The Best Smart Outdoor Security Cameras of 2017By Ben Keough
Security cameras aren't a new idea. For years, they’ve been watching you and recording your every move at shops, movie theaters, and public parks. But home security cameras have come a long way in the past few years, including those designed to be installed outdoors. After extensive testing, we'd recommend the Nest Cam Outdoor (available at Amazon for $169.95) as the best outdoor security camera.
Like many other electronic devices, today’s outdoor security cameras are smarter than their ancestors. Tied to the cloud, they can send alerts to your phone the moment someone approaches your door, or tip you off when they spot suspicious activity in your yard. Many also function as two-way communicators, letting you talk to visitors, tell solicitors to buzz off, or scare away other, even more unwanted “guests.”
The only downside to their cloud ties is that most models require you to pay a monthly fee to store recordings for later viewing. But since they can send alerts and live feeds to smartphones in an instant, these cameras can often negate the need for recordings.
Regardless, not all security cameras are smart enough to keep you and your family safe from harm. To make sure you’re covered like you should be, we installed five of the most popular cloud-connected models to see what they could see.
Updated July 18, 2017
Nest Cam OutdoorBest Overall
As long as you don’t mind it being tethered to a power outlet, the Nest Cam Outdoor is the best smart outdoor security camera you can buy. That said, it's definitely a case of getting what you pay for, because the Nest Cam Outdoor is also one of the most expensive options we tested. While the upfront price is comparable to rivals, a subscription to the awesome Nest Aware cloud storage service will cost you anywhere from $100 to $300 per year.
Nest Aware totally makes this camera. It adds tons of super useful features, including notifications that differentiate between people and pets; customizable activity zones that prevent areas with frequent, benign motion from triggering alerts; and the ability to create clips that you can share with family, friends, or law enforcement. Coolest of all, it adds a video history feature that records to the cloud 24/7. With a fast enough connection, you can scrub through the remote footage like it’s on a local DVR. It’s absolutely magical.
Nest’s app is also the most user-friendly and functional of all those we tested. Streaming starts up quickly, navigation is fluid and natural, and the settings menu is broken up into sections that actually make sense. The video itself is the highest quality you can get from a smart security camera, with 1080p recording and excellent night vision.
Netgear Arlo ProBest Value Most Flexible
Most of the smart outdoor security cameras we tested cost around $200 for a single unit, but the Netgear Arlo Pro costs a little more—about $250. So how can it possibly be the best value?
Because unlike the other options, it includes all of its software and cloud backup features for free.
Yep, where Nest charges $100-300 per year for its Nest Aware subscription service, the Arlo Pro includes a rolling seven-days worth of cloud storage at no additional cost. Sure, you can pay for a subscription, but all that does is extend video backups to 30 or 60 days. It doesn’t unlock any otherwise hidden features. In other words, if all you need is seven days of video history, an Arlo Pro will only cost you $250, all-in. And if you'd like to expand your security camera setup, add-on Arlo cams are just $170 each.
The Arlo Pro's video quality is just a touch behind Nest's in broad daylight, and lags a bit further behind in night vision. However, it has an exceptionally reliable connection thanks to the included base station, which plugs directly into your router. The base station also includes an incredibly loud siren, in case you need to scare off an intruder. Other pluses include a phenomenally long-lived battery and a freely adjustable magnetic mount. The Arlo app is perfectly functional, but its method of storing events in a calendar format is less intuitive than Nest Aware’s 24/7 scrollable timeline.
Kuna Toucan Surveillance Kit
If you want your security cam to function as a doorbell, the Toucan Outdoor Security Camera is our top pick. Designed to be positioned just below a porch light, it uses 3M adhesive to stick to the wall of your house and is cleverly powered by a USB cable that plugs into a hub, which itself screws into the light socket. Trust us, it may sound complicated, but it’s really painless and intuitive to set up.
Once it’s up and running, the Toucan works much like the other cameras we tested. It offers 720p HD live streaming, two-way audio, and a 100dBa siren. When something more subtle is called for, you can choose from an array of stock phrases (like “Sorry, not interested!”) that play through the camera's built-in speaker. Since the camera is powered via the light socket, you can also use the app to manually turn the light on and off, set a schedule to automatically toggle it, or set it to turn on when it detects motion.
Unfortunately, the light bulb above the camera tends to attract flying insects, which can trigger false movement notifications at even the lowest sensitivity settings. And while Toucan’s $4.99 per month subscription plan is among the cheapest we’ve seen, it’s also only good for seven days of recording. If you want 14 or 30 days, it’s going to cost you as much as the vastly superior Nest Aware service. Image quality is fine in daylight, but you can’t really see anything at night, and WiFi performance is only so-so.
Ring Stick Up Cam
Ring’s Stick Up Cam has a charmingly scrappy feel to it—the box even includes a letter from the inventor thanking his wife for her support. Still, it lacks the polish of our top picks.
The most annoying issue is that while the camera both tilts and pivots, there’s no resistance to the tilting mechanism. Since it’s top-heavy, that means it just tilts forward all the time, so you need to install it way up high on a wall in order to actually see anything other than your visitors’ shoes. While functional, the Ring app has fewer features than rivals, and video quality is mediocre in both daylight and at night. The battery-powered camera has a nifty solar panel accessory you can buy at an additional cost, but without it, battery life is average at best. Based on our calculations, you're unlikely to ever hit the advertised 6 to 12 months. And finally, WiFi reception seems weaker than on other models we tested; in our experience, the Stick-Up Cam frequently failed to begin live video streaming. Your experience may vary, depending on your WiFi setup.
On the surface, the Canary Flex has a lot going for it. For instance, both the camera and the Canary app are slickly designed. The former has a stylish, soft-touch black finish and has the friendly, rounded pill shape of a lot of Bluetooth speakers, while the app shares a lot of Apple’s design language.
Unfortunately, as a security camera, it has significant shortcomings. For one thing, the battery is supposed to last up to two months, but in our experience it's highly variable, perhaps due to weak WiFi signal strength. In comparison, the Arlo Pro can go for up to six months on a charge and exhibited no issues during our testing. Worse, several of the Canary Flex's best features simply don’t work. Not yet, anyway. Case in point: there’s a speaker on the camera, but it's not enabled, so you don’t get two-way audio. Canary says it will be activated "in the coming months," but for now it's a no-go. Video quality isn't a strong point, either; it's fine in daylight, but truly atrocious at night.