Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question: My mother lives alone in the countryside. For quite some time, she has been experiencing issues with someone interfering with items outside. My family and I have tried various security cameras but they are not user-friendly and by the time we attempt to look back at footage from the previous week, it's an onerous task. Can you recommend a system that is not overly expensive and is very user-friendly? Perhaps myself and my siblings could connect it to our phones? There are lots of entry points into the yard so it's also challenging to have enough cameras to catch all angles.
This is undoubtedly a common problem. The good news is that there are now a few security cameras available that are relatively simple to set up and use, aimed mainly at a Wi-Fi generation. The bad news is that to get the most out of them often requires some sort of subscription.
The best example I can think of is Nest's Cam Outdoor model. If you're not aware of Nest, it's a very popular home security system that works fairly quickly out of the box, connects via your Wi-Fi and saves footage online so that you can look at it from any phone, even if someone finds a way to cut the cables to the camera.
The Cam Outdoor model is one of the easiest models on the market to set up and can be done so by any electrician.
It needs an electrical point but comes with over 30 feet of cabling. Other than ease of use, it beats conventional CCTV cameras in a couple of ways. First, the quality of the video footage is really excellent, even at night. It also sees a lot because of its relatively wide-angle view (130 degrees). There's also an enhanced speaker for outdoor use, which you can use to talk to whoever is within the camera's vicinity as its built-in microphone means you can hear responses or utterances. You do this through the Nest app.
It can also record continually, 24 hours a day. This is important because it means that if something happens quickly, you're not just catching the end of the action, as can happen on some motion-alert systems.
That said, it has its own very decent motion and sound alert system whereby you get a message (via Wi-Fi) to your phone or computer with an image of what has just happened.
But here's the thing. If you buy one and set up your account online, you only get the basic functionality free. This means a live video feed to your phone or computer and alerts with snapshots of what the camera saw up to three hours in the past. But if you want to see full video recordings of what happened, you need to subscribe to Nest Aware. That costs a minimum of €5 per month (or €50 per year). For that, you get to spool through everything that happened around the clock for the previous five days. (A €10 per month fee gets you the last 10 days' footage and a €30 per month subscription means you get to see anything in the previous 30 days.) As well as the recorded video footage, you also get a higher level of security alert, including the ability to set up 'activity zones'.
The reason that Nest charges for this is because it's a cloud video service: what you're seeing is something that Nest records and stores in its own secure cloud. It's a different way of setting up a security service to a normal CCTV system, which often has physical storage on-site. In your case, you're wondering whether you might need multiple cameras to cover lots of different entry points. If you think you do, another financial consideration to the Nest system is that you need a further subscription for each camera. Nest offers 50pc off, or close to it, for each additional subscription (for example, €3 per month for an extra camera if you have the €5 monthly plan, €5 per month extra if you have the €10 monthly plan and so on). But it means that if you have, say, three cameras and want to have video alerts and access to five-day video footage, you'll pay €11 per month (€5 plus €3 plus €3). And almost double that for 10 days of video footage.
It also goes without saying that your mother's home must have some form of Wi-Fi that extends to the locations you intend to place the cameras in. As you say that she lives alone in the countryside, it's not a given that this is the case. (But if you want a solution that allows you to check remotely from your phone, you'll really need to have such Wi-Fi in place anyway.)
The benefits to this type of system are obvious: either you or your mother get a lot more visibility over whatever's going on in real time. And because the phone app has a speaker and microphone, there's a good chance that once you tell the intruder that they're being recorded in real time, they'll scarper with less of a chance of returning.
But it definitely comes with both an upfront and an ongoing cost.
Recommendation: Nest Cam Outdoor (€230 from Harvey Norman)
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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