Most of the models available aren’t quite reliable enough.
This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full blog here.
People use Wi-Fi cameras for all kinds of things, from checking on the dog to confirming that they turned off the stove burner. But people who use them for home security expect the camera to be able to record everything that happens in front of them. However, that’s not always how these things work.
Most Wi-Fi cameras can’t actually catch everything, and we’re not talking about angles and field of view. After spending months testing over 20 indoor and outdoor cameras, I’ve discovered that less than a handful of units can make reliable recordings where you won’t miss a second of the action.
Almost every Wi-Fi camera is designed to record when it detects motion happening. Most also have a recording time limit, anywhere between five seconds and five minutes, so the video sizes don’t get unmanageable. If motion continues beyond that time limit, you expect the camera to instantly start another clip. That way, you don’t miss a face, a raccoon, or whatever else is going bump in the night. However, most cameras leave a gap in between those recorded clips. Camera manufacturers call this a “reset” period or “retrigger” time.
This footage gap first came to my attention when reviewing the original Netgear Arlo Pro for our wireless outdoor home security camera guide. I went back and retested the unit, only to find that, on average, the camera left gaps up to 35 seconds in between recordings. In one recording, enough time elapsed between clips to leave me wondering which one of my neighbors was kind enough to put my trash cans away. It’s also long enough to miss someone breaking into your home or stealing a package from your porch.