Are smart doorbells like Ring worth the money?
By Hollie Hennessy
Find out why you should consider a smart doorbell, their pros and cons, a round-up of the different brands on offer and what makes them so ‘smart’.
Why consider a smart doorbell?
A standard doorbell has the essential, basic function of letting you know someone is outside your home. Smart doorbells, such as the Ring video doorbell, have a breadth of added functionality, keeping you safe while making answering your door convenient and easy. They stream live video to your devices and offer two-way communication, meaning you can speak to visitors even if you’re not there. You can even set up alerts with wi-fi-enabled apps to let you know you’ve missed deliveries while you’re out and about. ‘Smart’ features differ between models, but with some, such as the Nest Hello, you’ll be able to give quick replies to your visitors from the app.
If you already have some home security in place (such as a wireless security camera), a smart doorbell will add an extra layer of protection. Not only will you be able to see video footage of those outside your home when you’re inside, or away (without revealing your location) - the two-way communication can help deter any intruders.
Pros and cons of smart doorbells
Someone's 'always' home
Smart doorbells ultimately add security to your home. As well as giving you valuable peace of mind, they allow you to pretend you’re in your home when you’re not. As they’re compatible with smart devices, you’ll be able to find out exactly who is outside your door before opening, regardless of where you are in or out of the house.
Aside from security, smart doorbells provide convenience, especially if you’re already used to smart home devices. Some models offer facial recognition, so you’ll know from reading a quick alert if a friend or family member is outside, meaning you don’t even have to look at the video footage. Two-way audio lets you speak to whoever is outside: great for giving a delivery person instructions, letting a friend know you’re not in or telling your visitor you’ll answer the door soon.
Stay in the loop, even when you're out
The ability to receive alerts remotely means you’ll never miss a caller. Live-view footage will let you confirm parcels have been delivered or that your children have arrived home, for example.
Compatibility with smart locks
As well as being compatible with smart home devices, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home, some models are also compatible with smart locks. These allow you to physically open the door remotely, and you can do so once you know who’s outside with your video doorbell.
It goes without saying that smart doorbells are expensive. The wireless models alone cost a pretty penny, and that’s without the cost of installation for hard-wired models.
Bigger than a traditional doorbell
Some models, although sleek for a video device, are bigger and bulkier than a standard doorbell. Often they’ll need fixing to the wall as well, so you’ll have to be able to do some DIY and have the right equipment to drill into the masonry of your home, if you don’t have a wooden door frame big enough to place one on.
Cloud footage storage costs
Although with most models you’ll be able to live view when you choose with a mobile app, receive motion-triggered alerts, or even watch back the last day or so of footage for free, cloud storage generally costs extra and you’ll need to take out a plan to playback and record video. Cloud storage starts from around £25 up to £240 per year, on top of the cost of the device itself.
Installation can be tricky
There’s also the issue of installation. Although wireless models are easily installed, you may have to buy a compatible chime system for audio alerts other than through your smartphone. Wireless smart doorbells will often be battery powered - so you’ll have to remember to charge or replace the battery. That said, the hardwired models can be difficult to install alone, often requiring a professional to install them. This doesn’t come free: you’ll either need to source a professional yourself or hire an electrician if you don’t have existing wiring (which can be even more costly), although some devices have an additional option to buy with installation included.
How do smart doorbells work?
Smart doorbells, like the traditional kind, are positioned outside your home, incorporating wi-fi to live-stream footage from the video camera, which has night vision, to your smartphone. You can also set up motion alerts with the doorbell’s (or a third party’s) smartphone app. They also often have a two-way audio system, so you’ll be able to speak to and hear (through your smartphone) whoever is on the other side of your door. Some connect to your home’s existing doorbell wiring and existing doorbell audio system. Simultaneously, when they're pressed, they’ll also alert your smartphone. Some models use batteries instead and are wireless, and which can be used with a compatible chime system.
Smart doorbell brands compared
One of the most popular smart doorbell brands, Ring, produces a range of video doorbells, ranging from £89 to an astonishing £449 for its most advanced system. Connection varies between them, from wireless (which can be used with a compatible Chime) or hardwired to ethernet devices, needing professional installation but giving a more reliable connection. In general, Ring devices tend to offer 1080p HD live view video and 160-degree field of view, as well as instant mobile alerts when motion is detected. You can also adjust motion zones (the area where the device will detect and alert you to motion) to suit your home.
With Ring, there’s no free playback available. If you want to store, review and share your videos, you need to purchase a Ring Protect Plan. Plans can range from £25 to £85 per year, and allow cloud video storage for up to 30 days.
The Nest Hello video doorbell is currently the only smart doorbell by Nest. It offers HDR video (streamed 24/7, rather than just offering live view when you request it) and a 160degree field of view, as well as other features such as ‘quiet time’, allowing you to mute doorbell notifications through the app. The Nest Hello also has additional features such as facial recognition, sending special alerts for friends and family as well as strangers, and pre-recorded quick responses. However, Nest does recommend professional installation (which comes at a cost of an extra £100), unless you’re extremely DIY savvy, and only works with a pre-existing wired doorbell connection. If you don’t already have one, there would be additional costs incurred for an electrician to wire the product for you. On the plus side, a wired connection is arguably more reliable and you get the added bonus of not having to worry about changing or charging batteries, if you can be bothered with the setup.
If you want to view footage already recorded, Nest does offer three-hour snapshot history free of charge. However, you’ll need a Nest Aware subscription to store footage for up to 30 days.