With so many options for security cameras nowadays, choosing the right security products for your home can be overwhelming. This can be especially stressful for folks on a budget, who desire a more protected home but can’t plunk down hundreds of dollars to achieve it.
That’s why I was so excited to try out YI, a relative newcomer to the always-evolving home security space. From what I’d heard about the brand, they’re all about making things as simple as possible for users, which includes easy installation and setup, an intuitive and straightforward app, and a solid, practical design. On the other hand, not everyone is sold on the performance of this low-cost camera, specifically when it comes to motion detection.
Beginning with an extensive series of tests on YI’s indoor, Wi-Fi-enabled Home Camera 3, which retails for only $26, I wanted to find out how such an inexpensive, plug-and-play camera would perform in real time. In other words: Can you really find peace of mind in a $26 camera?
Stay tuned for the full experience of installing, setting up, interacting, and living with YI Home Camera 3.
At first glance at the YI Home Camera 3, the $26 price tag threw me. Is there a catch here? Does this thing even work? Isn’t there a hub or base station required somewhere?
Within minutes, it was clear there was no catch to be found. No complicated assembly, no long, drawn-out setup steps, no hubs, no brackets, no screws, no drills, no labor. The YI Home 3 camera was pretty much ready to use right out of the box.
For folks who would rather skip hassles associated with traditional home security equipment, the YI camera is surely a welcome choice. But that’s certainly not the end of the story – there are some noticeable drawbacks, too.
YI’s technology seems pretty fast and powerful, at least in the setup stage. It does speak to the power of YI’s network and its ability to alert users to potential danger,1 so I felt confident going into the first round of tests with the YI camera. (For other ways to protect your home and prevent hazards, check out our expert guide to home safety.)
Pro Tip: If you’re trying to get the most coverage possible out of your YI Home 3, it’s recommended to place it in the corner of your room, slightly elevated, where its wide-angle lens can be optimized.
Both the camera and the app will guide you through voice commands (sometimes at the same time, which was a little disorienting) as you go through the setup process. This involves little more than scanning the camera’s QR code, which is located on the back of the camera, and a few other quick steps to pair the YI Home Camera 3 to your smartphone. It might take three minutes to install from start to finish – simply put, a really fast setup time by any standard.
I was drawn initially to the camera’s sleek, modern look. Indeed, you won’t find any bulk or heft here. YI is all about clean, round lines and slim construction, so if that fits your style, you should be pleased. And – just because they’re so inexpensive – you’ll probably want more than one of these cameras around your home. If you like the look, you should have no problem blending these cameras with the rest of your home decor.
I also thought the YI’s build could be likened to Zmodo. In my review of Zmodo’s Sight 180 C, you’ll see a similar lightweight construction and easy installation. Though Zmodo cameras don’t carry the same stylish and modern design, they do handle entry-level home security quite well. If you’re the no-frills type, Zmodo is a nice choice.
And just like Zmodo’s simple, lightweight indoor camera, the YI Home 3 has a neat magnetic base that you can basically slap onto any metal surface. (Slap gently, of course.)
The magnet is that white circle surrounding the bottom of the base in the above photo. And it’s super powerful, which means you’re not leaving the house worrying about the camera falling onto the kitchen floor and becoming the dog’s new favorite chew toy.
You might have seen magnetic mounting brackets in a handful of cameras, including in my hands-on review of Arlo. But what’s unusual about YI is that the base is built into the camera’s housing, which restricts the camera’s movement. It also means if you wanted to affix the camera onto a wall, it would have to be a metal one.
So, affixing this camera to, say, a stainless steel refrigerator or a couple of filing cabinets is pretty much the easiest time you’re ever going to have installing a security camera. Might as well have some fun with it, right? Heck, it might even serve as an accountability tool to gently remind the kids that it’s their turn to wash the dishes …
Or not. The dishes remain undone. But that’s not the camera’s fault.
Aesthetics and style are great in security cameras, but they’re not worth much without some great technology behind them.
All things considered, YI still delivered clear, functional recordings in 1080p resolution, day and night. Again, this is no surprise; almost every security camera now offers resolution at least up to 1080p. Some brands have gone farther in that regard to 2K and 4K resolutions.
In this industry, there aren’t too many cams that won’t get you at least 1080p video. An exception is the SimpliCam, a wired camera from the makers of SimpliSafe security kits, with a max output of 720p. That’s standard definition, which is still decent, but certainly not a crystal-clear picture.
There is a reason for this discrepancy, though: As noted in my analysis of SimpliCam, SimpliCams are meant to be used as part of the larger SimpliSafe system, so the lower (but still decent) 720p video resolution helps make sure the system of sensors, cameras, and a keypad works smoothly despite signal fluctuations or system interference. (We also tested the SimpliSafe system for a look at how the whole package works together.)
All this is to say, lower resolution isn’t always a bad thing. The YI camera automatically adjusts its resolution from standard definition (720p or less) to high definition (1080p) from time to time to account for network fluctuations. For folks who rely on high-speed internet that isn’t always as speedy as promised, this is definitely an advantage.
