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Buying a video doorbell? Here's 8 things you need to know

Ring Video Doorbell Wired review
(Image credit: Future)

Video doorbells are one of the biggest smart home purchases, so it’s important to ask questions before making a decision on which to buy. But what are the factors you should  consider? Here are eight things you should know when shopping for a video doorbell. 

Quick Tips

  • Wired or wireless? Wireless video doorbells are fewer in number, but easier to install. Just remember — you’ll have to recharge their batteries.
  • What features do you want? Some video doorbells offer package detection, person detection, and animal detection, which helps eliminate false alerts. 
  • Are you buying other security cameras? If so, you’ll want ones made by the same company, to save on subscription fees.

Are you replacing an existing doorbell?

If you’re swapping out an existing wired push-button doorbell for a video doorbell, then you have a lot of options, as most of the best video doorbells are designed to use your home’s existing wiring. The majority of doorbells, both traditional and video, are powered by a 24-volt transformer, so in most cases it’s simply a matter of connecting your new video doorbell to the existing wires.

If, however, you don’t have an existing doorbell, then you’ll need to either install wires to where you want your new doorbell to go, or purchase a video doorbell that can run on battery power alone. There are fewer models that are solely battery-powered; of these, Arlo and Ring make the best models. 

Do you have a chime in your house?

You know, the thing that goes ding-dong when someone pushes the doorbell. If you have a doorbell, then you probably have a chime, which can be either mechanical or digital. A mechanical chime has a hammer that strikes a metal plate, whereas a digital chime creates an electronic sound through a speaker. 

If you don’t have a chime, then you’ll need to purchase one that’s compatible with the video doorbell you purchase; otherwise, your only alert when it rings will be a smartphone notification. Both Arlo and Ring sell digital, plug-in chimes that work with their video doorbells. These chimes are also handy if you have a hard time hearing your doorbell from certain parts of your house. 

What do you want to see?

A video doorbell’s aspect ratio is crucial in what you can and can’t see out your front door. Originally, most video doorbells used off-the-shelf cameras, which, like traditional cameras, have a nice wide aspect ratio but didn’t show a lot vertically. That meant that if someone left a package right by your front door, it would be out of view. That’s starting to change; here’s a look at some of the leading video doorbell cameras and their aspect ratios. The ones closer to a 1:1 ratio will generally show more of your front door, but no single-camera video doorbell will show you everything.

NameAspect RatioField of view
Arlo Video Doorbell1:1127 degrees horizontal, 127 degrees vertical
Logitech Circle View3:4128 degrees vertical, 96 degrees horizontal
Nest Hello4:396 degrees vertical, 128 degrees horizontal
Ring Video Doorbell (2nd gen)5.2:3155 degrees vertical, 90 degrees horizontal
Ring Video Doorbell Pro 21:1 150 degrees vertical, 150 degrees horizontal

Do you want to know when packages arrive?

Many of us receive a lot of packages, so it’s important to know when one is left on your doorstep. A few video doorbells have built-in AI that can recognize the shape of boxes, and can send you an alert if one is dropped off. Currently, the Nest Hello and Arlo video doorbells have this feature, and coming later this year, all video doorbells that use HomeKit Secure Video (such as the Logitech Circle View Doorbell) will gain this ability. 

Do you want to know when specific people arrive?

Because they’re linked to your Google and Apple accounts, respectively, the Nest Hello and Logitech Circle View Doorbell can match up faces in your Google Photos and Apple Photos libraries with those they see approaching your door, and then announce their names. It’s not a must-have feature, but it is kinda neat.

Do you have a smart display or smart TV?

One fun feature of many video doorbells is that you can now view what they’re seeing on smart displays and even smart TVs. Some even let you  interact with the person at your front door. 

All of Ring’s video doorbells will work with Amazon’s smart displays, such as the Echo Show 10, Echo Show 8, and Echo Show 5. If you have a Fire TV stick, Fire TV Cube, or a Fire TV, you’ll also be able to view Ring video doorbells. 

Similarly, If you have the Nest Hello, you’ll be able to view it on Google’s smart displays, as well as Chromecast-enabled TVs. And, feeds from HomeKit-enabled video doorbells, such as the Logitech Circle View, can be viewed on Apple TVs. 

Arlo’s video doorbells give you the best of both worlds, as they work with both Alexa and Google-enabled devices. 

You’ll probably need a subscription

Sad to say, but most of the best video doorbells will require you to purchase a subscription if you want to use all of their features. You’ll still be able to use all of them if you go without a subscription, but the most you’ll be able to do is view live video and respond to whoever’s at the door. You won’t be able to save videos or enable advanced features such as package detection, or the ability to create custom motion-detection zones. Plans generally start at around $3/month for a single device. For a more detailed look at what each company offers, check out our story on security camera storage plans compared

Are you planning to add other security cameras?

If you’re thinking about purchasing additional home security cameras for your property, it makes sense to choose a video doorbell by the same company. That way, you’re not paying for more than one subscription. Many of the subscriptions offered will cover more than one camera at a given location, so it’s good to assess all your potential security needs before making a decision on a video doorbell. 

Mike Prospero

Michael A. Prospero is the deputy editor at Tom’s Guide overseeing the smart home, drones, and fitness/wearables categories. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine or some other cooking gadget.