Best Security Camera System for 2020

A “smart” outdoor security camera can provide additional peace of mind for you and your family by capturing any unusual activity on your property, whether it’s a doorstep package thief, a would-be home invader or even an animal getting into your trash can. As an added bonus, they can also help you keep a watchful eye on children or pets when they’re playing outside without you.

What to look for

With most models falling in the $150 to $300 price range, you can expect the following features to come standard with your camera (and if they don’t, you’re probably paying too much):

  • High resolution: Your camera should offer streaming video at a minimum of 1080p, which is the gold standard of high-definition video and will provide a clear picture for even fast-moving targets.
  • Night vision: Depending on how well-lit your property is, you may need to spend some extra money on a camera with high-quality night-vision capabilities—otherwise, you risk being able to identify potential bad actors near your home.
  • Notifications: Your camera should deliver a mobile alert to your smartphone or tablet when it detects motion on your property, allowing you to investigate quickly and call police if necessary.
  • Storage: Look for a system that provides cloud storage. If your camera is stolen, you’ll want the footage to be retained on a remote server where you can still access it.
  • Audio: An integrated microphone will capture sounds to provide additional context to any activity captured by the camera.
  • Smart-home compatibility: If your home is already equipped with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, SmartThings or other smart-home systems, be sure to look for a camera that will work together with that system.

Our top picks

Best Overall: Nest Cam Outdoor ($199)

No matter the weather or lighting conditions, the Nest Cam Outdoor consistently delivers reliable, high-resolution video footage 24 hours a day. This durable, weatherproof camera is always recording, sending a continuous stream of high-definition video to the cloud for storage. It also integrates seamlessly with other Nest products, allowing you to connect your thermostat, lighting and other smart-home systems to actions picked up by the Nest camera.

The separate mount used by the Nest Cam Outdoor offers more flexibility than an integrated mount, allowing you to adjust its location to record different areas. The powerful magnetic mount is secure but portable, and it’s easy to move and reattach the camera for alternate views. However, the camera does need to be mounted close enough to an electrical outlet to reach with the 25-foot outdoor-rated cord. The installation kit also includes clips for a tidy mount that also discourages would-be thieves from grabbing and absconding with the camera.

Both the video and sound quality produced by the Nest Cam Outdoor are surprisingly high, even at night. The unit is capable of capturing a 130-degree view with 8x digital zoom with impressive clarity, although the available bandwidth on your household Wi-Fi may limit the quality of your picture at times.

The highly intuitive Nest app makes it easy to manage your camera’s output, with a zoom function that allows you to get closer to the action when necessary. Within the app, you can program the camera to work with other Nest systems, including indoor cameras, lights, Nest thermostats and Nest smoke detectors. You can also tweak the camera’s settings based on your schedule, sending it into Away mode when your mobile device leaves the premises or adjusting it for activities that might trigger multiple alerts, such as hosting an outdoor party or mowing the lawn.

The camera’s most distinctive (and essential) feature is Nest Aware, an add-on subscription service that truly enhances the camera’s functionality. It includes access to up to 30 days of 24/7 footage in cloud storage; familiar face recognition alerts through Nest Hello and Nest Cam IQ; customized Activity Zones that allow you to select specific focus areas in the camera’s view; Sightline, which recaps the times and locations the camera captured activity; and a clipping function that allows you to share clips and time-lapse footage with family, friends or law enforcement.

Nest Aware is available in three subscription tiers: the $5 per month (or $50 per year) level includes access to the last five days of video history; the $10 per month (or $100 per year) subscription provides 10 days of history, while the $30 per month (or $300 per year) option includes the full 30-day archive. Additional cameras may be added for half the rates listed above. Without Nest Aware, the camera’s functionality diminishes considerably; while it still provides a live video stream and motion and sound detection alerts, it only stores the information for three hours along with a still image of what triggered the alert.

Pros:

  • Sturdy weatherproof camera and cord stand up to the elements
  • High-quality HD video and sound, regardless of conditions
  • User-friendly app
  • Enhanced functionality available through Nest Aware subscription

Cons:

  • Requires somewhat pricey Nest Aware subscription to access all features
  • 25-foot power cord limits placement options
  • Camera operations may strain household internet bandwidth
  • Operating temperature range (-4 °F to 104 °F) may not work for very hot climates or areas in direct sunlight

Best Budget Option: Logitech Circle 2 Wired ($144)

If you’re looking for a corded outdoor camera that provides substantial functionality without requiring a pricy monthly subscription, the wired version of the Logitech Circle 2 is a pick worthy of consideration. The Logitech Circle 2’s performance is roughly on par with the Nest Cam Outdoor: it captures high-quality 1080p video at any time of day, allows for two-way voice communication with anyone within the camera’s view and delivers smart notifications based on meaningful motion.

However, the cord included with the Logitech Circle 2 isn’t weatherproof, and its 10-foot length places serious limitations on where it can be mounted. It also offers fewer integration options than the Nest, if you’re hoping to incorporate it into a comprehensive smart-home system.

The Logitech Circle 2 also differs from the Nest Cam in that it doesn’t capture continuous video 24 hours a day; the camera only records when triggered by motion. However, in most cases, this limitation shouldn’t impact the camera’s usefulness, since it’s quite good at picking up motion the instant it enters the frame and continues recording for several minutes afterward. You can also efficiently scan through the day’s highlights with the Day Brief feature in the app.