FYI: If you’re trying to get the highest possible quality video in your security cameras, check out Lorex. Their 4K systems, as noted in my complete Lorex review, will get you a truly brilliant livestream.
I spent a good amount of time tinkering with this camera’s motion detection. Some users and reviewers have expressed disappointment with this feature in the YI Home 3, but initially, things looked good. The YI Home app lays out customizations pretty intuitively, and it’s easy to find settings like activity zones and motion scheduling to fine-tune your motion and the types of alerts you want to get from your camera.
As a brand, YI touts the concept of “smarter” alerts, emphasizing that its motion sensors use “advanced AI detection of humans, pets, and abnormal sounds” so you don’t end up getting flooded with alerts when someone accidentally leaves the TV on, for example.
With the YI camera set to record motion in the living room, I wanted to test out how “smart” the camera’s motion detection2 actually was.
For instance, when the dog ran across the room, would the camera pick it up and alert us that a human is present? Or an animal? Or would it miss him entirely? (He is a fast little bugger, after all.)
To conduct this test, I deployed a precise, professional technique used by all the top security camera experts in the world.
Want to know the secret? It’s pretty low-tech – just start throwing things across the room. A lot of things. Pillows, notebooks, dog toys, maybe an empty box of Kleenex … anything. Do it without letting humans into the frame. Sure, it might turn into a fun game of fetch for pups like young Mookie here, but he does make a cute little test dummy, doesn’t he?
After all was said and done, this round of tests confirmed what I had suspected: This camera doesn’t detect animals.
While the children certainly enjoyed the show, it was perplexing at first. Even when I changed settings to receive alerts for any object detection, not just humans, the camera still kept detecting motion only from people.
In the end, the pattern continued. This is just one feature of an overall well-made camera, so it’s not a deal breaker. Motion detection can be a mixed bag in security cameras, but it’s still something to note with the YI Home 3.
Motion detection issues aside, YI’s Home 3 camera does include a truly vital feature that’s growing in demand among security consumers: emergency connections. More than just keeping you safe while you’re at home, this camera has a reliable 24/7 response solution that allows you to request emergency services with the tap of a button.
This feature is not a given in stand-alone cameras, even among the best home security cameras in the industry. So when something like this is accessible in a $26 camera, it’s definitely worth mentioning. Features like this are crucial for many people, including the elderly and those who live alone.
Keep in mind, though, that emergency response is not automatically included in the YI Home 3; it’s a subscription service, in partnership with Noonlight,3 that requires a $6 monthly fee, or a $40 annual fee. (Remember those extra monthly costs?)
The last time I came across this feature, it was in a hands-on review of Canary cameras. You’ll note that they, too, have joined forces with Noonlight to provide emergency services. The biggest difference there, though, is that you don’t have to pay a separate monthly fee.
But for what it’s worth, Canary’s security products are pricier than YI’s, yet don’t require a contract for everyday use.
Did You Know: You’ll see trade-offs like this often in this industry. Some brands charge more for equipment up front and less for monthly services like cloud storage and emergency connection. Others keep equipment prices low, but you can’t access all of their features without a subscription. It can be overwhelming to make sense of all these plan options and features. For more help, visit our comprehensive guide to securing your home.
The YI Home 3’s wide angle lens stretches to a 112-degree field of view, which allows for a great deal of coverage for one room. Also, the camera’s app has a cool panning feature that lets you swivel your phone from side to side to further widen out the view of the camera. I always find this helpful, as the more you can see with your camera, the more likely you’ll be able to pick up any unusual activity.
Unlike the higher-end (and higher-priced) Google Nest Cams I tested recently, YI Home 3 doesn’t automatically pan over or tilt to track motion, nor does it automatically zoom in on objects when it’s recording. If those features are important to you, I’d recommend giving Nest’s feature-rich indoor and outdoor cameras a look.
Pro Tip: Pan-and-tilt cameras are ideal for folks on a budget because they often reduce the need for multiple cameras in one room. If that sounds appealing to you, check out my deep-dive look at D-Link cameras, one of which is a well-built 360-degree pan-and-tilt indoor camera for less than $100.
Everyone has an Alexa skill these days. Along with the camera, YI Home has its own skill that you can use to pull up your camera’s live view on your Amazon Echo Show.
So this is a roadblock I ran into. The account login for the YI Home app doesn’t link to the Alexa ecosystem, so it makes using YI as a smart home component difficult. Like the minor setback with motion detection, this step in the process left me perplexed. These days, cameras tend to allow for at least some measure of automation with smart home ecosystems like Alexa, Google, and IFTTT. Normally, the accounts link up just fine, with no extra legwork involved.
Cameras with stronger home automation are everywhere, though, so you shouldn’t have a problem pairing a Blink Outdoor camera or a Ring Spotlight camera with your Alexa system, for example.
YI just happens to do things differently – again, not a bad thing, just something to keep in mind. Take a look at our home automation guide for more tips on pairing cameras with your smart home.
