If you’re itching to keep an eye on someone (or someplace), but have a limited budget, fear not. We’re in the second decade of the 21st century. You don’t need to buy a bunch of expensive equipment to monitor an area anymore — though, some of the best home security cameras are more affordable than you might think.
All you need is a smartphone — preferably one you’re not using — and something to view the feed. With a few bucks, a mobile device, a charger, and some tape or a tripod for mounting purposes, you can monitor whatever you want.
In this guide, we use AlfredCamera as a free example, but we also list great alternatives for both iOS and Android.
We chose AlfredCamera (Google Play) (Apple App Store) because it has excellent user reviews, it’s simple to use, and it works great. You can use this service for free, but there are some drawbacks, like advertisements and recording limits. You can unlock everything this service has to offer through a monthly or annual subscription.
In this example, we use the free account and set up a Pixel 3 as the camera. To see the feed, we use a laptop and Google’s Chrome web browser — no extensions needed.
Mobile device requirements:
- Android 5.0 or newer
- iOS 8 or newer
Note: Before beginning, make sure you’re using a wireless network that is secure and password-protected. Setting this up on an unprotected network is not advised, as someone may be able to access your network without your permission.
Step 1: Install the app and sign in using your email address, Google Account, or Apple ID credentials.
Step 2: Select how you want to use AlfredCamera. As shown below, we chose Baby Monitor, but you can tap on other options like Kid Monitor and Away for a Trip.
Step 3: The app may default to Viewer mode. If it does, tap Viewer at the top and select Camera instead.
Step 4: Tap one of the three permission options in the pop-up window for taking pictures and recording video.
Step 5: Tap one of the three permission options in the pop-up window for recording audio.
Step 6: Pair the phone with another device by logging in to AlfredCamera on the second device. You can do this by installing the app on another phone or tablet, or visit the AlfredCamera website in any browser and sign in with the same account credentials.
Step 7: Point the phone’s camera to the location you want to monitor. A tablet stand or phone holder will work, or you can purchase a smartphone adapter that screws into a tripod. By default, the app uses the rear-facing camera, but you can switch to the front-facing camera within the mobile app, or through the web viewer.
Step 8: Open the AlfredCamera website in a browser, sign in, and click WebViewer displayed in the top-right corner.
Step 9: As shown above, the listed camera displays a preview that changes like a slow slideshow, but this is not the actual feed. Click on the Preview to see the live feed, shown below.
Step 10: With the live feed open, hover a mouse over the video and a translucent menu appears with the following tools:
- Snapshot — Take a screenshot that automatically downloads to your device.
- Recording — Record the feed for up to 30 seconds.
- Rotate — Rotate the feed 90 degrees.
- Flashlight — Turns on your phone’s LED flash.
- Switch Camera — Switch between front and rear cameras.
- Low-Light Filter — Click once to set this to automatic. Clicking twice turns on the filter.
- Full Screen — Thisputs the browser into full-screen mode. The actual feed doesn’t expand.
- Siren — The phone will emit a sound at the maximum volume.
Step 1: Return to the main portal listing your camera.
Step 2: Hover your mouse over the image until the Cog icon appears. Click on the Cog.
Step 3: Click on Camera Name and enter the new name.
Here, you can adjust other settings, like toggling on/off motion detection, setting the lowlight filter to Auto, toggling the “stay zoomed-in” feature, and adding an account to the Trust Circle.
All videos are stored in the Moments section on the website. If you want to download the video, click on the video and it begins to play toward the right side of the browser. Click the Download or Share buttons.
If you want to record videos longer than 30 seconds, you’ll need the subscription, which extends the recording duration to 120 seconds. The subscription also unlocks the Zoom feature, enables HD viewing and recording, removes the ads, extends cloud storage up to 30 days, and enables motion detection scheduling. The cost is $4 per month or $30 per year. If you just want to disable ads, a one-time payment of $17 removes them for good.
Keep in mind that using a phone as a camera will drain the battery really fast. We drained around 20% of the battery in just one hour while testing this app. You should keep the phone plugged in at all times while using it as a camera.
AlfredCamera provides a WebCamera feature on the website that accesses your laptop’s webcam. You could easily use this instead of a phone and then view the feed on the Android or iOS app.
Finally, you can access the app’s settings by tapping the three-line “hamburger” icon in the top-left corner. Here, you can switch to viewer mode, turn on motion detection, see the camera’s health, and change the camera settings.
If you own an Android device, there are plenty of alternatives. We recommend two.
WardenCam and IP Webcam
WardenCam and IP Webcam are simple, easy to use, and work on the majority of Android devices. If you can tolerate advertisements, both services are free to use. If not, you can get IP Webcam Pro for $4, while WardenCam costs $6.
In terms of features, both are basically the same whether you need motion detection, night vision, or the ability to review events that took place while you were away. They also allow you to adjust the resolution of your video feed and configure your phone so it doesn’t go to sleep while the camera is running. It all comes down to personal preference.
Accessing their feeds on PC
WardenCam does not offer a Windows 10 or Mac app. Instead, you can view the feed through the website’s Web Viewer.
With IP Webcam, you have a few options. You can view the feed using VLC or any video player with streaming compatibility. If you’re using VLC, go to Media > Open Network Stream, and enter the URL to your remote camera. Once you’ve entered the URL, you can connect and see through your smartphone’s camera. Sadly, you can’t record footage very well with VLC; for that, you’ll want to opt for more powerful software.
More robust setups
Here, we recommend WebcamXP or Netcam Studio. Both WebcamXP and Netcam Studio are made by the same company, but Netcam Studio is newer and includes a watermark when viewing footage. If you don’t want a watermark, you can either buy the software for $50 or use WebcamXP, its older but capable sibling, without a watermark. Both limit you to just one camera at a time, however, so if you want some crazy setup with three different smartphones, you should invest in the paid edition of Netcam Studio.
Both WebcamXP and Netcam Studio offer the same straightforward functionality you’ll need to take full advantage of your Android device’s remote camera. Both can view live feeds from the camera, record footage, activate when motion or sound is detected, and connect with IP Webcam. They are missing minor features, such as camera focusing and LED control, but you can still remotely control these via IP Webcam. Both WebcamXP and Netcam Studio are extremely versatile given their feature set, and if you decide to kick it up a notch, you can transform your Android device into a real security camera with these tools.
As an iPhone owner, you have a few options for setting up remote viewing.
Presence by People Power is a jack-of-all-trades automation app that offers free connectivity to another iOS viewer-only device. The free version lets you view a livestream and will push notifications when something happens nearby. In-app purchases for Presence Pro Video increase your cloud storage, improve video quality, and enable longer video recordings.
Presence has a browser version that you must register to use.
Baby Monitor 3G
If you want a higher-quality feed for something like monitoring a sleeping baby, consider Baby Monitor 3G. Costing just $5, it lets you use an old iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch as a wireless baby monitor. The current iteration supports watchOS and includes video zoom and a night mode. Both the Mac app and the Apple TV app cost an additional $5 each, and are great for watching your child and talking to them from a room or two away.
If you’re looking for another alternative, check out AtHome. There are two components to this setup: The AtHome Video Streamer app that serves as the camera, and the AtHome Camera app that receives the feed. When used together, the pair let you monitor your area of choice from wherever you are, as long as you have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. You can also schedule recordings in advance, watch multiple cameras on one device thanks to a split-screen feature, and remotely control your camera to get a better look at the room or surrounding area.
If you want to monitor the feed using a PC, AtHome provides desktop software for Windows 10. You can turn a Mac into a camera — Windows 10, too — but there is no app for receiving feeds.