/ Technology

Should you buy a smart doorbell in 2019?

Some big innovations in home security tech appear to be just around the corner… but would you invest in a ‘smart doorbell’?

This year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) saw a range of smart, internet-enabled gadgets battling for the spotlight.

Among the smart home products on the show floor were a bunch of smart doorbells from brands including Maximus, Netatmo and Ring, but should you buy one?

Every year in Las Vegas, CES turns heads as regular products get the often-unnecessary ‘smart’ treatment. So far in 2019 I’ve spotted the Alexa-compatible smart toilet, musical smart rings, smart bras and more.

While smart doorbells aren’t exactly new (the first one went on sale in 2013), I’ve noticed that the product area is getting far more attention post-CES. From a security perspective they do look genuinely useful – I’m tempted to get one myself, in fact.

Doorbell innovation

A smart doorbell attaches to the outside of your house like a normal doorbell, but it comes with a built-in camera and movement-tracking sensors.

When a person comes to the door, you’ll be alerted via a loud ring (no surprises there) and a message on your smartphone.

Lots of smart doorbells have two-way communication, which means you can talk through the doorbell’s speaker – no need to get off the sofa in some cases.

The most well-known smart doorbell brands are Google’s Nest and Amazon’s Ring. The cheapest Ring will set you back by £89, and you can fit it yourself by screwing the device onto a wall bracket.

The priciest member of the family is an eyebrow-raising £450, however, and requires professional installation.

On top of that upfront cost, you also need to pick a Ring Protect Plan. There’s a free option up for grabs, but if you want to store and download video captured by the Ring (surely a must if you’re buying one of these devices?), you need to pay an extra £2.50 a month.

Bell benefits

There are some security benefits to owning a smart doorbell, of course. A record function means you can save footage of suspicious goings-on, and camera-equipped doorbells with IR LEDs can see in the dark.

If you’re looking for home security gizmos, you may want to see our full range of wireless security camera reviews.

But remember, a smart doorbell needs to be sat near your home router to work at its best, as a dodgy wi-fi connection will just punish you with irritating, choppy footage.

I’ve also heard stories of thieves stealing smart doorbells by prising them from the wall – Ring says it will send a free replacement if this happens.

Are they safe?

With any internet-connected product, there are potential security concerns. Last year, as part of our investigation into smart home surveillance, we uncovered a number of devices tracking and transmitting data on how you live your life.

Technically, if somebody gained access to your login details for your smart doorbell smartphone app, they’d be able to see all of your saved recordings.

If you’re using the smart doorbell alongside other cameras that sit inside your house, they could potentially peer through those too.

You can keep your smart tech secure by setting a strong password, exploring the security controls available to you and keeping software up to date.

For more details on tech safety, see our advice guide on how to protect your smart home data.

Are you tempted by a tech-tastic smart doorbell? Or are you perfectly happy with a normal doorbell? Are there any other ‘smart’ products you’ve found have improved your day to day life?

Comments
Member

For the reasons you give, I will not be investing. It is all very well having a strong password – we are not the ones to lose it. Hackers seem to get into company sites at will and help themselves to passwords. The WIFI connection within the house is also the other vulnerable link since it has to be open at all times. CCTV avoids this but is more expensive. When one starts to pay door bell subscriptions the company has an easy route to increase these steadily over the years. These bells are obvious and people will know what they are and what they do by looking at them. Do they have sensors to trigger from movement outside or does one have to ring in order to make them work? Would a thief ring or put some sticking plaster over the lens?

Member

It’s interesting, but I am not tempted either.

Member

You should never use a product from a company that stores you password and can re-send it to you. Only accept policies that take your password, encrypt it with a strong hash and store that. Even better is two-factor authentication (Google it). Unfortunately Which’s analysis of security issues has been pretty convincingly minced by specialist IT publications (my favourite being thereafter.co.uk)

Member
Jane Chown says:
19 January 2019

I have one and can easily answer the door even when abroad. An absolute godsend

Member

Since writing this up I’ve read an interesting investigation on Ring by The Intercept. It says ‘people familiar with the company’s practice’ have raised questions over the handling of personal data.

