Video doorbells: the ultimate buyer’s guide


Video doorbells are a must for any 21st Century connected smart home. They offer a number of very useful functions, but their principle benefit is that they can address the two crucial pain points experienced by every householder: if someone claims to have called at your home when you were not in, a connected doorbell will prove unequivocally whether they did or not, and secondly, a video doorbell will also let you see and communicate directly with callers at your door without the need to answer or open the door. If home security is an important consideration for you, then this benefit can be a real boon.

The benefits and advantages of connected video doorbells don’t stop there either. These devices connect to your Wi-Fi network and will send an alert when someone approaches your doorway. They’ll even record a live video feed when the doorbell is pressed or when motion is detected, and usually offer two-way audio communication that allows you to speak with the visitor from anywhere via your phone.

If a postman calls with a parcel when you’re not at home, not only can you verify that they called when he said he did, but you can also tell him exactly where to leave the delivery. Video doorbells are a very effective deterrent against burglary and intrusion. With a connected device you’ll quickly be able to spot anyone loitering or snooping outside your property. Smarter thieves will avoid properties with smart technology protection, as they know that not only will their movements be recorded, but also a good number of video doorbells are also integrated with smart locks which can be remotely locked and secured.

Video doorbells are great pieces of kit, but before you take the plunge and spend your cash it’s worth getting to know about these connected devices. How do they work? What sort of useful and practical functions can they offer homeowners? Are all video doorbells created equal, and, if not, how much money do you need to spend to get the right piece of kit for your smart home? Hopefully the following information might help you make the right choice.

Video Doorbells: How they work and what features should you be looking for?

Video doorbells are smart devices which typically use Wi-Fi to stream a live video feed to your phone or your home video device, and offer a variety of features, including cloud video storage, motion detection, inter-operability with smart locks, sirens, and other smart home devices.

Some video doorbells are capable of working with other connected smart devices such as door locks and sirens and support IFTTT and Alexa voice commands. If you’re looking to buy a practical and comprehensively specified connected doorbell, then we would recommend looking for models that offer high resolution (1080p), a wide angle lens (140 to 180 degrees), a night vision range up to 25 feet, and affordable cloud storage for recorded video.

There are two types of video doorbells on the market: wired and wireless. Each has its own particular benefits and drawbacks.

Wired video doorbells

Most good wired video doorbells, like SkyBell HD, use your existing doorbell wiring, so they are easy to install. What are the principal advantages of having a wired video doorbell? Well, firstly you won’t normally need to worry about losing the power feed to the device, unless your house power should fail for some reason or other reason. Secondly, since most homes already have exiting doorbell wiring, installing a video doorbell is as easy as removing your old doorbell, disconnecting the two wires, connecting your new doorbell to the wires, and attaching it to the outside of your house. In most cases you can even connect the doorbell to an existing chime box as well.

How do wired doorbells work? Well, they draw power from two wires that are connected to a transformer that steps down your household power to between 16 to 24 volts. If your home is not equipped with doorbell wiring you can wire it yourself using a plug-in transformer, or have an electrician do the work for you. Either way, some drilling will be required to run wires from the inside of your home to an exterior location, but the installation work needn’t be messy or particularly arduous.

Wireless video doorbells

If you’re not comfortable with electrical wiring, there are battery-powered models available to avoid this issue. Some connected doorbell models like the Ring Video Doorbell 2, can be installed in minutes. Battery-powered models are great, but they do have certain disadvantages. It is not unknown for the power sources on battery-powered video door bells to deplete quickly when used frequently. The power capability on such models can vary anywhere between two to six months. If you live in a colder climate then you should work on the basis of recharging or replacing your batteries every couple of months, otherwise you run the risk of your doorbell failing when you might need it most.

Doorbell design and features

Video doorbells are no different than other home security appliances, in that you generally get what you pay for. The least expensive models are bulky and are only available in limited colour choices. Expensive models are slimmer and inconspicuous and are also available in a wider range of colours and finishes. Battery-powered models, by their very nature, are generally bulkier. The ultimate choice will depend upon your budget and how far that will stretch, and how great a value you place on aesthetic appearances.

What features should be looking for in a video doorbell? Well, any good smart doorbell worthy of the name should be equipped with a video camera that sends an alert to your phone along with a live video stream when the doorbell button is pressed. That video is then accessed via the same mobile app that is also used to install the device, configure wireless settings and set up alerts. Video doorbells that come comprehensively equipped with features like 1080p video, motion detection, two-way audio that lets you speak with whoever is outside your property and on-demand video streaming are obviously going to be more expensive. If you want to avoid unnecessarily disturbing your neighbours with false alerts from passing cars, high winds and family pets, then look for a video doorbell that offers customisable motion zones.

