Home security cameras aren’t cheap, and you usually get what you pay for. The Xiaomi Yi Home Camera is one of the cheapest motion detecting, live video streaming home security cameras I’ve come across and is available in two models: a ridiculously low-priced Chinese version (about $30), and a slightly more expensive Official U.S Version (about $60, sometimes less). But what's the difference? And is one better than the other? I was lucky enough to review both cameras and, after some digging, found the answers to my questions.
What Do Yi US Version and Xiaomi Yi Chinese Version Have in Common?
|US Version||Chinese Version|
|Wide Angle Lens||YES- 111 degrees||YES- 111 degrees|
|Night Vision||YES- infrafred||Two Versions With and Without|
|Photo Snapshot/Video Recording||YES||YES|
|Local Storage||32 GB microSD||32 GB microSD|
|Phone App||iOS and Android||iOS and Android|
|Router Requirements||2.4 Ghz router only||2.4 or 5 Ghz router|
Spec for spec these cameras are identical. They also look the same. In fact, the only way I could tell them apart was to scan the QR code on the back of each camera.
The Yi camera looks sleek and modern. It’s much smaller than what I expected. The camera is impressively thin and has a clean white base (it’s also available in black) offset by the black lens. It looks similar to Nest Cam and the lens behaves similarly as well. You can pop the lens out to wall mount the camera or leave it in the stable, non-slip base.
They look the same and have quite a few similar features. The quality of the video is the same- you get 720p video.
Although each camera uses a different app, there are also similarities between the two apps. You can use either app to:
- Watch live streaming video
- Zoom in 4x or expand your view with the wide angle lens
- Set motion alert notifications and set the camera to record motion events
- Record video or snap photos (when microSD is full, it deletes the older videos and saves the new ones)
- View stored videos or photos
- Use two-way audio
- Video Storage
What Makes Them Different?
Though there are similarities, there are also differences. Most of what makes them different is on the inside; it's the firmware, the app, the way they communicate. Let's review.
1. Xiaomi Yi Chinese Version
Setting Up The Camera:
This camera is odd in that all of the audio commands and instructions are in Chinese, but the app is primarily in English. Setting up the camera involves listening to the audio prompts and following in-app instructions.
The first step is to turn on the camera and wait for it to say “Waiting to Connect” in Chinese. I don’t speak Chinese, so I waited for the light to blink yellow. Once that happens, you enter your Wi-Fi password. Then, you scan the QR code and wait for it to tell you that the scan was successful (or wait for the light to turn blue). But, the light never turned blue, and I couldn’t figure out why because I couldn’t understand what the camera was saying. I reset the camera and tried connecting it another way (there are two options- one with the QR code and one with Wi-Fi). This way didn’t work either. I tried several times, for about 30 minutes. Finally, I did some googling and got to the bottom of it. The camera from China only works with the Chinese version of the app. Of course, there’s nothing telling you that since the instruction manual is in another language.
The Chinese version of the app for Androids is available here. If you own an iPhone, you need to install the Yi app from the Chinese iTunes store. With the right app installed, I was prompted to create a Mi account before I could get started. After that, it was all smooth sailing.
Using The App:
As I mentioned above, the Chinese version of Yi uses a different app than the American version. Although I was worried the app would be completely in Chinese, I was wrong. Only some of it was in Chinese. Most of the important parts are in English, so it’s pretty easy to navigate. It’s about as user-friendly as any other home security camera app.
Although the push notifications come in Chinese, it’s not a big deal. It’s not as if you’re getting anything other than motion alerts from Yi, so you don’t need to break out the Chinese to English dictionary (because, seriously, who doesn’t have one lying around).
I tested the app on an iPhone, a Kindle, and an Android phone and had the same experience with all three.
This camera offers 720p video with a wide-angle lens that allows you to scroll to the left or the right within the live video screen. When testing the camera close to my Wi-Fi router, the experience was excellent with no buffering. However, when I moved the camera further from my router, I didn’t have the same experience. I had to wait several seconds for my live feed to load and had difficulty recording video clips. As for storage options, it only offers local storage. The camera supports microSD cards up to 32GB.
