Video Doorbells Are the Best New Smart Home Devices. Here’s What to Know Before You Buy

Anne Dennon
Anne Dennon
Home Technology Writer

If you’re going to buy one piece of smart home tech, it should probably be a video doorbell. It’s one of the best new home security options on the market because it functions not only as a security measure, but as a useful, day-to-day tool.

Video doorbells keep a vigilant eye on your front door — your home’s central point for arrivals and departures — allowing you to greet guests, identify potential intruders, or just tell the delivery guy where to stash packages. These devices, primarily associated with smart home industry leaders like Ring, Google Nest, and SimpliSafe, marry the two best features of smart home tech: stash packages and home security options.

Here’s what you should know before – and after – installing one on your front stoop.

Battery and hardwired options both have merit

Hardwired devices are anathema to techy DIYers who are willing to configure account settings but not get out a toolbox. Luckily, hardwired video doorbells can be a cinch to install. That’s because the regular doorbell you are likely replacing — you know, the kind that just rings — also requires wiring. That existing, low-voltage wiring provides all the juice your upgrade needs to run.

Repurposing existing wiring is one benefit of hardwired installation. Circumventing the need to recharge is another. Battery-powered video doorbells need to be regularly recharged, though the frequency of those chargings vary depending on usage. Manufacturers like Ring anticipate the devices need to be recharged a few times per year, but heavy users have found they need to be recharged as much as once a week.

While battery-powered options require maintenance, and there aren’t as many to choose from as there are hardwired, they do have the notable benefit of being installable anywhere. Unconstrained by wiring requirements, battery-powered video doorbells can be placed wherever provides the best line of sight — a big plus for irregularly shaped entrances, or ones partially exposed to the elements.

Video doorbells aren’t a one-time purchase

Most of the capabilities associated with video doorbells — reviewing, sharing, downloading footage — are only possible with a monthly subscription.

While the monthly fees of the majority of video doorbells are low ($10 or less per month for a single camera), they still add up to around $100 per year. For this reason, the decision-making process of which video doorbell to purchase should include data storage specs, rather than just the tech details of the devices.

If you are able to respond to alerts as they happen, you can potentially make use of your video doorbell without shelling out for a monthly subscription. But taking that route potentially cuts the usefulness of your smart doorbell in half. If you miss the phone alert when someone rings, your fancy doorbell is back to being just a noisemaker. In short, everything that makes your video doorbell useful — from finding out who left the flowers to identifying would-be burglars — costs a little extra.

Customize for best results

An alert for every time a leaf falls in front of your home quickly becomes an alert you ignore. Maximize the value of your smart home investment by taking the time to customize your video doorbell’s functionality.

  • Set monitoring or motion zones to cut down on extraneous alerts. By establishing an area of the cameras vision that actually matters (say, the welcome mat), the device won’t mistake sidewalk foot traffic or the neighbor’s dog for alert-worthy information.
  • Control the frequency and sensitivity of alerts by setting parameters for the type of movement or visitors that you actually want to know about.

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About the Authors

Anne Dennon

Anne Dennon Home Technology Writer

Anne has covered home security and home automation for for two years. She's interested in human-computer interaction and tech ethics. She previously worked in education and information literacy.