Wyze: almost a complete smart home ecosystem
We started our journey with smart cameras outdoors with our first generation Skybell video doorbell. Since then, we tried the Sengled Snap outdoor camera that screws into a light outlet on the side of the house, we got a Ring Stick up Cam with a solar panel for our backyard, and we made a commitment to Maximus cameras with their HOA-friendly Smart Security Lights and their dual-camera Answer doorbell. Most recently, we added the Toucan battery-powered, wireless doorbell and their smart cameras in our backyard.
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We like being able to see what’s going on outside our house when we’re not home, to catch intruders coming in or see the cute cat that comes to visit. The outside cameras with motion detection also give us peace of mind when we are home and asleep. Beyond the notification on our phones, we have one camera that triggers a light inside our kitchen at night if it detects motion (funny, that light is on almost every morning).
Our first inside cameras
Although there are some obvious benefits to adding cameras inside, especially since we like to travel, we were always hesitant to put them in our house. We added a camera on top of our Samsung TV for Skype, but we covered it when we weren’t using it. When we finally did get a couple of indoor cameras, we decided to make sure they couldn’t spy on us by plugging them into a smart outlet that turned on when we left the house. Covering the camera may prevent someone looking, but doesn’t stop them from listening.
We tried a couple of different brands of indoor cameras, and they worked fine, but they were expensive, in the $70-100 range, and they required their own apps. We wanted to have more cameras to watch other parts of the house, but we didn’t want to spend a lot of money and get tied to one brand and one app. (Incidentally, one of our original cameras is no longer supported, even though it was a name brand camera.)
Enter the Wyze Cam
Then we heard about Wyze, a company building amazingly cheap smart home cameras. Twenty-five bucks gets you a really solid little camera that is easy to set up and use, doesn’t require an additional subscription to work, and even includes on-board storage so you don’t have to connect it to the cloud. Unlike our other indoor cameras, the Wyze Cam records in HD, so we could get the best image quality for the price. The original Wyze Cam just looks straight ahead, but can be adjusted up and down or side to side manually, and later they introduced a Wyze Cam Pan that is able to electronically rotate and move up and down and respond and capture motion as well from their app, for only $39. We have the Pan too.
We love our Wyze Cams and soon we were recommending them to everyone. Wyze started building up a huge, loyal following of smart home geeks like us. Even though the cameras are Wi-Fi and don’t work with our smart home hub, they work with Alexa and that is good enough for us. We have Wyze cameras all over our house in different rooms, a couple pointing outside, and even one in the garage, that helps us know if we really closed the garage door or not.
Wyze lets us record locally to a Micro SD Card inside the camera and to their cloud. As we added more cameras, we discovered that if they all are active at once, our internet was too slow to handle them. So now we’ve upgraded to Gig speed internet and that issue is gone, along with some extra monthly bucks to Xfinity.
Wyze expands into the smart home
Over the last couple of years, Wyze has continued to introduce more and more easy-to-use, well-built and reasonably priced smart home devices – smart bulbs, smart plugs, and even a motion and open/close sensor kit to make the products work together. For the holidays last year Wyze introduced a smart home starter pack. For around $99, you can get bulbs, plugs, a camera and a motion sensor kit, all enough to get anyone started monitoring and automating the house. Earlier this year they added a smart lock.
We now have a lot of different Wyze things in our house and even though we love our Z-Wave devices and our SmartThings hub, we find ourselves recommending Wyze all the time as great products to do most simple things that people want – putting lights on a timer, setting up plugged in devices to work with Alexa or Google Home, adding a camera to monitor the home while you’re away, or keep an eye on a vacation home or loved one living far away (with his permission, of course). With the Wyze sensors, you can even trigger Alexa routines, something typically only available with smart home hubs in the past.
One of the things the community has loved about Wyze is that you don’t need to buy a subscription to use their products to record to the cloud. Today, every camera still comes with free, 14-day cloud storage. Whenever a Wyze Cam detects motion or sound, it records a 12-second video. Most of Wyze’s competitors don’t offer that much free storage, and some don’t let you record video to the cloud at all without paying a fee.
While we appreciate the free storage, we also understand this isn’t the most viable business model, so we were not surprised when Wyze recently started offering Cam Plus. For an additional $1.99 (or $1.25 annually) per month per camera, Wyze adds person detection to alert you when it sees a person, and records full-length motion videos instead of just the first 12 seconds. We expect they will continue to add more service tiers and offerings in the future.
