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My week testing ADT's new contract-free security cameras was a total mess

Cheap-looking, overpriced security cameras weigh down the new Blue by ADT lineup.

The new Blue by ADT cameras fall short.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

ADT, a home security company that sells cameras, sensors and other devices under contract for a monthly fee, launched a DIY (i.e. no contract) spin-off brand back in January. The new company, dubbed Blue by ADT, is an extension of ADT's 2019 acquisition of DIY security brand LifeShield. Together, LifeShield's home security systems and Blue by ADT's cameras, range extender/doorbell chime and other upcoming accessories are supposed to act as self-installed, contract-free alternatives to ADT's standard, service-oriented home security offering. 

I got my hands on Blue by ADT's initial product release -- an Indoor Camera, an Outdoor Camera and a Doorbell Camera (all $200 each) -- and a $50 Extender Plus Chime accessory. Like other traditional DIY offerings, you can use these Blue by ADT devices alone or as part of a broader LifeShield security system. 

I've spent a week with these products... and I have feelings about how it's gone so far. Let's get into it. 


The Blue by ADT Doorbell Camera costs $200. Why?

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

They're overpriced

I'm going to kick this off with a mini-rant. "Blue by ADT is cost-effective and modern home security technology," according to its About Us page. As I mentioned above, Blue by ADT's current lineup (it plans to add more devices in the future) consists of the $200 Indoor Camera, the $200 Outdoor Camera, the $200 Doorbell Camera and the $50 Extender Plus Chime. 

The plug-in Wi-Fi extender and doorbell chime is reasonably priced, but the cameras cost too much. For a long time, it was standard to price security cameras at $200. There are a few reasons for that, but it had a lot to do with the $200 Dropcam Pro, a popular DIY camera that other brands copied in the earlier days of the smart home industry. 

The Dropcam Pro camera has since transformed into the Nest Cam Indoor following Nest's 2014 purchase of Dropcam, and it's still priced at $200. Beyond the Nest Cam Indoor, there are some other legacy devices that continue to retail for that amount.

Thankfully, the contemporary security camera market has a much wider range of effective options. From the $20 Wyze Cam to the $150 Arlo Video Doorbell, there are excellent user-installed cameras out there that cost significantly less than 200 bucks. 

Tack on the fact that Blue by ADT's cameras have a cheap, plasticky look and feel and I'm not sure how the company arrived at that price -- or could reasonably claim that "Blue by ADT is cost-effective."

You do get one month of free cloud storage with Blue by ADT cameras. After that, the company offers 24 hours of free cloud storage as a standard feature. Optional 60-day cloud storage starts at $3 per month. It costs $13 per month for all Blue by ADT cameras at one location to get 60-day cloud storage. 


When you click on the app menu and then select "Settings" and then "Security," the app takes you here, inexplicably. 

Screenshot by CNET

Unlike the cameras themselves, the cloud storage prices are competitive, but I still think the upfront cost is overpriced by at least $50.

The app is confusing

Let's discuss the second part of that quote: "Blue by ADT is [...] modern home security technology." (I promise, this is the last time I'll mention that excerpt.)

The company does offer many modern features with all three of its cameras: HD live streaming, night vision, wide-angle lenses, motion detection, detection zones, facial recognition, two-way audio, 24-hour free cloud storage with no contract and several other features. The cameras claim Amazon Alexa voice control, but that functionality is limited to LifeShield home security systems (arming and disarming) and related smart home devices (controlling compatible smart locks and lights), according to the Blue by ADT Amazon Alexa Skill

Both the Indoor and the Outdoor Cameras have built-in microSD card slots for local storage. You can connect the Outdoor Camera to its included adapter, but it's a rechargeable, battery-powered camera. The battery is supposed to last for three to six months on a single charge, although this will vary based on usage. 

But the app -- the only way to interact with these devices -- is seriously outdated. It's clunky, difficult to navigate and sometimes completely nonsensical. For example, when you click on the menu on the top left of the app, then Settings, and then Security, it takes you to a screen that says "Weather Units" and lets you select between Celsius and Fahrenheit. Why? I couldn't tell you.

