Xiaomi New Year's resolution is... 1920x1080 (MI Square Smart IP Camera review)

Jan 9, 2017

The MI Square Smart IP Camera (aka XiaoFang) was announced in November 2016 and is now shipping. Now I can see for myself what it's really made of.


Despite its name, the MI Square is obviously not the first flat IP camera on the market, but a 5 cm³ cube (in my initial overview I mistakenly stated 5 cm²).

Specification:
Dimensions: 5×5×5 cm
Weight: 100 g
Micro SD 64 Gb
Full-HD (1080P) video capture
Night shoot (visibility distance up to 9 m)
Smoke and carbon monoxide sensors
Wide-angle lens: aperture f / 2.0, 110 degrees
IR-filter

Mr. Scott cannot give me exact figures, Admiral, so... I will make a guess (Spock, Star Trek IV).
The Cube is due to ship  in January and I received this sample in early December. At that time there was very little documentation on this camera and the tiny leaflet in Chinese found in the box did not help much. There isn't even a manual for it in the dedicated web site, and the only square device listed is the "Mi Square Box Bluetooth Speaker". 
Figuring this thing out might turn harder than guessing the variable mass of whales and water for travelling back in time in a Klingon Bird-of-Prey...

The QR code on the box leads to the MiHome app (iOS app is here) which is used by the growing range of Xiaomi smart home products.

Surprise #1: On the first run of MiHome, I'm greeted with a prompt for my locale, which is limited to Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and India...
This reminds me of my review of the XiaoYi some time ago that was clearly not destined to the Western market.

Surprise #2: I find no camera in the list of devices, so I start thinking that the Cube has to wait for an upcoming application update to be operational.
I had hope for a short time when I found that the MI Square appeared as a standalone Wi-Fi access point, but the application kept "connecting" without achieving any actual connection.


Surprise #3: Funny enough, the only Android device that could not install the Xiaomi app was actually my Xiaomi Mi Pad! (but the apk file can be installed manually)

This part of the review was written in December and was put on hold since I could not go any further.

Since January 2017, things started to look better with MiHome 3.10.16

An updated version of Mi Home has been released. The version 3.9.20 is still installed from Play Store, but can be upgraded from within the app to 3.10.16.
Amongst the changes, United States has been added to the list of available locales.
However, it is only by selecting Mainland China, that I could find  XiaoFang listed. Before, I could not even log on with this locale.
From that point, the installation was straightforward:

There are 2 connection modes: LAN and Direct.

In LAN mode, adding the camera is done by entering first the router information in MiHome, press the Setup button with a pin on the camera, then show the QR code to the camera when prompted (in Chinese). Once the QR code has been read, another voice prompt confirms the successful configuration. The XiaoFang appears in the device list shortly after. The Direct mode allows you to connect a mobile phone directly to the camera which then acts as a WiFi access point. This mode is particularly useful to capture videos on the move with the camera plugged to a power bank for instance.
fw update
Any new event in MiHome, like a firmware update, is indicated with a red dot, and the camera got upgraded from 2.8.0.0 to 2.8.3.5. I just wish that Xiaomi would publish the changes somewhere as they do for their phones.
Picture and sound quality
The picture quality is excellent as expected and video remains very smooth even in the highest 1080P or "Super" resolution. The wide angle view shows a bit of barrel distortion but that's no surprise. In this resolution, zooming on the picture (by pinching) reveals more details, while it would just show bigger pixels with a classic 720P camera. The incoming audio quality is crystal clear and by far the best I had from an IP camera so far (and the tiny Xiaomi XiaoYi comes second)! No statics, no background noise, just the exact restitution of the sounds in the room. The speaker output is of good quality but unfortunately too low. I hope that Xiaomi will add a volume option.









Tasks and Automation
The  alarm can be triggered on Motion Detection (with 3 levels of sensitivity) and upon detecting the sound pattern emitted by a (Xiaomi) Smoke or CO Alarm.
The app is a bit slow in retrieving the camera settings and sometimes fails to detect the SD card although the camera itself seems to use it fine at all time.

I was expecting to find the notification options next to the detection settings, but, since MiHome is a hub for all Xiaomi smart devices, you need to use the "Automation" menu to define what action is executed when the "motion detection" condition is met.
In the example below, I've specified that an "Alarm" from "XiaoFang Smart Camera" will generate a notification on smartphone which gives access to a video recording of the event.







