For this review, we’re revisiting a classic with Swann, a company that’s long been considered a pioneer in DIY home security. Their huge lineup of products, from wireless and wire-free cameras to wired systems, has made Swann a top pick among homeowners, and for us, as well.
With the rise in demand for wireless cameras in today’s market, our team picked up Swann’s Smart Security System Wi-Fi Series, a package that includes two bullet-style 1080p HD cameras and a four-channel network video recorder (NVR).1
As we began to explore our Swann system, from unboxing to installation to everyday use, we wanted to pay particular attention to how the cameras stacked up to some of the top competitors in the industry. After all, we know that full HD video, two-way talk, and automatic night vision are all but required features in security cameras today – and we were pleased to find that our Swann cameras include all of those features.
Having plenty of previous experience testing Swann products, we had some questions and a few concerns about our new system, particularly pertaining to how well everything worked in our home using a standard Wi-Fi connection, but also when it came to the quality of the equipment itself. Would it meet (or exceed!) our standards? Is it even worth the money? We’re going to answer these questions and more.
With that, let’s get started with Swann.
One thing we’ve always liked about DIY security packages is that they usually include everything we need to install, set up, and use the cameras starting from day one. That said, our Swann system (our model number is NVW-490, in case you’re interested) allows for plenty of options for connecting to our home Wi-Fi, thanks to its 4-channel 1080p recorder (the black box) that includes a 1 TB hard drive.
Did You Know: We do want to point out that those extra channels on our NVR are intended to connect two more Swann cameras to the system. The good news is they don’t have to be the same models as the first two. Many of Swann’s Wi-Fi cameras can connect through our NVR, including their floodlight, spotlight, and pan-tilt models, allowing us to keep a closer eye on our home, inside and out.
As we lifted the cameras out of the box, we noted the included mounting screws and drill template, which told us that installing our cameras would be relatively simple – seeing as we’ve become somewhat handy with a drill.
If you’re not comfortable drilling holes into walls, that’s totally OK, but it could be that DIY camera systems aren’t for you, and it’s time to look into a fully wired option that can be professionally installed. A home security system like ADT, for instance, offers professional installation and reliable monitoring, and it’s a brand we’ve consistently ranked among the top home security systems with cameras in our review repertoire.
As is expected with camera systems like this, we didn’t quite get that lightning-fast installation and setup experience with Swann as we did when we installed cams from, say, Ring’s lineup of wireless cameras. There was, admittedly, a little bit of legwork involved for the NVR, with its numerous inputs and cables for us to plug in to get everything up and running.
Keep in mind, though, that installing even the best outdoor cameras is usually a bit more complicated than installing indoor cams, especially if you’re dealing with power adapters, network cables, or other connections. But that’s not to say this was a tough job; when it comes to multi-camera systems like this, we’d definitely put this installation process in the easy column.
And, about that black box… if you’re not familiar, network video recorders are common with many security cameras, and Swann makes several packages that include them. Basically, an NVR works by storing and organizing videos that the camera processes through its own built-in chipset. Like the VCRs of days gone by, we simply connected our NVR to our television, which streamed our cameras and allowed us to search through recordings. And, thanks to the ethernet cable included in the box, we were able to connect the box to our TV via ethernet to stabilize our connection.
To fully understand how these cameras would perform in our home day to day, our first step was to set up our Swann cameras through their corresponding app, AlwaysSafe. If you choose Swann, this is where you’ll be able to control your cameras’ motion detection, set motion zones, schedule recordings and alerts, and more.
Once we downloaded the app, we took a brief look around before syncing our cameras to it. Right away we could see this app’s layout was pretty simple and barebones. That, we learned, is a reflection of the camera’s relatively limited features. It doesn’t have A.I.-powered person detection,2 for instance, which is a powerful feature we’ve seen most recently in our review of Canary, another brand of wireless DIY cameras.
