A video doorbell can help you see who's at the door, and you can find out what they want without having to get up — even if you're not home. After we spent more than 40 hours testing four of the top video doorbells, our favorite is the. It has the best video quality, can recognize individual faces—and can announce them to you, too.
Ring's doorbells are also solid performers, offering wide viewing angles, 1080p resolution and a great app. Although it's a bit pricey, we prefer the Ring Pro for its customizable motion zones. The August Doorbell Cam is also a good performer, and offers tight integration with August's excellent Smart Lock Pro, as well as with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Alexa.
Latest News and Updates (September 2018)
- At a Sept. 20 event, Amazon announced the Ring Stick Up Cam, available available in wired and battery powered versions, each costing $180. It comes in black and white designs, and works both indoors and outside.
- Amazon's also rolling out Alexa Guard, a way to integrate Echo devices, smart lights and security services, for protection while you're away. Alexa Guard includes Away Lighting, which turns smart lights on and off, in patterns to trick would-be intruders into thinking you're at home.
- We are currently testing Spotcam's Video Doorbell; the company offers two models: The version with a 720p-resolution camera costs $99, while a 1080p model is $139. Both cameras are wireless, and run on four AA batteries. They both feature a 180-degree field of view, infrared night vision, and two-way audio. Each also comes with a chime, which plugs into an outlet inside your house. Both models have a microSD card slot for onboard storage, but Spotcam also offers cloud storage, which starts at $29 per year for 180 days of videos, or $49 for 360 days of storage.
Nest's doorbell cam produced the best-looking video we've yet seen from one of these devices, and its microphone and speaker were excellent, too. It can also recognize people's faces, and announce them when they come to your door. While it needs a hardwired connection, it continuously records video, so you'll never miss an event. You can also set up specific zones, so you'll only be notified when a person or object appears in that area of the frame. While you'll need to subscribe to the Nest Aware service (starting at $5/month) to get all of its features, they're worth it.
Because it can run entirely on battery power, the Ring Video Doorbell 2 can go anywhere, and with an optional Ring Chime device ($27), you can hear the doorbell inside the house. This 1080p doorbell camera offers good customization for motion alerts, although it's not as robust as the Ring Pro's. However, you still get the same ability to share videos with neighbors, as well as Ring's affordable video-storage fees.
August's video doorbell has a clever HindSense feature that includes a couple of seconds of video before the motion is detected, which means the device is more likely to capture a usable image. While August's doorbell doesn't have the highest resolution among the cameras we tested, the footage was clear enough that we could see people's faces, and we liked that its spotlight helped illuminate whoever was coming to the door at night.
Because August's product looks the least like a traditional doorbell, visitors sometimes didn't know to press the device; they just knocked on our door instead. Still, it integrates tightly with August's excellent Smart Locks, which itself is compatible with Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant, among other smart home systems — the most of any of the doorbells we tested.
Ring's smallest and best-looking doorbell has the most customizable motion zones of any doorbell we tested, letting you specify exactly which areas in the camera's field of vision should trigger an alert. It also has crisp, 1080p resolution and a wide, 160-degree field of view — tops among the cameras we tested — and the most-competitive storage costs.
Ring's app also lets you share videos with neighbors, so you can keep everyone informed if there's someone trying to break into multiple houses or steal packages. Installation is a little tricky, however; we had to install not just the doorbell, but also a separate device inside our existing doorbell's chime box.
Other Video Doorbells We Reviewed
Among the video doorbells we tested, the RemoBell was the largest and had the lowest resolution, and it does not integrate with any other smart home systems. We'd skip this option.
How a Video Doorbell Works
When you push the button on a traditional doorbell, the action closes a circuit to ring a chime inside your home. Video doorbells are a bit more complex. When you push the button on one of these devices, the doorbell's camera sends a video feed to your smartphone over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and you can press a button in the app to talk to the person at the door over a two-way speaker. Each doorbell supports ring alerts, which notify your phone when a person rings the bell, as well as motion alerts, which can be a little more hit or miss.
How We Test and Rate Video Doorbells
We picked four doorbells and installed them one at a time in a small house in Oakland, California. The house, which was built in 1946, was sending only about 10 volts of electricity to the existing doorbell, which wasn't enough to power the two doorbells in the roundup that lack built-in batteries.
After we upgraded the doorbell's circuit to a 20-volt transformer, everything worked as advertised. Most people shouldn't have to upgrade their transformers, especially with newer houses, and the two doorbells that have built-in batteries don't require power from the doorbell at all.
The doorbells were self-installed and tested in real-world conditions, with friends and family ringing the bells day and night. We evaluated ease of setup, the design and features of the app, how well the app and doorbell kept us notified, and video and audio quality. We also factored in how much you'll pay for cloud storage to save the video.
What to Look for When Buying a Video Doorbell
Power Requirements: Doorbells typically require 16 volts or more to work. If you have a newer house, this may not be an issue. But as we found out, older homes with more-antiquated systems may not deliver enough juice. Some doorbells, like the Ring Video Doorbell 2 and the RemoBell, can run on battery power. This is incredibly helpful if your existing wiring isn't getting the job done and you don't want to upgrade the transformer. Just remember that you'll have to recharge these units regularly.
Doorbell Placement: Your choice of doorbells will also depend on whether you're replacing an existing doorbell or installing a doorbell where there isn't one already. The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is the most flexible. While it can replace a hardwired doorbell supplying 8-24 volts of electricity, its rechargeable battery means you could put this doorbell anywhere. And the optional Ring Chime add-on can even sound an audible chime inside the house, just like a traditional doorbell would.
RemoBell also runs on batteries and can be installed anywhere. But it doesn't connect to existing doorbell wiring, which means the doorbell won't chime inside the house, only on your smartphone. The August Doorbell Cam requires 16-24 volts of electricity and can replace only a wired mechanical doorbell.
Field of View: Do you want a narrow view of just the person at the door, or do you want to see everything around your entryway? The Ring Video Doorbell 2 and Ring Pro boast 160-degree viewing angles, which let me see my whole porch and driveway. The RemoBell and August Doorbell cams have tighter angles, of 120 degrees.
Video Resolution: The higher the resolution, the sharper the image, which will make it easier to identify people at your door. Both of Ring's doorbells record video in 1080p, while the RemoBell and August Doorbell Cam record in 720p HD. August's resolution is actually 1280 x 960, but that's not quite "full" 1080p resolution.
Night Mode: The video doorbells we tested take different approaches to capturing video at night. The August Doorbell cam uses motion-activated LEDs to light the area in front of the camera, so it can capture colors a little better. The RemoBell and Ring's doorbells use infrared night vision to see in the dark, but the result is monochrome video.
Design: Aesthetics may be a concern. After all, you're bolting this thing to the front of your house! The Ring Pro looks the most like a traditional doorbell, and Ring even includes four faceplates, so you can choose which matches your house's trim or paint one exactly the shade you like.
Video Doorbells vs. Security Cameras: Video doorbells don't necessarily make great security cameras. While the apps let you choose to receive motion alerts as well as doorbell alerts, motion-triggered events often resulted in video of a person or car just exiting the frame.
A dedicated security camera may be a better choice if you're looking for actual security, because you can position such a camera in more places. And when you get a motion alert, you can back up the video and see what happened before the alert came in.