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Finding the right security cameras for the CNET Smart Home

Now that we've found a basic security system that works with the Amazon Echo, we're ready to add cameras into the mix, too.

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We've already outfitted the CNET Smart Home with an Amazon-Echo-friendly security system called Scout. This straightforward kit shines in its simplicity, offering an assortment of sensors that you can install around your house to track doors opening and closing, as well as motion (you do have to pay $10 per month for most of its features, though, unless you were grandfathered in as an early adopter). But Scout doesn't currently come with security cameras -- or even offer them as optional add-ons (disappointingly, Scout-brand cameras have been "in the works" for a while now without any discernible progress).

While Scout does offer a solid basic layer of protection, we also wanted to add some live streaming indoor security cameras to our setup. This 5,800-square-foot house/smart home test lab is a lot to keep an eye on, after all. So read on to find out what indoor security cameras we ended up selecting for the CNET Smart Home.

A bit more background

This is actually our second go-round with the whole DIY security system thing. Back in November, we decided on Samsung's SmartThings after testing it alongside SimpliSafe. SmartThings was already our hub of choice for combining multiple products from different manufacturers, but it also has its own suite of sensor-based products that can work as part of a relatively simple DIY security setup. And, since Samsung is SmartThings' parent company, the system also integrates with Samsung SmartCam HD Pro cameras.

This worked fairly well, but some serious software clunkiness on SmartThings' part made the whole system difficult to use. And, despite some updates from the SmartThings team, the app's overall usability stagnated rather than improved, further increasing our frustrations.

Around the same time, the Amazon Echo and its Alexa voice control assistant were making some major strides in third-party partnerships. Soon, Alexa and the Echo became the new centerpiece for the CNET Smart Home. That's where Scout came in -- it's one of the only Echo-friendly DIY security systems with a bunch of useful voice integrations via the Alexa Skills Kit. It made sense as a second stab at DIY security.

But what about security cameras? Well, we wanted those, too.

What cameras are available today?

There are a ton of different security cameras on the market and that can make it tough to pick the right model.

  • Some offer live streaming so you can pull up a video feed of whatever your camera can see 24-7, while others can only record when they detect motion, sound or some other sort of unexpected activity.
  • Some have high-definition (HD) video quality for a clearer image (and potentially a longer lag time due to Bandwidth limitations), others are standard-definition (SD).
  • Some have cloud storage and some rely on local storage via a microSD card slot.
  • Some rely on a plug-in adapter to operate, while others are battery-powered.

You get the general idea. (Interested in more details? Check out my security camera buying guide.)

But the decision was much easier for us given that we had already selected a security system for the CNET Smart Home. We also knew that we wanted a live video feed. So, the question became -- what would work best with Scout?

Since Scout has an IFTTT channel, we started with the small, but growing number of IFTTT-compatible security cameras like the Netatmo Welcome, Homeboy, iSmartAlarm cameras, Oco, Kodak's CFH-V20, MyFox, Piper, the Kidde RemoteLync camera and Nest Cam. Several of these are solid cameras, but only Nest Cam has an IFTTT channel and integrates directly with Scout through Alphabet/Google's Works with Nest -- a program somewhat similar to IFTTT that links Nest products with third-party devices from Whirlpool washing machines to ADT home security systems, Scout and other smart-home gadgets.

IFTTT can go a long way toward bridging the gap between two products from different manufacturers, but a direct partnership through Works with Nest allows for more robust integrations. We already had one Nest Cam and one Dropcam Pro (Nest Cam's predecessor, which still works in the current Nest app) in the office, so we snagged two more Nest Cams with plans to outfit the CNET Smart Home's garage, entryway, living room and kid's room.

Giving Nest a new home

Nest Cam is a $200 DIY indoor security camera with 1080p HD live streaming, a 130-degree field of view, motion and sound alerts, a durable magnetic base that's easy to rotate to suit different angles (and it's removable, too, so you can install just the camera portion on a wall) and continuous cloud storage via an optional subscription service starting at $10 per month (that would end up being $20 per month if you pay for the Scout and the Nest subscription).

We reviewed Nest Cam last year and found that it really delivers, both in terms of performance and overall usability. It also integrates with other Nest products if you happen to have a Nest thermostat or a Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector at home. And, it's part of Works with Nest -- and IFTTT.

Adding the four cameras to our existing Nest account was extremely easy. It took about 2 minutes per camera -- just plug it in, scan the QR code on the back of the camera, enter your Wi-Fi details and a name/location for your camera and you're done.

Then, I went into the Scout app under Devices --> Works with Nest and configured the cameras to work with Scout. Here I was able to customize my cameras to turn on or off based on Scout's Home, Away, Sleep and Vacation mode status. This worked very well. One drawback is that this integration won't work if you arm or disarm your Scout system through Alexa. For that, you need to turn on any mode-relevant Nest cameras manually.

Configuring Nest Cams in the Scout app.

Screenshots by CNET

Once you've added the cameras to the Scout app, you can create even more advanced settings in each mode. For instance, in the third screenshot to the right I customized the Sleep mode so that I received an email and a push notification if the Garage Nest Cam detected motion. This is a nice feature in theory, but I had trouble getting it to work.

The Nest app successfully tracks any and all motion-related activity with a recorded snippet (that's part of its 24-7 continuous cloud recording feature for $10 per month) and that information is supposed to transfer over to Scout's activity feed, showing a GIF of the recorded clip that you can click on and get redirected to the Nest app for a closer look at the live feed, as needed.

This is also designed to turn any connected Nest Cams into additional motion sensors that you can use as a triggers for your various Scout modes, such as, "If my living room camera detects motion in Away mode, then send me a push notification and sound the siren." Unfortunately, this feature didn't work reliably during my testing.

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Conclusion

Overall, Works with Nest allowed for a pretty strong interaction between Scout and Nest Cam, but it certainly wasn't comprehensive. For instance, you can't view a Nest Cam live stream from the Scout app. Nest Cams also don't work directly with the Amazon Echo, so there's no specific voice control functionality available on that end.

It also didn't work flawlessly. I wasn't able to get the motion-sensing Nest Cams to act as triggers for my Scout modes, a significant set back for this partnership.

Even so, the ability to pair Nest Cams to the Scout app and establish custom on-off rules without a third-party app like IFTTT is a definite advantage. That, along with the impressive performance of Nest's security cameras, still makes them an easy addition to our Scout security system and the broader CNET Smart Home.