When you're looking to secure your home, family, and property with the help of a wireless camera, you've got a lot of options to consider. Devices run the gamut when it comes to features and pricing, from the likes of budget-friendly Wyze to the premium polish of an Arlo. While there's a lot to like on both ends of that spectrum, I've been interested in finding a good middle ground. Would the $90 Kami Wire-Free Outdoor Camera be up to the task?

I was first introduced to the Kami Wire-Free back at CES in January, where Kami pitched the camera to me as an affordable, full-featured alternative to pricier offerings. And while there would be paid cloud plans available, the existence of both a limited free cloud tier and (most critically) microSD support for local storage sure made it sound like this would be one camera worth checking out. And that's just what I've been up to doing.

Specs

Camera 1920 x 1080 20fps f/1.8
Field of view 165 degrees
Night vision IR cut filter + IR LEDs
Audio Microphone, speaker present
Power 4 x 18650 lithium batteries
Connectivity Single band 2.4Ghz 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
Local storage MicroSD support
Cloud storage 6-second motion-triggered free, paid options available

The Good

Pricing A sub-$100 sticker price makes this attractive to first-time smart camera shoppers.
Local storage An internal microSD slot lets the camera save your footage, without needing an ongoing cloud subscription.
Connectivity Wi-Fi means there's no awkward hub, accessing the camera is quick, and the video is practically real-time (unlike multi-second delays you see with other systems).
Setup Getting started is a very simple, quick process (once you wait for batteries to charge, at least).

The Not So Good

App I'm not sure I like anything about what the Kami (or Yi) app is doing. It is not convenient to access your recordings, notifications are ugly as sin, and why the heck would you crop the camera view by default?
Design You have to twist the Kami's base to adjust and lock its viewing angle. You also have to twist the base to attach and remove the camera from its mount. Just try to do perform one of these without doing the other.
Cloud Adds minimal value, as it's just storage — no extra 'smart' features. And of course, you'll be bombarded with ads until you subscribe.
Video Inconsistent frame rates, especially at the start of clips.

Design, hardware, what's in the box

If you're coming from something like an Arlo ecosystem, the first thing you'll be struck by with the Kami is its elongated, cylindrical build. Up front we've got a 165-degree wide-angle lens for the Kami's 1080p camera. Above it there's a status LED, below a passive infrared sensor for low-power motion detection, and a hidden ring of infrared-illumination LEDs surrounds the lens.

The overall shape of the Kami seems to largely be a consequence of its power supply, which consists of four commodity 18650 li-ion rechargeables. It's a move that may save costs over a custom battery, but also one that limits camera design, and makes recharging a little inconvenient. On the plus side, it's cheap and easy to buy more, and have a few ready to swap in at a moment's notice. You can expect to see several months' operation on a charge.

The four included 18650 batteries offer a combined capacity of nearly 60Wh.

Kami includes a big external charger to power those up, and while perfectly functional, the experience of using it only highlights how streamlined things are for other wireless cameras — many of which charge directly over USB without any extra hardware.

The camera hardware itself screws inside its plastic housing to offer protection from the elements. The package includes a replacement O-ring to help seal things up, but more than anything that just makes me concerned that Kami expects the O-ring to fail.

Twist, twist, everything twists.

The camera mounts to an included plate, with ball-and-stick aiming. Sadly, angles are more limited than I'd like. The mounting interface itself also feels a little flimsy, and has more “give” than I'm comfortable with. Everything you have to do here — from inserting the camera hardware into its housing, to locking the view angle in place, to securing the camera to its mounting plate — is done with a twist-to-secure motion. But with all that twisting happening along the same axis, it's way too easy to turn the wrong part by mistake, pulling the camera off the wall when all you wanted to do is point it somewhere else.

Software and features

Getting started is a very smooth process with the Kami Wire-Free Outdoor Camera. After charging the batteries and inserting them, you'll download the Kami app and create an account. Adding a camera follows a convenient step-by-step process, including entering your Wi-Fi credentials and scanning a QR code with the camera itself — getting it to recognize which is probably the single frustrating part of this ordeal.

At first glance the app is pretty straightforward: You can access individual cameras to view their live feeds (including two-way audio communication), view clips from motion alerts, and adjust camera settings. The latter there includes things like motion sensitivity, desired recording length, and options to share access with other users. All that's pretty standard, and had me feeling good about what to expect from Kami's software.

Main screen, live camera feed, configuring settings (left to right)

But the more you use the app, the stranger and less useful its operation appears. For instance, motion alerts first appear to you as a 6-second clip, with the sort of media playback controls and progress bar you'd expect. To view the entire recording, you transition to an odd 'timeline' mode that drops all playback controls in the process. How you export clips is unusual, too, sometimes prompting you to record a local copy off a stream, or batch together all recordings in a 10-minute time frame.

That's just touching on the oddities here, like how the widescreen 1080p camera defaults to a cropped view in the app, which then uses motion controls to allow you to “pan” the camera side-to-side by moving your phone.

MicroSD slot on the interior of the camera's body.

After using the camera with local microSD storage alone for some time, I decided to check out a free 30-day trial of the Yi Cloud, hoping to see an improvement over how clips are accessed. Unlike Arlo's subscription service, this one is really just about storage, and you won't get any advanced video-recognition features. I had hoped that little annoyances like having to watch a 6-second clip before viewing the full recording might go away with an account, but alas, no. I'm also a little cranky that you have to enter payment details to even start the trial, probably banking that you'll forget to cancel.

In addition to the Kami app, I also tried using the camera with the Yi app, which is practically identical (and you'll see its screens mixed in here). Kami supports Alexa, but I was hoping to tap into the Yi app's Home integration — sadly, you can't yet access this camera through a Nest Hub.

Saved clips, limited alert viewing, cloud plan options (left to right)

All this sounds very negative, but I'll admit that I came into this with some pretty high expectations. To its credit, the Kami is probably the least-laggy smart camera I've used, and viewing its feed is nearly real-time. That's probably helped by its hubless design, which also makes installation that much easier. While video can look OK, the 20 fps limit isn't helping any, and even then the footage doesn't always record smoothly.

Should you buy it?

Kami Wire-Free Outdoor Camer
7/10
Maybe. Am I really asking that much? Kami's got the price I want, and for the large part, the features I want: motion detection, notifications, and local storage. But viewing, saving, and sharing recorded clips is just made so needlessly awkward that I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. When you learn to adapt to all of the app's operational foibles, the Kami is usable as a smart cam. But not everyone's going to want to put up with that.

Now, it is entirely possible that future software improvements could eventually turn my impressions around 180 here, but for the moment I've got to go by how the user experience comes together today, and it's just lacking compared to Kami's peers. Maybe some fresh competition from the likes of the upcoming Wyze Cam Outdoor will help shake things up — I sure hope so, at least.