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Smart Home

The best facial recognition cameras you can buy today

More and more home security cameras have facial recognition. Here are your best options.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

A lot of home security cameras nowadays have facial recognition. Facial recognition lets you create a database of friends and family members who regularly visit your house. Then, when the camera sees a face, it determines whether or not it's someone in your database of known faces. 

The software can be hit-or-miss, based on a variety of factors, from lighting to changing hairstyles, wearing glasses one day but not the next -- and more.

But one thing we know for sure is that this feature is becoming increasingly popular in our devices, not just in home security cameras, but also our cell phones and as efficiency tools helping to automate airport check-ins.

Let's take a look at the facial recognition cameras we've tested recently, to see which models are the best and to help you determine if one would work in your home.

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Testing talk

First, let's talk about testing. Facial recognition algorithms vary slightly from camera company to camera company, but the gist is always the same. 

You create profiles of individual people, by either taking their picture in real time and adding it, or using an existing photo that you have of them. From there, The camera should be able to distinguish human faces from every other type of motion activity and single out the ones it recognizes from your database of familiar faces. When it's working optimally, you will get an alert that says the camera saw "Chris," "Molly" or whoever is in your database.

There are many use cases for this type of functionality, but some common ones include getting an alert when your kids get home from school, or if a dog walker or a family caregiver shows up. It creates peace of mind when you're expecting someone to show up and you want an automated alert telling you they have (especially when you aren't home to greet them). 

But it also helps in security scenarios, since the camera is essentially distinguishing between faces it recognizes and faces it doesn't. That way, if your camera sends you an alert that it saw someone on your front porch or walking into your house, but you don't recognize them, you can more quickly send the information to law enforcement in the event of an actual break-in or theft instead of having to sift through dozens of generic motion alerts to find the activity.

Viewing the facial recognition feature inside the SmartCam app.

Screenshots by CNET

The best way to test these cameras is to create a database, which is what I do when I test a camera with facial recognition (see the screenshots above). I add people to my database and let the camera do the rest. It's best to give these cameras at least a few days, because some improve significantly, even over a short period of time as they see faces at different angles.

Then it's a matter of looking at how well the camera actually recognized faces. How often did it correctly identify my face versus someone else's face? Was the camera able to pick up on faces at all? Some occasionally struggle to see any faces, even ones that claim to have facial recognition, and instead mark the activity as a basic motion alert (Ahem, Tend Secure Lynx Pro). 

Disclaimer: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

Best of facial recognition

With that in mind, let's take a look at some different home security cameras and highlight areas where they excel. Here's a list of facial recognition cameras we've tested recently:

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The Tend Secure Lynx indoor camera.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Best value: Tend Secure Lynx

The Tend Secure Lynx only costs $60. Given that, I was skeptical that this camera would deliver, but it does. Not only does the camera itself perform well and offer some nice features like free seven-day event-based video clip storage, but it also has facial recognition.

Create your database of familiar faces, and the Lynx takes over. There is a bit of a learning curve as it becomes familiar with each face, but it's a very good option if you want an inexpensive indoor home security camera with decent facial recognition.

See it at Amazon

Testing out the Nest Hello's live video feed.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Best outdoor camera: Nest Hello

The Nest Hello isn't a traditional home security camera. It's actually a video doorbell that you hardwire and swap in where your existing wired doorbell is installed.

At $229, the Hello isn't cheap, but it comes with an incredible list of features and very good facial recognition. The snag is that you do have to pay for facial recognition, so that means you have to subscribe to the Nest Aware cloud subscription service. Learn more about Nest Aware.

Again, this isn't a budget option, but if you want to get an alert that says who's at your front door, it's an easy choice.

See it at Walmart
nest-cam-iq-3

The Nest Cam IQ Indoor and the Nest Hello have a similar list of features.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Best smart home support: Nest Cam IQ Indoor

The $299 Nest Cam IQ Indoor is very similar to the Nest Hello doorbell. It has facial recognition (if you sign up for a Nest Aware subscription) and lets you know who walks in front of the camera's field of you with consistent accuracy. 

But it also has some additional benefits. Because it is an indoor camera, Nest gave it an integrated Google Assistant speaker. That means the camera essentially doubles as a Google Home speaker and can answer basic questions like what the current weather or traffic is in your area -- and control a variety of Google-Assistant-enabled smart home devices. It also works with Amazon Alexa.

See it at Walmart
tend-secure-lynx-pro-5
Chris Monroe/CNET

Best features: Tend Secure Lynx Pro

From a features standpoint, the Lynx Pro by Tend Secure really delivers. For $150 you get free seven-day event-based video clip storage, a weatherproof exterior that can go inside or out and battery backup. It also has internal local storage and support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

That's all great, but the Lynx Pro wasn't the best performer in terms of facial recognition. It regularly struggled to see faces, and when it did, it often struggled to identify them correctly. 

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Best overall: Nest Hello

If we're talking about sheer facial-recognition capabilities, the Nest Hello, the Nest Cam IQ Indoor and the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor (all of which are essentially the same camera), win by far. Of those models, the Nest Hello is my top pick because it's the least expensive of the three and has the most opportunity to give you important information about who's at your front door. 

That seems more relevant in terms of facial recognition than tracking who is already inside your house like the IQ Indoor cam, and its location as a doorbell at eye level has the best chance of seeing the most visitors (although I suppose you could install the $349 IQ Outdoor cam at eye level, too, if you wanted). 

That said, if you're just searching for a solid budget camera with decent facial recognition too, the $60 Tend Secure Lynx is plenty capable. We'll continue to track the trend of facial recognition as a feature in home security cameras and provide updates along the way. Given that the market is increasingly adding affordable sub-$100 cameras into the mix, there might soon be a competent competitor to the Tend Secure Lynx worth testing out. 

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