ProsUltra-competitive price; free recording plan; sleek design; integrates with Amazon Echo Show
ConsNo true Smart Home integration; smart phone app is "busy"; no instruction manual
We've tested a huge number of wireless cameras over the past few years, so many in fact that we've got a stack of them in a corner just waiting to be given away. The truth is that most so-called "smart" cameras on the market today aren't just pretty dumb, they're also pretty poor examples of modern technology. Clearly, a whole bunch of second-rate companies have entered into this market to grab some market share among security-obsessed, smartphone-loving consumers. And amazingly, this feeding frenzy has attracted huge amounts of venture capital funding for big new concepts that turn into ultra-expensive, poorly-engineered finished products.
So let's get this out of the way right now: TP-Link's Kasa Cam is not one of these. In fact, among the dozen or so wireless cameras we've tested, it's right near the top, and we don't mean the top of the give-away pile! This shouldn't be too surprising, because TP-Link also makes some of the best networking gear on the market, often dominating the charts in our quarterly Wireless Networking Buyer's Guide. When TP-Link reached out to us to let us know about its first Smart Home camera, we jumped at the opportunity to put it under the microscope, so to speak.
Read on to find out where the Kasa Cam beats the competition, and where it could still use a little fine-tuning.
We'd like to extend a special thank you to TP-Link for providing a sample of the TP-Link Kasa Cam KC120 Wireless Camera for review.
Description and Features
First things first, TP-Link is not new to wireless cameras, so what makes this one different? Based on our pre-release briefing with the company, the KC120, or Kasa Cam, is its first "Smart Home" camera. Now, what Smart Home means to one person or another is certainly up for debate, but from TP-Link's point of view, Smart Home means cloud integration, enhanced security, a smartphone interface, and a better overall user experience. Summed up, and we quote, TP-Link believes the Kasa Cam will be "a delight, not a hassle." Fair enough. We'll discuss its Smart Home attributes a bit more later in this review, but there's no doubt that the Kasa Cam is certainly a premium offering, and it's clearly a break from the previous no-frills models that TP-Link has offered.
All right, let's get into some specifics regarding the Kasa Cam. In the box, you'll find just a couple of parts, a quick-start guide, and notably no manual. The lack of a manual is becoming more and more commonplace with gear designed around a smartphone interface, but the fact that there's no manual at all, not even on the TP-Link website, irks us just a bit. Yes, we know it's designed to be easy to use, but a listing of its basic functions would be helpful at a minimum. As it stands, you'll learn more about this product by reading about it on a retailer's website than you will once you have it in your hand. That just seems a bit backwards to us.
As for the components in the box, you'll find the camera, a plastic disc that serves as a wall mount, a white micro-USB cord, and a power adapter. The adapter is very small, and thanks to its white color, it blended right into the bottom of the box, which at first left us scracthing our heads wondering if an adapter hadn't been included at all. Note that while the Kasa Cam itself is decked out in glossy and satin black, the white cord and adapter clash a bit. TP-Link informed us that this color was chosen to better blend in with home decor, although where the cable has to be exposed for some length of the run, as in our installation, white ends up being more noticeable than black would have been. Luckily, the user can always substitute their own black cable if they wish.
A bigger concerns is that TP-Link's adapter follows the bad example set by so many other Smart Home products nowadays, sticking out several inches from the wall. We've had the same problem with all of Amazon's Echo products, as well as various Smart Home alarms and outlets. For a camera that is likely to be placed on furniture and made to blend in, it's a little shocking that product designers don't realize that outlets in actual homes, as opposed to test labs, are often behind furniture. There's no way you're going to be able to push a cabinet closer than two inches from the wall with TP-Link's adapter in an outlet behind it. Again, this is most definitely not specific to TP-Link, but it is something we hope the company will consider fixing in the next revision.
The Kasa Cam uses a 130-degree wide-angle lens, which means it offers a lot of coverage despite the lack of pan-and-tilt functionality that many off-brand wireless IP cameras include. Our guess is that the cost of a proper wide-angle lens is actually more than the pan-and-tilt mechanism, which is why we consider a wide-angle lens the higher-end choice. For just about any user, pan-and-tilt is a gimmick with little benefit. The Kasa Cam can also be manually tilted up and down from nearly 90 degrees, providing a lot of flexibility, including the ability to be mounted to a wall. And very unique feature the Kasa Cam offers is the ability to have the camera begin recording and send an alert when triggered by sound, in addition to motion. This is critical in various situations, from a baby crying (but not moving enough to trigger motion detection) to glass breaking off camera. Note that this feature is off by default, but can be turned on easily if desired.
Now, let's get down to price, or more accurately, pricing. When it comes to security cameras, we think most of the startup camera manufacturers were hoping to cash in on expensive subscription plans that consumers won't realize they need until it's too late. The huge negative response in online user reviews suggests this was a bad idea, and that there will be some sad panda venture capitalists in silicon valley. Luckily, TP-Link is not a startup, and can actually provide a great package out of the box. The Kasa Cam costs just $129.99, which we should note is the lowest MSRP of any name-brand wireless camera. Even better, it includes one gigabyte of free recording, which TP-Link estimates will last about two days. We'll discuss the pros and cons of this approach on the next page, but suffice it to say that running the Kasa Cam in your kitchen is going to translate to that storage being consumed pretty quickly (recording only occurs when motion or sound is detected, not 24/7). If you determine you need more storage, you can get 14 days of storage for $4.99/month, or 30 days of storage for $9.99/month. A big question for serious users will be whether additional cameras will cost just as much, or whether the subscription covers multiple cameras. Either way, TP-Link is ahead of popular competitors like Google's Nest Cam, which provide exactly 0GB of recording for free. Interestingly, while a lot of cheap cameras have featured both cloud and onboard storage, TP-Link decided to go cloud-only with this product. Given how much more user-friendly a cloud-based camera can be, we think this is a perfectly-reasonable decision. Onboard storage is really an antiquated approach at this point.
One last thing: TP-Link, being a wireless networking company, knows a thing or two about security. It endows the Kasa Cam with 128-bit SSH encryption, rather than leaving security to the router. This should put to rest any fear among potential buyers of easy exploits leading to hacked cameras any time in the near future!