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How to Choose a Smart Doorbell

Home technology expert Ross Tretheway shows host Kevin O’Connor everything he needs to know about smart home doorbells.

Smart doorbells have come a long way since they first became available almost a decade ago. Current models have better resolution, better speeds, wider viewing capabilities, and more features than what was previously available.

Are you considering adding a smart doorbell to your home? Watch This Old House Home Technology Expert Ross Trethewey talk about what you should consider before purchasing a new smart doorbell.

Smart Home Doorbell Features

There are a lot of smart home doorbells available today, but most of them offer the same features:

  • Video or photo recording
  • Smartphone alerts
  • Motion detection
  • Two-way audio
  • Nightvision
  • 1080p resolution

Some of the most advanced models feature facial recognition that learns to recognize faces over time.

Power Sources

Smart home doorbells have cameras and sensors that need power, and there are two ways to power them: low-voltage wiring and batteries.

Smart doorbells designed for hardware have a base that attaches to the home. There are two small screw-down terminals on the base to which the installer can attach the low-voltage wires that powered the previous doorbell.

For applications where a previous doorbell doesn’t exist, built-in rechargeable batteries are usually best. The batteries in these doorbells can last between 1 and 3 months, depending on how often the doorbell activates as well as the outdoor temperatures.

Storage

When an event occurs, the doorbell will start recording. The recording then needs to be stored somewhere. Each device has an onboard storage unit that can record a few events, but over the course of a few days, it will start erasing the earlier events to make room for new ones. This isn’t ideal if you aren’t home and need to see something that occurred, but the doorbell erased it to continue recording.

If you pay for a cloud service, those recordings upload to a cloud through WiFi. The cloud makes the events accessible from anywhere, and the amount of storage is much, much larger. But the cloud is that it costs money, and your data might not be secure.

False Alarms

Smart home doorbells have adjustable sensitivities to allow the user to tailor their settings so only certain events activate the device—in theory, at least.

False alarms do happen, and even the most advanced models are susceptible. Users need to realize that adjusting their settings will help, but won’t do away with the issue altogether.

Privacy and security

Smart doorbells, and most smart home devices, are susceptible to hacking. Since they send signals over WiFi, they are hackable, allowing a hacker to access the video stored on the phone or possibly on the cloud. But that’s as far as the hacking goes.

The hackers won’t be able to access other devices in the home, such as alarm systems, digital voice assistants, and the like. However, if the user has connected the doorbell to other devices through IFTTT (If This Then That) technology, there is a chance that the hacker could access other devices.

There are certain features to look for to avoid these safety and privacy issues. For instance, look for a device that uses 256-bit encryption to ensure that signals are difficult to decipher. Also, two-factor authentication can prevent unauthorized access to data. Experts also suggest searching the fine print to grasp how each manufacturer handles data and breeches.

Prices

Originally, smart home doorbells were very expensive. But, even though the technology is getting better, the prices are dropping. Basic models are available for under $100, while more advanced models may cost less than $200.

Resources

Ross explains how smart doorbells work, and displayed five different models:

Expert assistance with this segment was provided by Ring.