In these days of nonstop hacking, phishing and data breaches, it's easy to forget that regular old burglars are still lurking around to steal from your home. That's why I'm a big fan of home security systems, especially ones that let you watch your home from a distance and alert you when someone breaks in.
Of course, you don't always need a security system that covers an entire house. Maybe you want to watch a specific drawer or jewelry box, your cubicle at work, the door to your room (if you have roommates or a snooping contractor) or what's happening in your hotel room while you're out. In those and similar cases, you might be able to set up a quick security system for free with the right tools.
The main thing you need is a smartphone (a tablet with a rear camera can work, too), a stand to keep the gadget upright and a monitoring app. Set up your gadget on the stand and point the camera in the direction you want to watch. Then start the app. If the app detects movement, it will alert you via email or text, take pictures of the thieves and even sound an alarm to scare them off.
If you already have an old smartphone or tablet lying around, you can be up and running in no time. You can also use your main smartphone if you want to guard something overnight while you're sleeping, like a hotel room door.
So, let's take a look at the apps that turn your smartphone into a security camera. At the moment, few monitoring apps work for both Android and Apple, so I'll tell you about one for each.
Android users first
Android users can grab the free Salient Eye app. The name is a little odd, but the features are top-notch.
It uses your phone's camera to sense motion and alerts you via email or text. Then it starts capturing photos of the thief and uploads them online to a free cloud storage account. A few seconds later, it triggers an audible alarm that, hopefully, scares the thief away. You need a password to shut off the alarm. Click here for a demonstration video.
For the notification and uploading features, you will need to have your gadget connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network. Salient Eye can still capture images and sound the alarm without a connection, but if the thief steals the gadget, then it doesn't do as much good, aside from the fact that he’ll be running around with a smartphone that’s blaring an alarm.
In situations where you know someone is coming in, like a cleaning person, you can turn off the alarm so you can see what they're doing but not alert them. You can also turn off notifications if you just want to use it as a motion-activated alarm.
The developer claims Salient Eye can work up to 10 hours on battery alone, so it will work even in places where you can't access an outlet, like a drawer or jewelry box, or on a camping trip. There's also a paid remote-control app that lets you turn it on and off from a distance.
For Apple folks
Apple users will want to download the free Manything app to both their old iPhone and new iPhone or iPad. Like Salient Eye, Manything uses your gadget's camera to detect motion and trigger an alert.
Unlike Salient Eye, it can capture video in addition to still photos, and it streams video live to the iPhone or iPad you have with you. It also stores up to 12 hours of video in a free cloud account.
Manything has other fancy features, like adjustable motion sensitivity, programmable motion zones so it can watch very specific areas, easy time-lapse creation and a built-in remote control. If you're feeling really adventurous, Manything has IFTTT support for triggering updates to social media or even triggering Internet-connected home appliances like some LED light bulbs.
Your only limit is your imagination. Use Manything to record activity around a bird feeder or know when a child leaves her room at night. Or just stick to using it for security.
As I said, Manything is free, but it has some paid options that let you use it with more than one gadget at a time or get more than 12 hours of video recording storage in the cloud.
As I said, a smartphone security camera is good for quick security or a limited area. If you want to upgrade your home security, though, I recommend wireless security cameras.
In addition to streaming video to you on the go and sending motion alerts, these have additional features like night vision, two-way audio and sometimes even pan and tilt control.
There are plenty of options on the market, and I even sell a range of indoor and outdoor models that I've personally selected to give my readers the most security for their dollar. Click here to see the selection in my store.
Whatever you end up buying, make sure that it has an encrypted signal and that you change the default password right away. Otherwise hackers will have no trouble finding it on the Internet, logging in and using the camera to spy on you. Click here to create a strong password hackers won't be able to break.
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.