On the other hand, it did allow us lots of different ways to customize our cameras. For instance, even though the Swann can produce 1080p image quality, we can reduce that resolution to “fluent” (usually around 720p) to reduce strain on our home Wi-Fi. This has always come in handy for us, as our Wi-Fi service isn’t always stellar. This is something you’ll want to keep in mind, especially if your Wi-Fi speeds aren’t super fast.
Pro Tip: Because Swann makes so many cameras, they have several different apps that correspond to different devices. So be sure to check your system’s box or instruction manual to see which app works with your Swann camera.
To complete our setup, we had a few options. We could sync our cameras to the app using the QR codes3 on the back of the cameras, or we could enter our UID, which is a number we found when we pulled up our cameras’ display on our television after installing the NVR.
This tripped us up for a moment. It’s important to note that for these cameras to work on our phones, we had to give the app permission to access not just our photo library, but our phone’s camera as well.
To do that, we went into our phone’s settings and added camera permissions to our Swann app. This is super easy to do, but if you don’t want the app to continue to have access to your camera, you can simply turn off that setting after your cameras are synced to the app.
We do want to note, though, that Wi-Fi cameras are pretty much all alike in this way: You have to allow the cameras to interact with your network, and in order to do that, they need access to some features on your phone that you might consider private, like your location and your photos. Again, if that’s a concern for you, consider steering yourself toward a wired system with professional monitoring.
So, once our cameras and NVR were all synced, we had a nice, clear 1080p display on both our smartphone and our TV.
By the way, the “video loss” you’re seeing on the bottom half of our TV? That’s there because there are only two cameras connected to our NVR, but it’s actually intended to house four.
Now, it was time to do some deep exploration of these cameras and see how they would fare in the face of threats like porch pirates, car break-ins, and more.
There’s a lot to like in Swann, with its vast product selection and its impressive motion detection technology. But that’s not to say they’re a great fit for everyone. There were some points of concern for us, too. Here’s a quick rundown of some features we liked, along with a few that could be improved:
One selling point for us was the brand’s True Detect heat and motion sensing technology. While heat-triggered motion detection (also known as passive infrared, or PIR, detection)4 is not new in cameras, the unique thing about Swann’s technology is that it senses heat from both people and vehicles to trigger alerts and push notifications.
That means, for one, you won’t get notifications for things like flying bugs or branches swaying in the wind, which will keep your storage space from filling up too fast. We think this feature is a great way to secure your home without missing any important activity. In other words, you’ll get fewer alerts, but you can rest assured they’ll be relevant.
Thanks to that super-versatile NVR in our Swann system, we had a number of options for power and network connection. But the best part of an NVR, in our view, is the huge amount of storage it gives us. This one contains a 1TB hard drive. That’s one terabyte,5 which is … a lot of bytes, trust us.
This ample video storage means, first and foremost, we weren’t going to have to spring for a cloud storage subscription – although Swann does offer one. For people like us, who would rather not get locked into contracts or monthly subscription fees, this is an option we’re quite fond of.
FYI: If you happen to need more video storage for your Swann, we like that you can also add a micro SD card to the NVR for additional local storage, or even attach another hard drive (up to 4 TB) via USB.
When the cameras detect motion, they work like most other security cameras do: by producing a video containing the motion, sending us a notification that motion was detected, and – after a few minutes of waiting – letting us access that video through either the AlwaysSafe app or our TV.
This is all well and good, except that we discovered Swann doesn’t give us any indication of where or what the motion is. For instance, when we were due to have a package delivered, we wanted to see if it had arrived while we were out walking the dog. We received a motion notification on our phone, and after that brief waiting period, we had our video, ready to view.
Keeping in mind that most of the videos these cameras produce come in between 2 and 3 minutes, we now had to watch the entirety of our video to find out if the fine folks at UPS had delivered our package, or if it was something else entirely.
Sure enough, it was something else entirely: Dear Husband checking out some maintenance issues on the porch. The package, as of this writing, hadn’t arrived yet.