That weather units thing is odd, but ultimately easy enough to ignore. More pressing is the app's overall design. It's cluttered, making it more difficult to find what you're looking for than many of today's modern, streamlined apps. 

The challenge Blue by ADT has here is to find a more minimal way to display all of its various features and options (of which there are many). Nest, Ring and other competitors have figured out that balance, though, so I think Blue by ADT could manage it, too. 

Also, when you make changes to settings in the app, it occasionally saves them for you automatically, even though there's a Save button. Other times, you have to hit Save manually. Either option is fine, but it's strange that this isn't consistent throughout the app. 


The app's cluttered design makes it harder to find what you're looking for, but there are a ton of features and opportunities for customization.

Screenshot: Megan Wollerton/CNET

The Backyard camera is sitting directly next to the router -- why is it constantly dropping the Wi-Fi signal?

Screenshot by CNET

So-so performance, with caveats

All three cameras have solid HD live streaming (the Outdoor Camera had some issues, which I'll get into below), as well as wide-angle lenses, motion detection alerts and customizable motion detection zones. You can customize pretty much everything in the app, too, from the sensitivity of the motion sensor to the specific days and times you receive push alerts when motion is detected.

As far as motion detection goes, I didn't receive any phantom alerts with the default sensitivity settings on any of the three cameras. The night vision and two-way talk functions worked as expected, too. I could make out details in low-light conditions, and I could hear people talking to me clearly through each camera. 

The Extender Plus Chime does a lot of the heavy lifting for these devices in theory. It can help extend the Wi-Fi range of the Indoor Camera, the Outdoor Camera or the Doorbell Camera, but Blue by ADT specifically recommends pairing it with the Outdoor Camera, likely because its battery-powered design could take it the farthest from the router. In addition to improved Wi-Fi, the Extender Plus Chime can act as a doorbell chime for your Blue by ADT Doorbell Camera. It also has an integrated siren, for use with a LifeShield home security system. 

Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to pair the Extender Plus Chime to a camera. Right after I connected the Extender Plus Chime, the app screen said, "Your Chime is Ready. Extender Battery Life: Connect a camera to the Wi-Fi Extender Plus Chime to extender your camera's battery life." But there was no place on that screen -- or any other that I found -- to enable pairing. 

I believe the Outdoor Camera really *needs* the Extender Plus Chime to operate. Even when I placed the battery-powered Outdoor Camera near the router, it regularly dropped its connection and stopped working. Still, I never figured out how to pair the Extender Plus Chime to any of the cameras, so I don't know how (or if) it might have helped improve things. I reached out to ADT for an explanation on all of this. I'll update the article when I hear back. 

Confusingly, these cameras have facial recognition enabled as a default feature when you set up each device. After a long time spent scouring the Blue by ADT website and the app, I never found a place to create my database of familiar faces -- and I never received a facial recognition alert during my testing. I also reached out to ADT to help me figure this out; stay tuned. 


The Extender Plus Chime has a lot of features. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any of them to work.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

As far as privacy goes, here's a link to ADT's privacy policy and a summary I pulled directly from it:

Your personal and non-personal information is collected in a variety of ways on ADT's websites and when using ADT's security services including through your Internet-connected device(s). Certain ADT products or services may require the collection of additional information such as audio, video, location information, and information about the device's surroundings. You may be required to provide a minimum amount of information in order to receive ADT's services.

The main takeaway is that ADT, like other app-enabled smart home and security companies, does collect information about you. Every customer has different ideas of what is acceptable and what isn't in terms of data collection, so make sure to review its privacy policy in more detail before you make a buying decision. 

The verdict

I wouldn't recommend these devices, unless you already have a LifeShield home security system and really need a compatible indoor, outdoor or doorbell camera. Blue by ADT does plan to add to its product lineup with a more comprehensive home security system, complete with a base station, keypad, door/window sensors and motion sensors this spring. 

Maybe these devices will improve over time as Blue by ADT expands its offerings. If any significant updates take place, I'll be sure to revisit my testing in full.