They’ve only been around for seven years, but YI Technology Inc. is no rookie when it comes to smart home security.
Since its founding in Shanghai, China, YI1 has gone on to produce a wide range of low-cost indoor and outdoor security cameras. In 2018, YI created the sub-brand Kami, a line of smart home products characterized by clean, friendly design and with a heavy emphasis on usability.
We reviewed YI cameras hands-on recently, paying special attention to the YI Home 3, YI’s inexpensive, flexible indoor camera. Today, we’re taking a closer look into the brand as a whole, assessing equipment pricing, packages, and monitoring plans to help you narrow down your selection.
To get you started, here are some key YI features to note:
Nowadays, YI Technology continues to release new cameras under both the YI and Kami monikers, with prices ranging from $21 for a YI 1080p Home Camera AI+ up to $89.99 for a Kami Wire-Free Outdoor Camera.
The brand also launched KamiBaby, a smart baby monitor jam-packed with features like baby crying detection and temperature monitoring, for $199. And if you’re interested in action cams,2 YI has those, too; you can pick from a nightscape dash cam for $69.99 or a standard dash cam for $49.99.
But in terms of the brand’s security cameras – some of which you’ll find as components of the Cove security system – YI and Kami cams are some of the least expensive cameras out there.
YI’s slim, snazzy Home 3 camera is ready to use pretty much right out of the box. There’s nothing bulky or cumbersome about YI equipment, and that runs through all of their other cameras, too. These devices are decidedly youthful, with the type of product design3 you’d expect to find if, say, Apple were to release their own security camera.
Design-wise, YI Home 3 is somewhat unique – we wouldn’t call it a teardrop, per se, but to us, it does slightly resemble the stylish IQ indoor camera from Google Nest in build and style. But that happens to be the only similarity between the pricier Nest Cams and YI cameras; in terms of features and tech, the two couldn’t be more different.
Honestly, we’re partial to the sleek look and feel of this $21 YI camera, as well as how easy it is to set up. We also really like the magnetic mounting plate on the bottom of the camera’s base for super-easy wall mounting.
But to be completely clear: The camera is not rich in features. You won’t get top-of-the-industry 4K video; you won’t get pan and tilt or automatic tracking; and you won’t be able to install this camera outside. YI Home 3 is a simple, barebones camera, and it does the job it’s meant to do – protecting you and your property from danger.4
If you’re looking for more than basic functionality in an indoor camera, we suggest giving the Canary Flex a look; that one happens to include a thumbprint safety feature for added protection.
Kami’s newest outdoor camera goes truly wireless with included rechargeable batteries and requires no base station or hub. Like its YI Home 3 sibling, this one is easy to install, and you can store your camera video history internally through a micro SD card.
Overall, Kami Outdoor performed quite well, especially since outdoor cameras typically cost $100 and up. This isn’t too common in the industry these days; outdoor cameras from Arlo, for instance, start at $129 for the basic Essential model.
For $89, Kami Outdoor might not bowl you over with fancy features; none of YI’s cameras will, frankly. But for a functional wire-free camera with tough polycarbonate housing that blends in well with your home’s exterior, this camera gets the job done.
We rely on pan-and-tilt cameras in indoor spaces to provide a valuable security solution: a camera that can see all of the activity going on in a particular room, therefore reducing the number of cameras you’d need for your entire house.
With pan-and-tilt functionality, YI’s Dome Camera X gives us another sensible option for indoor coverage. This one gave us high-quality HD video with a 360-degree field of view, and as a major bonus, it also automatically tracks motion by panning over any activity the camera captures, and sends us an alert with insightful, up-to-the-minute details.
FYI: You’ll get a much richer experience with a pan-and-tilt camera that includes automatic tracking than, say, a camera with remote pan-and-tilt, like the D-Link camera we tested for a hands-on review recently. While the $99 D-Link indoor camera worked just fine, that one involved a little more tinkering than we were hoping for. Just something to consider.
