Reolink Keen review: a truly wireless security camera

Reolink Keen review: a truly wireless security camera

One of the glossed-over truths about “wireless” home security cameras is most aren’t truly wire free. While they don’t need to be tethered to your router, many still need to be plugged into an electrical outlet, which can significantly limit their placement. The Reolink Keen, a full-HD (1080p) pan-and-tilt camera, rectifies this by running exclusively on battery power.

That cuts two ways. On the one hand you can set up the pear-shaped Keen virtually anywhere—it can sit on flat surfaces or be mounted to a wall or ceiling with the supplied bracket—and you don’t need to worry about the camera going dark because of a power outage or a burglar turning off the juice to your home. The downside is you can’t view or record 24/7, and you need to manage your usage. Reolink says the batteries can last up to 180 days in standby mode or for up to 500 minutes of live streaming/recording. The batteries—CR123As—aren’t the most common either, so you’ll want to heed Reolink’s advice to “use Reolink properly.”

The top half of the Keen can be remotely panned up to 355 degrees via the Reolink companion app, while the lens can tilt up and down a total of 105 degrees. The lens is ringed with infrared LEDs that provide up to 12 meters (nearly 40 feet) of night vision. The lens itself has a 90-degree field of view and captures 1080p video. The camera also houses a mic and speaker for two-way communication.

keen batteries Reolink

Battery power allows you to place the Reolink Keen virtually anywhere.

The Keen is unique among the cameras we’ve seen in that it comes with a discrete PIR (passive infrared) motion sensor rather than one integrated into the camera. This sensor is also battery powered and can be mounted to a wall using a supplied bracket that can be affixed with screws or adhesive backing. When the sensor detects movement, the Keen will record video of the event, push a notification to your phone, and sound an alarm to ward off the intruder.

All videos and snapshots are recorded locally to microSD (card not included), sparing you the ongoing costs of a cloud subscription. Of course, this also means all an intruder has to do is take the card or the camera to eliminate any evidence of their crime.

Setup and usage

In theory, setting up the Reolink Keen should take only minutes: You just scan a couple of QR codes—one on the camera body, the other generated by the Reolink app—and follow the camera’s voice feedback to connect the app to the camera and the camera to your wireless network.

keen pir crop Reolink

The Keen's separate motion sensor detects radiating infrared energy to differentiate between bodies and other moving objects.

In practice though, it’s potentially more fraught. You’re supposed to hold your phone with the app-generated QR code about 8 inches in front of the camera lens for it to scan and connect to your router. This step alone took me more than 30 minutes as the Keen couldn’t recognize the code, and its voice assistant repeatedly told me to “Please run Reolink App, click the ‘Add New Device’ button, and follow instructions to set up the camera.” The is apparently not unheard of as there is a whole section of the Keen’s troubleshooting FAQ devoted to it.

When none of the suggested measures fixed the problem, I resorted to downloading the app to a different phone and started the setup process over again. This time it worked immediately.

Installing the motion sensor is much simpler. It’s already connected to the camera, so all you need to do is pull off the battery spacer and mount it somewhere. Ostensibly a separate motion sensor unit lets you set up the camera and sensor angles independently. But given that the whole idea of these security cameras is to record the triggering activity, that reasoning seems dubious. The easiest way to do this is to have the camera lens and sensors facing the same direction by integrating the sensor into the camera body—as most cameras do.

reolink app PCWorld

The Reolink provides tools and customization settings for the Keen and its motion sensor.

I quickly found, however, that the Keen setup is indeed great for defining a “motion zone”—restricting motion detection to a narrow part of a frequently traveled area. Normally when I aim a security camera at my back patio sliding door, I risk false alerts triggered by my dog’s meanderings—or even squirrels running through the backyard—passing in the camera’s field of view. By fixing the motion sensor on the wall right next to the door and keeping the camera—and the dog—deeper in the living room I was able to maintain surveillance of that area without getting a barrage of false motion notifications.

It’s true that other cameras solve this problem by allowing you to define motion detection areas within their companion apps, but the Keen’s PIR sensor has another advantage. It “senses” motion by detecting objects radiating infrared energy within 26 feet of it rather than algorithmically. That means it can’t be fooled by a billowing curtain or rustling leaves outside a window.

The Keen doesn’t work with the Reolink desktop client or a web portal, it can only be managed from the Android or iOS smartphone app. This is easy to navigate and provides separate sets of tools for the camera’s live stream and playback of recorded video. You toggle between these by activating the Live View or Playback tabs at the top of the camera’s home screen.

On the first you can choose single- or, if you have more than one camera, multi-screen views; pan and tilt the camera; change the resolution, activate two-way talk; and take snapshots of the feed and manually trigger recording. The playback screen gives you access to all your surveillance footage and a timeline of triggering events. From the home screen you can turn push notifications on and off, deactivate the motion sensor and even view a daily record of your camera usage to help manage power consumption.

Overall, the Reolink Keen worked as advertised. Image quality was excellent, with accurate colors, crisp detail, and no image bending. Night vision was sharp with strong contrast. The pan-and-tilt was responsive and smooth. Best of all, there were far fewer false motion detection alerts than with other cameras, thanks largely to the unique nature of the Keen’s PIR motion sensor.

Bottom line

Aside from the small hiccup during the setup process, the Reolink Keen worked like a dream. If you’re looking for a truly wireless security camera with a gentle learning curve, this is it.

IDG Insider

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