Security is an investment, and the best investments are the ones that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. For $300, Swann is offering the Smart-Series video surveillance system. Aside from the four weatherproof 1080p cameras and the 1TB DVR, the system includes two door/window sensors, two key fobs, and one outdoor strobe siren, as well as all the wires, cords, and screws needed for installation. Obviously, the most interesting thing about the system is its suspiciously low price, which makes me wonder: what's the catch?
Smart-Series Day/Night Camera Features
So, you already know that the system includes four cameras of the same model and one DVR. You also need to know that it's a CCTV camera, not an IP camera. As a CCTV camera, it doesn't connect to the internet nor can it stream videos to your mobile device. You can still stream videos to your phone via the DVR, but we'll get to that later.
The Smart-Series Day/Night Camera is weatherproof and is ready for indoor and outdoor action. It has an Ingress Protection rating of 66, which means it can survive direct rain and other outdoor conditions. It's also capable of operating in below zero temperatures (-4℉ to 122℉). However, keep in mind that it needs AC power, so it must be installed near an outlet.
As for the image and video quality, the camera has a full HD 1080p resolution. It is equipped with bright IR LEDs that can illuminate dark areas up to 100 feet, pretty powerful compared to most outdoor cameras. Unfortunately, the viewing angle is limited to 80° and it also lacks audio as it doesn't have a microphone.
Perhaps the camera's biggest blunder is its security features or lack thereof. It doesn't have motion sensors, it doesn't send notifications, and it doesn't detect sound because, again, there's no mic. All it does is stream videos to the DVR. It is designed for surveillance, not for intrusion detection.
Smart-Series DVR Specs
Despite the camera's lack of security features, the DVR makes up for it with its own security and automation features.
On the surface, it seems like the Smart-Series DVR is a normal DVR. It has 8 channels, so if you want, you can buy up to 4 additional cameras and add them to your existing 4-camera system. It also supports pan-and-tilt CCTVs. As for video output, the DVR supports VGA (direct to monitor), HDMI (for televisions), and USB connections. Depending on your video output type, the resolution is set to different defaults. For example, using the HDMI output, the default resolution is 1024 x 768. If your TV doesn't support the default resolution, you'll need to plug the DVR into a computer monitor first and access the settings using the included mouse.
The DVR has a storage capacity of 1TB, but you can expand it by up to 4TB by adding a SATA hard-disk drive. According to Swann, the 1TB storage capacity is enough for storing up to 80 days of videos from 8 cameras, most likely in low resolution. Assuming that's true, adding a 4TB HDD will let you store more than a year's worth of continuously recorded videos.
All that said, Smart-Series DVR has hidden abilities that are not normally seen in DVRs.
First, it connects to the internet via an Ethernet cable, allowing it to stream videos to your iOS or Android phone. But here's the catch: Swann has multiple iOS and Android apps which makes it confusing to use their system.
The Smart-Series works with two apps. First is the SwannOne Link, which is designed to stream videos from the DVR to your phone. This app is mainly for monitoring and controlling your DVR and cameras. The second app is the SwannOne app, which seems to be the better option. Aside from streaming, it also lets you play back videos, manage recordings, and access smart home and security devices connected to your system. It doesn't work with older DVRs, however, so if you're already a Swann customer with an existing DVR system, you're going to need to use both apps.
Second, the Smart-Series DVR can also stream to Windows computers and Macs. As with the mobile app, there are two computer software applications for streaming and controlling the system. They are also named SwannOne Link and SwannOne and their features and use cases are mostly the same as the mobile app versions.
Third, the DVR is also a central hub for security devices/sensors as well as for compatible Zigbee smart home products. We'll talk about that below.
Smart-Series Security and Automation Features
We now know that the camera lacks some necessary security features, but that doesn't mean that the system can't detect intruders. Along with the system comes sensors and accessories for home security. By connecting these devices to the DVR (wirelessly), you can secure your home and receive a notification if there's an intruder. However, in order for this to work, you'll need the SwannOne mobile or PC app.
The system ships with two door/window sensors, but you can always buy more from Swann. You can also buy motion sensors to add more layers of security. The downside is that the Smart-Series system is only compatible with these two sensors. All of the other sensors found here are incompatible.
The system also ships with an outdoor strobe siren and two key fobs. The siren is designed to sound when there's an intruder. However, you can customize when you want the siren to sound using the SwannOne app. There are three modes: Home, Night, and Away. You can customize the siren to sound or not to sound based on which mode you've set your system to. For example, you can set it to not sound if its in Home mode, but to blare when in Away or Night mode. On the other hand, the key fob lets you switch between the three modes conveniently.
Smart-Series also prides itself on being home-automation-ready. First, the DVR can connect with the Zigbee devices offered by Swann. Zigbee is a standard communication protocol used in home automation devices, such as smart plugs and smart lights. The bad news is that Swann only offers one automation device: a smart plug. The good news is that the system is open to third-party integrations. Nest Thermostat, SmartThings, Philips Hue lights, and a handful of smart lock providers are only some of the over 100 products Swann claims to integrate with. If you add compatible devices to your Smart-Series system, you'll be able to control them using the SwannOne app. You can turn on lights, adjust the thermostat, or even trigger a specific set of actions whenever you set the system to Home, Away, or Night mode.
Should You Buy The Smart-Series Video Surveillance System?
To sum it all up, the Smart-Series Video Surveillance system is a whole-home security system. It includes cameras, a DVR, security sensors, and accessories. It's also expandable, although Swann only offers a few expansion options.
The system's low price is one of its best selling points, but as expected, the system comes with a few glaring problems. One, the cameras are not security cameras, but surveillance cameras. They don't alert you of intrusion. Instead, you have to review the recordings every once in awhile. Two, the app selection is confusing. On top of that, the apps are buggy and inconsistent according to customer reviews. Three, although they offer automation features, they don't offer many device options. And finally, the system doesn't always integrate well with other brands, even those that are said to work with the system. For instance, several users have noted that it can't connect with their SmartThings hub even though Swann clearly states that it's possible.
If you're interested, you can buy the Smart-Series kit for as low as $269 on Amazon. Its current MSRP is $299.99.