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Spy Watches: The 2019 Buying Guide
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Spy watches aren’t just cool gadgets you see in the movies. You can buy real, functional watches that discreetly record video, audio, and take pictures. Whether you want to record meetings, keep a video or audio log, or collect evidence of wrongdoing, a spy watch is a handy tool for capturing what you see and hear without drawing attention to yourself.

And you can easily pick one up for $50 or less.

Unfortunately, in order to make hidden cameras and voice recorders small and inconspicuous (not to mention build them into a functional watch), manufacturers often have to cut back on important functionality. Additionally, you’ll likely find what appears to be the same device under several different brand names. This happens when a single manufacturer sells the “shell” or outer case of the device to multiple brands, which then add their own tech.

So there’s a wide range in quality of the spy watches you’ll find on the market, even when you’re looking at what appears to be the same device. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the features and functionality you need to keep in mind as you wade through all the options. Then we’ll look at some specific devices.

Here are some questions you should ask as you compare spy watches:

  • Will it capture everything you need?
  • How long can it record?
  • How discreet is it?

We’ll help you answer those questions. But first, before you start using a spy watch, there’s something you need to confirm.

Is it legal to record someone without their consent in your state?

In most states, you can legally record video of someone without their consent as long as it’s not in what would be considered a “private space” like a bathroom or someone’s bedroom. But these 11 states require you to obtain someone’s consent before filming them:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

Audio is another matter though. Most states will let you record audio of someone as long as you are a participant in the conversation or have the consent of someone who is. This is called “one-party consent.” Some states are more lenient, and let you record audio as long as you’re within earshot–even if the people you record aren’t talking to you. Other states require “all party consent,” meaning you cannot record a conversation (even if you’re an active participant in it) without the consent of everyone else involved.

These states require all party consent for recording audio:

  • California
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

While this list is pretty similar to the consent laws for video, it’s also worth noting: several other states have “mixed” consent laws. And Vermont’s are undefined. No matter what state you live in, you cannot record a conversation you aren’t present for. So you can’t, for example, set your spy watch on a desk and record something that happens while you’re gone. 

Perhaps most importantly though: no state allows you to share a recorded conversation with anyone who wasn’t there without the consent of everyone you recorded. 

All this is to say that before you start testing out your spy watch on unsuspecting friends, family, or coworkers, make sure you review your state’s consent laws regarding audio and video recordings. 

This is not legal advice, and we are not lawyers. We’ve included this for informational purposes only.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what you should look for in spy watches, and what you need to ask before buying one.

Will it capture everything you need?

It doesn’t matter how cool your spy watch looks if it can’t get the video or audio you need. And since the constraints of spy watches already limit what manufacturers can do with them, and there’s so much variability in quality between brands, it’s really important that you start by looking at the features that relate to recording.

Video quality

No matter what you’re trying to do, you probably don’t want grainy, pixelated videos. If it’s important to make out faces or read a whiteboard or screen, then you want to choose a spy watch that records in at least 1080p HD. 720p will often do the trick, but this is a feature you don’t want to cut corners on–or you could easily wind up with videos you can’t use.

Field of view

“Field of view” (FOV) refers to the width and height of the shot a camera can capture. The average person can see about 135 degrees horizontally. A spy watch’s FOV is probably going to be about half of that. In order to be discreet, spy watches tend to have tiny cameras that can only capture a small frame. Many use “pinhole” cameras, which have an extremely limited FOV.

You probably aren’t going to find a spy watch with a wide angle lens. But you definitely want to pay attention to each watch’s FOV when it’s listed, and consider how that may impact what you’re trying to film. The closer you are to what you’re recording, the more your watch’s FOV matters.

At the very least, you’ll want to test your spy watch’s video functionality to get a good understanding of what it can capture before using it in a real-life situation.

Night vision

If you plan on recording anything in the dark, you’re going to need night vision. More advanced cameras can use wide dynamic range (WDR) or high dynamic range (HDR) and image sensor processing (ISP) to get quality videos in poor lighting, but you aren’t likely to find features like that on a spy watch. If a spy watch has night vision, it probably uses infrared light to give you a black and white image.

Audio recording

Don’t assume every spy watch records audio. It’s a fairly common feature, but if you plan on recording audio, you definitely want to confirm your spy watch can capture it. Ideally, try to get an idea of the device’s audio range, too. Decent hidden audio recorders can capture audio from 20–30 feet away, but some only work within a few feet. Some also have features that reduce background noise to give you a better recording. You may have to dig through reviews to learn much about audio quality (which in itself can be an indicator that audio quality isn’t great).

Photos

A lot of spy watches allow you to take snapshots. Since you may have to awkwardly position your watch to capture the shot you want, taking a photo will almost always be more discreet than recording a video. Not all spy watches can take still pictures though.

How long can it record?

Before you buy a spy watch, you need to make sure it has enough battery life and storage to capture everything you need. There are also some features that can extend your battery life and ensure you can still record when your storage is full.

Battery life

Battery life is arguably the most important feature to look for in a spy watch. With how compact everything has to be, many spy watches have pitiful battery life. A lot of them record less than two hours per charge! You could use that up in a single lecture, or a couple meetings.

Keep in mind: battery life is very different than storage. Just because a device says it can hold 72 hours of video does not mean you can record for 72 hours without charging your spy watch.

Depending on what you’re using your watch for, you can extend the battery life if you get one with motion detection.

