature to be more reliable on the IQ Outdoor than on the indoor IQ model (on the indoor model, this feature was always asking us to identify faces on a nearby TV). Three microphones (versus the Nest Cam Outdoor’s one) also provide a wider range of audio, so you can better hear what’s going on in recordings.
For the IQ, Google upgraded from the standard outdoor camera’s magnetic mount with a sturdier version that has a hex-key lock, making it more tamper-proof. Unlike our top pick, the Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor camera doesn’t have a weatherproof cord. It’s designed to be wired through the walls and connected to an indoor outlet, which we don’t love. If you don’t like the idea of drilling those types of holes, Nest has an optional Weatherproof Power Adapter.
As with all Nest cameras, you need a Nest Aware subscription in order to store recordings. That also enables Familiar Face alerts, which are available only on IQ models and the Nest Hello. And, as with all Nest cameras, the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor records 24/7. According to Nest, the IQ Outdoor uses more bandwidth than our top pick. Users can adjust the video quality to reduce bandwidth, but the IQ doesn’t go as low as our top pick, offering 720p (0.8 Mbps) and three levels of 1080p uploads (1.3 Mbps for medium low, 2.0 Mbps for medium high, and 4.0 Mbps for high). The IQ can also automatically adjust the quality based on the bandwidth available.
What to look forward to
Apple claims HomeKit Secure Video is an end-to-end encrypted system where your personal footage will be uploaded and stored securely in iCloud. Apple announced during its Worldwide Developers Conference in June that users with 200 TB or 2 TB iCloud subscriptions would get 10 days of free storage that wouldn’t count against existing storage. HomeKit Secure Video launch partners will include Netatmo, Logitech, and Eufy.
Amazon has resumed sales of the Blink XT2. In June 2019, the company stopped selling the battery-operated outdoor camera after a number of customers reported software issues. An Amazon spokesperson said the company has updated audio and video performance, as well as strengthened connectivity and motion detection features. We plan to test it.
We’re also about to start testing the Ooma Smart Cam, a cord-free, hub-free, indoor and outdoor 1080p camera with a 130-degree viewing angle, facial recognition, and two-way communication. It also provides seven days of free cloud storage (with the option to purchase more), as well as the ability to record without a Web connection—using the 16 GB of internal storage.
Another cord-free solution, TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wire-Free Outdoor Security Camera System (KC300), is expected sometime during summer 2019. Packaged with a hub, the 1080p camera includes two-way audio, activity zones, and two days of free cloud storage. Person and face detection will be available with subscription plans, which include 14 and 30 days of storage.
The Arlo Pro 3 has color night vision and an image sensor that can record up to 2K resolution with HDR, a 160-degree field of view, and an integrated spotlight. The company claims images will have nearly 80 percent more pixels than what was produced with the Pro 3’s predecessor, our also great pick, the Arlo Pro 2. With purchase, you’ll get a three month trial of Arlo Smart, which gives you 30 days of cloud storage and costs about $3 a month per camera post-trial.
Later in 2019, we will check out the Zmodo Snap Pro. Shipping by November 2019, this cord-free 1080p camera has a 180-degree field of view, two-way audio, and seven days of free cloud storage.
The original Arlo Pro is still a good cord-free camera, but it lacks the Pro 2’s options for specific activity areas or hardwiring, which means no Look Back feature or 24/7 recording possibilities. Though it supports only 720p video, we always found it to be clear during daytime and nighttime viewing.
The latest Arlo, the Arlo Ultra, is pricey, but it pumps images up to 4K resolution and has a great daytime image. However, in our testing we found the motion sensor touchy, with awful night-vision performance, and wonky tracking and poor battery life to boot. We are confirming with Arlo whether our unit was defective, and so we may revisit this review.
The Hive View Outdoor delivers impressive daytime images, capturing up to 10 minutes of action, with no gaps in between clips. But placement is key. Aside from the Hive’s needing a nearby outlet, we found night vision worked best in total darkness—if any sort of light was available, it didn’t seem to kick in properly. Also, the motion sensor was a bit touchy, often recording more than 1,000 clips a day, so we don’t recommend it for high-traffic areas.
After we used the Anker EufyCam for nearly six months, we’re stunned to report that it is on track to deliver on its promise of up to one year of battery life. What we don’t love is that it leaves gaps in between recordings, which ranged anywhere from 4 to 34 seconds, depending on the settings. We have noticed some improvements since the camera’s launch, and will continue to test and update this review, as needed.
The Ring Stick Up Cam Wired comes with a weatherproof cord/plug and needs a subscription plan to capture recordings. However, all of our top picks just slightly edged it out in performance. This indoor and outdoor model regularly left gaps of up to 7 seconds and missed a handful of visitors. We found condensation under the glass while testing the battery version, so we can’t recommend it at all. We are working with Ring and will update this guide when we have more information.
