Blink XT outdoor camera, First Take: Wireless and weatherproof

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Back in January I reviewed a wi-fi-based home security camera system from Blink, and have had it running in my home ever since. It's efficient, and remote access via an Android or iOS app means I can get a live view of what's going on in my home when I'm not there.

Now we have the Blink XT outdoor camera, which is equipped with IR 'night vision' and described as 'weatherproof' (although it doesn't have a formal IP rating). The Blink XT is black where the indoor cameras are white, and is a small box with rounded corners just 71mm square and 34mm thick. It will stand happily on a shelf, but also comes with a mounting bracket so you can sit it high up in a corner. This fixes to the wall with a single screw. Given the amount of fiddling I had to do in order to get the right view, I suggest you practice a bit before you start drilling holes.

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The Blink XT system comprises a battery-powered camera, which supports IR night vision, and a wi-fi base station, or Sync Module. A single-camera system costs £149.99.

Image: Blink

A single-camera system costs £149.99 (inc. VAT) and includes the base unit you'll need to connect up to wi-fi. A two-camera system costs £239.99, three cameras are £329.99 and five cameras are £499.99. If you already have Blink installed, you can buy a single camera without the base unit for £119.99.

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Video quality settings include Best (720p) and Enhanced (1080p).

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Setup is amazingly easy: I just told the Blink app already resident on my Android handset to install another camera, and it walked me through the steps in a couple of minutes. Each camera has its own unique identifying number, and this can be entered manually or photographed. Once the app knows a camera's unique number, it finds the camera, installs it, and you're good to go.

You can rename the camera, and make a range of settings, including controlling clip length and footage quality-- 'best' quality delivers HD (720p) video, which is OK, while 'enhanced' gives you full HD (1080p).

Full HD video means greater drain on the two AA batteries that power the unit -- if you use the default HD setting, the battery life estimate is two years. You can also power the camera via USB, but if you do this you'll sacrifice 'weatherproofing' and have a trailing wire to deal with.

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The ability to record audio is an added bonus: speech is loud and clear enough for every word to be understood, provided the camera is fairly near to the source. It was fine in my enclosed front porch, for example.

The Blink app allows you to connect to a camera for a live view at any time, and you can take snapshots as required from any camera too. Each camera in an array can be individually armed and disarmed via the app, and the app can access multiple setups, so you could use Blink to monitor your home and an office, for example. Obviously, each location needs its own base unit, cameras, and a wi-fi connection.

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The smartphone app lets you check how much storage for video clips you have left, and choose an auto-delete setting.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Blink app has been through several updates since I reviewed it at the beginning of the year. It's now easy to see how much online storage capacity you've got left, and you can make a setting to automatically delete clips after they are a set number of days old. You can easily download clips to a handset, and share them by email or to other locations such as personal cloud storage. Alerts come through to the handset quickly and the notification shows a snapshot of what's seen, so you can tell quickly if there's something suspect going on.

Many people will be looking for video quality in dim lighting that's good enough to share with police if necessary, and that's where the IR night vision comes in. The good news is that the Blink XT captures good facial detail when it's dark -- it caught the face of the guy who delivers my milk at 2am, as well as my own night-time comings and goings. Be aware, though, that a small red IR illuminator is a bit of a giveaway that recording is taking place; there's also a blue 'recording' light, which can be enabled or disabled via a switch under the battery cover.

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Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Blink would do well to include some information about the legal requirements of cameras that monitor the outside of premises -- or at least point people in the right direction get this information -- because contravening the law can result in significant penalties.

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