While old smartphones are replaced every year and left unused, many of us don’t know that they could be upcycled as a security camera. It saves us money of buying a new security camera and helps protect the environment by reducing electronic waste. However, it’s unclear how well can a phone do its work as a security camera, which as not its original purpose.
Actually, this use of old phone is not new. Millions of people have repurposed their phones or tablets for home security, pet monitoring or baby monitoring. And as phones get smarter, they are able to perform more complicated functions for such purposes. In this blog post, we put together a practical guide as well as insider’s technical analysis to help you go through it by yourself.
- Use cases
- Factors to consider when choosing an application
- How to set up
- Tips: How to improve stability
1. Use cases
Your phone has a decent to super high-quality camera and strong computing power. So as long as it is powered, it is able to record and transfer videos, or send notifications of important events in real time for monitoring purposes. There are several ways you can use the phone with video surveillance.
- Home security: If you have your apartment, room, driveway or backyard to keep safe from intrusion, you can set it up to monitoring your property for you. If a burglary is detected, it can trigger a siren to scare the intruder away or call police to come in minutes. Sometimes you might be surprised to find out who or what animal is stealing your cat’s food. It is also helpful to put it against your door to know who’s out there without getting down to see.
- Child monitoring: It’s very convenient to follow your baby sleeping in his/her room or your child waiting in your car when you are away for a while. It gives you a little break from constant worry. Peace of mind, right?
- Elderly care: If you have elderly people at home to looking after, it helps to get instant alert in case of accidents or to make sure that your loved one are keeping their routines.
- Pet monitoring: While you are away for work, you can make sure that your pet is not barking too loud or know when it pulls any funny business with your roommate’s cat. You can even speak to them to calm them down.
- Dash cam: You can use your phone to record the road, traffic and accident. It helps provide evidence for insurance claims and has other functionality to support you while driving like navigation, music player.
It's easy to recognize the benefits of using an old phone as a security camera that stems from the fact that you upcycle it.
- Environmental friendly: By repurposing old phones, we give them longer use before reaching the landfill or recycle facility.
- Lower cost: Instead of buying a new security camera (sometimes very costly), you save the upfront cost by utilizing a device that has been lying in your drawer for long.
Smartphone is a unique electronic device that has many superpowers packed in a little size. Therefore, using a phone for surveillance has many advantages over using a physical security camera.
- Versatile: The phone is small, so it can be adopted for a rich variety of purposes, as long as you have appropriate software installed.
- Portable: It’s easy to set it up at various corner in your house, put it in your car. Phone is especially easy to bring to remote sites or carry on your trips and even short visits without taking a nanny along.
- Video quality: Many phone cameras nowadays have better quality than professional security cameras. HD, 4K, wide angle, night mode. You name it.
- Computing power: Smartphone is designed to perform complicated tasks. The latest phone models are equipped with AI chip that enables even offline video processing and ML algorithm execution. With the correct application installed, you can have access to smart alerts powered by AI event detection and more advanced features.
- Local storage: Many security cameras don’t have local storage and require cloud storage. It can be a problem for those who are concerned with privacy breaches. If you use your phone as a security camera, you can save footage on device storage or on your trusted cloud service of choice.
- Cellular connection: Another advantage of a mobile phone when used as a security camera is that it has cellular connection built in. It is helpful if you set it up in remote locations without access to Wi-Fi network or in the case of Internet and power failure in your home.
- Battery for backup: Similarly, a mobile phone has integrated battery as UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). So you can rest assured that in blackouts, it can still record video and sends you alerts.
For certain use cases which require dedicated hardware, using your phone or tablet as security camera is not the optimal choice. Some examples are:
- Outdoor: Leaving your phone exposed to lots of sunlight, high temperature, rain, snow or open space without coverage would not be a good idea. So if your outdoor use case is a long-term one, having an outdoor camera is a more reliable investment.
- Night vision: Smartphones can work in certain low light condition. However, if you want a baby monitor or security camera to function well in a completely dark environment, you’ll need a dedicated device with night vision built in.
- Specialized function: If you are looking for specialized features like speeding logging for dash cam, breath tracking for baby monitor, it’s likely that you should look into dedicated hardware.
After all, it depends on what features you expect from a security camera. However, even when you have dedicated devices set up for permanent use cases, it is still helpful to pair them with a versatile and handy phone security camera, which can be adopted for a wide variety of uses with advanced features.
4. Factors to consider when choosing an application
In order to use your phone as a security camera, you’ll need to install an application to stream or record video. There are many choices from basic apps for video streaming (e.g. Skype), to specialized app for baby monitoring (Saby, Precious, etc.), dash cam (AutoBoy, AutoGuard, etc.), or multi-functional apps (AiCam, Alfred, Presence, etc.). Not all apps are created equal. Here are a few criteria you should take into consideration to assess which app works best for your situation.
- Functionality: This is the first and foremost criteria to choose an application. It’s important to figure out if the app is able to perform your desired function. Video monitoring is quite a technically complicated field, so you can take some time to explore options and get used to the uses. If you just started out, answering some basic questions should be enough.
- Are you going to use livestreaming a lot?
- Will you mainly rely on smart notifications when motion or events are detected? Is motion detection (which is often overly sensitive) enough for you? Or you’d prefer apps with AI human detection?
- Are you looking for an app that work offline? Or are you okay having your security camera app rely on Internet connection?
- Data security & privacy: To some people, home and personal video footage are sensitive data. If you concern about taking actions to protect your privacy, you should look for options that commits clearly to data security. Does the app enable local storage or require cloud storage? Does it process video offline or at server side? Are the videos encrypted before uploading to the server for streaming? Does the app allow offline mode?
- Stability: Video security camera requires stable connectivity, uninterrupted app performance and reliable device performance to achieve its purpose. As mobile applications are frequently updated and may have performance bugs or connectivity problems, it’s important to check if the app developer handles issues timely to ensure app stability.
- Price: There are several price options for each app, ranging from free tier, short-term subscription (monthly), long-term subscription (three-month, yearly) or life-time premium package.
5. How to set up
- Phone: There are a few points to consider of your spare phones or tablets. If you plan to store video footage locally, make sure your phone storage is enough. Older phone models have certain limitation on which apps are compatible, as some apps require newer (more powerful) devices.
- Mount / tripod: You can mount your phone or table on the wall or put it on a tripod against the area you want to monitor. There are more accessories for your phone to work better for surveillance, such as rotating cell phone stand and wide-angle lens.
- Charger: Connect your phone to power to ensure uninterrupted monitoring. Depending on where you put your phone, you might need a long charging cable.
- Install and set up app: Download security camera app on your phone. Connect camera device to view device (and other devices). Check out other app setting like detection sensitivity, recording limit, activity zone, face recognition. No need to figure out everything at once, but keep in mind that you can always go to settings to make the app work more accurately for your need.
- Automation setting: It is possible to make your security camera app smarter and integrated with other automation tasks, depending on the options that the app offers. For example, you can set up to trigger video recording or smart event detection by time or location. Once an event (e.g. intrusion) is detected, it can automatically prompt certain actions, such as start siren, turn on light, call police.
6. Tips: How to improve stability
Below are a few tips that we have to share to help you improve stability while using your phone for home security or monitoring.
- Check connectivity: Connect to a stable Internet network & power source.
- Power saving: Enable power saving mode and dim screen display. Set up power shortage notification if available.
- Storage: Use lower camera resolution. Set up frequent clearance of old videos or storage limit notification.
- Disable other apps that might interrupt: Disable receiving phone calls from other devices. Enable Guided Access for iOS or Pin Screen for Android to reduce app crashes.
- Avoid overheating: Set up overheating notification if available. Avoid placing the device in high-temperature area like under the sun or near a window. For AI camera app, select fewer events for monitoring simultaneously.
Monitoring your home, your beloved ones or your pets need not be complicated. Reusing your old phone for such purposes is a convenient and economic choice. Yet, it is also very powerful because it gives you a wide variety of functionalities and advanced settings.