I recently wanted to remotely monitor an area I thought raccoons were raiding. It was a spot that would be very inconvenient to run network cable to, but there was a power outlet. I shopped for wifi cameras, and the cheapest start in the $50-100 range. Something like a hunting/wildlife cam? Forget it. I wasn't happy about the prspect of spending that on something I knew would be a poorly made cheap product. Then, sorting through a box of old gadgets gave me an idea: my old old android phone has wifi and a camera! I knew that someone out in the big world of the Internet would have invented a way to use it as a security camera, and I was correct!
Finding A Free Solution
There turn out to be a lot of apps that claim to turn your phone or tablet into a security camera or baby monitor. Most of them have one of these problems:
- Not being free
- Sending your videos and photos onto some company's server
- Spying on you in some other way, through permissions, etc.
- Only running on newer phones and tablets (using an old phone for free was the goal)
The phone in my "gadget junk" pile was a Motorola Electrify (aka Photon). This was a nice phone in 2011, when it came out. It was one of the first phones that had an HD camera, and has decent audio quality. I also happen to have a multimedia docking station for it, which is convenient, but not neccessary. This phone is running on Android 2.3.5 (as of this writing, Android is up to 5.01). Many camera apps will not run on a version of Android that old.
The App for Me
After trying a dozen apps, I found my solution: IP Webcam by Pavel Khlebovich. There are both free and pay versions in the Google Play Store. Download Free. Download Pro. It isn't as pretty as some apps, but the free version does what I need so well, that I'll probably buy the "Pro" version soon, just to give the guy a few dollar tip for saving me a lot more money. The free version shows you some advertisements in the settings screen, and it puts a message saying you are using the free version in the top left corner of video recordings. It still does what it to do. This app turns your phone into a camera web server. In other words, it takes over your phone or tablet's camera and microphone, then puts that into a simple webpage automatically. Just by running the app, you get an address that you can put into a web browser on any compute, phone, or tablet that is on your home wifi network, to see what the camera sees. Even better, it can use motion detection or sound detection to automatically save a recording whenever the camera sees movement or hears sound! This is great for monitoring kids or pets (or invading raccoons). Other features, like "Night Vision" enhancement really depend on the camera your Android device has. For this in-house, on-your-own-wifi functionality, you need to do these things:
- Install the app on your phone or tablet. Download Free, or Download Pro.
- Run the app.
- Set the settings. These all depend on what device you have and your network. On the highest video quality settings, my old phone overheats and shuts down after about 5 hours. Switching this down to a lower video resolution solved the problem.
- I DO recommend setting a password. This helps keep other people from spying on you through the camera in your house. Make this a long one. Make it out of multiple words and numbers, and write it down.
- Tap the "start server" button. Don't panic if the screen on your phone goes solid black with a couple of buttons. This is normal.
- Find the address your phone uses on your home wifi network.
- On the old Android device, go to the phone settings, then go to the settings for wifi, and tap your home wifi network, which you are already connected to. You should be given a list of information about the network, including the IP Address of the phone on the network. The IP address identifies one particular device on your home network. Write this down!
- Take the IP Address that you just wrote down and :8080 to the end. This tells the web browser what port the app uses. A port number identifies one particular app on a computer, phone, or tablet that uses your network. So, if your old phone's network on your home wifi is 18.104.22.1680, you would add the port to get this: 22.214.171.1240:8080 The part before the colon identifies the device and the part after the colon identifies the app.
- Add http:// to the beginning and put that into a web browser on another computer, tablet, or phone on your home network. It will look something like this: http://126.96.36.199:8080
- You should see a pop-up asking you for a username and password. Put in whatever you set up earlier. You might still get a message warning you about security. This just means that if someone else has your password, they could spy on the camera somewhere in the middle of the transmission, because that is not encrypted. So, do not give out your camera password!
- Start watching the camera stream! There are a row of buttons on the page to let you choose different types of video, and another row to choose different types of audio. The video will not appear until you click one of these buttons. Try each one to see what works best for you. It depends whether you are using IE, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc.
Watching the Camera From Outside Your Home Wifi
The above is great if you only need to watch the camera while you are connected to your home wifi, but what if you want to watch it while you are away from home? Well, there is a way to do this! Read more on my blog post about Port Forwarding (not as hard as it sounds).