Using Old Smartphones As Webcams

Question

How effective are the apps that let you use an old smartphone for a security camera?

Answer

This question was answered on April 27, 2016. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

If you’re like most American households, you probably have a drawer with old smartphones collecting dust because you upgraded to a newer model.

These older smartphones pack quite a bit of processing power and decent cameras, so a number of enterprising app developers have created an assortment of options for repurposing them.

Your specific needs will have a lot to do with which option makes the most sense for you. 

On paper, this seems to be a great way to use that old tech, but if you’re serious about security, you need to understand the limitations.

Logistical Considerations

One of the first things you need to think about is providing power to the old smartphone, so wherever you plan to use it needs to be near a power outlet.

The next thing to test is the strength of your WiFi signal where you plan to place it, since that will be the only way it can connect.

You'll also need to think about some form of cradle, tripod or stand so you can point the phone where you want to monitor.

Live Video vs Monitoring

Getting an old phone setup for transimitting a live video stream is pretty simple, but if you’re interested in a ‘security system’ you’ll want more.

Most people want a system that watches for motion and alerts you with a text or e-mail message so you can pop on and see what’s happening as it's happening.

What’s the goal?

Some apps only take pictures while others record video; some include sound, while others only have video.

Some offer two way communication and can sound alarms when they detect motion, which may or may not be important for your situation (baby monitor vs intruder detection).

Technical Limitations

Most security focused webcams these days include night vision, which isn’t going to be something your old smartphone will be capable of providing, so the lighting becomes critical.

The video quality may also be less than desirable depending upon the lighting and the distance you’re trying to cover (Tip: always use the back facing camera as it’s always higher resolution). 

You’re also at the mercy of your Wi-Fi connection and won’t necessarily know when it goes down if you’re not home.  If you’re serious about security, a wired webcam is always better because it eliminates this point of failure.

Recording Events

Guess why so many of the apps that offer this service are free?  They know that most people will want to be able to record and playback events, so just about all of them have a monthly fee depending on how long the videos are available or how much footage you want to store.

A couple of the companies that I’ve found to be easy to setup and get running are Manything (https://manything.com), Camio (https://www.camio.com) and Presence (http://www.presencepro.com).

Some allow you to extend the system beyond your phone through services like IFTTT (https://manything.com/ifttt.html) or various sensors (http://www.presencepro.com/store).

I wouldn't consider this solution the best 'security system' but since they're free to try, you can decide for yourself.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on April 27, 2016