Other features to look for, depending on your budget, are: 

  • face recognition technology that identifies visitors by name
  • motion sensing technology that knows the difference between people, cars, and animals
  • colour night vision video (most doorbell cameras use infrared LEDs to provide up to 30 feet of black-and-white video)
  • a choice of chimes that will help you differentiate between a doorbell press and a motion trigger. [Some of latest doorbell cameras offer a pre-buffer feature that records several seconds of activity prior to when a motion sensor is triggered or the doorbell button has been pressed so you can see what happened just before an event.]

Interoperability with other smart home tech

Many home security systems offer video doorbells as add-on components, but these devices typically do not work on their own and must be connected to a system hub. However, they usually interact with other system components – things like door locks, sirens, and lighting. If you want a standalone smart doorbell that will work with other smart devices in your home, you’ll need to source one that supports the IFTTT (If This Then That) internet service. With IFTTT you can easily create mini programs, called applets, that let IFTTT-enabled devices interact with each other. For example, you can create an applet that tells a Wemo Smart Switch to turn on when a Ring Doorbell is pressed, or have a D-Link siren sound when an August Doorbell Cam senses motion.

Another useful feature to look for is support for Alexa voice commands that let you view a doorbell’s live stream on an Amazon-enabled display. Once you’ve enabled the skill, simply say “Alexa, show the front door” to launch a live stream on your Echo Show or Fire TV-enabled TV or monitor. Similar voice commands are also available using Google Assistant.

Smart lock integration

Smart doorbells with integrated locking capabilities will not only let you answer calls and screen callers at your home, but also allow you  to let visitors in when they arrive – whether that be a relative, a workman or a delivery driver. However, this capability is only available when the doorbell works together with your door and its lock. Relatively few video doorbells currently work in tandem with smart locks, though this will no doubt change soon. August is currently the only video doorbell on the market that works in tandem with the lock. However, other video doorbells like Ring do have an integration with Kwikset locks, which means that users can quick switch between the two apps to lock/unlock the door. That technology, whilst a little clunky and nowhere near as seamless as August’s, is still a step-up form managing the whole process yourself and physically getting up to lock or unlock the door.

Storage

Video doorbells don’t offer local storage for recorded video, so you’ll have to subscribe to a cloud service in order to view your motion and doorbell-triggered video clips. That will add an extra cost to your overall budget, but sometimes it’s worth spending that little bit extra for the peace of mind it will bring. What sort of price would you expect to pay for instant access to video and ring footage? Well, if you work on the basis of around $25 per year as an ongoing expense then you won’t be too far off the mark.

Video doorbells or smart home security cameras: which is best for your home?

Video doorbells and home security cameras offer many of the same benefits. Both will show you what is going on outside of your home, both offer motion detection and motion-triggered recording, and in most cases, both will let you speak to whoever is outside. However, security cameras do not have a doorbell component If you’re downstairs doing something and your phone is upstairs, a security camera won’t tell you that someone is at the door, but the doorbell, when pressed, will. 

What’s more, unless they are battery operated, outdoor security cameras require a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet for power, which may limit potential mounting locations. Wired smart doorbells use existing low-voltage wiring and are relatively easy to install. 

Best video doorbells

SkyBell HD

The SkyBell HD is a feature-rich video doorbell which is easy to install, delivers sharp 1080p video, colour night vision, and captures several of seconds of footage prior to a triggered event. It also integrates with numerous third-party smart home devices, and comes with free cloud storage for recorded video, which is rare: all of these features are delivered at a price that is very competitive. 

The SkyBell HD looks very similar to the original (2015) model, except the motion sensor now sits between the camera and the backlit buzzer button. The puck-shaped device measures 2.8 inches in diameter, is just under an inch thick, and comes in a brushed silver or bronze finish. SkyBell also offers a Trim Plus version designed to fit on a door frame.

The camera captures video at 1080p. Its 180-degree field of view is wider than Ring Video Doorbell Pro (160 degrees) and the August Doorbell Cam Pro (120 degrees). Moreover, the SkyBell HD uses multi-colour LEDS to provide full colour night vision video rather than the typical black-and-white video that you get with most of the competition. The SkyBell HD also comes with a speaker and microphone and an 802.11n (2.4GHz) radio for connecting the doorbell to your home Wi-Fi network.

