Saturday, 13 August 2016

Yi Smart Camera: An IP Camera that Begs to Differ

After my previous unboxing and review of the Mi Headphones, today I bring you the unboxing of a Yi Smart Camera. This is just going to be an updated review of the unit after extensive usage. Inheriting Xiaomi's high-spec-to-price ratio tradition, is this unit still a good choice today? Read on to find out more!

Similar to the Mi Headphones, the Yi Smart Camera comes in a white cardboard packaging, simple yet functional. The tech specs are clearly stated at the bottom of the box, as usual for a Xiaomi device. The camera comes fitted with a 1 megapixel 1/4" CMOS sensor capable of 720p H.264 recording. That certainly doesn't spell high end, but still its capabilities might surprise you.

Printed on the box is a Yi logo which represents the company Yi, one of the many companies under Xiaomi Ecosystem. Removing the cover reveals the camera underneath it. The lens fitted above the sensor is a F2.0 with 111° wide-angle lens. Also up front is a single channel microphone for sound recording using a AAC sound codec. 

Everything from the user manual to the camera, all kept in a compact box. The complete list of items in the box includes the camera module, a stand, user manual, two-pin Chinese adaptor, as micro-USB cable for power and a 8GB Class 4 micro SD Card. 

The front of the camera is almost clean save for a LED indicator light and a microphone, while on the back sits the micro SD card slot, the micro USB port, a speaker unit and the reset button. If you feel the white stand takes up too much space, or makes it hard to hide it, you can remove the camera module from it and fashion a custom housing for it. 

Just plug the camera to a USB cable and it'll start up right away. When it's ready, it'll ping and play a message of "等待连接“ (Translate: Waiting for connection). The following review is going to be a two-part review, with the first one reviewing on how easy it is to use the application and setting everything up, while the second part is on the performance of the camera.

The App
Users have three alternatives while setting up the camera using Mi's applications, namely the MiWiFi Router app, the Mi Home app and the Yi Home app, all of which are available to download on Google Play Store. The Mi WiFi router and Mi Home applications are capable of connecting to all smart home devices of Mi and Mi's Ecosystem. The prerequisite for the former to work is that users have to own a Mi WiFi Router, regardless of model. 

Adding a device is easy and similar on all three applications, and Yi's own app even has a tutorial.

After the camera starts running and feeds a live cast to your phone, you can choose between HD, SD or auto video footage quality on the live view screen. By tapping on Settings button on the top right, you can change the camera name, behaviour of the camera as well as some deeper settings. 

On the Mi Home app, your device will be listed along with any other Mi Home products that you own, and you'll be able to control them even in the lockscreen of your device (only works with devices with MIUI China ROMs). You can even set a PIN lock for your device to prevent people from hijacking it and remove the data. 

The camera is capable to connecting to the Mi Router and backup all the recorded videos into any storage device connected to the Router, making it more like a surveillance camera than your ordinary IP camera. The in-built SD card slot allows local storage should you not own a Mi Router. You'll be able to access every recorded footage using either applications. 

The camera is capable of shooting clear 720p HD videos but requires a faster internet connection, and offers SD resolution as an alternative for smoother video recording. The mic allows for two way conversation between the person in front of the cam and the person controlling the cam, but the sound is a little distorted. It's a little better than normal IP cameras in this area, and while it's one way to communicate with the person on the other end, it feels a little sub-par . 

As the camera offers a 111-degree viewing angle, the camera app will show a different portion of the live feed according to users' movement using data from the accelerometer, ie: if I move my hands towards the right the camera feed moves towards the right. If you prefer to view everyting in one shot, just switch to a landscape view. If you want to take some pictures, just tap on the shutter button, same goes for the video recording. 

This thief has been in my house and stole quite a few things. Can you help me identify and apprehend this thief?

While the Yi Smart Camera doesn't bring a wow-factor, especially today with tough competition going on in the market and many competitors sharing very similar or better specifications, it still is one great IP camera to start with if you're planning to buy into IP cameras for cheap home surveillance but on a budget or considering bulk purchases. I'd totally recommend purchasing one, should you ever need one.

While there is a successor to this model with night-vision via infrared, it's troublesome to set one up properly as it works only in China, Taiwan and the US. You'll have to purchase from local stores in those countries too, as imported units won't work either. Should I succeed in setting up my unit, I'll update this review.