It’s quite hard to escape a camera lens these days. Between security cams, smart speakers and even alarm clocks, your house can soon make The Truman Show feel like a paragon of privacy.
But if there’s one place that most people would be happy to mount a web-connected snooper it’s outside their front door.
Enter smart doorbells. Thanks to built-in Wi-Fi, two-way audio and fisheye cameras, they promise to let you see and talk to visitors on your smartphone, whether you’re around the corner or on the other side of the world.
Not many techy doorbells have made it to the UK, but Ring’s range is now the most widely available. There are four models in its range, with the Video Doorbell 2 sitting just above its entry-level original.
The Video Doorbell 2 has one big claim over most of its rivals, including the forthcoming Nest Hello – it has a rechargeable battery, which gives you the option of mounting it to your wall without hardwiring it. Handy if, like me, you don’t have an existing doorbell to replace.
But does this make it a useful addition to your front door? That depends on a few things…
Design and installation: keeping it simple
The Video Doorbell 2 will work on its own, but I tested it with a Chime Pro extender (£49, see photo above) – and in my experience, this is an essential addition. A smart doorbell does unavoidably have to sit outside your front door, which means there’ll likely be lots of barriers between it and your router. The Chime Pro, which plugs into a standard power socket, acts as Wi-Fi extender and can make the difference between a poor signal and a decent one. It also comes with the added benefit of playing your chosen doorbell chime indoors, which makes it much easier to hear, and gives you the option of 20 different sounds, including the ones I went for – barking dogs.
Features: alarming behaviour
Thanks to its 1080p video recording and motion detection, the Video Doorbell 2 has security camera aspirations – though it falls a little way short of our favourite dedicated ones.
You can just stick with normal ‘ring alerts’, which sees the Ring app ‘call’ you when someone presses the button, giving you the option of receiving it or hanging up while it shows a live video feed.
Turn on the motion alerts, though, and you’ll also get prodded when Ring spots any movement in its 160-degree field of view. A particularly nice addition is the option of setting ‘motion zones’, which lets you choose areas for it to ignore and adjust its sensitivity.
After a bit of tweaking, this helps prevent it from recording a neat little video of every car that passes outside your house. The fact that I live on the ground floor flat with a shared walkway ahead of my front door, though, meant that no amount of adjusting could prevent false alarms.
The 1080p video might only record at 15fps, but you do get night vision (which often switches to black-and-white mode) and a ‘live view’ option for tuning into front door thrills whenever YouTube lets you down.
And what happens to all of your lovely videos? The bad news is that after your 30-day Ring Protect Plus trial ends, you then have to pay a monthly fee to store them or rewatch clips of any missed visitors.
Still, the better news is that, compared to dedicated security cam subscriptions, this is a pretty reasonable £25 p/year (or £2.50 p/month) to keep them for 60 days. Or £80 p/year for Protect Plus, which covers recordings for multiple Ring cameras.
While it’s a shame there’s no free basic plan for storing clips, Ring’s cloud storage is a fair bit cheaper than something like Nest Aware, which starts at £8 p/month.
Performance: a bit ring rusty
Ring Video Doorbell 2 verdict
The best of today’s smart doorbell bunch, but it’s not for everyone
Very easy to install
Rechargeable battery is a useful alternative to hardwiring
Shoots pretty crisp 1080p video (if at low frame-rate)
Works nicely with Alexa and the Echo Show
Video can be quite blocky and jerky
Needs a strong Wi-Fi signal (or the additional Chime Pro)
No free video storage option