- 1 Specs
- 2 The Good
- 3 The Not So Good
- 4 One Sync Module and three cameras
- 5 Setting up the different Blink elements
- 6 Blink Android app
- 7 Monitoring with Blink
- 8 Updates can solve some Blink shortcomings, but not all of them
When I first heard about the Blink security cameras, I was immediately impressed and intrigued. Having tried both the Piper and Canary in my pharmacy, to more or less mitigated results, the Blink seemed like the perfect solution.
Piper (full review) suffers from one major flaw: the camera doesn't turn itself back on after a power failure if the back-up battery is empty (and since we have lots of blackouts here in Lebanon, I got tired of buying new batteries every two or three weeks). It also doesn't have a native scheduled arm/disarm feature; I really shouldn't have to manually arm and disarm my cameras when a simple time-based schedule is easy to implement. Canary (full review), on the other hand, is quasi-perfect, if it weren't for one little quirk: I sometimes have to leave the pharmacy during work hours, and my phone's geofence triggers Away mode so I get notified of every movement that happens. I could add my assistant as a member to the Canary and have it stay in Home mode when she's working, but the problem is she lives in the same building the pharmacy is located in, so based on her phone's geofence, Canary would never auto-arm.
On paper, Blink would solve all of my issues. Here was a bundle of 3 cameras that cost just a tad more than a single cam from competitor brands, but that gave you total freedom over where you placed them. Being wireless and functioning over battery power meant that I didn't have to worry about wires or black-outs; I could even place the cams on the shelves right next to products. Their short recorded clips promised to be perfect for my slow connection by not requiring a lot of bandwidth. The scheduled arm/disarm feature made more sense than geofencing for my small business with specific open/closed hours. And the newly added Alexa integration was a big bonus since it would allow me to control the cams from my Echo Dot.
The reality though, now that I've been testing the Blink cameras for about two months, is a little more sobering. The live view and recorded clips are often too short to be usable, the cameras resolution and quality is mediocre, the lack of night vision is a big letdown for what is supposed to be a security cam system, and the Android app is sloooooooooow.
|Camera||720p Camera, Motion detection|
|Field of View||110° angle lens|
|Night Vision||White LED for illumination|
|Power||2AA Lithium batteries for the cameras (2-5 years of battery life), MicroUSB for the Sync Module|
|Connectivity||802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, Wired Ethernet, USB port for storage|
|Security & Data Protection||WEP, WPA, WPA2|
|Warranty||1-year limited warranty|
|Apps||Android and iOS|
|Battery life||About 2 years of battery life are promised for each camera. Plus, you can switch to MicroUSB power if you want.|
|Portability||The Sync Module only requires MicroUSB power. The cameras can be placed anywhere, literally anywhere, without any power or Ethernet wire limitation.|
|Multiple cameras for the price of one||You get 3 Blink cams for approximately the price of one, maybe two, from competitor brands. More areas to cover!|
|Scheduled arm and disarm||For a small business with set open/close hours, or a home where occupants come and leave at regularly punctual hours, this makes a lot of sense.|
|Alexa integration||Asking Alexa to arm or disarm Blink and inquiring about the last recorded clips is a lot nicer than having to open the Blink app.|
|No paid plans||You get 7,200 total seconds of video for free on Blink's servers. If you reach that limit, the oldest clips start getting replaced.|
|Unused Ethernet and USB ports||There are Ethernet and USB ports on the Sync Module, but they're still not utilized.|
|Limited mounting options||The cameras come with a mount, but it can only rotate up and down, not swivel side to side at flexible angles.|
|No night vision||The illuminator white LED and "advanced low-light performance" are not even close to being substitutes for real night vision.|
|Limited field-of-view||110° is a lot smaller than most competitor cameras with their wide-angle lenses.|
|Android app||The Blink Android app is ugly, slow, a little buggy, and sometimes logs you out or forgets your schedule times.|
|Maximum 60 sec video recording||You can't get videos longer than 60 seconds. It was even limited to 10 seconds before.|
|Live view only lasts 30 seconds||Tapping "Continue" repeatedly to watch a live stream gets frustrating and annoying quickly.|
|No auto arm/disarm based on geofence||If you don't want to set a schedule, you can't use your phone's location to arm/disarm Blink.|
|No other smart home integration||Beside Alexa, Blink doesn't play nice with any other smart home hardware. No IFTTT, SmartThings, Wink, Google Assistant, not even Siri or HomeKit support.|
|Upload issues on slow connections||I encountered a lot of time-outs on uploads, with plenty of videos never making it to the cloud and thus lots of missed motion notifications.|
One Sync Module and three cameras
The Blink security system consists of a Sync Module and several wireless cameras. All items are quite small, squarish with rounded corners, measuring somewhere around 7cm (2.78") on all sides and 3cm (1.18") in thickness. The build quality is average, feeling adequate but not outstandingly sturdy. The design is the same: it's just okay. Compared to the Canary and its streamlined elegant lines, Blink doesn't measure up. It's like putting a Galaxy S3 next to a Galaxy S7.