TP-Link’s Kasa Cam Outdoor (KC200) has 1080p images and a 130-degree field of view that could rival some of our top picks. It also comes with two days of free cloud storage (with an option for more), which can pack in clips of up to 3 minutes. However, we had a handful of tests where recordings cut out in the middle of the action and would leave 13-second gaps in between clips.
The Ring Floodlight Cam was eliminated because placement is limited, and the lowest sensitivity still delivered alerts of rustling grass and moving shadows.
The Ring Spotlight Cam comes in three flavors: wired, battery-operated, and battery-operated bundled with a solar panel. However, there are no controls to turn lights on and off or adjust the length of time it’s on.
The Netatmo Presence includes IFTTT, Google, and HomeKit support, and has the ability to differentiate between people, animals, and cars. It also offers a lot of free storage possibilities via the included 8 GB microSD card, a free Dropbox account, or any personal FTP server. But grainy night vision, limited installation possibilities, and a hefty price tag took it out of the running for a top spot.
It’s disappointing that the Yi Outdoor Camera doesn’t have the people alerts that are on the company’s indoor camera, since those could really cut down on notifications of bugs and car lights. Audio was also choppy, and the operating temperature of 5 degrees Fahrenheit to 122 degrees Fahrenheit won’t work for colder climates.
The Reolink Argus Pro uses four CR123A batteries, and the Argus 2 packs in a 5200 mAh rechargeable battery. The rechargeable battery in the Argus 2 is more convenient than replacing batteries, but in our tests, it drained to 21 percent after just two weeks of use. (An add-on solar panel is also available, but we didn’t test it.) We also encountered random connection issues, received hundreds of daily push notifications, and found out the hard way that neither unit can operate in temperatures of less than 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
We eliminated the Ezviz Husky and the Amcrest IP3M-943B due to a lack of audio features, and the Maximus Camera Flood Light and the Maximus Smart Security Light because both were easily triggered and didn’t include night vision. The Ezviz Mini Trooper, the Canary Flex, and Logitech’s Circle 2 Wireless were cut due to poor battery power and connection issues.
When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commissions.
How the Dumb Design of a WWII Plane Led to the Macintosh
The B-17 Flying Fortress rolled off the drawing board and onto the runway in a mere 12 months, just in time to become the fearsome workhorse of the US Air Force during World War II. Its astounding toughness made pilots adore it: The B-17 could roar through angry squalls of shrapnel and bullets, emerging pockmarked…
The B-17 Flying Fortress rolled off the drawing board and onto the runway in a mere 12 months, just in time to become the fearsome workhorse of the US Air Force during World War II. Its astounding toughness made pilots adore it: The B-17 could roar through angry squalls of shrapnel and bullets, emerging pockmarked but still airworthy. It was a symbol of American ingenuity, held aloft by four engines, bristling with a dozen machine guns.
Imagine being a pilot of that mighty plane. You know your primary enemy—the Germans and Japanese in your gunsights. But you have another enemy that you can’t see, and it strikes at the most baffling times. Say you’re easing in for another routine landing. You reach down to deploy your landing gear. Suddenly, you hear the scream of metal tearing into the tarmac. You’re rag-dolling around the cockpit while your plane skitters across the runway. A thought flickers across your mind about the gunners below and the other crew: “Whatever has happened to them now, it’s my fault.” When your plane finally lurches to a halt, you wonder to yourself: “How on earth did my plane just crash when everything was going fine? What have I done?”
For all the triumph of America’s new planes and tanks during World War II, a silent reaper stalked the battlefield: accidental deaths and mysterious crashes that no amount of training ever seemed to fix. And it wasn’t until the end of the war that the Air Force finally resolved to figure out what had happened.
To do that, the Air Force called upon a young psychologist at the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Paul Fitts was a handsome man with a soft Tennessee drawl, analytically minded but with a shiny wave of Brylcreemed hair, Elvis-like, which projected a certain suave nonconformity. Decades later, he’d become known as one of the Air Force’s great minds, the person tasked with hardest, weirdest problems—such as figuring out why people saw UFOs.
For now though, he was still trying to make his name with a newly minted PhD in experimental psychology. Having an advanced degree in psychology was still a novelty; with that novelty came a certain authority. Fitts was supposed to know how people think. But his true talent is to realize that he doesn’t.
When the thousands of reports about plane crashes landed on Fitts’s desk, he could have easily looked at them and concluded that they were all the pilot’s fault—that these fools should have never been flying at all. That conclusion would have been in keeping with the times. The original incident reports themselves would typically say “pilot error,” and for decades no more explanation was needed. This was, in fact, the cutting edge of psychology at the time. Because so many new draftees were flooding into the armed forces, psychologists had begun to devise aptitude tests that would find the perfect job for every soldier. If a plane crashed, the prevailing assumption was: That person should not have been flying the plane. Or perhaps they should have simply been better trained. It was their fault.