Wyze Health Products
Wyze continues to grow, securing a new round of investor funding this year and continuing to build their enthusiastic user community with great support and new products. This year they’ve added some health products, again, packed with features at amazing prices, but honestly some of those have left us scratching our heads.
The Wyze Scale and the Wyze Band both sold out of their original pre-orders, but we’re not sure where they are going with those products. The Scale is really well built and even measures body mass and composition and we love it. It’s a steal for around $30 – compared to more than $100 for our original smart scale.
The Wyze Band, on the other hand, well, we’re still not sold. We thought the fitness band market was essentially dead (RIP Jawbone, Fitbit (well, acquired by Google, not so bad) and while the Wyze Band is supposed to control Wyze products and work with Alexa, it’s not so responsive and it’s faster just to talk to Alexa than talk to your band. Mark got a rash from his (we had the same problem with our original Fitbit bands) and while Wyze nicely replaced the band, the new one seems to have the same problem.
We also couldn’t figure out why Wyze decided to sell thermometers and face masks. I guess maybe during the early days of the COVID shelter-in-place they thought it was a good idea to have these on hand and that customers would buy them.
We really respect what they did through their Wyze in Response program, making donations and developing firmware so people could turn their Wyze Cam’s into webcams for working and learning from home. But they didn’t make the iHealth thermometers, they just sourced them, and you can often buy them cheaper at other outlets. Recently they introduced an affiliate program to encourage US sales of the thermometer and facemasks, so obviously they need help selling them.
One of the things Wyze had been missing for a long time was an outdoor-ready, battery-powered camera. Like us, a lot of folks want to use cameras outside and even inside, it’s not always so easy to find an outlet near where you want to place your camera. We cheated a bit and have the Wyze Pan camera plugged in and on a table inside our courtyard, protected from the rain, and we plugged a couple of cameras inside and pointed them out the window.
The Wyze community even created and sold some after-market products to protect the cameras outside. We always figured if our camera died, oh well, it wasn’t that expensive so we’ll just get another. So far, both the outside Wyze Pan and the Wyze Cam in the garage are still working great. With all the other smart home products Wyze has in its arsenal, adding an outdoor, battery-powered camera would really help complete their offerings.
So, not surprisingly, Wyze introduced an outdoor camera for pre-order earlier this year. At first we were going to wait, then we decided that was silly and signed up to be an early backer. The order process didn’t go as smoothly as we expected, since Wyze is getting so popular it was really difficult to place the orders and some people reported waiting hours for the website to come back up. According to the letter in the box when it arrived, they had more than 50,000 pre- orders.
Wyze Cam Outdoor – our first take
Our outdoor camera arrived recently and we’ve started testing it. We have to say, so far it hasn’t been exactly what we expected. It’s not as easy to use and there are some definite bugs.
The design team has had to make some tradeoffs from the original camera design to make it work wirelessly with a battery. The camera itself is a lot heavier, since it has more hardware and a battery on-board. Instead of putting all the connectivity in the camera itself, Wyze added a separate base station, kind of a mini-Wyze router, that connects to your Internet router and then can connect to up to four outdoor cameras. Unfortunately this base does not connect to their sensors.
We also noticed that since the cameras connect to the base through their own Wi-Fi channel, placement of the camera and base station are critical to performance, and we found the range to be short.
When the camera detects motion, it records only 12-second clips to the Wyze Cloud. You can also optionally back those up to a micro SD card inside the base station. It’s unclear what would happen if all four cameras were to detect motion simultaneously, but we assume all those events would get recorded. After the camera detects motion, it needs to “refresh” before it can record again. You can choose the refresh rate in the app, either 1 or 3 or 5 minutes. For us, this seems way too long, but we are used to our cameras that are plugged in all the time.
One thing Wyze did get right with their Wyze Cam Outdoor is the price. Right now, it’s $49.99 for the starter kit that includes the base station, and $39.99 for each additional camera. Most outdoor cameras in this range go for $80 or more. Plus it works with all their other smart home products – there are not that many smart camera providers who make light bulbs, sensors, and door locks.
Wyze has grown from one cheap smart camera to a broad product line to cover almost the entire smart home. Since most of the products don’t require a permanent installation, Wyze is great for renters, and one Smart Home Starter Kit would likely be enough to automate an entire apartment.
Even though we see some flaws in the Wyze Cam Outdoor, we’ve already ordered a second one and are hopeful they can work out some of the issues in future software releases. We remain enthusiastic about the potential of the company and can’t wait to see what they do next.