A KNOCK at the door can mean so many things. The postie. A religious proselytiser. A student selling solar panels. Government agents who’d like a chat about reports you’ve got an unlicensed nuclear accelerator in your wardrobe. The list goes on.
One thing they all have in common is that they require you to stop gaming and go and see what they want. In a single player game, this is really more of a minor inconvenience, thanks to the miracle of the “Pause” button, but it’s a bit hard to call “Time out!” when you’re 90 minutes into an epic raid or holding the point alone waiting for Mercy’s ultimate to charge and resurrect your fallen teammates in a tie-breaking online match.
This is where an IP-enabled camera can come in handy, and Swann are a well-known and respected brand in that space.
Both cameras film in 1080p, are wi-fi enabled (the Spotlight can also connect via Ethernet) and have a wide viewing angle, offering pretty much all the features you’d expect from a wireless home security camera.
As the name suggests, the Spotlight Outdoors is designed to be mounted outdoors (and is reportedly weatherproof; the Queensland frost certainly didn’t bother it) and includes a heat or motion-activated spotlight which can illuminate from 30 seconds onwards.
The Alert Indoor has plenty of use as well, particularly as a baby monitor or (in my case) as a pet monitor for seeing what your cat (or dog, I guess – apparently people like them as pets too) is up to. I also found it useful for seeing when the kids were trying to sneak biscuits or chips from the kitchen.
The cameras are run via the Swann Security smartphone app, which works pretty much as you’d expect it to, although it is pretty notification heavy, especially for stuff I really didn’t need to be reminded about (such as the wi-fi connective to one of the cameras periodically being low).
On the plus side, both cameras feature cloud recording (seven days free storage, 60 if you buy a subscription) and are Alexa compatible as well – which, when combined with something like the Amazon Echo Show 8 means you can use it to see who’s at the door or what’s going on in the dining room without having to get your phone out – being able to say “Alexa, show me Outside” and have it on screen was very useful indeed.
On the downside: They both need to be plugged into a power point 24/7 to work; they have no internal battery or solar panel accessory. This isn’t a massive issue for the Alert Indoor camera; most houses have plenty of power points available, especially if you’re making judicious use of power boards, but it’s a massive drawback for the Spotlight Outdoor camera, since most houses don’t have powerpoints outside and even if they do, you may not want to leave anything plugged into it 24/7.
To Swann’s credit, the Spotlight Outdoor camera comes with an 18m long power and Ethernet cable, but unless you want to drill holes through your wall or ceiling this doesn’t help a great deal since you’re still going to have to run that power cable back inside somehow.
The lack of battery is something of an issue, as it means if someone ne’er do well unplugs the camera, it just stops functioning.
Sure, you’ll have footage of them approaching the camera and unplugging it saved to the cloud, but we’ve all played enough stealth games over the years to know it only takes a cleverly-employed cardboard box or portable shrubbery (or simply staying out of the camera’s line of sight) to deal with that.
Seriously though, the lack of battery back-up is pretty disappointing, not necessarily because any of us are worried about Solid Snake or Sam Fisher coming for our Pop Vinyl collection, but because it means if there’s a power cut or cable fault (or someone accidentally unplugs the AC adaptor because they need to recharge their phone), you’ll lose the picture – meaning you can’t keep an eye on sleeping babies or mischievous pets or see if that knock at the door is the Uber Eats guy until power is restored.
The overall idea the cameras offer is sound – being able to set up the camera and see who’s at the front door, and decide from there if you want to pause/go AFK from your game – but is let down somewhat by the execution.
The Alert Indoor camera I tested was far too inconsistent in its sensitivity, swinging between alerting me every time a moth (or something like that, anyway) flew past to not noticing when the cat was sitting right in front of it. Most of the time it was too sensitive; even on the lowest setting, it was constantly giving me notifications about people and things that were not there or had only been there fleetingly (eg someone walked past the open door to the room).
The outdoor camera, meanwhile, wasn’t sensitive enough or didn’t always alert me to detections in a timely manner. Sometimes I’d walk past the camera outside and get an alert almost right away that it had detected motion or a person; other times I’d be in the car halfway up the road, or in the kitchen, or somewhere nowhere near the camera before it alerted me.
Using the app, it often took quite a while for the live feed to load – both over my home wi-fi network (the units only work with 2.4Ghz wireless, incidentally) and over a 4G mobile connection.
As a user-operated camera and monitoring system, the Swann cameras did an OK but not amazing job. The video and audio quality was good, the spotlight on the outdoor camera was bright and effective, and the fact it’s all recording to the cloud is helpful because it means losing the camera doesn’t mean losing its security footage. There was quite a noticeable lag on the livestream between the cameras and both my Amazon Echo Show 8 and my phone however, which wasn’t optimal.
As an automated system to minimise gaming interruptions, I was less impressed with the setup. While you can certainly leave the cameras live-streaming, the cameras have all sorts of motion and heat sensing tech in them that mean they’re designed to alert you (and start recording) when something happens – but because I couldn’t rely on them to do that properly, I can’t recommend them for anything requiring proper real-time alerts.
Still, they are better than having to get up and answer the door to see who is there, and on that note, Swann are running a promotion to help Australians with their home security though the launch of the “Home, Safe Home” initiative.
Swann say the initiative is “a global effort to give easy, DIY home security devices to individuals, families, small businesses and other organisations that would benefit from increased security and peace of mind at their premises”.
The two cameras reviewed here are among the devices being given away each day until at least 30 June 2020.
According to Swann, those who wish to be considered for the initiative should head to swann.com/homesafehome, or visit Swann’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feeds, and share a short message or video about how increased security would help them during this tough time, including the hashtag #SwannHomeSafeHome.