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

BY GreenBot Staff

Published 8 Dec 2015

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.

ether 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 features. 

I took an old Nexus 7 paired it up with a Nexus 6 an ione (shudder) to get an idea of how this would work across multiple devices 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 rch

If you’re a complete newbie to this (as I am) then go with rch. Even though it’s in Beta ( for now, Android only), I found it to have an excellent, easy-to-use interface 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 or other login options). But from there, it’s really just a couple of taps to get this started.

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

st give the camera a name, 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 rch app on another device or sign in to the web portal (another thing I really liked—no download required).

rch 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 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
rch 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. rch says that’s because it relies on bRTC protocol, which is an open stard for rapid peer-to-peer connections. I left the Nexus 7 plugged in connected during a few err runs away from the house, it was always recording. There are more sophisticated feature-rich options than rch, but it was my favorite because it held my h through the trial process.

esence

If you want something with a little more capability, check out esence. It has more options than what you get with rch, there’s an iOS app in case you want to be able to use the camera feature with an ione or id as well as Android.

presence videos
esence is a good option if you want a cross-platform solution for using a device as a spy cam.

There’s also a pretty easy method to “share” access to someone else temporarily by scanning a QR code generated from the app. This way you’re not granting someone the permanent digital keys to your child’s bedroom.

If you’re a fan of IFTTT, then you’ll really like esence. That’s because you can set up some “if this, then that” type rules get push alerts about them. For example, you’re able to get an alert if the camera detects motion or gets unplugged. This way you could theoretically find out if something is awry at your house.

It’s also a good gateway to a home monitoring system with several other sensors as part of the family. ile I didn’t test this, I can see the potential. Though you’re probably looking at a few hundred dollars to upgrade to a permanent security setup.

ile esence is free, there’s a $50 per year annual plan to upgrade the amount of secure video storage to 5GB. You do, however, also get the ability to get an alarm on your monitoring device if motion is detected from the camera. You have to rely on email alerts instead (which did work rather well in my testing).

AtHome talks to multiple devices

Another good cross-platform alternative is AtHome. I most appreciated that I could start trying it out right away without the laborious account creation process. During the setup, you are walked through choosing whether you want to stream to a mobile device or computer then get a prompt to download the proper app with a QR code. 

athome video
AtHome is a good choice for a cross-platform cross-device setup.

Use this opportunity to make sure you install the right app: there’s one for the video streamer/monitor another to turn the old device into the camera. The streaming app can also stream the view from an Icamera connected to a computer. You’re able to control devices like the i8 us by tilting rotating the camera remotely. 

You’ll need a software download if you’re going to use a computer to check in on your phone/tablet camera—there’s no live streaming in the web yet. But it’s pretty straightforward, if not altogether slightly unattractive.

I did, however, like the two-way audio (which more than once I took the pleasure of using to confuse my cats) the notification alerts for motion. It was actually getting the cats to move that was the challenge, more so than adjusting the alert settings.

Trial error is the key

Anytime you dabble into a DIY project, the best advice is often to go with what works for your particular needs. There’s no reason to buy an overly complicated setup get frustrated. That’s why these apps are a great place to start. You can put any of them to use on an old phone without any upfront cost.

Depending on the age of your device, this solution may only last so long. Eventually all that time plugged in may degrade the battery or make you feel the need for a dedicated camera solution. But if nothing else, your cats, children, the furniture won’t be safe from your watchful eye.