The doorbell uses a mobile app (for Android and iOS) to display live and recorded video (a web app is not currently available). Triggered video is stored in the cloud for seven days, and unlike most smart doorbells, it’s free.

The SkyBell HD performs well in tests. Day video is sharp and the colour quality is very good: night video is bright and well-defined up to 20 feet. However, night vision colours are not quite as rich as daylight images, but image quality, never the less, is crisp and sharp.  The motion detection sensor works well, but to reduce the false alerts from passing cars, it pays to set the sensitivity sensor to medium. 

August Doorbell Cam Pro

The Doorbell Cam Pro measures 2.9 by 2.9 by 0.8 inches (HWD) and cis available in dark grey or silver. Like the original Doorbell Cam, it has a large 2-inch circular button in the centre that rings the bell and activates the camera in the upper right corner. In the middle of the button is a backlit August logo that acts as a mini-floodlight when motion is detected or when the button is pressed. The camera has a 1,280-by-960 resolution and a 120-degree field of view, and uses the embedded floodlight to provide full colour video at night. In the upper left corner is a motion sensor and below the main button is a speaker and microphone array that provides two-way audio.

The Cam Pro comes with a 30-day free August Video Recording trial which is automatically enabled when you first set up the doorbell. After that you’ll need to pay $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year for a subscription that gives you access to 30 days’ worth of video.

The Cam pro doorbell uses the same mobile app (for Android and iOS) as other August smart devices, including the Smart Lock Pro + Connect. When the button is pressed a push notification is sent to your phone. Tap the notification to launch a live video feed that contains a microphone button for two-way audio, a lock button for opening or closing a connected August smart lock, and an end button for ending the stream.

The Cam Pro doesn’t work with third-party smart home devices and you can’t use August’s IFTTT channel to have it trigger other devices, but it does support Amazon Alexa commands that allow you to view live video on Echo Show and Fire TV devices.

Daytime video is sharp, with good colour quality and no evidence of barrel distortion, and night video was well-lit and colourful. The floodlight feature provides enough light to see who is at the door, yet it is not overly bright. Two-way audio communication between the doorbell and mobile phone is loud and clear, and contains very little background noise from passing vehicles. Motion detection also worked perfectly once the sensitivity is adjusted, and push alerts and recorded video arrive promptly.

Ring Doorbell pro

At 4.5 by 1.8 by 0.8 inches (HWD), the Ring Pro is slimmer and looks more like a traditional doorbell than the August Doorbell Cam Pro, and the original Ring. It comes with four interchangeable faceplates (black, bronze, nickel, and white) to match the exterior of your home, a screwdriver, mounting screws and anchors, a Pro Power Kit for connecting to an existing chime box in case your existing doorbell wiring does not provide enough power, extension wires, and illustrated instructions.

The Ring Pro captures video at 1080p and has a 160-degree field of view. It uses three infrared LEDs to provide up to 30 feet of night vision and has a built-in motion sensor, a microphone, a speaker, and an interior chime. The camera uses 802.11n circuitry (2.4GHz and 5GHz) to connect to your home Wi-Fi, and requires a two-wire 16-24volt power source (the same power source used for traditional doorbells). In addition to the camera, there’s a doorbell button on the face of the device surrounded by an LED ring that glows blue when the button is pressed. There are two terminals on the back, and a setup button on the right side that you can get to by removing the faceplate.

When you press the doorbell button a chime sounds, the camera begins recording, and a push alert is sent to your phone. As with the Ring Floodlight Cam, you have to subscribe to a service plan to view, share, and download recorded video. The Protect Basic Plan is $3 per month or $30 per year and gives you 60 days of cloud storage per camera and full access to all of your videos. For $10 per month or $100 per year, the Protect Plus Plan gives you everything from the Basic Plan for an unlimited number of cameras, and you get a lifetime warranty (the warranty period is normally one year). By way of comparison, the August Doorbell Cam Pro subscription costs $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year for access to 30 days’ worth of video.

The Ring Pro delivers very sharp 1080p video in testing. Daytime video was clean with rich colours, and night vision video is well lit with good contrast and remains sharp out to around 20 feet. However, the barrel has noticeable distortion around the edges, though people and objects appear normal. Two-way audio is loud and clean.

The Ring pro is fairly easy to install, sports a slender design with interchangeable faceplates, and delivers sharp 1080p video day and night. As with the August Doorbell Cam Pro, the Ring Pro uses pre-buffering technology to show you what transpired prior to a motion trigger, and lets you view live video on an Amazon Echo Show device using Alexa voice commands. While the August doorbell offers a more symmetrical picture with no barrel distortion, it doesn’t support IFTTT integration like the Ring Pro does, and Ring’s monthly cloud fees are a bit more affordable. However, for all its advantages the Ring Pro is still the most expensive of the 3 cameras reviewed here.

Ring Video Doorbell 2

  • 1080p-HD and 160 degrees wide-angle video
  • Rechargeable battery pack
  • Motion-activated alerts
  • Wi-Fi compatible
  • Weather-resistant
  • Adjustable motion sensors
  • Easy installation

This next-generation Ring video doorbell 2 lets you watch over your home and answer the door from your phone, tablet and PC. Ring video doorbell 2 comes with adjustable motion zones, so you can focus on the most important areas of your property. When anyone triggers your motion sensors or presses your doorbell, you get an instant alert on your phone, tablet and PC. Answer the alert, and you can see, hear and speak to people at your door from anywhere. With Ring, you can also use live view to get streaming video and two-way audio, so you can check-in on your property at any time. And with its built-in night vision sensors and weather-resistant design, you can protect your home around the clock &; day or night, rain or shine.

You also get a free 30-day trial of Ring protect cloud subscription, so you can store, review and share your videos at any time with anyone. Ring video doorbell 2 comes with an innovative quick-release rechargeable battery pack, so you can charge your doorbell without moving the device. With two interchangeable faceplates included in your purchase, you can pick a finish that matches your home and your style. And with the complimentary tool kit and setup guide, you have your Ring video doorbell 2 installed in just minutes. Whether you’re on the other side or the world, or out in the park with the kids, Ring lets you answer the door from anywhere.

The Ring Video doorbell 2 requires Wi-Fi connection. Compatible with iOS & Android devices and windows 10 on your PC. includes lifetime theft protection: if your Ring video doorbell 2 gets stolen, Ring will replace it for free.

The Ring video doorbell is one of the best available. The app is easy to use and the audio and video are both of a decent quality. If you set the expensive charges for storing video aside, Ring is still an excellent video doorbell which is highly recommended by all authorities.

[joomdev-wpc-pros-cons disable_title=”yes” title=”” button_text=”Get it now” disable_button=”yes” button_link=”” button_link_target=”_SELF” button_rel_attr=”dofollow”]

[joomdev-wpc-pros]
Pros

  • Easy installation
  • Removeable battery
  • 1080p streaming

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Cons

  • Bulky design
  • No ethernet option
  • Cloud storage costs extra

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Nest Hello

In comparison with the Ring video doorbell which is big and bulky, the Nest Hello is slim and aesthetically pleasing on the eye. In terms of features, most of them are standard fare for this market. There’s nice and clear 1600 x 1200 HD video at 30fps, along with HDC to make night time vision easier. Nest Hello is also set up at a 4:3 aspect ratio rather than 16:9, which will help you see people head to toe.

The Hello shines is packed with smart features. You have quick replies that you can select from the app that can do things like tell your delivery driver to leave a package on the doorstep, and there are also motion, sound and person alerts for home owners to choose from. If you’re prepared to pay the $5 monthly Nest Aware subscription, there’s also facial recognition available, which will remember the faces of people who frequently visit your home and let you tag them in the app. If you’ve also got a Nest Cam IQ or Google Home, they’ll even announce them.

Although there is a good wireless chime in the box, you’ll still need a wired connection to work it – an operation that might be beyond some people. Nest Pro installation is generally recommended, although that could cost you a lot of extra money depending on how much work your home needs done.

Nest Hello is a great choice for those who are searching for a clever and intuitive smart doorbell.  It’s got high-end features like facial recognition, pre-recorded responses and full video streaming (not just clips that start recording based on motion or sound). It’s arguably the best designed smart doorbell on the market, but also one of the most expensive as well, right the way from starting price to installation and to the Nest Aware subscription.

[joomdev-wpc-pros-cons disable_title=”yes” title=”” button_text=”Get it now” disable_button=”yes” button_link=”” button_link_target=”_SELF” button_rel_attr=”dofollow”]

[joomdev-wpc-pros]
Pros

  • Small and sleek
  • Facial recognition
  • Pre-recorded messages

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Cons

  • Expensive
  • Needs hardwiring
  • Teething troubles with app

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