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14 October 2020

How to buy the best smart video doorbell

Smart doorbells let you answer the door without getting off the sofa. Find out what makes the best video doorbells, and what they’re like to live with.
AL
Andrew Laughlin

What is a video doorbell?    

A smart doorbell, also known as a video doorbell, is akin to a digital receptionist for your home. Alongside ringing like a normal doorbell, these internet-connected doorbells let you see who’s on your doorstep via a built-in camera, and talk directly to them from your smartphone.      

As well as letting you greet visitors, smart doorbells can help increase security at your home. They detect motion in front of your house, from wandering pets to possible burglars, and alert you to take action if required. 

Pros and cons of smart doorbells    

Pros  

  • Convenience: With two-way audio, you can speak to whoever is at the door, whether you’re on the sofa or the other side of the world. You’ll never miss another parcel delivery or a friend who’s come to visit.
  • Security: As well as giving you valuable peace of mind, smart doorbells enable you to pretend you’re at home when you’re not and warn off unwelcome intruders. 
  • Never miss a visitor, 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. 
  • Smart home compatibility: As well as being compatible with smart home devices, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home, some models are also compatible with smart locks. So you could physically open the door remotely to let in a visitor.   

Cons 

  • Size: While some video doorbells are sleek and can be installed so they blend into the wall or door where you want to place them, cheaper models tend to be bigger and bulkier than a standard doorbell, so they will look rather obvious on your door. 
  • Cost: Shelling out £100 or more for a smart doorbell will put a serious dent in your wallet, especially when a standard doorbell would cost less than £10. Don’t be tempted by a sub-£50 smart doorbell, however, as our testing has shown they generally aren’t worth buying. 
  • Installation can be tricky: You can install a battery-powered smart doorbell yourself - see how below. For models that require a wired installation we’d advise you get an electrician to do this, so bear in mind this extra cost. 
  • Subscription costs: Another extra outlay is video storage. Very few smart doorbells offer extensive free online storage for video clips, so you’ll need to sign up for a subscription, potentially costing up to £100 a year. See more on that below.  

Do I need a monthly subscription to use a smart doorbell?    

You can pay more than £200 for a smart doorbell, but you also often have to sign up to a subscription to get the most out of it. 

As well as being able to record and store video clips to access online, subscription services also often unlock extra features in the doorbell, such as customisable motion detection zones and more detailed notifications. 

Ahead, we explain what you get when you sign up to Ring Protect, available on all Ring doorbells, and with Nest Aware for the Nest Hello. 

RING PROTECT

With every Ring doorbell, the basic functionality lets you see the live video and respond to motion alerts. To record and store video clips of events if you need them later, you’ll need a Ring Protect subscription. It breaks down into two options, with most Ring doorbells offering a 30-day free trial to try it out. 

  • Protect Basic: You get 30 days of video storage for a single Ring device for £2.50 a month, or £24.99 a year.  
  • Protect Plus: If you have more than one Ring device, such as a doorbell and a wireless camera, this tier enables you to record 30 days of video clips for unlimited devices for £8 a month or £80 a year.  
  • Do I need it? Unless you’re happy to use the doorbell for just live monitoring, you’ll need to factor in Ring Protect as an extra ongoing cost. 

NEST AWARE

With the Nest Hello, featured overleaf, you can store up to three hours of ‘event history’ video clips online for free to access remotely. That’s pretty meagre, so most people will feel the need to sign up to Nest Aware. There are two tiers and both cover unlimited Nest devices. They also enable more sophisticated controls to alerts and activity zones.

  • Nest Aware: The basic tier gives you 30 days of video storage for £5 a month or £50 a year.
  • Nest Aware Plus: For £10 a month or £100 a year, you can increase that to 60 days of event video storage and also get 10 days of constant 24/7 video recording, a bit like CCTV.
  • Do I need it? The basic three hours of free video event storage isn’t much, so if you want to get the most out of your Nest Hello, you’ll need to subscribe. 

How do I install a smart doorbell?    

All smart doorbells will need to be installed either on your door, or next to it. With a wired doorbell, such as the Ring Pro or Nest Hello, we’d advise you hire an electrician to do the installation. 

Wired doorbells require existing doorbell wiring, along with a standard 18-volt AC supply to power the camera. Installation requires turning all power off at the fuse board, wiring in the door-chime unit adaptor and then connecting everything up. 

While you do get all the kit included in the box, it’s complicated and also dangerous for the novice. Plus, the instructions can often be rather hard to follow. An electrician should be able to install a smart doorbell for between £50-£80.If you’re fairly comfortable at DIY, you can install a battery powered doorbell yourself. Below is typically what you’ll need to do - the approach might different slightly for each doorbell brand or type. For example, the Ring Door View Cam fits into an existing door peephole. 

Some battery-powered doorbells have removable batteries, and it’s advisable to have a fully charged spare battery ready to go if you need it. Others, such as the Ring Doorbell (2nd gen), have built-in batteries, so you’ll need to remove the entire doorbell to charge it. You can connect battery doorbells to the mains so that the battery is ‘trickle charged’ to keep it topped up. Again, we’d advise you get a professional in instead of attempting this yourself. 

How to install a battery doorbell 

Step 1: Unbox the smart doorbell and take out all the items you’ll need to install it, usually including a mounting plate/bracket and any specialist tools. At this stage, you also usually put the battery on to fully charge before fitting. 

Step 2: While the battery is charging, download the doorbell’s app to your phone and follow the instructions to get connected. This usually involves scanning a QR code on the doorbell using your phone’s camera. Then follow the instructions to get the doorbell on your home wi-fi. Some doorbells will only work on the 2.4GHz band, dual-band offers greater flexibility. 

Step 3: Now position your doorbell. Around four feet (1.2 metres) off the ground (to the bottom of the doorbell unit) is the best height as this should give good-enough coverage for most door entrances. Remove the mounting bracket from the doorbell and position it on the wall. Doorbells often come with a mini spirit level to ensure the bracket is level. Mark the screw holes with a pencil. 

Step 4: Once you’re happy with the position of the doorbell, you can screw it in. The approach is different depending on whether you’re fixing to wood, stucco or masonry. Follow the instructions supplied with the doorbell. Finally, attach the doorbell to the mounting bracket and secure it with screws or fixings. Now you should be ready to go. 

Can a smart doorbell be hacked?    

As well as how easy doorbells are to install, set up and use, we also assess whether their video quality is crisp and clear, both in bright daytime conditions and at night. We test whether the doorbells accurately detect when someone is arriving and send you easy-to-follow alert messages. 

We also put smart doorbells and their associated apps through an in-depth security assessment, covering aspects such as password policies, data encryption and more. In addition, we also check whether a criminal can physically detach the doorbell from your home and steal it. 

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