The task approach is very powerful in the context of a home equipped with Xiaomi smart devices. All the devices registered under the Mi Home app have potential to interact with each other through custom tasks. Unfortunately many of these gadgets, like Mi Plug Mini, Mi Remote, Mi Smart Power Plug Board are not (yet) adapted to the Western market. 






3rd-party compatibility
There is well a port 80 open in this camera but no html content and apparently no way to link it with any 3rd party viewer.  Too bad, I would have loved to link this XiaoFang with my NVR system!


Conclusion
The Xiaomi MI Square, or XiaoFang is undeniably a quality product that is cleverly integrated to the Xiaomi Smart Home products collection. It provides a very good FHD image quality and audio restitution is exceptionally good for an IP camera. The setup is simple but could use proper instructions in English.
I also regret its lack of compatibility with 3rd party software, even if the Mi Home app has improved with time.
It is currently available at Gearbest for ~27€. (February 2017 Coupon: XMWiFiIP)

Good:
● Excellent Full HD video quality night and day
 Exceptional audio quality (listening through microphone)
 Convenient articulated and magnetic stand.
 Can be powered by USB
 Huge home automation potential with other Xiaomi Smart Home products

Not so good:
 No 3rd party compatibility
 Speaker output too faint
 No option to send alerts by email 
 micro USB port can be a pain to plug to. 



Special thanks to David @ GearBest for providing the sample reviewed here.

17 comments:

  1. After the firmware update the camera was unable to scan the QR code. Any Ideas how to get it working again ?

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    Replies
    1. I've reconfigured the camera a few times after the firmware update (lan and direct modes) and it always worked. Just took a toothpick and pressed the setup button to get the camera in setup mode. In my case it could always read the QR code from within a few centimeters.

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  2. I had it and the motion detection was terrible. Have you tested that in the medium sized living room? people can walk across the room undetected my highest sensitivity option from this device.

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    Replies
    1. I've only tested the motion detection in a quite large (~40m2) room on the high sensitivity setting and it was too reactive, with notification being sent each time the picture changed on the TV at the other end of the room. I'd need to test a bit more in different situations to see how bad it can be. I suppose the lighting condition is quite determinant. Nothing beats an PIR detector which is too rare on IP cameras.

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  3. Thanks for the review, can't wait to get mine !

    As a side note it's a "clone" (in 1080p) of that camera https://www.ismartalarm.com/productdetail - not sure if they had Xiaomi make it for them or if Xiaomi licensed the design...

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    Replies
    1. Nice finding! Their offer also seems more suitable for the western market.

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  4. Got mine, fairly easy setup and good quality. Can't get timelapse to work though, whether I use China time (cam's time) or phone's time, nothing gets recorded. Besides when I browse the timeline the cam seems to crash (frozen feed) and I need to relaunch.

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    Replies
    1. Both timelapse recording and timeline browsing work fine for me. Make sure that the app is in v.3.10.16 and that the camera updated to 2.8.3.5.

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  5. This camera not work for me in Hungary, on android. (No connection.)
    :(
    I tested it on Iphone too, and its work!
    But I have android... :(

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  6. I got it to run through its setup after finding the instructions on Banggood. But when I unplugged it and relocated it, it would not reconnect to the app. I tried running the setup again but no luck. The app says it's connecting, but nothing's happening. Any help here? THanks in advance.

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  7. keep connection timeout with android phone...please help

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  8. keep connection timeout at 89-90% with adroid phone ...please help

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  9. I have 4 of these as they looked perfect on gearbest, I have them setup no problems on wifi but I'm not able to view via mobile connection, I'm in the UK and did set htem as mainland China as I had noticed that was the way to do it on other sites.

    Can you help please as otherwise this was an expensive mistake!

    Thanks

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  10. Does anyone know if there's some screenshots that show what the in app menu items/options are? They're all in Chinese so it's difficult to work out how to use the more advanced features.

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  11. I have one of these as they looked perfect on gearbest, I have them setup no problems on wifi but I'm not able to view via mobile connection or other wifi places, I'm in México and did set htem as mainland China as I had noticed that was the way to do it on other sites.

    Can you help pleaseeeeee

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete