Early this month, the Amazon-owned company Blink introduced a new wired smart security camera called the Blink Mini. The $35 cloud-connected camera is a shot across the bow of Wyze, which offers two lower-priced Wi-Fi cameras and local storage options. I’ve spent a few days using the Blink Mini and came away feeling a bit uninspired about the product.
I should disclose up front that my home generally runs with the Google Home platform. However, I still have some Fire TVs and an Amazon Echo for testing. If you’re in the Google Home camp, the Blink Mini isn’t for you because it doesn’t work with Google’s smart home system. That’s not a knock on the product; it simply makes sense to equip your smart home around your ecosystem of choice.
If you’re familiar with a Wyze Cam, the Blink Mini looks similar but more modern, which I appreciate. It’s basically a small cube attached to a base that you can screw into a wall or other flat surface. A key difference between the Blink Mini and the Wyze Cam is that Blink is positioning this as part of a smart security package. Wyze products can be used for security but they’re not part of a cohesive security system by comparison.
The Blink has a micro USB port for the power cable on the back and a USB power brick is included. There’s also a microphone and a speaker built-in; these are used for the optional noise-detection feature and two-way conversation via the Blink app.
About that app: You’ll need it for the camera setup and of course for viewing the video feed. Here’s where I ran into a surprise: I had to create a Blink account.
That may not sound surprising but Amazon bought Blink in 2017, so I figured I could simply log in to the app with my Amazon account. I use that for Amazon Pay on websites and for account creation with some online services. The Blink account seems like unnecessary friction in this case.
The rest of the setup is pretty simple and not that different from other webcams I’ve used. Blink makes it easier by including a unique QR code imprinted on the back of the camera. You scan the code which connects your phone directly to the Blink Mini and then configure your Wi-Fi connection. That connection is 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi only which may cause some hassles if you have a dual-band mesh network. I do have such a network but I didn’t have any issues.
Coming back to the ecosystem topic: You’ll likely want to use Alexa with the Blink camera. That’s not natively supported and requires the installation of the Blink SmartHome skill. Again, it’s another friction point to me that should be removed.
Once the setup process is over, which takes about 10 minutes if you don’t have a Blink account or the Blink SmartHome skill already installed, you’re all set and the camera will do its thing. You can view the camera footage on an Alexa Show device; something I don’t currently have.
By default, the Blink Mini is actually off so you’ll head into the mobile app. Why is it off? Because again, this is more of a security add-on: I had to Enable the “security system” to start viewing camera output. You can do this by voice with Alexa. You can also schedule arming and disarming of the system to have the Blink Mini recording at certain times and days. You can always manually hit a “live view” button manually if you want to.
Using the Blink app you can see a live camera view, check out previously saved video clips, change settings, or join the Ring Neighbors app. This service shares camera information with nearby neighbors who have either Ring or Blink cameras.
The video feed from a Blink Mini looks reasonably good to my eyes; at least on par with what I see from my Wyze cameras. The output looked a little sharper when I set the Blink Mini video settings to “Enhanced”.
You can modify most of the camera’s settings in the app to adjust video quality, enable motion detection and activity zones, or enable/disable the microphone. The activity zone setup uses a photo and grid system, which is interesting and easy to use. The default recording time for video capture is 10 seconds but you can change that to any amount of time between 5 and 30 seconds.
Motion detection worked well in my tests as did two-way conversations, although the app notification for captured motion took several seconds. One thing you can’t fully adjust is the IR sensor which is used to illuminate objects in the dark: You can only change the intensity of it between low, medium, and high. I’d love to see the ability to turn it off for use as an outward-facing window camera; IR lights tend to cause glare on windows.
If you save camera clips currently, they’re sent to the cloud. Free space is managed by a setting on how long you want to keep video clips; older clips are automatically deleted based on this setting in the app.
Through the end of 2020, there’s no charge for this cloud storage. After that, however, you’ll pay $3 a month for a single Blink camera or $10 a month for up to 10 cameras. That’s not a bad price but I prefer to store my video footage locally; I do this on the Wyze with an SD card. Nobody can see my videos this way and I don’t have a monthly fee.
But there’s no SD card slot on the Blink Mini. To record locally, you’ll have to purchase the upcoming Blink Sync Module 2 for an additional $35 and a USB flash drive. It acts as a local hub for all multiple Blink Mini cameras which is nice. However, the flash storage is capped at 64 GB so if you have many cameras, you’ll likely want another flash drive for the second USB port. Since the Blink Sync Module 2 isn’t yet available, I wasn’t able to test it.
All in all, it’s better to look at the Blink Mini as part of a group of security products as opposed to a standalone webcam that can be used for security. If you’re all in on Blink as your home security provider and the Amazon ecosystem, this might be a good choice. Or you could go with Amazon’s other company, Ring, which makes similar products in this space. I’m not sure I get why Amazon bought both Blink and Ring, and I understand even less why the Blink isn’t as integrated with Amazon as it could be.
For others, I’d say save some money and look at similar products from Wyze. They have very many of the same features, still work with Alexa via a skill and come with the ability to record locally right out of the box.