The camera has a "privacy" mode for the times when you're home, but don't want Yi spying on you. Usually, a blue LED light tells you that the camera is on (though you can set the light to stay off). In privacy mode, the light shuts off and video isn't recorded. This feature was really useful, especially when my paranoid friend walked in the room and was adamant about not being recorded.
There are two versions of the Chinese camera. The newer version has night vision, the older version (still sold) does not. At first, I was worried I had purchased the older version as night vision was not working. What I found is that I had to reinstall the app twice before night vision worked. The first time, night vision didn’t work at all. When I reinstalled the app, it worked, and it worked well.
The two-way audio feature was also slightly disappointing. When I tried speaking through the app from a different room, the audio came out sounding like a broken intercom. My words were muddled and the audio kept cutting off my sentences. But, it’s still a useful feature to have. Though the audio using this feature was mumbled, the audio coming through the live video feed was pretty clear.
2. The Updated Yi Home Camera American Version
Before I start talking about version 'Merica, let me make something clear. This camera ONLY WORKS WITH 2.4 GHZ routers. To be honest, I’ve never once cared about which band my router was and the Chinese version of the camera didn't seem to care either. But version "Merica cared. I spent hours troubleshooting, trying to figure out why the setup process was failing every time, And hours trying to make it work. Then, I found out that the camera doesn’t work with 5 GHZ routers. I correctly deduced that my router was 5 GHZ and not a dual-band router, so I ordered a new router and set that up before I could go any further. Sigh. Needless to say, I was frustrated.
Setting up the camera:
I was even more frustrated after I got the router situation sorted. My phone would not connect with the camera. I kept getting to the last step, and was told to wait 2-3 minutes while the app searched for the camera. It failed every time. I did some troubleshooting and found that I wasn’t the only one with this issue. After hours of frustration, I found a useful thread that suggested a firmware download. That didn’t work. So, after about 5 hours of attempting to fix it, 10 hours of thinking about how to fix it, and one week of wondering how hard it could possibly be for a phone to connect to a camera, I gave up. Judging from the comments on the forum, I’m not the only one who has had problems.
Using the app:
From what I could tell, the US Version of the app is very similar to the Chinese app. I couldn’t access the camera controls without connecting a camera, but the set-up screen was almost identical and the main screen looked the same.
On paper, the only real difference in features is the firmware. And the firmware for this version (in my experience) has plenty of glitches.
The US version offers local and cloud storage. Locally, you can store videos on a microSD card with up to 32GB of memory. If you want to store videos in the cloud, you need to subscribe to one of these five plans:
|FREE||Standard (15 Days)||Standard (30 Days)||Premium (14 Days)||Premium (30 Days)|
|$19.99/month or $199/year|
|VIDEO HISTORY||7-Day Cloud History||15-Day Cloud History||30-Day Cloud History||14-Day Cloud History||30-Day Cloud History|
|CAMERAS COVERED||Unlimited||One plan covers 5 cameras||One plan covers 5 cameras||One plan covers 1 camera||One plan covers 1 camera|
|CLIP LENGTH||Unlimited 6-Second Activity Clips||Unlimited Storage (10-Second Motion Clips)||Unlimited Storage (10-Second Motion Clips)||Continuous Video Recording||Continuous Video Recording|
The Standard plan supports up to five US Edition Yi Cameras. Currently, Yi offers four cameras models: the Yi Home, the improved Yi Home 2, Yi Dome, and Yi 1080p Dome.
I wanted to love the Xiaomi Yi Home Camera. But, I can't bring myself to say that I love it. The US version was too glitchy for me to even set up. So, maybe I just had bad luck? On paper, both versions of the camera are impressive. But in reality, the two-way talk was disappointing and the video wasn't dependable.
With that said, for the price, you can't ask for much more. If you're looking for a cheap home security camera during the day or at night, the Chinese version of Yi is a good option. As long as you keep it close to your router, the motion detector works well and can keep you aware. And with such a low price tag, you can use several cameras. As far as the U.S Version goes, I'd give it some time. Maybe, in the future, the firmware problems will be solved, and no one else will have to go through the troubles I had trying to set up the camera. For now, I'm calling the Chinese version the winner. The lower price tag and better performance are worth dealing with the slight language barrier created by the Chinese version.
12/6/2016 Updated With Cloud Storage Information