Smart doorbells: everything you need to know

The smart home, high-tech version of the good old peephole, the smart doorbell does more than just let you see who's come calling. Here's why you need one in your life

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Ding-dong! The familiar chime of your home doorbell can mean many things – a visit from a loved one, a parcel being delivered, or even a few cheeky kids causing a nuisance at your expense. 

It’s events like that latter example that might bring you to turn to smart home technology: namely, installing a smart doorbell. How can you screen guests to your home before answering the door? How can you check exactly who has visited your home while you’ve been away? And, in the case of an act of crime, how can you collect evidence as to who may have been the culprit to burglarise your home? Smart doorbells are the answer. TechRadar's Gerald Lynch tells you why you need one in your life.

Don't need convincing? Check out our top six smart doorbells.

What is a smart doorbell?

Smart doorbells are souped-up, web-connected intercom systems for your home. Made by companies including the Amazon-owned Ring and Google-owned Nest, they incorporate a standard doorbell chime with a video camera. These doorbells can then not only buzz to alert those at home of a visitor, but also send notifications over the internet to your mobile devices, showing you a video feed of whoever is waiting on your doorstep. You can then speak with them over an installed speaker, letting you give instructions to delivery staff or apologies to missed pals. 

Some are also equipped with infrared sensors, motion detectors and AI facial recognition systems, letting you know when someone is approaching your property without them even pushing the buzzer – handy if you’re finding your home attracts nefarious or undesirable guests.

In addition, most smart doorbells offer the option of recording everything that’s captured by the video camera, so that you can play it back at a later date. This is then all stored on your smart doorbell provider of choice’s cloud storage system, accessible at any time, anywhere through a user account on the web. However, these optional services are paid for by subscriptions, and can become a little pricey, with stored video being deleted after a set period of time. It’s worth factoring the price of these subscriptions into the cost when purchasing a smart doorbell.

Is it easy to install and set up a smart doorbell?

For the most part, yes! Especially if you opt for one of the battery-powered options. The Ring Video Doorbell 2, for instance, is one of the best smart doorbells on the market, and can be either wired up to your home, or powered by a rechargeable battery. In the case of the latter set-up, it’s merely a matter of securing its casing to your doorframe with adhesive tape, and then pairing it with your home Wi-Fi connection though the Ring app to get started.

Can smart doorbells interact with other smart devices?

If you have a screen-packing Amazon Echo device, like the Amazon Echo Show or Echo Spot, Ring doorbells can beam video feeds to the display’s of those Alexa products. Elsewhere, you can use IFTTT (If This Then That) applications to make smart doorbells communicate with and trigger other smart devices in your home. For instance, if you had Philips Hue smart bulbs installed, you could program them to come on whenever the doorbell is pushed – useful for giving the appearance that you’re at home even when you are away.

What are the best smart doorbells?

There are many options on the market when it comes to buying smart doorbells. But at this present moment, it’s only really two companies – Nest and Ring – who are battling it out for dominance. Here are our picks for the top three smart doorbell devices.

The Ring Doorbell 2

The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is our overall top pick when it comes to buying a smart doorbell. Powered by either the mains or a rechargeable battery, it’s very easy to install, offering installation flexibility that no other doorbell can lay claim to. Its notification alerts are swift, and the full HD video it sends to your smart device is clear and of consistently good quality. The wide angle lens it uses also gives you a great view of your property, whereas other options can be a bit more narrow. Working with screen-equipped Amazon Echo devices, it also has one of the more affordable video storage plans, starting at £2.50 a month.

Ring Doorbell Pro

Though its name would lead you to believe the Ring Video Doorbell Pro is superior to the Doorbell 2, there’s actually not much to separate the two in practical terms of functionality. It’s slimmer, but that’s because it doesn’t offer a battery installation option, and uses AI video analysis rather than an infrared sensor to detect motion. In theory, that should make it better equipped to differentiate between a pigeon flying past your door and a burglar scoping out your property, but it’s for you to decide if that’s worth the extra expense. It’s a great doorbell either way though, and offers the same video storage plan pricing as the other Ring models.

Nest Hello

If you’re serious about home security, the Nest Hello is what you should be considering. Whereas the competition only record video when triggered by motion sensing, the Nest Hello is constantly recording video, giving you a complete record of the goings-on around your property. It also uses facial recognition analysis to detect over time who is approaching your home and alert you to specific visitors headed your way, known or unknown. That comprehensive approach to video surveillance however brings with it additional but optional storage costs – the Nest Aware subscription starts at £4 a month for access to five days worth of video history. But to make the most of that 24-hr video service, the key differentiator between Nest Hello and the competition, you’re probably going to want the premium £24 a month package, which offers a 30-day video history to browse.

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