With so many options for security cameras nowadays, we know that choosing 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 we were so excited to try out YI,1 a relative newcomer to the always-evolving home security space. From what we’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, we’ve also heard some less-than-flattering critiques of YI’s cameras, specifically when it comes to motion detection.
So for this hands-on review, we did a deep dive into YI’s indoor, Wi-Fi-enabled Home Camera 3, which retails for only $26. We were especially curious to learn how such an inexpensive, plug-and-play camera would perform in real time, help us keep an eye on our loved ones, and alert us to any potential intruders without delay.
Join us as we bring you the full experience installing, setting up, interacting, and living with YI Home Camera 3.
At first glance of our YI Home Camera 3, we admit, we almost couldn’t believe the $26 price tag. One of us actually said out loud: “This is impossible. There’s got to be a catch.”
We’ll say this: When it came to installing and setting up our YI, there was no catch to be found. No complicated assembly, no long, drawn-out setup steps, no brackets, no screws, no drills, no labor. This 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.
As we mentioned earlier, we found nothing complicated about setting up this camera. We breezed through it pretty quickly, which gave us a lot of confidence in the power of YI’s network and its ability to alert us to potential danger.2 (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, we recommend placing it in the corner of your room, slightly elevated, where its wide-angle lens can be optimized.
Both the camera and the app guided us through voice commands (sometimes at the same time, which was a little disorienting) as we navigated through the setup process. This involved little more than scanning the camera’s QR code, which was located on the back of the camera, and a few other quick steps to pair our YI Home Camera 3 to our smartphone. It took us 5 minutes to install from start to finish.
As we placed our camera in its first position in our home, our eyes were drawn 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, we think you’ll be pleased.
On our end, we thought the YI’s build could be likened to Zmodo, another brand we’ve had some experience with. In our review of Zmodo’s Sight 180 C, we noted its lightweight construction and easy installation, and we were also happy to play around with its magnetic swivel base. We’re big fans of magnets, in case you couldn’t tell.
And just like Zmodo’s indoor camera, our 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. And it’s super powerful, which means we’re not leaving the house worrying about the camera falling onto the kitchen floor and becoming the dog’s new favorite chew toy.
We’ve seen magnetic mounting brackets in a handful of cameras, as we described in our 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 we wanted to affix the camera onto a wall, it would have to be a metal one.
We don’t have too many metal surfaces in our home, to be honest. There’s the stainless steel refrigerator and a couple of filing cabinets. We might be missing something, but we don’t generally ponder the composition of our home’s surfaces.
But this time, we gave it some thought. What if we could use this camera to remind certain family members that it’s their turn to wash the dishes? You know, a gentle nudge? Just slightly passive-aggressive?
So far, this strategy hasn’t worked. The dishes remain undone. But that’s not the camera’s fault.
Aesthetics are great in security cameras, but we also know they’re not worth much without some great technology behind them.
All things considered, we enjoyed sharp, clear-as-day images in 1080p resolution, day and night. As technology evolves, we’re seeing almost every security camera offer resolution at least up to 1080p. Some brands have gone farther in that regard to 2K and 4K resolutions, but we’ve always loved viewing our home in 1080p.
In fact, the only time we recall testing a camera that didn’t offer at least 1080p resolution was when we tested the SimpliCam from SimpliSafe. But there was a valid reason for that: 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 entire system works smoothly despite signal fluctuations or system interference.
FYI: If you’re trying to get the highest possible quality video in your security cameras, consider looking into Lorex’s line of 4K cameras. You’ll spend quite a bit more for one of these, but you’re sure to be impressed by the picture. And feel free to check out our full review of Lorex cameras to help you narrow down your choices.
All this is to say, lower resolution isn’t always a bad thing. Our YI camera automatically adjusts its resolution from standard definition (720p or less) to high definition (1080p) from time to time to account for those fluctuations. For folks like us who rely on high-speed Internet that isn’t always as speedy as promised, we definitely see this as an advantage.
Moving on to other features in our YI Home 3, we did our level best to learn how this camera detected motion, so we could better contextualize our motion alerts and monitor our home with ease. We’d heard users and experts alike express some frustration with this feature, so naturally, we had some questions going in.
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.
Likewise, we saw it all laid out in the YI Home app’s Smart Detection settings, where we could customize motion and set activity zones so the camera would focus on designated areas in its view, and reduce alerts for other areas.
With our YI camera set to record motion in our living room, we wanted to test out how “smart” the camera’s motion detection3 actually was.
For instance, when the dog runs across the room, would the camera pick it up as a human? Or would it alert us at all? (He is a fast little bugger, after all.)
To conduct this test, we deployed a precise, professional technique used by all the top security camera experts in the world.
We threw things across the room. A lot of things. Pillows, notebooks, a couple of shoes, and several dog toys. We even made sure we humans were out of the camera’s frame when we did this, so the camera wouldn’t detect us and miss the airborne objects. At one point, this all turned into a fun game of fetch for the dog, which sent him scurrying all over the room.
And the camera captured none of it.
While our children certainly enjoyed the show, the experiment left us perplexed. Why, if this camera had no trouble detecting people coming in and out of the room at all hours of the day – and alerting us quickly each time – was it not detecting any other objects?
We can only guess why this motion glitch is happening. One of us floated the theory that the camera needs time to “learn” the objects in its view, and sometimes this can take several days. Another noticed that in our human detection alerts, we were given the option to tell the camera if the object was, in fact, a person. But when we turned human detection off, the camera still kept detecting motion only from people.
In the end, we continued to witness the same pattern. Maybe it’ll improve over time, but as of this review’s publication, it had not. Keep in mind that this isn’t a deal-breaker (as this is just one feature after all), but it’s still something to note.
