Smart Video Doorbells

The next beginner friendly smart home component is a video doorbell. As with the thermostat, most smart doorbells do not require a hub and connect to your wifi. This makes it another ideal component to install while still learning about home automation.

As with most home automation components, there isn’t a one-size-fits all solution when it comes to doorbells. The main determining factor for which doorbell will work for you is whether you have an existing wired doorbell. Wired doorbells are extremely simple mechanisms. Pressing the button connects 2 wires that run back into your house to a chime and is powered by a transformer that is fed by your house’s electrical panel. [picture of transformer]. The transformer’s job is to take the 110 volts provided by the house’s power and step it down to 16 - 24 volts that the doorbells chime needs. If you have an existing transformer connecting to a wired doorbell, that’s great and means you have plenty of smart doorbells to choose from. If you don’t, then you’ll need to have an electrician install one or use a battery powered smart doorbell.

If you’re going with a wired doorbell, the clear front-runner is the Nest Hello. The Nest is slim and looks good on the wall near your door, has great picture quality, and does a great job capturing motion and people ringing your doorbell. The Hello, like all of Nest’s cameras, record continuously and send all its footage to the cloud. So when motion is sensed, it does not have to start recording, it just needs to note what time the event occurred and then allows you to view that part of the video stream. This isn’t without downsides, though. Continuously streaming your video to the cloud uses bandwidth 24/7 which might be problematic if your internet provider limits how much data you can use every month. It also might overload your wifi causing other devices to slow down. Additionally, viewing anything other than live footage requires a Nest Aware subscription which runs $5 a month for the first device and $3 for each additional one. Add that to the already expensive price ($200+)  for the doorbell itself and you’re looking at a significant investment! Because Nest is owned by Google, it won’t come as a surprise that the Hello plays nicely with Google’s smart speakers and displays. The Hello can stream video to the Google Hub and other Google Smart Displays. Even cooler (or creepier), the Hello can recognize familiar faces and announce your visitors by name!

The Ring Pro is also a popular wired doorbell. It costs about the same as the Nest Hello and is also a good looking, slim doorbell. However, the Ring Pro does not record continuously, it will store a few seconds of footage in its buffer and, when it senses motion or the doorbell is pressed, it sends the footage to the cloud as 30 second clips. If the event takes longer than 30 seconds, you might miss some footage between clips. As with the Nest, to see anything but live video you’ll have to pony up for a subscription; in this case $3 a month per device. Ring also has a pretty comprehensive portfolio of other outdoor cameras attached to floodlights and spotlights as well as an alarm system so if you plan to or already have bought Ring devices, it might make sense to stick with their doorbell. Ring was purchased by Amazon so their video streams to an Echo Show smart display. If you just want a chime to sound in your house without Echo integration, Ring sells a Chime  that will sound when someone rings your bell and a Chime Pro  that also extends your wifi to improve the Ring’s internet connection.

If you can’t use a wired doorbell, your choices are much more limited. In fact, your main option is going to be a Ring Video Doorbell 2.  The Ring 2 is a bit larger (and uglier) but it is battery powered. Having a removable, chargeable battery means the installation is simpler but it also means that you’ll be removing the battery to charge it every few months. It’s not difficult to do but does require you to unscrew the front to remove the battery, charging it overnight, and then replacing it. The Ring app lets you know when your battery needs changing. Ring sells a solar panel that is supposed to keep your Ring 2 fully charged without ever changing the battery but it makes the doorbell even uglier, requires lots of direct sunlight to work, and has terrible reviews. There are other drawbacks for relying on battery power as well. To conserve power, the Ring 2 only starts recording when it sense motion. Sometimes the recording starts too late and misses part of the event that triggered the recording leading to a clip of someone walking away from your door. I currently have a Ring 2 and am not thrilled with it. When I get a motion alert, it sometimes takes up to a minute before the clip is visible in the app or the Ring website. Once it finally shows up, it is labelled “processing” and is un-viewable for another minute or so. Fortunately, I have a CCTV camera mounted above my door so when I get a Ring notification, I fire up that app instead. That probably won’t work for most people though.

Recently released is (or rather, was) the August View. August is known for their smart locks and has a previous entry into the doorbell market that has an odd-looking square shape and requires a wired connection. It has not received great reviews and I haven’t tried it. The new one looked promising but was then pulled from the market due to wifi connectivity issues. Hopefully, they'll get that straightened out an re-released soon.

One more doorbell to consider is made by a small start-up called Soliom. It is a solar powered doorbell that is supposed to work with even indirect sunlight. It records to a local SD card and saves a number of clips to the cloud for free. Of course, this all sounds too good to be true so proceed with caution. If you do buy one - please let us know how it goes!

Finally, taking a slightly different approach is the Arlo Doorbell. Arlo is a wireless camera company that makes pretty good completely wireless (battery operated + wifi) cameras. Their doorbell is less than half the price of the Ring and Nest. The way they've accomplished this is by not including a video camera in the doorbell. They want you to pair this with one of their cameras for viewing video of your door. The doorbell does include 2-way audio and motion sensing capabilities so, if all you're looking for is a doorbell + intercom that doesn't need wires, this product might be for you.

Let's take a look at the top choices here:

Nest Hello
Ring Pro
Ring 2
Power Source
wired
wired
Wired or battery
Looks good
Y
Y
N
Continuous Recording (high bandwidth requirements)
Y
N
N
Ecosystem
Nest/Google
Ring/Amazon
Ring/Amazon
Cost
$250 + subscription
$250 + subscription
$180 + subscription


Bottom line, if you want a wired doorbell, get the Nest Hello, especially if you use Google Assistant devices in your home. Echo Show owners will probably be happier with a Ring Pro. If you need a battery powered doorbell, you’re stuck with the Ring 2 or you can wait to see how the August View turns out if and when it gets re-released.

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