First look: Blink security cameras for lazy people

Blink launched its wireless, battery-powered security camera system in the UK yesterday, and I've been testing the system for a week that included a holiday in Italy.

Blink's two-camera outfit with a sync module

All you need: Blink's two-camera outfit with a sync module, set-up guide and an Android or iOS device with app loaded.

Photo: Jack Schofield

Most people who really need security cameras should already have installed them. However, there are still plenty of people like me, who aren't willing to make that much of an effort, or pay a monthly fee. Now there is at least one system that meets our needs, following Blink's official UK launch yesterday (Tuesday 29 November).

I had two cameras set up and working less than half an hour after opening the box. The cameras are tiny and you can stand them almost anywhere without using the included brackets. They don't need to be near power sockets, because they should run for two years or more on the two lithium AA cells provided. There are no running wires: you just need Wi-Fi. There are no storage or service fees, though Blink will eventually start deleting old videos to make room for new ones. (You get two hours, which is 1,440 5-second clips.)

Every Blink system comprises a sync module and from one to 10 cameras - mine has two. You start by downloading the Blink app for your Android or Apple smartphone, and registering a Blink account with an email address. After that, you plug the sync module into the mains, and follow the instructions in the app.

Blink's sync module

Blink's sync module plugs into the mains via a micro USB port.

Jack Schofield

Each sync module is labelled with its own serial number, MAC address, SSID and password. You can type this into the app, as I did, or enter it via your smartphone camera or by scanning its QR code. During this process, you have to switch your smartphone to the Blink module's Wi-Fi, but it switches back.

Once the sync module is working, you can add cameras. This involves levering the back off each camera (this is the hard part) and inserting the batteries. Don't put the cover back straight away because the camera's serial number is inside the case, and you have to enter it into the app.

Now you're ready to put the camera where you want it, and tap the app's snapshot button to take a picture. This confirms that the camera is working - it has a strong enough wireless connection to the sync module - and lets you see the camera's 110-degree field of view. You may want to adjust the camera angle slightly. Tap "Done" and you now have one working camera. Repeat the process to add more cameras.

One of my cameras sits on a window sill and watches the living room door and the bottom of the stairs. The other is on top of the fridge and watches the back door and much of the kitchen. For security purposes, neither camera should be triggered by anything except an intruder, though I suppose you could use one to log your driveway, or whatever.

When leaving your home or office, you have to set the Blink app to Armed. If someone, or some thing, triggers a camera's motion detector, a short video is sent to the Blink app's camera roll, so that you can review it.

And that's it.

Now, you must understand that Blink is not a sophisticated CCTV system. You can take a snapshot while you're away, but Blink doesn't provide a continuous video feed. You can get a Live View, but it cuts out after about 20-25 seconds. The default for alerts seems to be 4 seconds, but cameras will take further clips if the motion continues. You can change the camera settings to record longer clips, up to 60 seconds, but this consumes more battery power and more storage space.

Blink camera module

Blink's camera is small and simple, but it does the job. Photo: Blink

The cameras are unsophisticated recorders: you can't zoom the image, or pan and tilt the camera remotely. The cameras have microphones but don't do two-way communications. They don't have real night vision capabilities, though they do have an Illuminator, which can automatically turn on in low light conditions. Obviously, any burglar will be alerted by a bright LED....

There's no geo-location system that would automatically arm the cameras if you have left your home/office area. There's no face-recognition system, so you'll trigger a series of videos if you forget to disarm the system before entering your own home or office. There's no emergency alarm system (though an alarm module is already in the printed set-up guide). There are no weatherproof cameras for outdoor use. The only non-obvious feature is the built-in temperature system, which could be useful if your site is unusually hot.

The Android app is rather basic, and not particularly intuitive. Some screens have back-arrows while others use the Android back button, and swiping doesn't work.

Also, it wasn't obvious to me how to save or share a clip, though Blink's excellent support website provided the answer among its copious documentation. Briefly, you hit the Share icon in the bottom left to bring up a wide range of options including Facebook Messenger, Gmail, Android Beam, Dropbox, OneDrive, and even YouTube. Doing this, I learned my latest 4-second 720p mp4 clip used 452K of storage. I also learned that I could bulk-delete clips on Android by holding down one clip to select it and then choosing Select All. (Previously, you had to play a clip to delete it.)

One of the app's few special features is a sort of spreadsheet where you can set a weekly schedule for arming your cameras. This depends on people having predictable routines, which is often not the case today.

However, Blink is an expandable system so more sophisticated modules could be added later. Blink was originally launched via Kickstarter, where it raised more than $1 million, and the "stretch" ideas included a separate alarm system module. Blink also raised the prospect of opening the client API to "enable our developer community to create additional tools and software that will help accelerate the introduction of new features such as additional storage options".

In conclusion, if you buy things based on feature lists, the Blink security camera system is not for you. It's for people who want something that can be set up in few minutes and just works. However, the fact that Blink's battery-powered cameras are completely wireless and can be used almost anywhere indoors - the range is "up to 100ft" (30m) - means that they could have more serious applications than home monitoring.

Blink's UK prices - including 20% tax - start at £109.99 for a sync module plus one camera (the US price is $99). Extra cameras cost £89 each. Packs with a sync module and two or three cameras cost £189.99 and £259.99 respectively.

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