Motion detection issues aside, we do want to emphasize that YI’s Home 3 camera includes a feature that’s growing in demand among security consumers: emergency connections. More than just keeping us safe while we’re at home, this camera has a reliable 24/7 response solution that allows us to request emergency services with the tap of a button.
We don’t routinely see this feature in standalone cameras, even among the best security camera brands in the industry. So when we do, 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, that requires a $6 monthly fee, or a $40 annual fee. (Remember what we said about those extra monthly costs?)
The last time we came across this feature, it was when we did our hands-on review of Canary cameras. You’ll see that they, too, have joined forces with Noonlight to provide emergency services. The biggest difference there, though, is that we didn’t have to pay a separate monthly fee.
But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Canary’s products are pricier than YI’s, yet don’t require a contract for everyday use.
Did You Know: We see trade-offs like this often in this industry. Some brands charge more for equipment upfront and less for monthly services like cloud storage and emergency connection. Others keep their equipment prices low, but don’t allow you to access all of their features without a subscription. It can be overwhelming making sense of all these plan options and features. For more help, we recommend browsing our comprehensive guide to securing your home.
The YI Home 3’s wide angle lens stretches to a 112-degree field of view, which allowed us a great deal of coverage for one room. We also discovered that our camera has a cool panning feature that let us swivel our phone from side to side to further widen out the view of the camera. We 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 we reviewed 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, we’d recommend giving Nest’s feature-rich indoor and outdoor cameras a look.
While we’re on the subject, though, we do tend to recommend pan-and-tilt cameras to folks on a budget because they often reduce the need for multiple cameras in one room. If that sounds appealing to you, we also encourage you to check out our 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. We were pleased to find that YI Home has its own skill that we could use to pull up our camera’s live view on our Amazon Echo Show.
But admittedly, that soon turned to disappointment, because we learned that our account login for the YI Home app would not link to Alexa. To link the accounts and start using our Echo Show4 as another way to monitor our camera – as about 99% of the security cameras on the market today allow us to do – we would have to create a new account just for this pairing.
Like the previous setbacks we experienced with motion detection, this step in the process had us scratching our heads. We’ve never been asked to do this before; normally, the accounts link up just fine, with no extra legwork involved.
We decided not to create a new login and stick to using our phone to control the camera. This is another quirk we sure wish YI would phase out. In our view, the ability to pair our camera with Alexa using our original YI Home account should be a no-brainer.
Beyond our YI Home Camera 3, the brand has several models and packages in its lineup, including a 5-cam bundle that made us do a quick double-take.
5CAM kind of looks like SCAM when you write it in all caps like that, doesn’t it?
If you noticed this too, don’t worry, it’s not a scam. And we’re certainly not implying that the brand itself is illegitimate. We’ll just go ahead and attribute this to our eyes playing tricks on us.
But beyond that optical illusion, we do think it’s significant that this five-camera bundle, which includes both indoor and outdoor cameras and a generous cloud storage plan, costs only $154. Typically, we’d be looking at $300 and up for a package that includes five whole cameras. With the Swann cameras that we reviewed, for instance, we noted pricing from $269 all the way up to $479 for a four-camera, four-channel DVR system.
As for YI’s bundle, we see this as a really good way for budget-minded folks to outfit their entire home with cameras without spending a small fortune.
|YI Home Camera 3||$25.99|
|YI 1080p Home Camera AI+||$22.49|
|YI Dome Camera 1080p||$33.99|
|YI Outdoor Security Camera||$39.99|
|YI Dome Camera X||$34.99|
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, we have good news: There’s a free option, where our camera can store 6-second clips of motion and send it to our smartphone as an alert. In our tests of this feature, we were pleased with how fast the camera sent us alerts and allowed us to view those short clips.
We see this as another nod to YI’s flexible technology, and we think you’ll appreciate this as well.
|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|
We couldn’t help feeling a bit dismayed by the less-than-smart detection features in our YI Home Camera 3. After all, if a product doesn’t do the fundamental things it claims to do, it can taint the experience.
But with such a low cost for the camera, we had to manage our expectations carefully, and we found a lot to love about YI’s super affordable indoor camera; most notably, how easy it was to get it up and running. And we can’t leave you without mentioning how much we appreciated all of YI’s options for storing video history and managing alerts, as well as that all-important emergency connection that adds even more peace of mind.
Would we recommend YI? We’d like to, especially if you’re looking for an indoor camera on a shoestring budget. If that’s you, YI might be a good buy. But we look forward to the company truly getting a handle on its smart detection features. For now, we’re happy to watch and wait.
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.
For us, customer service was 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 when we emailed tech support with our concerns about motion detection, we did not get a response until about two days later.
Without infrared technology in its night vision, we were less than impressed with the night vision on our YI Home Camera 3. In fact, we woke up one morning to a pair of video recordings from about 5 a.m., wherein we saw zero motion. The caveat here is that it was very hard to make out anything at night, so there might have been a bug or an odd sound that we couldn’t see or hear.
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 require paying for a monthly subscription.
YI Technology. (2020, Sept. 2) YI Technology Unveils Two New Advanced Artificial Intelligence Home Security Solutions. prnewswire.com.
La Vigne, N. et al. (2011, Sept.) Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention. Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice.
Abduelhadi, A. et al. (2017, May-June). Smart Motion Detection. IOSR Journal of Electrical and Electronics Engineering.
Atcheson, T. (2020, Nov. 9) Best Alexa Devices for 2020: From Echo Smart Speakers to Wyze security cameras. DHTnews.com.
Morrison, S. (2020, August 24). Contracts, Hacks, and Google: What to Consider Before You Get a Home Security System. Vox.