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13 September 2013

FEATURE: Home surveillance

What with all this fancy stuff we get sent Test Pit Towers is chock-a-block with expensive gadgets. Obviously we want to keep it all safe, but how do we mange that alongside our jet-setting journalist lifestyles (one of us went to Scotland last week. Pretty impressive.)?

Keeping an eye on your house while you're away doesn't just mean asking the neighbours to water the plants. These days there is a whole host of nifty tech to keep your own eyes on your stuff. We tested out three of the best.





Y-Cam Cube HD

A few months ago we got to grips with the Home Monitor from home security experts Y-Cam, and we were rather impressed. Their latest offering, the Cube, supposedly ups the ante in terms of image quality, while decreasing the actual size of the camera. We gleefully tore open the appropriately cube-shaped packaging and had a gander.

At just a couple of inches across the Cube is certainly a lot smaller than the Home Monitor and includes a far simpler wall-mountable bracket. It also features a black front plate (the Home Monitor was shiny white) which goes even further to reduce the unit's visual impact. The power cord also seems to be much longer, as although the camera connects to your home network wirelessly, it still requires constant juice.

Simplicity is certainly Y-Cam's motto with the Cube as it is not only the camera that has been reduced. Instead of the detailed step-by-step instructions included with the Home Monitor, the Cube features only a disk and the directions to "put disk in computer, install application". Here we hit a stumbling block.

It might just be us, but we haven't owned a computer with an optical drive for a few years now, so including the required app on a disk may have been a bit of a waste. Unfortunately there are no instructions as to what to do if you don't have a drive, or are wanting to access the camera's stream via your phone or tablet. It also wasn't clear what download we needed from the Y-Cam website, and we only knew we had the right one after comparing the download to a screen shot in the included leaflet.


Eventually we up and running, with any initial frustrations quickly forgiven when we caught a glimpse of the video quality. That 1080 HD certainly makes a hell of a difference and the slightly grainy, jumpy picture of the Home Monitor is a thing of the past. Even in pitch black, with the infra red lights a-burning, the quality is stunning and every detail of the picture is crisp and sharp.

We were also very impressed by the frame rate of the stream and also of the time lag. In testing (by waving our arms about like nutjobs) we found that the time from something moving in real life to it appearing on the screen of our tablet, was just over a second.

So a brilliantly put together piece of kit that produces a diamond of an image. Oh, and it comes with a free shiny plastic frisbee (which is a far better use for a CD).

£208
Visit www.shop.y-cam.com



SwannSmart Video Security Camera

Weighing in at around the same size as the Cube, this wifi camera offering from Swann is pretty thin with a narrow face. Containing exactly the same accessories as the Cube (power lead, ethernet cable for set up and metal wall bracket) the packaging was quickly opened and we set to it.

Very much unlike the Cube the set up for the Swann was super easy with the instructions being clear and descriptive. In just a few minutes we were staring at see own ugly mugs gawping back at us from the screen on our tablet.

Although we were riding on a cheerful high from the foolproof set up, the video quality we received seemed a little flat after our experience with Y-Cam's efforts. But that was to be expected as the Swann is not an HD device... but should that matter?

Although slightly fuzzy with a couple of seconds of lag when streamed via wifi, the 640x480 image from the Samm camera wasn't at all bad. We had it set high on a wall over looking an entire room, and be it day or night, everything in the space was clear and discernible. Certainly if you were using this to watch for intruders in your home, you'd be fine. You just wouldn't be able to count their nose hairs. Would you want to?


The emphasis here is very much on mobile connectivity and SwannSmart app for both Android and iOS is a pleasure to use and an extremely easy way of getting the camera's live feed. We recommend it.

Yes, the picture isn't as sharp as the Cube's, but the super simple set up and operation help to make this a real contender for protecting all your pretty things.

£89.99
Visit www.swannsmart.com




Motorola Blink 1 Wifi Baby Monitor

Okay, so maybe this is not your first choice for when you're decking out your house like Fort Knox, but stay with us on this one.

The Motorola camera makes it into this feature not because of a stunning picture quality or mobile versatility, but because it can do one thing that the cameras above cannot: it can move.

By that we don't mean it will happily wander around your house on the lookout for crooks, we mean the camera can tilt up and down and pan left and right - all remotely controlled by you.

First off let's be clear about one thing: you can't use this camera over the internet. The stream is only available over the local wifi network which means if you want to keep an eye on junior (or all those new sets of LEGO you've just been sent to review) you must be within range of your home network. Therefore, as a home security device, this is quite limited.

But (and it's a big one, tee hee) the ability to move the camera about directly from the free app Monitor Everywhere means a bigger area can be surveilled from one fixed position, unlike the Cube and the Swann which are fixed. This means the Motorola becomes the perfect camera for keeping an eye on several somethings while you're in. Beyond sleeping sprogs (and the built in thermometer also helps there) this could be used by the elderly to monitor hallways and shared spaces in nursing homes and sheltered accommodation.


Just as with the Swann unit the set up here is super easy and does not even require the camera to be initially attached to the router via ethernet. You switch it on, download the app, tell it your wifi password and you're away; as simple as that.

So although the picture quality wont win any awards and is the poorest of all three, the use and functionality of the movable camera is a definite plus.

£99.99
Visit www.amazon.co.uk
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