According to one of the site’s sources, ‘Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world’.

More here – https://theintercept.com/2019/01/10/amazon-ring-security-camera/

Member

A smart doorbell is a useful device for keeping strangers out by addressing them remotely. The risk is it lets strangers in.

Member

We have an interesting issue. Our front door is so far away from the rooms in which we spend most of our time that the bell is in the upper hallway, and so sounds reasonably well throughout the house, assuming we’re not outside or have the door closed on a downstairs room. We wouldn’t be able to hear anyone knocking – even if we had a knocker- we wouldn’t be able to hear the bell if it wasn’t connected to where it is.

Last year, however, I was able to pick up for £35 a cheap and cheerful IP camera, which connects to our router and allows us to see who’s at the front door on our iPads and iPhones.

The other issue about techy things up here is that the mountain weather is fairly intolerant of anything not encased in concrete (we have to replace the doorbell push every other year) so it wouldn’t be for us.

Member
DerekP says:
19 January 2019

It is also quite easy to re-purpose old Android devices as video surveillance cameras. If they are set as local media servers, their footage can easily be monitored from other local “hand terminals”.

Member

I am happy with my mains-operated door bell. It uses the press-button operating system and probably does not need upgrading.

Member

That’s what I am going to get to replace the unreliable battery-operated bells. If I can tolerate exposed wiring I might put another bell on the landing.

Member
Adrian says:
20 January 2019

I replaced my 24 year old wired battery operated door bell that had 4 large, heavy batteries for a batteryless wireless self powered door bell after watching a very popular man, from Bolton I believe from his accent, Techmoan on YouTube. He’d had problems with his £200 Ring video doorbell & replaced it with a Teqin Obell bought off Amazon for £16 in 2016. Consisted of 1 transmitter & 1 receiver, although you can buy extra receivers like I did. for the past 3 years has been working faultlessly.
I always seem to have problems with new technology as it never seems to work like it says on the tin, at least not for me.

Member
Adrian says:
20 January 2019

Techmoan a popular person form Bolton on YouTube after having problems with his £200 Ring doorbell replaced it with a batteryless, wireless one for £16 in 2016 on Amazon called Teqin Obell. I did same by replacing my 4 large, heavy battery one but bought an extra receiver & have had no regrets.

Member
Mayfield says:
17 January 2019

Am not tempted to purchase one for the above reasons – thanks to everyone for their comments. It might be helpful to know the distance (required from the bell) to get maximum video quality.

Member

An earlier version of Ring was sending data to a Chinese server _Baidu but they cured that .
This gadget has been out for a while in the USA , it says its video camera is superior to normal security ones and has night vision , as this is something I know about having installed small Sony high quality cameras years ago there are cameras and cameras, not are all equal .
Also the Mirai botnet was using them in DDoS-distributed denial of service , again Ring say they patched it.

Ring is venture capital funded and its doing well – worth nearly $ 500 million in -2017.
Ring is guilty of not “locking down its devices ” purchasing -off the shelf Chinese parts and rushing them out too quickly-Ring denies this . It also “phones home ” and plain text passwords had to be patched .

Mayfield- Vivint get the best doorbell camera award (USA ) here is the specs-
Tech specs

1080p HD video
4.45 x 1.5 in.
180-degree FOV
14ºF to 104ºF operating temperature
Notice US companies dont usually use centigrade for public consumption just Fahrenheit

Next was Ring Pro -1080p-

Tech specs

1080p HD video
160-degree field of view
4.50 x 1.85 x 0.80 in.
-5°F to 120°F operating temperature
2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi connection
One-year equipment warranty (lifetime theft protection)

Dont buy the old Ring 720p -its camera was condemned by US customers
hope this helps Mayfield ?

Member

Ring is now owned by Amazon.

Member

As you wanted to know the focal distance of those types of cameras Mayfield here is Ring,s own help website ) on installing one .
https://support.ring.com/hc/en-us/articles/115002548086-Proper-Positioning-for-your-Ring-Video-Doorbell

Member
Kevin says:
17 January 2019

It’s hard to improve your security if you introduce a whole new raft of security weaknesses, especially unquantifiable ‘cyber’ risks.
If you have an identifiable requirement for this kind of device, fine, but be sure to evaluate the downsides. It’s cheap to jam or interfere with WiFi signals, any serious burglar would employ countermeasures.
Also anything relying solely on a password is already fundamentally compromised according to current security best practice, a bare minimum is some kind of 2 factor system – password plus a one time code.

For most people these are at best a comfort blanket or party trick.

Member

Your right about the bare minimum -2 factor system Kevin and I agree with your other points but its what the public accept .
Whats required is tuition on keeping safe on the web, its obvious the general instructions are not enough and deeper thought put into educating the public.

Member

I was possibly interested but read about the abnormal delays and problems getting the doorbells to communicate over relatively small distances or through solid walls. Given all the other comments on cyber security, there’s NO chance I will buy one, even to alleviate delivery drivers who can’t hear our doorbell themselves, so press it half a dozen times and knock as well (all in the 30 seconds it takes to answer the door)! A cheaper alternative – for me – is to put a notice on the doorbell to say “this doorbell works, it only needs pressing once!”

Member

When I was with Virgin broadband, someone accidentally unscrewed the incoming cable connector, easily accessible to anyone on the outside of my house, thereby disabling all my smart home security cameras. I’ve since changed provider, as others have a marginally more secure incoming cable, and added a local usb hard drive for local recording rather than cloud recording. The systems may be smart, but they’re only as good and secure as the network/broadband etc. you have.

Member
Seren says:
19 January 2019

I’m disabled, and it can take me so long to get to the door that the caller has gone before I arrive. I’ve been thinking about a Nest or Ring for a while. If I have one, I can talk to whoever’s at the door without having to walk to the door or an intercom, which will be really useful.

What’s putting me off is that both have negative Amazon reviews mentioning delays between the bellpush and your phone, sometimes long enough that the caller has gone before the app’s allowed you to speak – which completely defeats the object.

I hope Which? will review smart doorbells soon.

Member
Martin says:
19 January 2019

I have the Ring doorbell 2 and it works OK, but will never be as instantly reactive as the videos on their website.

Speed of reception for you is likely to depend on your mobile network if you’re away from your home WiFi, so you may find yourself talking to someone who’s already gone 🙂

The previous Ring Doorbell was prone to problems, and a lot of the problems you see in reviews apply to the earlier version.

You need a fast WiFI upload speed (NOT download!) for it to respond well. My measured upload speed is 9mbs inhouse, but much slower on the other side of the front door. Before buying I suggest putting your mobile outside up against the door to see what the WiFi signal is like there. I have the linked Ring Bell inside and it can be heard all over the house. (The app tells you how strong the WiFi signal is at the doorbell on the door, but by then you’ve already bought it and screwed it to the door 🙂

I have mine mounted on a composite front door. The instructions say to mount it 4 foot from up from the door step, it seems to film a little bit upwards. It has so far survived a lashing of rain, which was one question I had in my mind before I bought it.

It takes a long while to charge the battery, so I’d recommend buying a separate battery that you can switch over quickly when the installed one runs down. You can check battery level remotely from the mobile app. My battery is showing a 60% charge level after one month.

The resolution is very good in daylight, in colour. In the dark it’s black and white and lower resolution. It gives you a motion detection notification without it having to be rung, and it’s already caught someone mooching around outside in the dark.

Member
Ilana Richardson says:
19 January 2019

We have had a Ring doorbell for a couple of years. To begin with it worked beautifully, and we could respond instantly to a ring from anywhere. After a few months it gradually worked less and less, we hear the doorbell ringing immediately, but are not able to respond for so long that people will have given up. All communications with the company didn’t resolve the issues. Our wi fi has not changed but the bell is not doing its job. The benefits are we hear the doorbell from our phones anywhere, but responding has become nearly impossible. Very disappointing, and we have to pay a fee each year.

Member
Brian says:
20 January 2019

Installed a Ring doorbell recently as a deterrent. It does alert us to the fact that there is somebody there. The delay between the alert and being able to respond usually means that they have gone. I haven’t paid to keep recordings (yet) so I don’t know what has happened just what is happening. It didn’t originally connect very well to the router but the BT extension device has helped.