Taking a tour of the Sync Module reveals two LED lights on the front for power (green) and WiFi connectivity (blue). If they're both on, you're good. When you set up Blink the first time, the blue light blinks until you introduce it to a WiFi network. The back of the module (not pictured) shows the serial number, MAC address, SSID, password, and different regulatory approval numbers.
On the sides you'll find a couple of ports and openings. A standard MicroUSB port is used for power, but the Ethernet and regular USB port don't appear to be fully functional yet. Ethernet is supposed to be later used as an alternate connectivity method to WiFi (though I was able to use it once for setup, so it kind of works already), whereas USB should allow you to save clips locally with a future update. There's a reset button too that you might need if you plan on moving your Blink to a new wireless network.
I tested the bundle that comes with 3 wireless cameras. All of them look and work the same with the lens encapsulated in a black circular border, a motion sensor, white LED, and a microphone hole to round up the different sensors.
The back has a MicroUSB port that you can use as an alternate power source and a slider to pop the rear plate off. Underneath it are two AA Lithium batteries and a sticker with each camera's serial number.
The round plastic piece in the middle of the back can be removed to create an opening where the mounting bracket is inserted. Blink offers a screw and double-sided 3M tape to provide different mounting options. (Check the instructions for a better explanation.) The camera can rotate around the bracket in that circular opening, and the bracket can swivel up and down, but those movements are still limiting in their nature. You can't really tilt the camera to the side on the bracket, meaning it's very difficult to place it on the upper side of a door and point it down toward the middle. The bracket also feels flimsy and, like the rest of Blink's hardware, very plasticky.
Regardless of these small issues, I love the versatility, size, and portability of the Blink cameras. Instead of being limited to only placing them near a wall outlet to avoid running visible wires in the pharmacy, I was able to put them where I really want them to be: facing the counter from either side and inside the stock room. This greatly reduced the detection errors compared to Piper and Canary, which got triggered by a lot of outside activity because I had to install them near the door where the only available wall outlet is located.
And I find that they blend in quite easily with the rest of the pharmacy's white cabinets and glass shelves. That camera I placed right next to the multivitamins is nearly undetectable unless you're looking for it. Plus, the flat bottom means that I didn't need the bracket for it, I just put it on the shelf.
I had some trouble setting up Blink the first time. The Sync Module wouldn't connect to my WiFi network and kept showing a red light. I changed my network's SSID per the documentation, reset and tried again, contacted support, to no avail. What solved the issue eventually was an automated email I got from Blink telling me that the system noticed I was having some problems and suggesting a few things among which is setting up with a wired connection to the Ethernet port at first instead of using WiFi. Huh, I thought, isn't the Ethernet port not functional yet?! But I gave it a try nonetheless, and it worked! After setup, I unplugged the cable and the Sync Module now connects wirelessly.
Thankfully though, the setup process has been greatly improved in the updated Blink Android app. I've tried resetting Blink after the app update and starting from scratch to see if that red light issue would show up again, but no, it didn't. Setup went smoothly and took about 5 minutes from start to finish. Below, I'll walk you through the process with the updated app.
The first thing you need to do is sign up for a Blink account. It's easy: choose your country/region, an email address, a password, and you're set.
Sync Module setup
Once you're inside the Blink app, you tap to add a Sync Module, make sure the blue light is flashing on it, connect your phone to Blink's own WiFi network, enter the serial number, tell it what your WiFi network and its password are, and wait a second or two for everything to be set up.
After the Sync Module is set, you'll see an "Add a Blink Camera" image in the middle of the app's homepage. Tap that and you're taken through the process of adding a cam by first inputting the serial number, verifying the signal's strength between the cam and the Sync Module, and validating your cam's placement by seeing a live view. You're then asked to name your camera and take a still picture that will show on the Blink homepage, and you're done.
Those steps will have to be repeated for each of the 2, 3, or 5 cameras you have bought with the Blink bundle, but they only take a minute or two and are quite straightforward. When you're done, all of your cameras will show in the Blink app.
The Blink Android app is one of the biggest letdowns of the system. It looks nothing like a modern Android app, heck it doesn't even look like a modern iOS app and I'd take that over what we have here. It's also slow, the graphics are ugly, and it's buggy. Both Artem and I encountered a couple of spontaneous log offs in the app. What's worse, I had two instances of the scheduled arm/disarm resetting itself for no reason. If you relied on the system to go into armed mode at a preset time and it decided to forget that, that's a big problem.