But as Fitts pored over the Air Force’s crash data, he realized that if “accident prone” pilots really were the cause, there would be randomness in what went wrong in the cockpit. These kinds of people would get hung on anything they operated. It was in their nature to take risks, to let their minds wander while landing a plane. But Fitts didn’t see noise; he saw a pattern. And when he went to talk to the people involved about what actually happened, they told of how confused and terrified they’d been, how little they understood in the seconds when death seemed certain.
The examples slid back and forth on a scale of tragedy to tragicomic: pilots who slammed their planes into the ground after misreading a dial; pilots who fell from the sky never knowing which direction was up; the pilots of B-17s who came in for smooth landings and yet somehow never deployed their landing gear. And others still, who got trapped in a maze of absurdity, like the one who, having jumped into a brand-new plane during a bombing raid by the Japanese, found the instruments completely rearranged. Sweaty with stress, unable to think of anything else to do, he simply ran the plane up and down the runway until the attack ended.
Fitts’ data showed that during one 22-month period of the war, the Air Force reported an astounding 457 crashes just like the one in which our imaginary pilot hit the runway thinking everything was fine. But the culprit was maddeningly obvious for anyone with the patience to look. Fitts’ colleague Alfonse Chapanis did the looking. When he started investigating the airplanes themselves, talking to people about them, sitting in the cockpits, he also didn’t see evidence of poor training. He saw, instead, the impossibility of flying these planes at all. Instead of “pilot error,” he saw what he called, for the first time, “designer error.”
The reason why all those pilots were crashing when their B-17s were easing into a landing was that the flaps and landing gear controls looked exactly the same. The pilots were simply reaching for the landing gear, thinking they were ready to land. And instead, they were pulling the wing flaps, slowing their descent, and driving their planes into the ground with the landing gear still tucked in. Chapanis came up with an ingenious solution: He created a system of distinctively shaped knobs and levers that made it easy to distinguish all the controls of the plane merely by feel, so that there’s no chance of confusion even if you’re flying in the dark.
By law, that ingenious bit of design—known as shape coding—still governs landing gear and wing flaps in every airplane today. And the underlying idea is all around you: It’s why the buttons on your videogame controller are differently shaped, with subtle texture differences so you can tell which is which. It’s why the dials and knobs in your car are all slightly different, depending on what they do. And it’s the reason your virtual buttons on your smartphone adhere to a pattern language.
But Chapanis and Fitts were proposing something deeper than a solution for airplane crashes. Faced with the prospect of soldiers losing their lives to poorly designed machinery, they invented a new paradigm for viewing human behavior. That paradigm lies behind the user-friendly world that we live in every day. They realized that it was absurd to train people to operate a machine and assume they would act perfectly under perfect conditions.
Instead, designing better machines meant figuring how people acted without thinking, in the fog of everyday life, which might never be perfect. You couldn’t assume humans to be perfectly rational sponges for training. You had to take them as they were: distracted, confused, irrational under duress. Only by imagining them at their most limited could you design machines that wouldn’t fail them.
This new paradigm took root slowly at first. But by 1984—four decades after Chapanis and Fitts conducted their first studies—Apple was touting a computer for the rest of us in one of its first print ads for the Macintosh: “On a particularly bright day in Cupertino, California, some particularly bright engineers had a particularly bright idea: Since computers are so smart, wouldn’t it make sense to teach computers about people, instead of teaching people about computers? So it was that those very engineers worked long days and nights and a few legal holidays, teaching silicon chips all about people. How they make mistakes and change their minds. How they refer to file folders and save old phone numbers. How they labor for their livelihoods, and doodle in their spare time.” (Emphasis mine.) And that easy-to-digest language molded the smartphones and seamless technology we live with today.
Along the long and winding path to a user-friendly world, Fitts and Chapanis laid the most important brick. They realized that as much as humans might learn, they would always be prone to err—and they inevitably brought presuppositions about how things should work to everything they used. This wasn’t something you could teach of existence. In some sense, our limitations and preconceptions are what it means to be human—and only by understanding those presumptions could you design a better world.
Today, this paradigm shift has produced trillions in economic value. We now presume that apps that reorder the entire economy should require no instruction manual at all; some of the most advanced computers ever made now come with only cursory instructions that say little more than “turn it on.” This is one of the great achievements of the last century of technological progress, with a place right alongside GPS, Arpanet, and the personal computer itself.
It’s also an achievement that remains unappreciated because we assume this is the way things should be. But with the assumption that even new technologies need absolutely no explaining comes a dark side: When new gadgets make assumptions about how we behave, they force unseen choices upon us. They don’t merely defer to our desires. They shape them.
