Imou Ranger IQ, hands on: Good-value security camera features, lost in translation

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There are plenty of security cameras you can install at home or in an office that will turn on automatically when they detect movement. What's unusual about the £85.99 (inc. VAT) Imou Ranger IQ is that it has motorised pan and tilt, so it can follow someone as they move around, giving you the best chance of seeing what an intruder is up to (or identifying them later). It also promises to identify humans rather than record the cat.

The camera is the size and shape of a large orange, with a mounting plate to put it on a wall or ceiling, which will give you the best view of a room and the full 355° field of view, although you'll have to power it via the long Micro-USB cable and power adapter. There's also an Ethernet port that the app firmly instructs you to use, even though that's for connecting it to a network video recorder; you can use it over wi-fi if you don't have a handy network cable.

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The 2MP FHD (1920 x 1080) Ranger IQ offers 355° pan and 0-90° tilt, is powered via a Micro-USB connection, and can save video to SD card or over an Ethernet or wi-fi connection.

Images: Imou

Setup from the smartphone app ought to be very simple as the camera turns on its Bluetooth pairing automatically and has a QR code on the bottom to scan to pair it with your phone. Perhaps because we'd refused to let the app use the phone location, we had to do that twice before it worked. Setup also asks you to accept that the data controller has changed to a Chinese company and to contribute your data to improve the software (turn that off and you'll keep seeing pop-ups asking you to turn it on when you open different settings dialogs).

Alerts are sent to your phone (or to an Alexa or Google Assistant device that has a screen), and you can tap through and see the live feed, control the camera position, take a photo or video, or talk to your visitor through the speaker and microphone (warning an intruder that they're under surveillance, or telling a customer that someone will be with them shortly). However, the audio is clipped, muffled and distorted, has quite a bit of lag, and when you reply to someone through the camera speaker, you can hear your own voice played back to them a few seconds later, making for a rather odd experience.

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You can put the Ranger IQ into privacy mode with a single tap, but other aspects of the smartphone app are more opaque.

Image: Imou

Motion detection was reliable in our tests; it spotted people and not pets, and was triggered by sound -- both speech and someone typing on a keyboard. But although the camera moves to track someone walking across the room, it doesn't try to pan up or down to capture their face. Video quality is good and although the colour night vision (using a Sony Starlight sensor) isn't perfect, it does give you decent image quality even in a dark room. If you're at home and don't want to be recorded, you can turn on 'camera shielding' which swivels the lens down into the base).

You can use the camera with Imou's cloud service, with a network video recorder or just save footage onto an SD card, depending on whether you want to retrieve it from elsewhere. Cloud storage is priced from £1.69 to £59.99 depending on how long you want to store it for (three, seven or thirty days) and whether you want to pay monthly or annually. That means you could use an SD card or NVR most of the time and turn on cloud storage for a month if you're going to be away.

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What lets the Ranger IQ down the most is the Imou app. For one thing, the interface is rather clumsy: to see previous recordings you tap on the camera video feed rather than the device name, which takes you to a management screen where you can attach, arm and disarm accessories like the siren. Tap on the two dots next to the video and you get a different set of options including the device info and a list of all the video clips that have been recorded. Tap through to the live feed and you can tap again for the history as a timeline, and then tap yet again on the menu button for a timeline that goes further back. If you have dozens of clips with the same preview thumbnail, this is unnecessarily confusing. Or you can go straight to the Message view, where there's a list of video clips recorded when the camera auto-detected a human, alongside a bunch of marketing offers from the company.

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There are lots of options giving you fine control: you can set a different schedule for turning the camera and alarm on each day of the week or do that when your phone enters or leaves a geofenced zone, tweak the sound and motion sensitivity if your pets are still setting it off, and mark zones to ignore for motion detection -- a window overlooking a busy street that would trigger lots of false positives, for example. But those very useful options are buried several layers deep in different parts of the interface, so you need to know they're there and go hunting for them.

The interface is also cryptic because it hasn't been well translated into English: for instance, it tells you 'device update' instead of 'device updated' when you apply new firmware 'to fix tiny bugs', and describes the option to spot people rather than pets as 'it only pushes messages towards human detection after it is enabled'. We couldn't decipher what 'Realize video live by LAN tool' actually did, although it's probably useful. It's also a reminder that Imou has a Chinese parent company, Dahua Technology, which continues to dispute its blacklisting by the US Department of Commerce.

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Image: Imou

The Ranger IQ's £85.99 price is extremely competitive given the features on offer, but the poor language quality is disturbing in a product clearly aimed at a professional market. There are cheaper products without the pan/tilt and colour night vision that are still useful (some don't need mains power and you could buy two or three for this price to cover multiple areas), while pricier competitors with these features have rather better apps. But if you want all these features and can put up with the confusing app, the Ranger IQ packs them in for a good price.

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