YI Home Camera 3 Review: Nice Features, Poor Connectivity
We really wanted to love the inexpensive little YI Home Camera, but its video is choppier than a chef on a cooking show and it can’t communicate with your smart home devices.
YI Home Camera 3 Pros and Cons
Different alert types
Low price tag
No smart integration
YI Home Camera 3 Cloud Subscription Plans
YI’s cloud storage plans vary depending on where you look. Why? We have no idea, but both the standard and premium plans listed on YI’s website are generally less expensive than those in the app, so we’ve included them here. The app includes a basic plan that’s only $3.99 a month and not offered on the website, so be sure to shop both the app and the website to find a plan that works for you.
YI’s monthly cloud storage fees are about the same price as Nest’s, but Nest offers continuous video recording with all of its plans. By comparison, Wyze Cam Pan gives you free 14-day rolling cloud storage for all motion- or sound-detected events.
Data effective 8/31/2019. Offers and availability subject to change.
Tech and Equipment
The YI 3 camera has an attractive modern design, but it’s not as maneuverable as other home security cameras. It doesn’t have a handy ball socket like Nest Cam or a fully panning lens like Wyze—you can only move the YI up and down—so mounting it on a wall might make it difficult to get a good viewing angle.
Fortunately, the YI Home Camera 3’s wide-angle lens makes up for its lack of maneuverability. No matter the size or shape of the room I placed it in, it was easy to find a good angle that captured the majority of the room’s area.
If you opt out of cloud service, you can use the YI camera’s micro SD card storage (SD card not included) instead. We inserted an SD card into the slot for our test period and it gave us about three days of motion-triggered recordings, even in high-traffic areas. YI uses 1080p HD video, so the daytime picture quality was nice and clear when the connection was good. Turning your smartphone screen to the left or the right simulates camera panning and lets you see more of the picture. (We won’t talk about how much time I spent entertaining myself doing that.) The camera’s night vision was also quite clear, so no complaints there.
Unfortunately, the YI 3 often had very poor connectivity. Whenever I opened the app, it took several seconds to a full minute to buffer. When you’re anxious to see what triggered a notification, that amount of time feels like an eternity. If it did finally manage to connect, the video was choppy and occasionally pixelated. Sometimes the app would tell me the camera couldn’t connect and ask me to check network settings. When I did, it always showed connectivity as “excellent.” Other times, the app didn’t give me any notifications about connectivity and I would assume it was connected. But when I’d walk through the room and still see a “live” video feed of an empty room, I’d realize it wasn’t really a live feed at all. It’s a cool trick for a bank heist movie, but not so great for my home security camera.
What’s in the Box
YI Home Camera 3
USB cable AC adapter
USB power cable
Installing the YI Home Camera 3 took only about 15 minutes, with no tools required. The app and voice prompts from the camera walked me through every step of setup. The camera base has adhesive so you can conveniently stick it to a wall or another flat surface with no screws. The magnetic base lets you securely attach it to a metal surface like a refrigerator (so you can finally see who’s been eating your favorite yogurt). The camera needs to be plugged into a wall, but its cord is only about 6 feet long, so if you want to put it somewhere farther from an outlet, you’ll need to use an extension cord.
App and Notifications
I set the camera up in my office, and despite the poor performance of its live feed, YI’s motion sensor video recordings and app notifications worked pretty well. When the camera detected motion, the app sent a notification to my phone. The videos were mostly clear, but to view anything longer than a 6-second notification clip, I had to switch over to cloud storage or the SD card footage.
I liked that I could adjust the frequency of the notifications in the app so I wouldn’t get a constant stream when my kids decided to use my office for a game of hide-and-seek, or when my husband was going in and out searching for his tape measure. (It was on his desk the whole time.) I could also set a schedule for the camera so I wouldn’t get notifications while I was in there working.
I’ve used cameras with two-way audio before, and I’ve found that it’s a great way to talk with my kids when they’re at home and I’m not. Sadly, the YI Home Camera’s two-way audio rarely worked, and when it did, the sound kept cutting out—on both sides. The last thing I need is yet another way for my kids to avoid listening to me, so it was disappointing.
The YI’s sound detection feature worked great for alerting me to loud noises, and I could adjust its sensitivity. It’s a nice feature if you want to use the camera as a baby monitor or get notified if your dog barks when you’re not at home.
While I appreciated the camera’s ability to detect the difference between humans, animals, and other motion, I felt like YI used this feature as a way to advertise the Home Camera as a smart camera even though it has no smart home functionality. When compared to the best security cameras on the market, not having an integrated app or smart device integration is a significant strike against YI.
Smart Cloud Search
We like that YI Cloud has adopted the fast scanning feature of Nest’s cloud storage so you can find the recording you need quickly by looking through a spread of thumbnail shots. Unfortunately, trying to play back the clips from these thumbnail images worked only about half the time. You can also fast-forward video up to 32x normal speed to search through it quickly.
When I contacted YI support with a question via email, a representative got back to me with a personalized response within 24 hours. YI also has customer support lines open from 12 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST, which are odd hours, but may have something to do with the company being based in China.
How YI Home Camera 3 Stacks Up
When it comes to features, YI is similar to Nest, but again, it doesn’t have Nest’s smart home capabilities. Pricewise, it’s not much more expensive than Wyze, but Wyze has free 14-day rolling cloud storage, smart home integration, and a full 360-degree view. So YI’s got some tough competition.
Data effective 8/31/2020. Offers and availability subject to change.
I love how YI has taken so many great features from other pricey top cameras and put them into this inexpensive home camera, but I wish the company had put a little more work into creating quality technology to keep its video feed connected. It was definitely more of a headache than a help. If I’d purchased this camera for my home security, I’d be returning it.
The YI 3 has a slimmer profile than the YI 2, and it no longer has Gesture Recognition, which was a feature that allowed you to motion to the camera and record 10-second video clips. But YI added features like Smart Detection, Sound Detection, and Smart Cloud Search to the YI 3.
In our testing, the YI 2 occasionally had problems connecting, but once it was connected it didn’t have the same choppy, pixilated video issues that we found with the YI 3.
Is there a YI Home app for Windows?
Yes, but we’ve heard it’s a pain to use.1 Fortunately, you can also download the app on your iOS device, Android device, smartphone, or tablet, and YI Home also offers the latest version of its apps as APK files for eager Android users.
What are the pros and cons of having a wired security camera like the YI?
The biggest pro to wired security cameras is that you never have to worry about changing batteries. The cons are that you’re more limited in placement than you might be with wireless security cameras and you’re more vulnerable to power outages. Keep in mind that some “wireless” security cameras may still need to be wired for power—understanding how wireless cameras work can help you choose between wired and wireless cameras.
Can I have my YI Home Camera professionally monitored?
You can’t have the camera monitored, but YI does offer a 24/7 Emergency Response button that you can add to your app for around $5 a month. Pushing the button puts you in touch with Noonlight Certified Emergency Specialists who can send help to your location if needed.
How We Reviewed the YI Home Camera 3
We tested the YI Home Camera 3 by installing it first in a living room and then in a home office. We monitored the camera using the YI Home app on an iPhone 6, and we tested the connection both at home and away. We tested the camera’s features with normal use, and we also used scenarios that simulated real-world applications. Our full methodology can tell you more about our review process.
Kasey is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and a freelance writer with expertise in emergency preparedness and security. As the mother of four kids, including two teens, Kasey knows the safety concerns parents face as they raise tech-savvy kids in a connected world, and she loves to research the latest security options for her own family and for SafeWise readers. Learn more