This minor inconvenience – having to sit through the whole video to learn what the activity was – fell in stark contrast to a camera brand we’d reviewed just prior to this one: Canary. There, we had person detection, which is always good for contextualizing suspicious or unusual activity; but in addition to that, the camera’s technology produced video with bright-colored outlines around the object (person or otherwise) it detected. That image, then, became the thumbnail for the video, so we knew exactly what activity the camera had picked up as soon as we opened our app to view the video.
So, clearly Swann doesn’t have that capability. What that meant for us was that we were spending more time viewing our recordings, waiting for the videos to load, and trying to make sense of all that activity. This wasn’t a deal-breaker, especially considering the low price point of Swann cameras. In fact, it’s almost to be expected. But it’s still something to keep in mind.
We also get that it’s a somewhat unfair comparison, considering Canary is known for being heavy on advanced tech – and has the high prices to prove it. But if nothing else, it should give you a clearer idea of how much time you’ll spend monitoring your home using Swann cameras.
Did You Know: It took us a few minutes to learn and understand how to download videos and share them from our app. After a couple of unexplained downloading fails (don’t you hate it when that spinning wheel just stops spinning – and nothing happens?) we discovered that the best way to do this is to reduce our cameras’ resolution to “fluent” before downloading. That way, our Wi-Fi signal doesn’t have to work quite as hard to deliver those videos to us. You won’t get that crisp video but the file size will be a lot easier to manage.
These days, we’re finding that folks seem to be really interested in getting the widest possible viewing angle from their security cameras — and we’re right there with them! It makes sense, as the more coverage you have, the fewer cameras you need, right?
So that’s why we were a little dismayed to see that our Swann cameras, despite a wide-angle lens, have a mere 75-degree viewing angle. That’s quite a bit lower than some of Swann’s rivals, notably Lorex, whose security cameras boast a 120-degree field of view or higher, depending on the model.
Despite this minor shortcoming, we still had no problem finding appropriate angles and positions for our Swann cameras that gave us plenty of coverage. It was especially adept at keeping an extra eye on our always-in-motion offspring, as seen in this clip:
With an IP65 weather rating, we knew our Swann cameras would be able to withstand most weather events – barring extreme flooding.
But there’s just one more thing we found to be a bit lacking about our cameras: the quality of the devices themselves. Though they are weatherproof, they just don’t feel as sturdy or solid as other cameras, in our experience. Just something to keep in mind as you’re shopping around.
“Does it work with Alexa?” is one of the most common questions we hear when it comes to shopping for security cameras. Having reviewed several of Swann’s cameras before, we can say this for sure: many of their cameras do, in fact, work with both Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant for hands-free voice control of the cameras.
It just so happens that our Swann system, the NVW-490, does not have this capability. This was definitely a downside for us, as the majority of cameras we’ve reviewed allow for integration for at least one smart home device (usually Alexa). We really think smart home integration should be standard in security cameras nowadays – especially those with “smart” in their names.
But again, with such an extensive and diverse selection, it wasn’t hard for us to pop over to Swann’s website and immediately hone in on several cameras with features that our current system lacks, including smart home integration. Swann’s NVR- and DVR-based cameras don’t generally provide this feature, but after a quick look at the company’s product page, we found a handful of cams that would do the job, including their Wireless 1080p Security Camera (SWIFI-CAMW) as well as their 1080p Alert Indoor Camera (SWIFI-ALERTCAMPK2).
Those cams are definitely worth a second look if you’re looking to use your cameras with a smart home assistant, but for us, being able to cast our cameras onto our television was just as effective. Come to think of it, we kind of prefer this way of viewing our cameras over our smartphone app; the only downside is that we can download them from the TV. We can only do that from our smartphones. But either way, we think having two options for viewing is pretty handy.
With so many companies scaling back operations in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re never quite sure what to expect out of customer service these days, even the brands we’ve lauded for customer service in the past.
In the case of Swann, we can report a mostly pleasant customer service experience. When we hit a snag during setup, we turned to Swann’s live chat first, hoping that would be a fast, efficient way to get clarity on our issue.
At first, we were kicked off the chat queue, as you can see above. But when we started a new chat, someone greeted us within less than a minute.
Whether that someone was human or robot, we can’t definitively say. But they were quite helpful either way.
