Smart Doorbells: A Comprehensive Guide
With online shopping at an all-time high ever since the pandemic first appeared, 'porch pirates' – people who swipe packages from people's balconies – have been very busy. A recent study by C+R Research found that 43 percent of Americans reported a stolen package in 2020. That's an increase of seven percent from the year before.
Want to help prevent this? Get a smart doorbell.
What Is a Smart Doorbell?
A smart doorbell has an integrated video system, which can bring extra security to your home by allowing you to see who rang, even if you're not home. Smart doorbells are also practical for people with mobility issues. If you cannot quickly get to the door, you can use your smartphone to communicate with your visitor.
Most units feature compact streaming cameras that enable you to video-chat with visitors and be on the lookout for package deliveries via your smartphone. Smart doorbells have become increasingly popular in the last several years, with sales expected to top five million in 2022.
Smart Doorbell Options
Consumers can choose between two types of smart doorbells: hard-wired or wireless.
What Are Hard-Wired Smart Doorbells?
Video doorbells usually need 16 volts or more of power to operate. They can be connected to your home through existing doorbell wires. In new homes, having enough juice to power a smart doorbell through hard-wiring is no problem. However, if you own an older home, only about 10 volts of electricity run to your existing doorbell, which is usually not sufficient. Homeowners can upgrade their transformers or choose a smart doorbell that runs on battery power.
What Are Wireless Smart Doorbells?
Wireless smart doorbell cameras send push notifications via the internet when motion detectors are tripped. Most also have two-way audio so you can talk with the visitors at your door, even when you're away. They also record video 24 hours a day. Whether you opt for a paid monthly subscription or local video storage, most smart doorbells keep past footage, so you can go back and look at it anytime. Models can record a few hours or up to 60 continuous days, depending on how much memory your unit has. Typically, video doorbells have a 100° to 120° lateral field of vision. Many models even have a field of view of 160° and up.
What Are the Best Brands of Smart Doorbells?
There are many options to choose from when looking for a smart doorbell. The best we've found include:
- The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell
- The Eufy Security Video Doorbell
- The Google Nest Hello
- The RemoBell S, and
- The Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus
- The Toucan Wireless Doorbell
The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell
The Arlo Essential Video Doorbell is highly rated because it delivers fewer false alarms than other models. It offers a 180-degree, head-to-toe view of what's in front of your door, and it can distinguish between people, animals, and packages. The unit can record video clips of up to five minutes long if you pay for a $3 monthly Arlo Smart subscription. One of its features, e911, connects directly to first responders if there's an emergency at your home, which is especially useful if you're away. This wired video doorbell works with other smart-home devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It also has a built-in siren and a backup battery in case of a power failure.
The Eufy Security Video Doorbell
The Eufy Security Video Doorbell is a good choice if you are looking for an affordable smart doorbell that doesn't require a subscription. It includes many features such as a crisp, 2K image and a camera that detects body shape and face pattern to minimize false alarms. It also has 4GB of internal memory, which is enough to store up to a month's worth of video. You can add on a $30 annual cloud service if you want more memory. Even though it draws power from your existing doorbell, you won't hear your old chime, so it provides a selection of plug-in ringtones instead. Of note to security-conscious homeowners: the Eufy smart doorbell doesn't send footage over the internet, keeping your video private.
Are you looking for 24-hour video recording, plus AI-powered motion detectors that also recognize faces?
Google Nest Hello
The Google Nest Hello offers these advanced security features and more, including excellent video quality, e911, and data security, making it one of the highest-rated smart doorbells on the market. Google's cloud service tags all clips that are detected by its time-lapsed motion detectors, allowing homeowners to identify who was at your door. The price tag: $6 per month to store video events for 30 days or $12 monthly to keep them for 60 days or to have 24/7 recording for ten days. If you opt not to subscribe, you still get up to three hours of 160° footage.
The hard-wired RemoBell S offers free cloud storage for three days' worth of video. It works with Alexa and Google voice commands and sharp, on-demand HD video. However, some reviewers don't like its fish-eye video recording. You can upgrade to a 30-day storage plan for $30 per year.
Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus
For renters, the wireless Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus features 1080p resolution video sent straight to your phone. It also has a wide-angle lens, detailed night vision, and flexible power options. You can connect it to your existing doorbell wire, use its backup battery or get a solar charger for a small added fee. One great bonus: Theft protection for the device itself. If someone steals your smart doorbell in addition to your package, Ring will give you a free replacement.
Toucan Wireless Doorbell
Budget-conscious homeowners might like the Toucan Wireless Video Doorbell because it's one of the most affordable models available. It is powered by rechargeable batteries, which makes it a good option for apartments, condos, or even a home office. You can install it with a couple of mounting screws. The unit includes a wireless chime and features two-way audio. With Toucan's free cloud storage plan, you are limited to five video downloads per month.
How Do You Install a Smart Doorbell?
Before you decide whether to get a hard-wired mechanical smart doorbell or a wireless one, get the voltage checked to see if you have a wired chime already in place. If not, you will need to purchase a battery-powered video doorbell and make sure to keep the batteries charged at all times. Many models offer both wired and battery-powered options.
Wireless smart doorbells can be installed anywhere on your door frame, usually with a couple of screws. Some models have optional ring chime add-ons, so you'll hear the ring inside your house just like an old-school doorbell.
How Long Does a Smart Doorbell Last?
Depending on where you live and how active your smart doorbell is, most batteries last anywhere between three and 12 months. Once the motion detector is triggered and the video doorbell begins recording, the battery drains at a greater rate. Many video doorbells use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Extreme cold weather makes batteries less effective at holding a charge during the winter months. Also, video doorbells work best when they have a strong wi-fi signal connection. If the device has difficulty keeping the connection, that can drain the battery faster.
How Do Smart Doorbells Work With Security Systems?
Smart doorbells are helpful and can be an excellent deterrent to package thieves, but they aren't recommended as home security systems. That's because even the widest doorbell cameras have a limited range compared to home security systems, where you can position cameras in multiple places to capture every view of a possible intruder.
For homeowners who already have a security system, ask your provider if they offer smart doorbells compatible with their equipment. Some companies, such as ADT, SimpliSafe, Vivint, and Frontpoint, have video doorbell add-on options.
Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal-based journalist and TV producer whose work has appeared in many outlets including Apartment Therapy, Metropolis, Architectural Digest’s AD Pro, AARP, Costco Connection, Country Gardens, Realtor.com, Style at Home, Canadian Living and many more. Follow her @WendyHelfenbaum