This $20 security camera is aiming for the Nest Cam’s throne

When the Nest Cam — or the Dropcam, as it was known back then — was first introduced, it was something of a game changer. A security camera that just… worked. Plug it in, get it on WiFi, and you’re set.

Nowadays, the Nest Cam stands in a more crowded arena. Logitech, Netgear, Samsung, and most of the other big names all have their own comparable offerings, all racing to bring the biggest feature set at the lowest price point.

A new challenger approaches! It’s called the Wyze Cam, and, as ridiculous as it seems, it’ll only cost $20 (before shipping, which varies a bit.)

Here’s the breakdown:

  • 1080p video recording, with infrared-based night vision
  • It has a magnetic base that can swivel/tilt to point the camera wherever it’s needed. You can sit it on a desk, or it comes with a sticky metal plate for popping it up in otherwise non-magnetic spots.
  • It can send alerts when it detects motion or sound, or, interestingly, when it hears the loud beeps of a smoke/carbon monoxide detector.
  • The price tag includes cloud-based “alert video” storage for the last 14 days on a rolling basis. It’ll push ~15 seconds of video to the cloud each time it detects motion/sound (as opposed to something like the subscription-based Nest Aware, which does continuous footage, storing everything recorded whenever the device is on.)
  • If you want continuous recording, you can stick a microSD card (not included) into the back. Continuous video is stored locally but can be accessed remotely through the app.
  • It has a microphone/speaker built in for 2-way audio.
  • The base unit costs $20 through Wyze Labs, plus ~$6 for shipping. If you buy it on Amazon with Prime shipping, the price gets bumped up to $30.

So how the hell is the company making money on a $20 HD security camera? Put simply: they probably aren’t. Not much, at least. Wyze Labs’ Director of Marketing Jessie Zhou was pretty upfront that the margins on this product are “extremely low”; she notes, though, that this is just a first step for the company. She says that Wyze Labs wants to make a bunch of different affordable smart home device. This first product is mostly meant to help them get the ball rolling and build their customer base.

It also helps that Wyze Labs isn’t building the hardware themselves, right now. They’re tapping a design by Chinese mega company Xiaomi here, customizing it with their own cloud integration and Android/iOS apps. Xiaomi started selling this camera (albeit without Wyze’s additions) as “Xiaofang” earlier this year.

Wyze Labs itself is pretty small right now, with around 12 people currently making up the team. Many of them, like Creative Director Dave Crosby (who, side note, you might recognize from videos in which he sings with his daughter on YouTube), Director of E-Commerce Elana Fishman, and Marketing Director Jessie Zhou, are ex-Amazon.

I’ve been using a pre-release unit for a few days now, and while it’d be a bit early for me to do a full review, I’m… surprisingly impressed so far. The camera is easy to install, the software is more solid than I’d expect for something still in beta, and the video quality seems good in my early tests. The 2-way audio feature is a bit lacking, right now; the speaker built into the units I tested seemed very quiet. As you could’ve probably guessed, the hardware itself doesn’t look or feel quite as snazzy as the aforementioned pricier alternatives — but it looks a whole lot better than I’d expect of something that costs roughly twenty bucks.

As I do with any company entering the Internet-of-Things space, I find myself curious about Wyze Lab’s security chops. To sell a gadget at this price point is to make it almost an impulse buy — but when we’re talking about a set-it-and-forget-it device with a birds eye view into your home, there’s a monumental amount of trust required. Whenever a new device finds any degree of success on the market, it tends to become a target; can a small, relatively new team keep up? The company tells me that anything they push to the cloud is stored on Amazon’s AWS and encrypted end-to-end, and I’ve reached out for details on further security practices.

You can find more info on the Wyze Cam on the company’s site here.

(Updates: added details about Xiaomi’s “Xiaofang”, thoughts on security)