Member
William says:
20 January 2019

The Ring that we have worked fine – I replaced the bell push with it. We have a transformer for the bell, running on batteries would be crazy as you would have to recharge the doorbell every few days – who does that? Once I found that to watch recorded video I had to subscribe – who subscribes to their door bell? Also during the free trial period it showed that actually, no-one did visit us. Far too slow to bring up the App on a mobile, delivery driver is long gone. Luckily it still works as a doorbell push button. Avoid.

Member

I have been interested in one of these doorbells for a long time. My only problem is the thought that I don’t want to tell a total stranger that I am not at home. At the moment anybody getting no response to ringing my existing doorbell doesn’t really know whether I am at home or not. After all I could just be too busy to want to answer the door. I guess stored video may prove useful in the event a burglary is attempted or made.

Member
Gill York says:
22 January 2019

We have a Ring doorbell and have been very pleased with it. We had problems with regular garage break-ins a few years ago but have had none since we installed it. The doorbell has dimly flashing lights when the motion sensors are activated so if anyone comes to the door they are a bit un-nerved and are aware they are being watched..good deterrent. These motions are recorded and can be seen on the app.and it activates the doorbell chime in the house ( different jingle to when someone actually presses the bell)…they don’t have to even ring the doorbell. If I am out, I get an instant notification on my phone that there is somene on my driveway. Since installed..no more garage breakins.
There is also an option for sending the doorbell cam pictures via email and Whats app if you subscibe to the cloud…which I have sent to various neighbours as an early warning grapevine, put a picture of a dodgy looking caller/prowler on the local mum’s facebook page when there had been lots of breakins recently and one of them forwarded it to the police as it was the guy she had seen behaving suspiciously…job done.
Some other people have also had issues with delivery drivers trying peoples front doors or even opening it and putting the parcel in the hall if it has been left unlocked by mistake…Ring would be able to record the drivers actions so can be sent to the approriate firm to complain or again, to the police.
I like being able to tell someone through the intercom that I am unable to come to the door, I don’t tell them I am out, unless I can see it is a friend calling.
Sometimes the delay is annoying but still can look back at the recording if required. A bit glitchy at time, but still like it.
Oh, and the Wi Fi is very close to the door, so I think that helps. x

Member

Some people have complained about the delay between the bell being pushed and your phone being notified .
As one poster has said , either move your router nearer the door or buy a wi-fi extender .
Actually -Bot Home Automation -Santa Monica CA know all about that and recommend the same and you should note -buy the mains transformer version as the battery only lasts a few months.

While this gadget gets a seemingly good report in the UK , not so in the USA where the majority gave it a one star BUT that depends on what website you visit and whether the website owner is financially rewarded for praising it there you will get five stars .
Americans now have a wide choice with one company having a direct LAN connection as well as wi-fi and the ability to record direct to your computer instead of Ring,s “services ” .
Another problem in sunny America is its affected by light flashing on the motion detector.
For those of a wealthy persuasion and live in America –
BirdGuard
Do you want greater security? With the indoor and outdoor add-on BirdGuard you can see what the visitor is doing after you have opened the door. You can send burglars packing with a siren of 100dB or a loud announcement. –

Door Chime
You can use the DoorBird Chime even if you have no existing door chime in your home. It works with your DoorBird Video Doorbell to let you know when you have a visitor even if your smartphone is not in the room. Set up as many Door Chimes as you want and never miss a visitor. The DoorBird Chime has a secure wireless connection (WiFi) but also supports Ethernet+PoE.

I/O Door Controller
Wireless I/O Door Controller to control e.g. your additional lock, garage- or gate opener. In addition to the I/O ports of the DoorBird Video Door Station.

Americans have had this technology for years and so know all the problems .
its available here on Amazon but sit down before you view the total cost of all the parts but its quality -doorbells come in stainless steel for a start..

Member
DerekP says:
Today 16:59

Perhaps the best reason for owning a Ring is shown here:

youtube.com/watch?v=oFmbJE6J5nU