With that said, the app is functional and it should do the job most of the time. The saving grace is that the Blink team seems intent on improving and updating its system. Many things have changed in the past couple of months that I've had the cameras and the experience is getting a little better with time.
Main app interface
The Blink app shows your current system in the middle of top title bar (you can monitor different locations and Sync Modules from the same account), a side menu hamburger icon, and a folder for saved clips. Below that are the different cameras you've connected to the Sync Module with their name, the static image you assigned to them, and a couple of buttons. One is for each camera's settings (we'll go over that later), one is for launching live view (the green video icon), and one is for updating the static image with a new one taken right now (the green cam icon). If the system is armed and motion detection is turned on for the cameras, you'll see a green running person next to each cam.
At the bottom are the Sync Module status icon and a quick toggle to arm and disarm the full system.
Blink app main screen with the system armed (left) and disarmed (right).
Tapping on the system in the title bar drops down a menu with a few options like scheduling, time zone settings, renaming, deleting, and adding a new Sync Module. As for the side menu, it only has one option to manage your personal account (email, password, and temperature units).
If you launch into the live view on any camera, you get a new screen where you can see the current stream — with about 5-10second lag — and trigger the microphone to also hear what's going on. The problem, beside the lag, is that it's limited to 30 seconds and you'll get a Continue? button to tap each time you want to extend your live stream.
I get that some compromises have been made to preserve battery life on the Blink cams, but this seems like taking it a little too far. If I'm watching a live stream of my cameras, with my phone screen on, it's most probably because I need to watch that live stream, not because I'm wasting time opening the camera and checking stuff for no reason.
There is no digital tilt and pan, not even a digital zoom option or a manual recording option on the live stream. Combine all of that with the relatively smaller field-of-view compared to competitor brands, the lack of proper night vision support, and the Blink's live view is nearly, very nearly, useless.
This is what you see at night without the white LED. "Advanced low-light performance" this isn't.
Each Blink camera has its separate set of options. You can change its name, enable motion detection triggering on it and choose the sensitivity, retrigger time, and clip length. The latter is limited to 10 seconds, but a new update rolling out now (which hasn't reached me yet) should extend the maximum to 60 seconds. That definitely improves the usability of Blink.
You can also turn on or off and control the intensity of the illuminator white LED light, which is the make-do night vision solution, enable or disable the microphone, and check the cam's different stats (last update, temperature, connectivity, battery life).
If you decide that a scheduled arm/disarm would work best for you, like I did for my pharmacy, you can set it up from the main screen's drop-down. You get to pick the arm times and days, then the disarm times and days, and thus create a schedule that works for you. For example, I keep my Blink armed all of Sunday and whenever the pharmacy is closed from 7:30pm to 9am every day. It has been relatively reliable, except for those two times when the schedule disappeared from the app, as I mentioned before.
Notifications and viewing motion clips
There are two types of notifications you'll get with Blink. One is when the scheduled arm/disarm has been triggered, and another when a motion alert is recorded. Both notifications can't be expanded, which frustrates me a lot. Those cut-off "came.." and "Succe.." don't make sense unless you're able to expand the notification. It's just another example of poor execution on the Android front.
Whenever you get a motion alert from one of your cameras, you can access the recorded video and play it back. The time stamp shows on the top with a few control buttons, as well as a Share option to send the clip through other apps, a live view icon to see what's going on right now, and a delete bin.
It doesn't seem like you can save the clips locally without some third-party workaround that shares to a local folder, but you can easily email the video to yourself for safekeeping and there are no limitations on how many of these you save.
And finally, the Clip Roll shows all of your recorded clips, with blue icons next to the unwatched ones. Tapping and holding on them lets you easily delete several in one go.
So far so good... until you start using Blink. I have the system as well as Piper and Canary set up in the pharmacy and I kept running in the same two roadblocks: I didn't feel like I could rely on Blink, which is a big problem for what is supposed to be a security system, and I didn't want to use it.
Some of that is due to the Blink app, which is just plain boring and frustrating to use; I find that I really prefer Canary and Piper's apps over Blink's. Part of it is also due to the severe lack of features (no night vision, smaller field-of-view, limited live view duration). Some of it is because of missing options that are yet to be implemented like local USB storage and the extended 60sec clips (coming any day now, supposedly). And another part is because of the lack of integration with anything beside Alexa.
But mainly, I had connection issues that you would only face if you have a slow bandwidth to allocate to Blink. I'm running on an unreliable 512kbps connection, and again and again during my testing, I would trigger a Blink camera, have it record, then wait... and wait... and wait... and nothing would show up in the app. Blink Support tells me that the system kept running into time-outs on uploads.
