Video doorbells are the most important smarthome device you can buy. Smart light bulbs may be flashy, but—when properly integrated—a video doorbell will become something you can’t live without. They’re incredibly reasonable, too, costing just $99 to $199.
If you could only have one smarthome device, you should make it a video doorbell—assuming you can install one. And if you could only have two, it should be a video doorbell and a voice assistant with a display. Here’s why.
Video Doorbells Are a Window to the Outside World
A video doorbell combines a camera, microphone, and speaker set with a straight forward doorbell. Some connect to your existing wiring and some work with your house’s chime, others have options to run off battery power and require a wireless chime. The audio and video your doorbell records are streamed back to your tablet or phone, and how much they record and stream depends on power. Battery operated doorbells can’t stream continuously, for instance; they’ll lose power too quickly.
When someone approaches your door, the video doorbell will notice and notify you. You can start watching the stream at that point. And if they ring the doorbell, you can chat them with them like an intercom.
Thanks to their location, video doorbells act as a bridge to the outside world. With a video doorbell, you can see and interact with the world outside your front door—even while you’re not home.
This works whether you work from home, an office, or abroad. You can see who is at your door, even before they ring the bell. You won’t need to move to the peephole quietly to determine who rang the bell and if you should answer.
If you’re not home, you can still see who’s there and even talk to them. With a smart lock, you can even remotely unlock the door and let your visitors into your house. Some doorbells like Nest Hello and Wisenet Smartcam offer facial recognition, so you’ll know when family or friends arrive.
Have you ever been home all day only to discover somebody left packages on your front porch without ringing the doorbell? Video doorbells solve that problem too, as they notify you when a person is at the door, regardless of whether they ring the doorbell or not. That’s a useful security feature, too.
Smart Displays Act Like a Digital Peephole
Voice assistants with displays take this a step further. Instead of relying on your smartphone or tablet to see the video stream from your doorbell, your Echo Show or Nest Home hub can show you the stream instead. With the Nest Hello and Google Home hub, the start of the stream is nearly instantaneous. You can even hold your conversation from the display, meaning you may not need to leave the office or kitchen to answer the door at all.
Your phone and tablet do provide similar functionality, but it’s always slower and more inconvenient to get to. Before you can pull out your phone, unlock it, and open the Nest app, the video will already be playing on your Nest Hub devices. You’ll even have a quick option to start talking to whoever is at your door. Quite frankly, nothing comes close to how seamless it is. The best analogy we can give is to imagine having a magical ability to open the door within two seconds of your doorbell ringing, every time.
The real magic begins if you have voice assistant devices throughout your house. If your home is large enough and has a single chime, you may have trouble hearing the doorbell ring when you’re far enough away. When someone rings a video doorbell, the associated voice assistant (like Nest Hello and Google Home, or Ring and Echo) announces that “Someone is at the door.” The more voice assistants you have, the more rooms you’ll hear this in. If you have enough smart speakers, you might even consider disabling your house’s chime altogether.
Video Doorbells Act as Security Cameras, Too
If you want protection for your house, the first item on your checklist might be security cameras. But you might want to consider a video doorbell first. Most security cameras come with distinct downsides. Some are for indoor use only, which means taking steps to make them work through a window. Others require a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet to provide power. And battery powered cameras can’t continuously record. Wired cameras require running cable and drilling holes in your house.
A video doorbell neatly sidesteps most, if not all those issues. It’s already outside for one. And if your house’s doorbell wiring works, you can provide power without the need for a GFCI outlet or running cables and drilling holes. And the Nest Hello isn’t limited to motion sensor recordings, with a subscription it can provide continuous 24/7 recording.
The microphone and speakers built into video doorbells add comfort if not security. If you aren’t sure about answering a door, you don’t have to. Instead, you can speak with the person at your doorstep from the safety of your home.
Naturally, thieves who might be tempted to steal packages from your porch are starting to recognize video doorbells on sight, and so they act as a deterrent.
Video Doorbells Integrate into the Rest of Your Smarthome
If you do have other smarthome gadgets, one of the standout features of a video doorbell is how they integrate into the rest of your smarthome. Ring doorbells work with IFTTT to extend their capabilities throughout your house. You can create recipes to turn on porch lights if motion is detected, or start recording on other cameras you may have.
