Updated: May 27
Knock knock. Who’s there? If you had a smart video doorbell, you’d already know. Even if you were out of town. About 16% of Americans have video doorbells, and the number is growing.
What is a smart doorbell?
It’s a doorbell with a camera that connects to the Internet via wifi and notifies the owner when someone rings the bell, or if it senses motion. The owner can get smartphone notifications in real time, or go back and review video footage after the fact. Smart doorbells can be battery powered or hard-wired into the home.
What are the benefits of a smart doorbell? My house has had a version of a smart doorbell for a couple of years now—I was motivated to set one up when someone broke in via a window and stole my daughter’s iPad. Though fortunately no humans were hurt in the event, our two (indoor) house cats escaped through the window and were found (whew!) crying and shivering in the rain, which probably kept them from straying further from home.
Obviously, a smart doorbell helps most people feel safer at home when it comes to intruders or other unwelcome visitors. But here are some other benefits I personally value. A smart doorbell lets you:
Know that your kids got home safely from school (or wherever).
Know that a package has arrived. This is key if it’s something perishable or particularly valuable.
Know why a package didn’t arrive (sometimes). Forty percent of Americans have had packages stolen. Even if it doesn’t solve the crime, a smart camera can let you know whether a package arrived in the first place, and sometimes give you footage of the person who took it.
Avoid unwanted solicitations. Sure, I’ll open up for the Girl Scout selling cookies, but I’d rather skip the conversations with people who go door-to-door selling goods, services, or causes in which I’m not interested.
Know which part of the fence your cat jumped over. This doesn’t always work, but on the rare occasions that my cats get out (see above), it’s great to have a clue about which way they may have gone.
Which smart doorbell is best?
There are many models sold by Arlo, Nest, Ring, and Zmodo, among other brands. Ring, which is owned by Amazon, is the market leader in 2021. The cost of most models is between $100 and $250 a unit, but some also require ongoing subscriptions. Other considerations include installation—there are wireless and wireline models, and compatibility with other elements of a smart home you may already have or want to build. This is a pretty thorough guide to the features of the best video doorbells for 2021 by PCMag.
Are smart doorbells safe?
Some smart doorbells and even internal home cameras have been hacked, so that’s a potential risk, but I consider it a relatively low one compared to the safety benefits of the device. A more complicated issue is the potential misuse of data, not by outside criminals, but by the companies who have access to it, or even potential privacy issues within households if people aren’t aware that they are being recorded.
How do smart doorbells connect to smart home systems?
Smart doorbells are one part of the ever expanding “Internet of things” that connects objects in our world. You can choose to connect your smart doorbell to a smart platform within your home, and even give it the capacity to control lights, or open a garage door. Or not. Amazon, Apple and Google recently announced that they are uniting to adopt shared standards for smart home devices, so this is definitely the direction of the future.
You don’t have to commit to a fully-wired home to take advantage of a smart doorbell. For many people, though, a Ring doorbell is a “gateway drug” of sorts that eases them toward setting up a smart home hub. Whatever you decide, be thoughtful about how technology can help you and your family live an easier, healthier, more enjoyable life—you’re the one who gets to decide.