In our tests and experiences with Swann, we’ve found their prices to be largely fair and reasonable. In fact, we’d be comfortable putting them in the affordable camera category – but with a caveat. It’s important to note that Swann is big on packages, so if you’re looking to save money in the long run, you’ll find the package options to be more economical. But the individual cameras can get pretty pricey.
As an example, most of Swann’s bullet cameras, which is the style of cameras we have, run from $99 to about $170. Take note, though, that Swann offers resolutions all the way up to 4K ultra HD in their cameras, so this is definitely a “you get what you pay for” scenario.
See below for just a small sampling of pricing for Swann. And check out our full roundup of Swann prices here.
|Swann Model||Camera Type||Cost|
|1080p Wi-Fi Alert Camera||1080p HD Wi-Fi||$89.99|
|Wi-Fi Floodlight Security Camera||1080p HD Wi-Fi||$179.99|
|Master Series 4K Dome Camera||4K HDR hardwired||$119.99|
|Swann Wi-Fi Series 1080p Camera||1080p HD Wi-Fi||$99.99|
FYI: Bullet-style cameras are popular in the industry when it comes to design. Not only are they great for both indoor and outdoor protection, we also believe they’re among the best deterrents to potential intruders.
Our Smart Security System, with its two cameras and 4-channel recorder, cost us $269. Indeed, pricing on Swann is all over the place, so it’s important to take your time to find the product that’s best for you.
That said, if you’re looking for a cloud storage option with your cameras, we’re glad to see that Swann makes that option pretty affordable, too. The $4.99 monthly fee for Swann’s ExtraSafe plan, for instance, is just slightly higher than Ring’s standard cloud subscription option at $3 per month. But you might also notice that while Swann’s plan includes 30 days of storage, Ring’s plan actually offers double the storage for that same $3 monthly fee. Just something to keep in mind.
|Swann Video Storage||Local Camera Storage||ExtraSafe Plan|
|7-day Local Memory||Yes||Yes|
|Cloud Storage||2 days||30 days rolling|
|30-Day Free Trial||No||Yes|
|Price||Free||$4.99 per month|
All told, our Swann NVR system performed as any quality security camera should; with a strong Wi-Fi connection, we enjoyed clear, smooth live views of both of our cameras, and we didn’t have to worry about false notifications, thanks to Swann’s True Detect heat sensors.
For those reasons, as well as all the other features and options we observed throughout our tests of Swann products, we can say without a doubt that these are good, solid security cameras.
With all that said, though, we would still be hesitant to recommend Swann over more feature-rich cameras, which are becoming more popular in an industry that’s growing by leaps and bounds. We’re finding that folks these days tend to gravitate toward cameras that offer more than Swann’s relatively basic feature set, and we’d include ourselves in that category, too. For those reasons, we recommend taking a closer look at one of Google’s feature-rich Nest Cams instead. However, knowing those cameras also come with a high price point, you might also want to look into Ring’s Stick Up or Spotlight Cam — two of our favorite outdoor security cameras.
For the most part, yes. Prices range from $59 to $179 per camera, and Swann’s product selection is huge. Most cameras in their lineup fall into the low- to mid-range when it comes to pricing.
Not all of Swann’s security cameras offer smart home automation in their feature sets, but many of them do. Swann’s 4 Camera 4 Channel 4K Ultra HD DVR Security System, for example, offers Smart Home Integration through Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant for live streaming and voice commands.
We encountered some issues with Live Chat on Swann’s website, which kicked us out a couple of times. So when that didn’t work, we tried phone support, which turned out to be a pleasant experience with an agent who seemed quite knowledgeable about the products.
No. Thanks to a local storage option via a micro SD card, you can use Swann cameras and store video internally. This eliminates the need for a subscription to store video in the cloud, although Swann does offer one.
Swann is designed for the DIY type, so their cameras don’t require complicated installations. That said, Swann’s outdoor cameras might take some basic handiwork (climbing a ladder and using a drill), but overall, we found Swann’s cameras quite simple to install.
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