|YI Home Camera 3||Wi-Fi, Plug-in, 1080p, Human Detection, Two-Way Talk||$25.99|
|YI 1080p Home Camera AI+||Plug-in, 1080p, Motion Detection, Two-Way Talk||$22.49|
|YI Dome Camera 1080p||Plug-in, 1080p, 360° Motion Tracking||$39.99|
|YI Outdoor Security Camera||Plug-in, 1080p, Motion Detection||$39.99|
|YI Dome Camera X||Plug-in, 1080p, motion tracking||$34.99|
|Kami Doorbell Camera||Smart facial recognition, A.I. person detection, weatherproof||$99|
|Kami Indoor Camera||1080p HD resolution, 340-degree rotation, 95-degree tilt||$49.99|
|Kami Outdoor Camera||1080p HD resolution, Starlight night vision||$59.99|
|Kami Wire-Free Outdoor Camera||Rechargeable battery, 1080p HD resolution, PIR motion sensor||$89.99|
Video storage is always an important pricing consideration when choosing security cameras. After all, once you install security cameras in your home, you’re going to want to store the video you’re getting, aren’t you?
Most brands these days have their own cloud storage service with a list of monthly (or yearly) plans to choose from, which is an easy and convenient option. But it’s not the only option; keep in mind that YI and Kami cameras include a micro SD card slot for local storage, too. This will help you save money over time.
But if neither of those options is ideal for you, we have good news: There’s a free option, where the camera can store 6-second clips of motion and immediately send the clip in an alert to your smartphone.
This sort of flexibility is becoming a mainstay in home security cameras, and to have the free option in addition to the local or cloud storage is a great deal in our eyes. There is one catch, though: The free option does mean you’ll get ads popping up in your YI app. Not a huge deal, but … don’t we interact with enough ads in our daily life?
Choosing cloud storage with YI does have its advantages. Namely, we learned you can monitor up to three cameras at once for only $2.49 per month. For context, that’s a dollar less per month than the cost of a standard cloud storage plan from Reolink; while you do get more space with Reolink, YI still presents a viable option for a decent amount of monthly storage without a huge financial commitment.
|Video History||1 day||7 days||14 days||30 days|
|Number of Cameras||Up to 3||Up to 3||Up to 5||Up to 10|
Beyond the upfront and monthly costs of buying camera equipment, we also looked at how YI cameras perform day to day, how long the equipment lasts, and what kind of technology they use.
The YI 3 camera, for example, is flexible when it comes to placement, but it’s pretty static as far as maneuverability. In other words, it doesn’t have a ball socket attaching the camera to its mounting hardware like you’d typically see in Lorex cameras and systems, so you can’t swivel the lens around to find different angles. You can only move the camera vertically, which will probably limit where you can place it.
But in other cases, you might end up loving your YI Home 3 simply because there’s so little work to do to get it up and running, and forget all about the static lens. We are talking about personal preference here, after all.
Customized Mobile Alerts
Being able to customize your alerts is one of the cornerstones of any good security camera. With YI, you can set several different customizations through the YI Home mobile app. You can adjust motion sensitivity to avoid ‘nuisance alerts’, schedule alerts to only be delivered at certain times of the day, and add or remove sound alerts.
1080p Video Resolution
All YI cameras deliver up to 1080p HD video resolution, the undisputed industry standard for high definition. In our tests, we enjoyed sharp, clear-as-day images and video in 1080p with our YI camera, day and night. We did experience a few seconds of slightly grainy SD (standard definition) recording when our Wi-Fi slowed down, which is normal and to be expected.
Wireless DIY Equipment
YI cameras are wireless, which means they don’t require hardwiring. But the cameras – with the exception of the Kami Outdoor Wire-Free – still need to be plugged into a nearby power outlet to work. That’s something to keep in mind as you set up your cameras: Don’t stray too far from a power outlet.
You can store your video history in three different ways with YI: through the camera’s micro SD card port; through a monthly YI Cloud Service; or as 6-second clips through the free (basic) monitoring plan. In all cases, using YI cameras every day isn’t going to cost you a lot.
Smart Motion Detection
YI has a bit more work to do in the smart motion detection area, but under ideal conditions, the cameras should be able to distinguish humans from other motion using an A.I. algorithm. While this didn’t work 100% for us, we still received timely notifications when motion was captured.
YI Home 3 does not have infrared night vision, so we had some trouble making out objects and activity at night. That said, we prefer night vision cameras with some type of backlighting or spotlight, and Kami’s wire-free outdoor camera combines those two features brilliantly. So if you need strong night vision, there are definitely options for you here with YI and Kami cams.
