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How to turn your old Android phone or tablet into a security camera

Derek Walter | Dec. 9, 2015
Your unused Android device can be repurposed for checking up on the baby or making sure your house is safe while you're away.

android home camera
Credit: Derek Walter

There’s a pretty good chance you have an old smartphone or tablet sitting around in a drawer. Sure, you could always sell it for a little cash, but there’s another practical idea you could try: turning it into a do-it-yourself security camera.

Whether it’s to keep an eye on your home while away or just a new tech tool to add to your repertoire, it’s very much worth doing. There are several apps that can do this for you, with varying levels of difficulty and features. 

I took an old Nexus 7 and paired it up with a Nexus 6P and an iPhone (shudder) to get an idea of how this would work across multiple devices and platforms. In short, it’s pretty easy to do. But beware: this might serve as the gateway drug to more a more sophisticated setup with real cameras.

Start small with Perch

If you’re a complete newbie to this (as I am) then go with Perch. Even though it’s in Beta (and for now, Android only), I found it to have an excellent, easy-to-use interface and walkthrough for transforming an old device into a security camera.

Once you download the app onto your phone or tablet, you need to create an account (sadly, there's no ability to create an account with Google or other login options). But from there, it’s really just a couple of taps to get this started.

perch cameras
Perch has a very simple setup process to get an old device up and running as a camera.

Just give the camera a name, and choose whether or not you want to turn on audio recording to hear what’s going on. You’ll see a preview view in a circle at the top of the screen. Then you need to download the Perch app on another device or sign in to the web portal (another thing I really liked—no download required).

Perch has a number of other neat tricks, too. It has a picture-in-picture video conference feature, in case you need to appear on screen and tell the kids to stop goofing around. 

You can also get push alerts when the camera goes offline or if movement is detected.

perch push notifications
Perch will send you a push alert when a camera turns off.

That was the only hangup I really found with it. Sometimes I didn’t get the push alert or email notice, no matter how much dancing, object-throwing, or other shenanigans were performed in front of the camera. 

But I was able to overlook that because of how reliable the camera performance was. Perch says that’s because it relies on WebRTC protocol, which is an open standard for rapid peer-to-peer connections. I left the Nexus 7 plugged in and connected during a few errand runs away from the house, and it was always recording. There are more sophisticated and feature-rich options than Perch, but it was my favorite because it held my hand through the trial process.


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