I must clarify here that Artem doesn't face any of these issues on his system because he has a more reliable connection. But in my opinion, this doesn't justify the problem to begin with.
- If a video doesn't get uploaded, I don't even get a regular notification telling me that the motion sensor was triggered, so I'm none the wiser about any transgression at my property.
- I understand a couple of time-outs for an hour or so, but the system failing to upload a few videos for several weeks when it clearly uploaded other videos later means that it's completely giving up on the time-outs at a certain point — why?! This is a security system, it shouldn't give up on uploads ever.
- Canary manages to upload 2-4 minute videos at 1080p on the same connection in a timely manner and never misses a video upload. The longest delay on any upload I've noticed on it was about an hour, but that was a file larger than 10MB. By comparison, Blink is failing to upload 5-10sec videos at 720p, which are significantly smaller in size (400-800KB).
On the positive side though, I never had any false triggers with Blink. Canary can freak out at flying insects, changes in lighting, shadows, but Blink seems unfazed by any of it. Only human movement triggers it. Couple that with the fact that I don't need a wall outlet and I am thus not forced to use any location that has a lot of peripheral activity and potential false triggers, and Blink has proven a lot less prone to false activations than either Piper or Canary. If only it didn't blow it all out by not reliably notifying me of detected motion.
The motion clips' video quality is what you would expect of a 720p camera. It's not outstanding, but it's clear enough to see what's going on... when the location is well-lit.
There don't seem to be any delays between the motion sensor detecting a presence and the camera starting to record, which you'll see in the clip below: the video starts as soon as I enter the frame. Blink calls it "Instant On," but my theory is that it could be due to the smaller field-of-view on the camera's lens. The motion detector probably senses motion on a wider angle, wakes up the camera, and recording starts by the time the moving person or object has reached the view field.
The white LED light brings just a little bit of illumination, not enough to replace a proper night vision infra-red array, and if you turn it on when there's enough ambient light, you might run into some washed-out effects like in the video below.
The next example shows what you can see with Blink when the environment is poorly lit followed by when the light is switched on.
And finally, in this sample, you'll see a blue/green hue on the video, which often struggles with white balance, whether it's during the day or night. The saving grace? Blink recorded a hilarious clip of my fiancé walking unassumingly past it after we'd played with the neighbor's dog and spotted an errant cat. And he says...
Priceless. Ladies and Gentlemen, behold one of the reasons I'm engaged to this man.
If I'm being honest, this review and my thoughts on Blink were a lot more negative until I saw the video above in my Clip Roll. Then I got a glimpse of the potential of Blink and I changed my outlook. I can see people leaving a camera armed all the time and letting it capture everything, then combing through the clips for the weird and unexpected moments like this one. Just bite-sized clips of awesomeness taken at random times.
Blink has a very interesting proposition. This isn't the system for people who want to livestream 24/7 (Nest), those who need smart zones or facial detection, those who want to come and go at any time and have their system monitor only when they're not home (Canary), those who prefer an all-in-one smart home solution (Piper), and so on and on... But on paper, it's perfect for a very specific set of requirements: a home or small business where you don't want to run extra wires and where people come and go at reliably punctual times and where night vision isn't a big requirement. The lengthy battery life, Alexa integration, and the lack of any paid plans make Blink even more appealing.
The problem, insofar as I can see it, is in the execution. There are a couple of missing hardware options to begin with, like the lack of night vision and the smaller field-of-view, and a lot of software improvements that are being slowly implemented. Blink already has a small roadmap for upcoming features and given the updates I've seen over the past couple of months, I'm willing to trust that the team is indeed working on improving its product and hasn't forgotten about it.
Still, there are some more or less unforgivable missteps at this time. Like the 30 second limit on live view streaming, the terribly designed Android app, and the odd time-out on uploads that causes recorded clips to never show up and you to not even be notified of a detected motion.
I want to love Blink. I want to use it in the pharmacy and give up on Piper because of its power unreliability, and on Canary because it belongs in my home more than a business setting (geofencing works better for houses), but as it stands, I can't fully rely on Blink and I don't enjoy using Blink. Maybe once local USB storage is enabled, I can trust it more to keep all the clips saved instead of them disappearing in the time-out black hole limbo. And maybe when the Android app is completely overhauled, it becomes a lot faster and more delightful to use.
In the meantime, I can't fully recommend Blink. Beside the hardware limitations, it has the potential to be very good once all the quirks are ironed out. But for now, sadly, there are better systems out there if you don't care about the portability, and if you do, I'd still suggest you wait to see if the system gets reliably updated to fix all the issues.