are a relatively new category in the smart home, but they closely overlap with standard home security cameras. They are, in fact, doorbells with built-in .
With a video doorbell, your guests will ring the buzzer just like normal, but you’ll get a push alert on your phone and a live video look at whoever’s there (in addition to a regular ol’ chime sound). The two of you can then chat via a built-in speaker and microphone in the doorbell. In some cases, they also work withso you can let the person in without physically opening the door yourself.
Most of today’s Wi-Fi-enabled doorbells offer features like these, but the designs, video storage subscriptions and general installation can vary a lot. Below, we’ve highlighted our favorite models, and we’ve explained exactly how we test video doorbells, too.
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The best video doorbells we’ve tested
Best overall video doorbell
From design to performance and features, the Nest Hello is hard to beat. At $229, it’s priced high, but it is a truly great option if you’re looking for an all-around solid product that looks nice and works well. Still, it isn’t perfect. I wish Nest offered free cloud video storage and free facial recognition; hopefully the Google-owned company will add more free features in the future.
Ring Video Doorbell
Although Ring now sells a bunch of smart doorbells, its first-gen Ring Video Doorbell is still available for purchase. The price has dropped to $100 too, so you can snag a video doorbell with optional battery or hardwired installation for less than half the price of the $229 Nest Hello Video Doorbell. (We’re working on an updated review, but we can stipulate this model has improved, thanks to software updates, since we originally reviewed it in 2014.)
Best smart home support
The Nest Hello works well with Alexa, Google Assistant, and, of course, Nest. It isn’t the only product that works with a variety of platforms, but it does offer fairly comprehensive online support if you have questions about connecting your doorbell to your smart speaker or other smart home platform. It probably doesn’t hurt that Google owns Nest.
In addition to the basics like 1080p HD live streaming and motion alerts, the Hello camera also offers free person detection. Person detection won’t tell you who’s at the door, but it will tell you it saw a person. For a monthly or yearly fee, you can also upgrade to the Nest Aware cloud subscription service. Along with access to saved video recordings, this service also adds facial recognition.
More video doorbell options
How we test video doorbells
Testing a smart doorbell is similar to testing any other. First I download the corresponding app and create an account (if I don’t already have one). While a lot of products include tutorial booklets in the box with your purchase, I prefer to start with the app. A good app includes detailed steps on the installation process, as well as how to connect to your Wi-Fi network and actually get the product up and running. It’s your one-stop shop for taking your doorbell setup from start to finish.
Make sure the doorbell is installed based on the manufacturer’s specifications — either hardwired or battery- or solar-powered. As soon as it’s connected and I’m able to view the live video feed, I check the settings. I make sure features like motion detection or activity zones are enabled (they aren’t always enabled as a default) to get a complete sense of what it’s like to use the product — and to see how well it actually works as a replacement to a regular, nonsmart doorbell.
What to look for
Does it work with smart home platforms? If so, do they work well? Nowadays smart home devices are expected to work with at least one major smart home platform — Alexa,and/or are the main ones you need to look for.
How’s the latency? If it takes a long time to get a push alert after someone rings your doorbell, then you risk missing your visitor completely. The same might even be true when the doorbell simply detects motion — you can set most video doorbells to notify you to activity happening near your door, even if no one rings the buzzer.
If you have latency problems, start with your Wi-Fi connection. If it isn’t strong where the doorbell is installed, you might consider moving it (or, more easily, getting a Wi-Fi range extender). But it could also be the way the software works.
How’s the live view? Doorbells are often exposed to direct sunlight, but many others are installed under porches, near shady trees and in all sorts of other settings. It’s important that the camera can handle any of these scenarios so you don’t get stuck with a nonfunctioning product that can’t see faces under a porch.
How’s the two-way audio? If the doorbell’s microphone and speaker don’t work well, you’re going to have a tough time communicating with whoever’s there. I test this out multiple times to see how the doorbell’s audio sounds over my phone.
Originally published Oct. 15, 2018.
Update, Feb. 12: Extensively rewritten.
: And how we test them.
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