YI has deals, and they’re deep. The most recent deal on a YI Home 3 camera is $17.99, after a 20% discount, and other models are often similarly marked down. While we can’t say how long this deal is sticking around, we’re certainly hoping it does. But either way, you’ll want to look for deals and discounts on YI around Black Friday and the holidays, as we’ve seen some really nice markdowns there.
You’ll find similar savings on Kami products as well, starting with a generous 36% off the price of a Kami Outdoor Camera (originally $59.99, marked down to $38.49).
And, whether you’re on the hunt for seasonal deals or year-round ways to save, YI has us covered when it comes to equipment bundles. As this is a common way to save money on buying multiple cameras at once, we always take a look at how cost-effective bundling would be for individual brands.
By bundling, you can really tailor your security experience and only buy what you need. For instance, we’ve seen a 3-pack bundle with a 6-month YI Cloud subscription for about $70, which is a seriously low price point for a multi-camera package. For reference, a 3-pack of Swann Wi-Fi cameras will run you about $400, and that, too, doesn’t include a hub.
Pro Tip: The wider the view of your camera’s lens, the less you’ll need to spend on huge equipment packages and bundles. If that sounds appealing to you, YI’s pan-and-tilt cameras offer great options. But we also encourage you to check out Amcrest, a robust line of cameras that includes several inexpensive pan-and-tilt models.
Bottom line? If you are willing to bundle with YI, we strongly suggest doing so.
You’ll get a neat little set of features in a YI camera, and you might even get some compliments from houseguests on your design taste. YI and Kami cameras are made to look good anywhere you put them, and our experiences with the cameras bear this out.
But where you’ll be pleased with the look and style of a YI camera, you might find its technology isn’t quite on par with other security cameras in this market – even its low-priced peers. An example is Zmodo’s indoor camera, which happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to YI’s Home 3. At almost exactly the same price as YI, Zmodo performs many of the same functions and also includes that neat magnetic base that snaps to metal surfaces, which we find kind of entertaining.
But the biggest difference? YI-branded cameras don’t work with any smart home ecosystems, so you won’t be able to connect your camera to an Alexa or Google Assistant device. Smart home integration is available in the majority of cameras released in the last two or three years; even YI’s sub-brand, Kami, has an upgraded app that lets their cameras run with Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT smart home ecosystems.5
With YI, that’s still missing. It’s a bit odd, frankly. It makes us wonder if there’s an announcement in the offing; it wouldn’t surprise us at all if YI ended up phasing out their self-branded line and gave Kami center stage at some point. By and large, they are better cameras than those of their parent brand. But that’s just speculation so far.
For now, here are the facts: YI and Kami present some really solid options for adding more cameras to your home, especially for folks who are looking to do so cheaply. For more cost-cutting ideas, have a look at our rundown of the most affordable cameras in the business.
Yes. YI’s technology is meant to differentiate between humans and other objects in a camera’s view. This feature gave us some trouble in our initial tests, but most of the time we were notified when a person was in our vicinity.
Under certain weather conditions, YI Home indoor cameras can be used outdoors, but it’s risky; these cameras are not IP-rated for weatherproofing like their outdoor counterparts. YI Home 3 might work great under temperate climates with no precipitation, but you’ll be opening these cameras up to damage if you leave them out in the rain.
Experiences can vary among users, but some have reported having trouble getting through to YI’s phone support from time to time. This makes sense because, as the brand explains on their Support Page, YI Technology suspended phone support during the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether they’ll reinstate their call center at some point remains to be seen. For now, email is the best way to go.
Yes. You can buy multiple cameras and a corresponding cloud storage plan as a package and save some money. Bundling isn’t offered in every camera brand, but we’re glad to see it with YI, as it helps budget-conscious buyers save on upfront costs.
From installation to everyday use, YI cameras are designed to be user-friendly. We see this in the intuitive (but pretty barebones) YI app as well as the equipment itself.
PR Newswire. (2019, June 6). YI Technology Makes the Jump Towards Smart Features. Business Insider/Market Insider.
Bhajaj, K. (2018, April 3). Should You Invest in an Action Camera? Economic Times/India Times.
Luenendonk, M. (2018, Feb. 17). The Apple Product Design. Cleverism.
La Vigne, N. (2013, April 23). How surveillance cameras can help prevent and solve crime. Urban Institute.
Molla, R. (2019, December 18). Amazon, Apple, and Google are working together so that your smart home works better. Vox.com.