Smart doorbells: How to pick the right one for you

BY James O'Malley

13th Sep 2022 Technology

Smart doorbells: How to pick the right one for you

What should you look for when picking a smart doorbell? James O'Malley goes knocking for answers

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being watched? 

Last year I moved to the suburbs, to an estate full of millennial couples and young families. And walking through the neighbourhood recently, I noticed something unexpected. Without anyone really noticing, smart doorbells have quietly become incredibly popular. 

There are over 2 million smart homes in the UK

There are over two million "smart homes" in the UK

In fact, I counted. Of the 40 houses I passed, 21—so more than half—had a camera pointing outwards, surveilling the street outside of posties, takeaways, and burglars. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. For somewhere between £30 and £200 (depending on how fancy you want to be), you can ensure that you never miss a delivery again. Whether you’re in the garden or on the other side of the world, if someone rings your bell, you’ll know who’s calling thanks to the built-in camera. And if you can’t get to the door, you can even talk back to them using your phone. 

"Without anyone really noticing, smart doorbells have quietly become incredibly popular"

It’s a great idea for everyone, from people who don’t work from home, to retirees who aren’t as mobile as they once were, to people like me, who are simply lazy. 

However, actually figuring out which doorbell to buy is much trickier as there are dozens of different brands to choose from. So how should you choose which one will work best for your home? 

Features to look out for

The most obvious thing to look at is features. Some doorbells have a wider field of view than others, meaning the camera will see more. One increasingly common feature on doorbells is a second camera that points down towards the ground to spot any packages that have been dropped outside your door. 

A parcel left on someone's doorstep

Never miss another package again!

Similarly, AI features can transform what a doorbell is capable of. For example, some doorbells designed for Apple’s Home platform (which works on iPhone) will identify packages using computer vision, and will let you know if you have a delivery. And Google’s Nest doorbell will even identify callers using facial recognition, so that you won’t even need to load your doorbell app, as the notification will tell you who is there with text

What's the subscription fee?

Another consideration is the subscription fee, which is usually tied to the cloud storage where video from the camera is stored.

For example, if you pick up a Ring doorbell from Amazon, it might only cost you £35 for the actual hardware, but if you want to make the most of it, you’ll be paying another £35 a year for the rest of your life. 

Data security considerations

But in my view, the most important consideration to make when picking a smart doorbell is security. This might sound like a strange concern, given the point of a smart doorbell is to protect your home, but given that your doorbell camera will be recording exactly when you enter and leave your own home, it’s important to make sure your data is kept safe

Data security

For many, end-to-end encryption is the safest option

For most people, this means that the best option is to look for a doorbell that uses end-to-end ("E2E") encryption when it communicates with the cloud. This means that the footage will—in theory at least—be completely scrambled should anyone, even the company that makes the doorbell, try to view it. 

The good news is that finding a service that supports this is relatively straightforward, as most major manufacturers now use E2E. For example, Ring users can turn on full encryption in their settings, and Eufy claims to encrypt everything by default too. 

"It is important to carefully consider where you’re comfortable with your data being sent"

If you’re really paranoid, there are doorbells that are designed with "local" storage in mind. For example, if you don’t mind spending the cash, Unifi and Arlo doorbells will communicate with hub devices on your home network, and store the video on a hard disk in your own home. 

For the same reason, I think it is important to carefully consider where you’re comfortable with your data being sent. For example, I would be more reluctant to buy a smart doorbell made by a company based in China, because it’s less clear what or who might have access to my data. 

Smart doorbell brands

And finally, the big question: Which brand should you go for?

Given the current state of the market, I’d recommend sticking with a big name you have heard of, like Amazon’s Ring or Google Nest. Because while you might pay a little more upfront than others, it will make you more secure, and will probably be more reliable in the longer term. 

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