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14 October 2020

How we test smart doorbells

From video quality to how they protect you from hackers, we put video doorbells through the wringer to deliver the most comprehensive verdicts available.
Ring Video Doorbell smart doorbell
AL
Andrew Laughlin

Why our smart doorbell tests are different

Mixing technical tests with expert assessments, our smart doorbell reviews go further than any other. 

Every single test we do goes towards producing a Which? overall percentage score. This is calculated purely on the measurements and ratings supplied by our test lab, meaning it can’t be influenced by any preferences or bias. 

We don’t take free review samples from manufacturers, and instead buy all the smart doorbells that we test, in the same way that you would. 

What are Which? Best Buys and Don’t Buys?

Best Buys are given to smart doorbells that excelled in our tests. As of October 2020, a smart doorbell that scores 79% or more gets that accolade.  All Best Buy smart doorbells come with our firm overall recommendation, although you should still read our reviews to check for any weaknesses that might impact your buying decision. Any video doorbell that scores 45% or less becomes a Don’t Buy.

  • Best Buy smart doorbells have fantastic video and sound quality, are easy to use and are secure against hacking attacks. They will also have fast response speeds, meaning there will be no lag between someone pressing the doorbell and you being notified on your phone. 
  • Don't Buy video doorbells, by contrast, fall down in all the most important areas. They are a pain to install and use, and their video quality will be more akin to grainy CCTV. They will also be slow and laggy, meaning you might only be alerted to visitors after they’ve already given up and left. 

How is the Which? score calculated?

In each smart doorbell review, you’ll see an overall Which? overall score as a percentage. This takes into account all the results of our tests, but ignores price, so in theory a cheap product has just as much chance to succeed as an expensive one. 

You can compare all the smart doorbells against each other, helping you to find the one that best suits your budget and needs. Weightings and star ratings Some aspects of a smart doorbell are more important than others. For example, how easy it is to use and how crisp and clear the video looks on your phone are among the most important things for a doorbell to get right. 

For this reason, we weigh certain elements of a test more heavily than others, meaning they have a greater impact on the overall score. So if a doorbell is a pain to use and its video quality is fuzzy, it doesn’t matter how it fares elsewhere. We don’t want you buying it in the first place. 

To keep things simple, the most important test results are shown as star ratings out of five on each smart doorbell’s Test Results page so that you can easily see its strengths and weaknesses. How the overall smart doorbell test score is calculated:

  • Performance (video and sound quality, motion detection, etc) 65%
  • Ease of use 30%
  • Theft protection (how hard the doorbell is to steal) 5%.

All doorbells are assessed for how secure they are against hackers. See more on that below.

Our key testing criteria

Below are the key testing categories for smart doorbells and how we evaluate each one:

Video and sound quality

Key questions: How clear and detailed is the video footage captured by the doorbells’s camera? Can you easily hear visitors via the app, and can they easily hear you? 

Although you aren’t expecting to watch Netflix via your smart doorbell app, it’s still important that the video quality is good. If you need to use the video footage as evidence of a crime at your home, for example, it’s no use if it’s grainier than a VHS tape. 

Our lab experts test whether the video is accurate and detailed in brightly lit and medium light conditions. We check if the picture has good colour, contrast and sharpness, and that important details are easy to pick out if you need to do so. We also test picture quality in dimly lit conditions and full darkness. 

Our testers assess how the cameras handle the transition from good light to requiring night vision. Some doorbells fail to fully illuminate the gloom, meaning you can miss certain events, while others will cause reflections on things like car number plates, making them hard to read. For sound quality we assess the volume and clarity of the sound out of the doorbell to the visitor, and the same on your smartphone. You won’t want to be straining to hear what someone is saying while repeatedly yelling ‘What?!’.

Motion detection

Key questions: How accurately does the doorbell detect motion, and how effectively does it notify you of this so you can take action?

Alongside alerting you when someone actually presses the bell, smart doorbells should also monitor for activity in front of your door and tell you if anything needs your attention.

Our testers assess whether the doorbells accurately pick up a range of events, such as a person arriving, and then send you an easy-to-follow notification message.In our testing we find a wide range of motion detection sensitivity - good doorbells will spot someone up to 2.5 metres away, such as at the end of a driveway. 

Poor doorbells might not detect motion at all, and so you’ll have no idea whether or not someone has arrived.We also assess the quality of notification messages you are sent, including whether they enable you to directly access a recorded video clip or saved photo, and whether you can quickly respond by speaking to the visitor or sounding an alarm siren. 

Installation and set up

Key questions: How straightforward is it to get the video doorbell installed at my home, and could I do it myself? After that, is it easy to connect the smart doorbell to my home wi-fi?

All smart doorbells can, in theory, be installed yourself, but it really depends on how confident you are with electrical work. 

Wired, mains-power doorbells are often quite complex to install so, while we do rate the instructions and guidance supplied to do this, we generally advise you to hire a professional instead. 

Battery-powered doorbells are much easier to install, and worth trying if you’re sufficiently confident with DIY. Our experts assess how simple it is to do and whether there are any issues to consider, such as fragile parts or fiddly screws. 

Ease of use

Key questions: How simple is the doorbell to use after it’s set up? Is the app well designed, and can my partner and I use it at the same time? 

Alongside excellent video quality, smart doorbells should be straightforward to use, even if you aren’t that tech-savvy. Our ergonomics experts give each doorbell’s app a thorough assessment, digging into every menu, feature and function to see if it has been well designed or has notable drawbacks. 

Alongside assessing the ease of accessing the doorbell camera’s live video stream, we also see how easy it is to make recordings or save snapshots if you need them. We also assess how you can access and download those recordings and photos. 

We record whether multiple devices can be logged into the doorbell app at once and whether each of these devices receives alerts at the same time. This means that you and other family members can both monitor the doorbell simultaneously. 

Alongside the mobile app, we also see whether you can access your doorbell account on the web using a laptop, and whether the web interface has been designed intelligently.  Ease of use is an important factor and makes up 30% of each doorbell’s score.

Security

Key questions: Will my doorbell be safe from hackers, and does it protect my privacy? 

We put smart doorbells and their associated apps through a full security assessment. Our test programme is aligned with the recently emerged security standard, but also goes beyond that in several areas. 

Conducted by trained experts, the test programme probes a number of important areas, including whether the doorbell and apps use strong passwords, encrypt your private information and protect you from basic hacking attacks. 

While security doesn’t currently contribute to the doorbell’s score, if we find any concerning issues in our testing, we contact the manufacturer to get them fixed. 

If the issues are sufficiently severe, based on our risk assessment process, we could hold back a product from being a Best Buy, or automatically make it a Don’t Buy, unless the issue is rectified by the brand. 

Theft protection

Key questions: Can a criminal walk up to my house and steal my smart doorbell? 

With some smart doorbells costing more than £200, they could be a juicy target to opportunistic criminals passing by your house. So, our experts assess whether someone can physically detach the doorbell from your home and steal it.

Good doorbells use security screws that, while possibly not unique, would slow down a criminal to the point of putting them off. Yet some are ridiculously easy to steal. 

In a snapshot security test we found one model that could be detached from the wall with a standard Sim-card ejector tool included with all smartphones. It could then be reset and sold on. 

Theft protection makes up 5% of the overall score, meaning that no Best Buy or highly rated smart doorbell can be designed in such an unsecure way.

View all Smart video doorbells