Motion detection

Motion detection allows your spy watch to essentially go into “sleep mode” when there’s nothing to record. And then as soon as it detects motion, it starts recording. It’s worth noting though: this feature is better suited for cameras that are stationary, like nanny cams or outdoor security cameras. And if you’re using your spy watch to record speeches, meetings, or lectures, you might prefer manual activation anyways.

Storage

Some spy watches come with built-in memory you can access with a USB cable. Others use micro SD cards. A lot of cameras today store footage in the cloud and allow you to access videos remotely with an app, but that’s a pretty rare feature in spy watches. The main thing you want to pay attention to is how many gigabytes (GB) of storage each camera has and how many hours of video that translates to. The video quality and format determines how much storage it will take up, so two devices with the same “amount” of storage may hold a different number of hours of video.

Loop recording

Loop recording means when your storage is full, your spy watch will automatically record over the oldest video–so being “out of storage” never means you can’t record.

How discreet is it?

Some hidden cameras are absurdly obvious, with prominent, poorly disguised lenses. You aren’t likely to run into that with spy watches, but you still want to think about the context you plan to use it in, and how it will look when you use it.

Does it look inconspicuous?

First and foremost, you need to choose a model that fits with your style and doesn’t look out of place wherever you plan to wear it. Some spy watches look more like smart watches or Fitbit knock-offs. Others come in classy analog styles. There are plenty of designs to choose from. The main thing is to find one you’re comfortable with and that looks like a watch you’d wear normally.

You also want to look at where the lens is located. Some spy watches may attempt to blend the lens into the style of the watch, while others completely conceal it.

How do you activate it?

With a short battery life, you probably don’t want your spy watch to continuously record. You want to capture the video you need, then turn it off to save battery. Make sure that however you turn your camera on and off, it looks like a natural movement that doesn’t require you to fiddle with your watch in front of people.

Now let’s look at some of the best spy watches you can buy.

Best spy watches

Spy watches come in lots of styles with a wide range of quality. You’ll have to decide which factors are most important to you, but we’ve put together a selection of quality spy watches that include the features we’ve discussed.

Miebul Spy Watch

Price: $53.68

Video quality: 1080p HD

Field of view: N/A

Battery life: 90 minutes

Storage: 5 hours (16 GB built-in memory)

Night vision: Yes

Audio recording: Yes

Photos: Yes

Motion detection: Yes

Loop recording: Yes

Other notable features: water resistant

This watch has a sleek analog style and all the features you need. While some other analog spy watches have prominent lenses, this one blends in with the design and hides at the 6 o’clock position. You can also lower the video quality to 720p or 480p to maximize the storage capacity.

XIXICAMLOOK Spy Watch

Price: $49.99

Video quality: 1080p HD

Field of view: N/A

Battery life: 70 minutes

Storage: 32 GB SD card (not included)

Night vision: No, but records in “low light”

Audio recording: N/A

Photos: Yes

Motion detection: Yes

Loop recording: Yes

Other notable features: wifi enabled, live stream

This spy watch has a modern digital design, and the camera isn’t visible. It has a low battery life, but this watch comes with a rare feature: live streaming. The watch emits a wifi signal which you can connect to via a mobile device or computer, and then you can get a live feed of your watch, making it a decent nanny cam and giving you the ability to let someone else see what you do.

BestRec Voice Recorder Watch

Price: $39.99

Video quality: N/A

Field of view: N/A

Battery life: 20 hours

Storage: 16 GB (700 hours of audio)

Night vision: No

Audio recording: Yes

Photos: No

Motion detection: No

Loop recording: No

Other notable features: Noise reduction, voice activation

This “fitness style” voice recorder watch doesn’t capture video or photos, but as a result it can record for more than 10 times longer than any of the other watches on this list. It also has an audio range of 20–50 feet with a noise reduction chip, making it ideal for recording lectures and meetings or keeping an audio log throughout your day.

KEQI Spy Watch

Price: $129.00

Video quality: 1296p HD

Field of view: 65 degrees

Battery life: 90 minutes

Storage: 32 GB

Night vision: No

Audio recording: Yes

Photos: Yes

Motion detection: Yes

Loop recording: Yes

Other notable features: time and date stamp

This watch captures high-quality images and provides you with a time and date stamp, so you can demonstrate exactly when an event occurred or simply keep your video files organized. The lens is more prominent on this model and it covers the 3 o’ clock space.

ZFLTEI Hidden Camera Watch

Price: $35.99

Video quality: 1080p HD 

Field of view: N/A

Battery life: 90 minutes

Storage: 14.5 GB built-in, supports 32 GB SD card (not included)

Night vision: Yes

Audio recording: Yes

Photos: Yes

Motion detection: Yes

Loop recording: N/A

Other notable features: comes in three styles

This is one of the more elegant-looking spy watches, and it comes in three distinct styles. The camera itself blends in with the design, but be aware that the night vision mode will activate a bright light. In addition to its built-in memory, you can add an SD card for additional storage.

Find the spy watch that’s right for you

There are a ton of spy watches out there. But there aren’t a lot of quality ones. As you shop around, keep these features in mind, but focus on finding something you’re comfortable wearing that fits with your style and has consistently good reviews. With the wide range in quality, it’s extra important to pay attention to what other people have experienced with the brand and the device.

Want to see some other cool wearable cameras?

Check out our guide to hidden body cameras.

 

 

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