Blink Totally Wireless Camera Tested

By Ethan Ace, Published Feb 12, 2016, 12:00am EST (Research)

Wireless cameras almost always still need a wire for power. Given that, many argue to just used wired cameras anyway.

Now, startup Blink has released a battery powered wireless camera that needs no wires. Plus, the camera / kit sells for just ~$100 plus $60 for additional cameras, a remarkably low price.

 

We bought a Blink and tested the following capabilities:

  • Motion Detection
  • Wireless Range
  • Night time performance
  • Storage capabilities
  • Playback usability

Advantages

Blink has two key advantages over typical DIY/home camera offerings:

  • Accurate motion detection: Blink's built in PIR provides much more reliable detection than the video motion detection found in most home/DIY cameras, with no false alarms during the course of our testing, and very few missed detections.
  • Wire free installation: Blink's battery powered design allows it to be mounted anywhere within range of the hub (~110' through multiple walls in our testing), without requiring an outlet nearby.

Additionally, Blink requires no monthly payment for cloud storage and no SD card, which also is a notable savings against premium competitors.

Disadvantages

However, there are multiple drawbacks to this approach, as well:

  • White LED: Blink uses a white LED for nighttime illumination, clearly visible when active (in contrast to the dull red glow of IR LEDs used in most cameras). This may be startling or annoying to users, making it unusable as a baby monitor or in locations where household occupants may frequently pass the camera at night.
  • No continuous recording: Unlike many cloud cameras, there is no way to record continuously using Blink. Users may view live for as long as they wish (though the app stops the stream after 30 seconds without user input), but no recording takes place while live viewing, even if motion occurs.
  • Extremely limited storage: Only 2 hours of storage max is provided, of triggered motion events, so Blink is not capable of recording general life (as is marketed by many home cams) or having extensive recording in case one wants to review past events. 
  • Limited Battery: The battery is specified for 'one year' but that is based on only using it for 5.5 hours for the year, which would be fairly sporadic. As such, even moderate usage will drain the battery in months, if not weeks.

Applications

We struggle to see the right competitive application for Blink:

  • It is probably best considered as an 'alert' camera, given its strong motion detection. For example, Blink markets this as being good at determining if kids are home from school, and our testing indicates it would be fairly accurate for this.
  • For those who want something covert (either for security or aesthetic reasons), the Blink is fairly easy to blend into the background, given its square form factor and no need for power wires.

However, the white LED will be a major problem for night time monitoring (babies, nannies, etc., truly anyone but a thief where it could be positive) and the limited recording will be an issue for some. If Blink can release a future version with an IR LED, we think it would radically expand its market potential.

Pricing

A Blink starter kit containing the hub and one camera sells for $99 USD online. Additional cameras (up to 10 per hub) cost $60.

This is far less expensive than typical consumer models. With this pricing, users can purchase a three camera Blink system ($220) for only ~$20 more than a single home camera, such as Nest, Samsung, Canary, etc., usually ~$200.

However, this is significantly more than some wireless cameras which have recently become available, such as the $30 Walmart Momentum cam or $50 Yi Home, though those cameras require wired power.

Cloud Access/Storage

Blink does not charge any recurring fees for cloud access. Two hours of storage is provided for each user, which amounts to (720) 10 second clips, (1440) 5 second clips, etc. Note that this is shared between all cameras on the user's account, not individual to each camera.

Over the course of a week's testing in a busy office, we received about 400 clips from one camera, which equates to more than half our allotted storage. Home users likely will receive fewer alerts, depending on activity level (how many people are in the household, individual schedules, long periods of travel, etc.).

Physical Features

The Blink camera and hub are both compact, about 2.5" square, roughly the size of a Nest Cam without the stand.

Aside from the lens, the camera's face contains its PIR (center), white LED, and recording indicator.

App Overview

The Blink app is fairly simplistic compared to most consumer camera mobile apps, with few basic functions.

Camera(s) are displayed on the main page, with users clicking one to begin live view. Users may arm/disarm each camera individually, or the system as a whole. Not automatic arming/disarming based on the user's location is available, though Blink says they plan to include this in future releases.

Event clips, despite being the most frequent use of the app, are displayed in a second page with an unobtrusive icon, not prominently displayed. Clips are displayed in chronological order, with no way of searching for a specific date or time, requiring users to scroll down through their event list to find a specific incident.

Clips may be exported to the mobile device or sent via email/text message/iMessage, etc. 

Configuration

Configuration of the Blink camera, including clip length, motion sensitivity (discussed below), and more is shown in this video:

White LED Illuminator

Unlike most cameras, Blink uses a white illuminator instead of IR. When on, it essentially looks like a small flashlight shining from the front of the camera.

While it covers small to mid-sized rooms fairly well, the light may be annoying to many users and even scare/surprise children, limiting camera placement or requiring the system to be disarmed when family members at home. 

Additionally, the white LED prevents Blink from being used as a baby monitor, a common use case for consumer wireless models.

This animation shows the white LED activating at about a 10' distance from the camera.

Wireless Range

We tested wireless range between sync module and camera both indoors and out, measuring about 110' in both tests, slightly further than Blink's claimed 100' range.

Indoors, this distance was achieved through multiple metal stud and drywall walls, as well as a 1' thick firewall. Outdoors testing was open air.

Detection Performance

Due to its built in PIR, Blink offers very accurate motion detection, with no false alarms in our tests, and nearly no missed detections.

Using default settings (6 out of 9), detection range was about 25' when crossing the camera FOV, but shorter if approaching and/or moving slowly, as low as 10' feet in some tests.

Increasing sensitivity to maximum (9), detection range doubled, with reliable triggering at 50' from the camera. In our tests, even at this high sensitivity setting, we still did not receive any false alerts.

Battery

The camera is powered by two lithium batteries, with a claimed battery life of "over a year" under normal operation. We cannot determine how much battery life was consumed over the course of our testing as the app displays only a small graphic icon, no exact percentage. We received over 400 clips, day and night over the course of a week, in addition to viewing live video frequently, and the battery indicator remains at full.

Importantly, the on year specification is based on only using it for 5.5 hours for the year (FAQ says 20,000 seconds, which equates to 5.5 hours), which would be fairly sporadic. As such, even moderate usage will drain the battery in months, if not weeks.

Transmission Delay

There is a slight delay before the Blink camera transmits events to the sync module. This allows intruders who are aware of the camera to approach it, grab it, and remove the batteries/destroy it before the event is sent. Additionally, no event is sent notifying the user that the camera has been destroyed or the batteries removed. This essentially allows a quick and savvy intruder free reign with no notification of his presence.

By contrast, even low end DVRs, along with most consumer models, send some sort of notification that a device is offline, which is simply not included in Blink.

What Do You Think?

Given its advantages and disadvantages, would you use Blink in your home? Tell us why or why not in the comments.

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