Reolink is a Cheap Battery-Powered Security CameraBy - 09/08/2017
If you haven’t already noticed, I’m kind of into battery-powered cameras. I’ve tested Canary Flex, Arlo Pro, Blink, and Blink XT. Of course, there are other battery-powered cameras I haven’t tested, including Butterfleye and Homeboy, for example. What used to be rare in the home security world seems to be the norm these days, and that raises a question: “Is there room in the world for yet another wire-free camera?”
What is Reolink Argus?
Reolink hopes there is room for one more battery-powered security camera. And if they want to carve out their own niche within a niche, they’re going to need to show the world something different. Currently, what they have is an inexpensive home security camera that works indoors and outdoors. It runs on a rechargeable battery, has FHD video, night vision, two-way audio, local storage, and motion detection. Does it offer anything new or earth shattering? Not really, but it is slightly different from the competition.
What Differentiates Argus From Other Wire-Free Cameras
|Arlo Pro||Arlo Pro 2||Blink XT||Canary Flex||Reolink Argus|
|Resolution||720p||1080p||720p, 1080p Capable||720p||1080p|
|Two-Way Audio||Members Only|
|Field of View||130°||130°||110°||116°||130°|
|Arlo Pro||Arlo Pro 2||Blink XT||Canary Flex||Reolink Argus|
|Works Alone||Requires Base Station||Requires Base Station||Requires Sync Module|
|Works Outside and Inside|
|Free Mobile App|
|Audible Siren||Sold Separately|
|Free Storage||7 Days Free Cloud, Pro Base Station Supports USB||7 Days Free Cloud, Pro Base Station Supports USB||7,200 Seconds of Video||1 Device = 24hr, 2 Devices = 12hr Each, 3 Devices = 8hr Each, 4 Devices = 6hr Each||16GB SD Card (Can Support 64GB), Cloud Storage Coming Soon|
|Works With||IFTTT, SmartThings, Echo Show, Echo Spot||IFTTT, SmartThings, Echo Show, Echo Spot||Amazon Alexa, IFTTT||Wink|
|Battery Life||Tested at 2 Months||Estimated at 3 Months||Tested at 2 Months||Tested at 7 Weeks||Tested at 2 Months|
|Geofencing||Via IFTTT Only|
|Placement||Stand or Optional Wall Mount, Magnetic Surface||Stand or Optional Wall Mount, Magnetic Surface||Stand or Wall Mount||Magnetic Base, Stand, Mounting Options Sold Separately||Stand or Optional Wall Mount, Magnetic Surface|
Like Arlo Pro, Reolink Argus offers two-way audio and a 130° field of view. Like Canary Flex, it works alone and doesn’t rely on a base station. What makes it different from other battery-powered cameras is the price. While it doesn’t offer anything new, it does offer most of the premium features found in other cameras, but for less money.
Reolink Argus for Home Security
So let’s get to the important stuff. How does Reolink Argus protect your home?
Video Day and Night
Argus has a FHD camera; however, if you find that running the camera to its fullest causes a lag, you can adjust the camera’s settings. Argus offers two modes: clear and fluent. You can quickly swap between these two settings which you can also customize. Clear’s resolution can be set at 1080p or 720p, the frame rate can be 15, 10, 5, or 2fps, and finally, the bitrate is also customizable (256, 512, 768, 1024, 1536, 2048). Fluent is set at Q720p (320 x 180) with the same frame rate options and a choice of bitrate (64, 128, 160, 192, 256, 384, 512).
Performance wise, the camera quality isn’t as strong as other FHD cameras, but is on-par with others
My biggest complaint about Reolink’s video quality is that it occasionally turns green. This wasn’t evident while live streaming or even viewing clips from the app, but a strange green tint was present when viewing clips from my computer. You can see the green tint in action at minute 1:31 in the video above as well as minute 1:38 and 1:49. From an audio perspective, there was also a strange tone on most clips. My second video quality complaint is that the max frame rate is low when compared to other cameras. Reolink’s max is 15fps where other cameras usually max out at 30fps.
That said, there is plenty of flexibility in setting up the camera. You can rotate the camera’s image or decide if you want the footage to show the date. You can even decide if you want the videos to include sound or not.
The level of customization offered is certainly cool, but one of Argus’ most impressive features is night vision. Reolink claims Argus can see up to 33 feet at night, and I believe it. At night the image is bright (compare the tree line), though not as crisp as other cameras (compare my shirt) like Canary Flex.
Like most cameras, Argus uses motion detection to monitor for activity. Specifically, it uses a “smart PIR movement sensor.” Also, like most battery-powered cameras, it sits in standby mode until something happens. While a sleeping security camera isn’t ideal, it’s necessary to help the camera conserve battery. In testing other cameras, what I’ve found is that sleepiness can affect home security. Canary Flex, for example, is often slow to wake up, and Arlo Pro takes about 6 seconds to wake whenever you want to check out a live stream. Blink has a leg up here as it has a long battery life and it’s “always-on.” What about Reolink Argus?
Reolink Argus has one of the fastest wake times of any camera I’ve tested. While streaming from my network, it has an average wake time of four seconds. While streaming away from home, the average wake time was still an impressive 6 seconds. However, with a battery-powered camera, wake time means two things. The numbers above represent the time it takes to check out a live stream, but how quickly does the camera wake up to capture motion?
In the video above, I compared the time it takes Argus to wake up and capture motion to the time it takes for Arlo Pro, Blink XT, and Canary Flex to do the same. In this particular test, Arlo Pro was the fastest, closely followed by Canary Flex, Blink XT, and finally Argus. In regards to clip length, Argus also provides the shortest clip. Clips are recorded to the SD card which you can view from the app or from your computer. As you can see below, instead of recording one continuous clip, Reolink breaks videos into clips that are about 9 seconds in length. The shorter clips make finding video evidence more challenging.