While it’s not critical to the camera’s basic function, you do have the option of subscribing to Logitech’s Circle Safe Basic or Premium plans. Upgrading to the Basic service at $3.99 per month gives you access to the most recent 14 days of camera footage; adding a Premium subscription at $9.99 per month (or $99.99 for a year) includes 31 days of cloud-stored footage, motion zones, custom filters and notification settings and the ability to distinguish people and pets from other kinds of movement.

The Logitech Circle 2 integrates seamlessly with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Logitech Pop. With these voice assistants, you can turn the camera on or off, send it into privacy mode, begin recording or view a live feed on TVs with Chromecast or Fire.

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • 180-degree field of view
  • Wide operating temperature range (-4 °F to 122 °F)
  • Works with multiple smart-home systems

Cons:

  • Short, non-weatherproof power cord (10 feet)
  • Doesn’t record continuously

Best Wireless Option: Netgear Arlo Pro 2 ($300) plus Base Station ($80)

The Netgear Arlo Pro 2 is a versatile outdoor camera that gives users the choice of going hardwired or wireless, with a rechargeable battery that can go up to several months before it needs to be charged Unlike its competitors, it also includes seven days of 1080p video cloud storage at no additional cost.

Like the Nest and Logitech models, the Arlo Pro 2 captures crisp, high-quality footage in various light levels and provides clear two-way audio capability. Users can tinker with the alert sensitivity levels to reduce “false alarm” notifications, and alerts can also be customized according to a schedule or the location of your smartphone using geofencing.

Within the video recording function, users have a wide range of options for matching settings to their preferences. Recordings may be set at lengths from 10 to 120 seconds following motion detection, and when the device is using hardwired power, the “Look Back” feature incorporates the three seconds of video prior to the start of motion. If motion lasts longer than the set clip length, the camera will begin recording again after a brief pause to reset, usually two to five seconds. However, the camera can also be configured to record until the activity stops, eliminating any gaps in coverage.

Installation and setup are simple, but you will need to invest in Netgear’s Base Station, a hub unit that must be plugged into an outlet, wired into your internet router and located within 300 feet of your camera. The Base Station will set you back an additional $80, but it does include a USB port that enables you to keep video recordings on an external hard drive in addition to the footage stored in the cloud.

The Arlo Pro 2 is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT and Stringify; integration with Apple HomeKit, originally scheduled to become available in early 2019, is still pending.

Like its competitors, Netgear offers customers subscription-based premium support at various levels. For $3 per month, Arlo Smart users can access a 30-day video history and enjoy advanced A.I. detection and custom activity zones. Arlo Smart Premier ($10 per month) adds e911 emergency call service, and Arlo Smart Elite ($15 per month) includes a 60-day video history.

Pros:

  • Corded and wireless operations
  • Long-lasting rechargeable battery
  • Comes with seven days of free cloud storage

Cons:

  • Expensive, especially with required Base Unit
  • Not compatible with HomeKit

Best Upgrade: Nest Cam IQ Outdoor ($349)

The Nest Cam IQ Outdoor offers all the features of the standard Nest Cam Outdoor—including the same Nest Aware subscription options and app—but takes performance to the next level with enhanced person detection, automatic close-up tracking, enhanced audio quality and a broader operating temperature spread (-40 °F to 113 °F).

The Nest Cam IQ Outdoor streams crystal-clear video with HDR for a brighter picture. Powered by a 4K sensor, the 12X digital zoom ensures that subjects remain in sharp focus—essential in case law enforcement needs to be able to read a license plate or identify a face captured by the camera.

The Nest Cam IQ Outdoor also comes with an improved mount with hex-key lock to deter potential thieves. However, it doesn’t include a weatherproof cord like the standard Nest Cam Outdoor, since it was intended to be wired through the walls of your home and powered through an outlet indoors. If you prefer not to wire the camera directly into your home, you can purchase a weatherproof power adapter for an additional $49.

As with other Nest models, you’ll need to subscribe to Nest Aware to maximize the camera’s capabilities, including video cloud storage, upgraded alerts and more.

Pros:

  • Highest-quality audio and video in its category
  • Automatic close-up tracking follows the action
  • Wide operating temperature range
  • Detailed alerts

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Doesn’t include weatherproof cord
  • Nest Aware subscription adds extra costs
  • Uses more internet bandwidth than most of its competitors

Honorable Mentions

If these four models don’t quite meet your needs, the following options are also worth considering:

  • Ring Stick Up Cam Wired ($149): This budget-friendly model includes a weatherproof cord and delivers comparable image quality to most of the top picks on our list; however, recordings include occasional gaps, and the camera sometimes fails to register motion detected by other units.
  • TP-Link Kasa Cam Outdoor KC200 ($100): This camera streams crisp 1080p footage, includes two days of free cloud storage and works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. On the down side, the 10-foot cord limits placement, and some users have experienced gaps in recordings.
  • Blink XT2 ($100): This affordable camera by Blink (an Amazon company) offers high-quality video, two-way audio and customizable motion zones while promising two years of use on just two AA lithium batteries. However, its low-light recordings don’t match the clarity of its pricier competitors.

Final Thoughts

A quality outdoor smart security camera isn’t cheap, and you’re typically going to have to fork over an extra monthly charge to access subscription-only features. Still, if you have concerns about intruders or animals causing mischief on your property, your peace of mind is likely worth the price.

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