YI Home 3 is a nice little device, but it’s just one of several cameras and gadgets under the YI/Kami label. Both YI and Kami4 (a self-professed “vision intelligence company”) have several camera models and packages in their respective lineups – and though each carry a uniform design and easy-to-use technology, it does look like Kami cameras run about $10 more than YI.
By the looks of things, YI’s branding is a bit less than straightforward. It’s hard to tell what makes a Kami camera different from a YI, other than a couple of added features. I do think it’s significant that even on the Kami side, equipment is pretty affordable. You can get a sweet bundle of five YI cameras to mix and match around the house combined with a robust Kami Cloud storage plan that includes 30 days of rolling storage for the first 12 months for less than $130. That’s truly a bargain in this business, as typically you’d be looking at between $300 and $400, or sometimes a lot more, for multi-camera bundles like this.
With a bundle of Swann cameras that I reviewed, for instance, you can see that pricing starts around $269 and goes all the way up to $479 for a four-camera, four-channel DVR system.
As for YI’s bundle, you can look at this as one of several options for budget-minded folks to outfit their entire home with cameras without spending a huge amount of money. (Another great budget-friendly option for casual monitoring is Wyze; check out my latest exploration of Wyze Cams here.)
|YI Home Camera 3||
|YI 1080p Home Camera AI+||
|YI Dome Camera 1080p||
|YI Outdoor Security Camera||
|YI Dome Camera X||
As with any security camera, at some point you have to decide how you’re going to store all the data you’re getting. This, again, comes down to personal preference: Do you want continuous recording of your camera so you can tap on specific motion events by scrolling through a rolling video timeline?
Or, would you rather skip the cloud subscription5 plan and its associated fees, and instead focus on storing video history through a micro SD card? Both are great options, but keep in mind an SD card is not included in YI Home 3’s box, so you’ll have to supply that yourself.
But if neither of those options is ideal for you, there is good news: YI does have a free option, where the camera can store six-second clips of motion and send it to your smartphone as an alert. YI handles this pretty efficiently, thanks to simple, flexible technology. It won’t put a huge strain on your home Wi-Fi, either. You’ll appreciate this especially if you live in a rural area, where Wi-Fi might not be 100 percent stable.
|Video History||7 Days||15 Days||30 Days|
|Number of Cameras||1||5||5|
|Activity Zones (Masking)||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Price||$5 per month||$9.99 per month||$19 per month|
There’s simply not much to this YI Home 3 camera. It records clips efficiently, installs in a snap, and will probably last you a long time with minimal maintenance. For those reasons, it’s a handy, no-fuss device to have around, watch over kids, or help you manage all the little goings-on in your daily home life. But the one real downside here is that the camera couldn’t quite deliver on the fundamental things it claims to do, which does tend to taint the experience.
But guess what? It’s a $26 camera, so you have to manage your expectations carefully. It’s no small thing that the YI Home 3 camera can be paired with your Wi-Fi and brought online in no more than three minutes. The app makes controlling the camera fairly straightforward, arranging all of YI’s storage and monitoring options for easy access. Plus, there’s the super-helpful emergency connection that adds even more peace of mind.
That said, if you’re looking for an indoor camera on a shoestring budget, YI might be a good buy.
Yes. You can schedule the camera to record motion at certain times of the day, as well as adjust the frequency of the alerts and decide how much “cooling-off time” the camera will get in between alerts.
If you have a micro SD card inserted, the camera will save any recordings there, even without a network connection. But you won’t be able to view playback until the connection is restored.
Customer service can be somewhat elusive. Finding answers to some questions was easy thanks to YI’s Help Center page, and there’s also a live chat option. But it did take tech support two whole days to respond to one single email. Not the best experience, but also very common in brands like this.
Without infrared technology, night vision with YI Home Camera 3 is lacking. You might have to spring for a slightly more robust camera if you’re in the market for high-quality night vision. Or give the Ring Floodlight camera a try, if you want extremely detailed footage in your nighttime recordings.
No. You can use a micro SD card for local storage, or you can simply set the camera to record six-second clips of motion that are saved under your Alert settings in your phone. Neither of those options requires paying for a monthly subscription, which is another perk with YI.
La Vigne, N. et al. (2011, Sept). Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention. Urban Institute.
Atcheson, T. (2020, Nov. 9) Best Alexa Devices for 2020: From Echo Smart Speakers to Wyze security cameras. DHTnews.com.
Noonlight. (2019, June 28). YI Partners with Noonlight to Power 24/7 Emergency Response for Customers.
Kami. (2021). The Vision Intelligence Company.
Abduelhadi, A. et al. (2017, May-June). Smart Motion Detection. IOSR Journal of Electrical and Electronics Engineering.
Jaime Fraze is an experienced digital editor in the tech, business and food spaces, having produced content for clients ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to fledgling nonprofits for more than 15 years. As a wife, mother and homeowner, she understands that buying home security products can be confusing and overwhelming. That’s why Jaime has constantly strived to ensure that every piece of content she produces has met SafeHome.org’s rigorous standards, and that her readers come away with the power to make better, smarter decisions. Learn more about Jaime here