Argus’ motion detection performance is disappointing. Typically, when I think PIR sensor I think of a sensor that detects heat. Usually, this type of sensor will ignore inanimate objects while focusing on live objects such as humans or animals. This was not the case while testing Argus. Argus triggered for wind, sprinklers, and sometimes for no reason at all. Worse, the camera lacks the ability to control retrigger time which means that I often received multiple alerts within seconds.
The good news here is that you have some control over when motion alerts happen. From the app, you can simply turn the motion sensor off or you can leave it on and turn off alerts.
You can also adjust the motion sensor’s sensitivity level. You have three choices: low, medium, or high.
Finally, while the camera lacks geofencing, it does include the ability to create a schedule. Be forewarned: the schedule feature is a little odd, and to be honest, I’m not 100% certain how it works. Your first option when creating a schedule is to select days of the week. That choice is fairly straightforward. The time choice, however, is what makes it odd. Each day of the week has four different time options: 0:00-05:59, 06:00-11:59, 12:00-17:59, and 18:00-23:59. Next to each time slot you will find six boxes. I’m assuming each box corresponds to an hour. If you aren’t a 24-hour clock person, it’s time to brush up on the skill.
Notifications and Storage
Once an event is detected, Reolink Argus kicks into action. It can send a motion snapshot via email, sound a siren, send a push notification to your phone, and record a clip to the internal SD Card. How the camera behaves is completely up to you. You can have it do everything or a combination of things. For example, you might want a push notification and a recording but nothing more, and that’s certainly possible.
Regarding storage, the camera does not ship with an SD card, and it lacks cloud storage. Without an SD card, you will get motion alerts but you won’t be able to view anything but live footage. Even with an SD card, Reolink makes it a challenge to see footage. To view recorded footage, you will need to navigate to the “Playback” section of the mobile app. There you will see a timeline. The blue marks on the timeline are related to recorded events. What makes this process difficult is that the line is hard to see and the time is off. In the screenshot above, you will see that the app gives you the option of syncing your phone’s time with the app. The time in the screenshot is 5:36 PM, but the 24-hour clock shows 16:36:27. (Update 9/18/2017 Reolink now supports downloading videos up to 30-seconds in length.)
In general, there is both a pro and a con to using an SD card for storage. PRO: Privacy. You don’t need to worry about your family’s private moments being hijacked on their way to some random server. CON: From a home security perspective, an SD card isn’t sufficient. If someone sees your camera and decides to take it, you will have your email motion snapshot but you will lose all recorded footage.
Finally, you should know that in addition to recording based on event, you can also record events on demand.
Adjusting the camera’s settings is closely tied to its battery life. From the camera’s app, you can access a nifty battery section that will help you keep track of your usage. In theory, Reolink can stay powered for 180 days in standby mode or 840 minutes (half a day) at full capacity.
In addition to usage, a big part of the camera’s battery life will be affected by your battery choice. Reolink Argus supports both CR123A non-rechargeable and rechargeable batteries. They estimate that the GP batteries they provide will run for 840 minutes during the day, 420 at night while using something like Eastachine’s RCR123A rechargeable battery will reduce the battery life to 540 minutes during the day and 270 at night.
Though my camera is still running, I estimate the battery will last over two months. At medium sensitivity, I used 143.1 minutes during the first 11 days of testing and 260 minutes by my 27th day of testing.
10/27/2017 UPDATE: The camera died after 2 months and 8 days of use.
Finally, let’s talk security. Initially, security was a concern as Reolink seemed rather tight-lipped on the issue. That said, Reolink doesn’t store cloud storage, and placing the camera outdoors seems like a safe bet for those concerned about privacy. However, I wanted more information. I reached out to my Reolink contact to get the scoop. According to my contact,
We are using P2P technology and our server is hosted on Amazon safely. The stream is encrypted by our private protocols (which we are not allowed to share due to security concerns, the security of our IP security cameras and systems are extremely important to us and we have a team of experts working on protecting and securing the stream) as well as SSL encryption, WPA2-AES encryption, and SSL-TLS enabled.
Reolink Argus smashed its Indiegogo campaign, and I can see why. First of all, this isn’t their first product. They also sell other low-cost cameras, including NVR style cameras and Reolink Keen, a device they’ve called Argus’ sister. Second, they have an existing app which is rated 2.5 stars on iTunes and 3.6 stars on Google Play. Finally, the price on this camera is right, but that doesn’t make it perfect.
Argus Has Some Missing Features
So am I calling Argus a buy or a pass? I’m NOT calling it a pass, but I’m sort of on the fence here. Other battery-powered cameras win when it comes to three key features noticeably missing from Reolink Argus:
- Cloud Storage (Coming Soon)
- Third-Party Integrations
My main concern is the lack of cloud storage. The app could also use some polish. And then there’s the weird green tinge on the footage and a demon-esque sound that permeates recorded audio. The small price tag, flexibility of placement, and ability to work without a base station, however, make the camera an intriguing option. Reolink is also planning to launch Reolink Argus Pro which will feature a rechargeable battery.
Please note that Reolink provided the Argus for testing but this did not affect my opinion of the camera.
Q: Can you manage multiple locations within one app login? For example, if I have a Reolink Argus at my home and another at my vacation home, would I be able to view them both using one app login?
A: I don’t have a way to test this but according to Reolink, this is possible. You can use one app login to monitor multiple locations.
Q: How long did the battery last?
A: Just over two months.