User friendliness is simply the fit between the objects around us and the ways we behave. So while we might think that the user-friendly world is one of making user-friendly things, the bigger truth is that design doesn’t rely on artifacts; it relies on our patterns. The truest material for making new things isn’t aluminum or carbon fiber. It’s behavior. And today, our behavior is being shaped and molded in ways both magical and mystifying, precisely because it happens so seamlessly.
I got a taste of this seductive, user-friendly magic recently, when I went to Miami to tour a full-scale replica of Carnival Cruise’s so-called Ocean Medallion experience. I began my tour in a fake living room, with two of the best-looking project staffers pretending to be husband and wife, showing me how the whole thing was supposed to go.
Using the app, you could reserve all your activities way before you boarded the ship. And once on board, all you needed was to carry was a disk the size of a quarter; using that, any one of the 4,000 touchscreens on the ship could beam you personalized information, such which way you needed to go for your next reservation. The experience recalled not just scenes from Her and Minority Report, but computer-science manifestos from the late 1980s that imagined a suite of gadgets that would adapt to who you are, morphing to your needs in the moment.
Behind the curtains, in the makeshift workspace, a giant whiteboard wall was covered with a sprawling map of all the inputs that flow into some 100 different algorithms that crunch every bit of a passenger’s preference behavior to create something called the “Personal Genome.” If Jessica from Dayton wanted sunscreen and a mai tai, she could order them on her phone, and a steward would deliver them in person, anywhere across the sprawling ship.
The server would greet Jessica by name, and maybe ask if she was excited about her kitesurfing lesson. Over dinner, if Jessica wanted to plan an excursion with friends, she could pull up her phone and get recommendations based on the overlapping tastes of the people she was sitting with. If only some people like fitness and others love history, then maybe they’ll all like a walking tour of the market at the next port.
Jessica’s Personal Genome would be recalculated three times a second by 100 different algorithms using millions of data points that encompassed nearly anything she did on the ship: How long she lingered on a recommendation for a sightseeing tour; the options that she didn’t linger on at all; how long she’d actually spent in various parts of the ship; and what’s nearby at that very moment or happening soon. If, while in her room, she had watched one of Carnival’s slickly produced travel shows and seen something about a market tour at one her ports of call, she’d later get a recommendation for that exact same tour when the time was right. “Social engagement is one of the things being calculated, and so is the nuance of the context,” one of the executives giving me the tour said.
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It was like having a right-click for the real world. Standing on the mocked-up sundeck, knowing that whatever I wanted would find me, and that whatever I might want would find its way either onto the app or the screens that lit up around the cruise ship as I walked around, it wasn’t hard to see how many other businesses might try to do the same thing. In the era following World War II, the idea that designers could make the world easier to understand was a breakthrough.
But today, “I understand what I should do” has become “I don’t need to think at all.” For businesses, intuitiveness has now become mandatory, because there are fortunes to be made by making things just a tad more frictionless. “One way to view this is creating this kind of frictionless experience is an option. Another way to look at it is that there’s no choice,” said John Padgett, the Carnival executive who had shepherded the Ocean Medallion to life. “For millennials, value is important. But hassle is more important, because the era they’ve grow up in. It’s table stakes. You have to be hassle-free to get them to participate.”
By that logic, the real world was getting to be disappointing when compared with the frictionless ease of this increasingly virtual world. Taken as a whole, Carnival’s vision for seamless customer service that can anticipate your every whim was like an Uber for everything, powered by Netflix recommendations for meatspace. And these are in fact the experiences that many more designers will soon be striving for: invisible, everywhere, perfectly tailored, with no edges between one place and the next. Padgett described this as a “market of one,” in which everything you saw would be only the thing you want.
The Market of One suggests to me a break point in the very idea of user friendliness. When Chapanis and Fitts were laying the seeds of the user-friendly world, they had to find the principles that underlie how we expect the world to behave. They had to preach the idea that products built on our assumptions about how things should work would eventually make even the most complex things easy to understand.
Steve Jobs’ dream of a “bicycle for the mind”—a universal tool that might expand the reach of anyone—has arrived. High technology has made our lives easier; made us better at our jobs, and created jobs that never existed before; it has made the people we care about closer to us. But friction also has value: It’s friction that makes us question whether we do in fact need the thing we want. Friction is the path to introspection. Infinite ease quickly becomes the path of least resistance; it saps our free will, making us submit to someone else’s guess about who we are. We can’t let that pass. We have to become cannier, more critical consumers of the user-friendly world. Otherwise, we risk blundering into more crashes that we’ll only understand after the worst has already happened.
Excerpted from USER FRIENDLY: How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work, and Play by Cliff Kuang with Robert Fabricant. Published by MCD, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux November 19th 2019. Copyright © 2019 by Cliff Kuang and Robert Fabricant. All rights reserved.
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Hackers are stealing and Elon is squealing, but first: a cartoon about subscription dreams.
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