Whether it's for peace of mind while on holiday or to keep an eye on an elderly relative, security cameras are finding their way into more and more homes. Part of the reason for this increased popularity is the drop in price and ease of use and installation offered by an increasing number of systems. Looking to join this increasingly crowded marketplace is the new Ezviz Mini cloud-based, Wi-Fi camera that we recently got hold of and put on patrol.
Out of the box, the Ezviz Mini is deceptively simple. Standing 3.5 in (8.9 cm) tall and weighing less than 4 oz (113 g), it comes with a pivoting magnetic stand, integrated USB cable, 16 GB SD card, a mounting kit, mains adaptor, and quick-start guide. It seems almost like a halfway mark between an vintage webcam and a baby monitor, but the Mini can wirelessly link up to at least four units together, and has cloud backup and control capability.
Mechanically, it's very easy to set up – just a matter of making sure an SD card is installed, plugging in the USB cable to the mains adaptor, then waiting for the status light. However, the camera still needs to be activated using the free Ezviz smartphone app, which is available from Google Play or the App Store. This involves registering the app for security reasons, using a simple QR code scan and verification code to link the device to the app, then logging onto the local Wi-Fi network. The camera and its built-in microphone will now monitor and record everything in its field of view, while images can be accessed using the app or directly from the SD card.
In terms of construction, the Ezviz Mini is sturdy, but its casing did crack when it fell from a height of six feet (183 cm) – the base casing came ajar, but fitted back easily. The camera itself has a very compact style and is very unobtrusive – or would be if the status light and cable weren't a dead giveaway. It's very easy to shift from place to place and powering it up again automatically reconnects it to the network.
This portability is very useful because finding the right place to install the camera is not easy. The fisheye lens covers 115º and the distortion makes proper siting important even when set at 720p resolution. Unfortunately, the reliance on a wall outlet meant site selection was usually a choice was between a bad view and discretion, or a good view and staring into the camera or tripping over the cable.
Security cameras usually work best when high up, so the Mini comes with a mounting kit consisting of a steel plate, sticky pad, screws, and molly anchors. This makes it easy to tuck the camera away in a corner, but it also meant investing in a USB extension to reach the outlet. Though the Mini has a microphone, it can be placed next to a television with little sound interference and the playback is not dominated by the program sound.
The Wi-Fi connection works very well at distances of up to 100 ft (30 m), though around corners of walls with metal fittings it can get a bit finicky as it reestablishes network contact. However, once that's reset, it operates well with only a minimum of pauses.
For recording, the Ezviz Mini uses a motion detecting algorithm that activates whenever something moves across its field of view. It also has an infrared lamp and night vision effective at up to 30 ft (9 m). The camera is actually monitoring at all times and the motion is a signal for it to save a particular stretch of vision. This allows it to record not only the moment of movement, but also several seconds prior to give proper context.
Ezviz Mini image under pure artificial light
A 16 GB card can record around four days worth of clips in a very busy domestic environment, depending on the amount of activity in the area. If you need more, the camera can handle SD cards up to 64 GB. The oldest stored clips are deleted as the card fills and everything is encrypted in the camera and streamed using SSL to the cloud or a paired mobile device.
The app needed to operate the Ezviz Mini turned out to be surprisingly difficult to get working because of the double security verification that took a lot of fiddling with usernames, passwords, and email addresses. Once it's operating, it does its main function of providing a live view and loading stored views very well and seems to do better on a tablet because of the bigger screen and faster processor.
However, the app tends to crash or go into a terminal error mode even when momentarily switched away from. It's also very dependent on a good Wi-Fi connection and will not connect to the camera at all using a mobile data line, so this is not an app for checking on the house while on the bus.
The app itself provides direct control of the camera and allows the user to set image quality, schedule when to have alerts sent to their phone, view live feeds from up to four different Minis, view still images or videos from either the SD Card or cloud-based albums, make real-time image or video captures, or do the same from the temporary gallery. The app can also flip the view if the camera is mounted upside down.
Unfortunately, one thing the app lacks is intuitiveness. There's very little help given as to the available features or how to access them, so it requires a lot of exploring and experimenting to master them. Even finding the link to start a subscription to store videos and images in the cloud is a bit like trying to find the water main valve in a strange house.
As to the picture quality, the fisheye lens on the Ezviz Mini is very good and the color and resolution were surprisingly sharp and vivid. The camera balances itself well in daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, and a mix of artificial lighting, but is only fair in full daylight – however, this is an indoor camera and not built for outdoor jobs. There is some flaring, but not enough to be a deal breaker. There is also a lag of about two or three seconds in the live video feed, which is also troubled by strange jumps in speed.
The night vision function was a pleasant surprise with very responsive automatic switching as the lights go on and off. If the lighting conditions are too ambiguous, the IR can be deactivated and a more vivid, low-resolution visible light image substituted.
The audio, on the other hand, was disappointing. It was very spotty, hard to follow, and was subject to very bad feedback if the app was running in its earshot.
Overall, the Ezviz Mini seems a good, inexpensive security camera with microphone that's user friendly for the most part, and would be practical as a baby, elder, or pet monitor. It could even be used as a door monitor or basic security in a small business. At the very least, we found it very good for confirming that the dogs do take it in turns to patrol the flat on an hourly schedule after lights out.
The Ezviz Mini sells for under US$70, and the maker also offers 7 or 30 day cloud video storage plans in a monthly or yearly subscription. Prices range from $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year for the 7-day plan to $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year for the 30-day plan. New purchasers get a free year of cloud storage.More information on Ezviz products can be found on the company site.