If you have both a video doorbell and a smart lock, you can use the two together even if they don’t have a direct connection. If you’re not home and a friend, cleaning service, or electrician arrives, you have a solution on hand. The video doorbell lets you confirm who’s there. Then, if you want, you can unlock the door and grant access. No need to hand out extra keys to your house and trust they’re in the right hands.
How Much Does a Video Doorbell Cost?
Depending on exactly which company and model you go with, video doorbells tend to cost between $99 and $250. Battery powered options tend to be less expensive, but you’ll want to factor a wireless chime if you want one. Those typically cost around $30.
The bigger expense may be doorbell wiring if you want to use your house chime. If everything is working, then there’s no added cost. But if your doorbell doesn’t currently work, you’ll need to call in an electrician to determine if the problem is the doorbell, the wires, or the transformer. That cost can add up; after failing to find the current broken transformer, we had a new one installed for $200. Electrician rates vary, so this might cost you more or less.
Installing a doorbell isn’t difficult, especially if you’re using a battery powered version. That version may be able to hang from your existing screws (if you have a doorbell). If not, you’ll need to drill holes and add screws. Wired doorbells have those steps, and you’ll need to turn off the circuit breaker and connect your existing wires to your doorbell. And Nest Hello calls for a chime connector to be installed as well. For most people, installation is probably around a half hour. But if you aren’t comfortable working with electrical wiring, any electrician familiar with a standard doorbell should be able to install a video doorbell. But that will add to the overall cost.
But the hardware isn’t the final cost to consider. Nearly every video doorbell offers a subscription of some sort, and they range in price from $3 a month to $30 a month depending on the features. Some doorbells, like SimpliSafe and Ring, work well enough without a subscription, although you’ll miss out on features like video recording and reviewing. Other doorbells, like Nest Hello, are all but useless without the subscription.
Which Video Doorbell Should You Buy?
If you considering a video doorbell, two main competitors stand out among the pack—Ring, owned by Amazon, and Nest Hello, owned by Google.
If your doorbell wiring doesn’t work, or you heavily invested in Echo devices, Ring may be your best choice. Ring not only integrates with Echo devices, but it provides battery-powered options. Just keep in mind that the with batteries comes a larger doorbell design, so you’ll want to check that the doorbell will even fit with your house layout. Nest Hello used to integrate with Amazon Echo devices, but the Works with Nest program is ending, and it’s unclear how the two will work together in the future.
If you do have working wiring, and you chose Google Home for your voice assistant devices, then Nest Hello is the best choice. Unlike Ring, Nest Hello provides 24/7 recording and facial recognition (with a subscription). And the integration with Google Home is tighter, providing a quicker result. You can pair a Ring doorbell with Google Home hub, but it doesn’t work as well.
If you live in an apartment, condo, townhouse, or even a rental home where you can’t replace your current doorbell, you can purchase Ring’s $199 Door View Cam. It replaces your peephole, is battery operated, and even senses knocks. Check before you buy—not every peephole is the same size and Ring’s Door View Cam may not fit in all of them. Your building’s management, rental home’s owner, or area’s homeowners’ association (HOA) may also not approve.
Other options do exist, but you’ll lose deep integration with voice assistants by choosing them instead. The August Doorbell is incredibly wide, and you may trouble fitting it in your home. If you have a SimpliSafe system, the SimpliSafe doorbell works well in its system. But its features aren’t as advanced as Ring or Nest, so we don’t highly recommend it.
What If Your Smart Doorbell Is Stolen?
You might be worried about putting a smart gadget outside of your home. That’s why some companies, like Ring and Nest, offer replacements if your doorbell is stolen. You’ll have to fill out a police report and contact Amazon or Google, but they generally promise to have a new doorbell out to you in two weeks. However, not every company may offer theft replacements; we can’t find any similar promises from SimpliSafe, for instance. Considering the thief would be recorded in the act, you probably should worry about that less and fear someone licking your doorbell instead.
It’s hard to state fully the level of convenience a video doorbell introduces to your house. Like most smarthome gadgets, you can easily live without one. It’s not a necessity like water or heating. But, much like the internet itself, once you have a video doorbell, you may find yourself unwilling to go back to the way things were. The first time you save a package from the rain that would have left out all day, you’ll be thankful you invested the money.