Smart video doorbells - what to know

Smart doorbells are becoming increasingly popular. They’re marketed as a device that can remotely connect you to anyone visiting the front door of your property. But, with automatic video recording capability, they are also sold as something that monitors and protects your home from criminals.

In this article we take a look at the points to consider if you’re looking at buying a smart doorbell. From data protection and security, to the choice of device and setup.

So what is a video doorbell?

It’s an internet-enabled (usually) smart device that incorporates a camera, microphone and doorbell function in one unit. It therefore allows you to hear, see and video record who is at the door. Typically they’re connected to WiFi and a smartphone app, to allow live viewing if you’re at home – or not.

Can they replace the need for other security cameras?

Dedicated security cameras can be placed anywhere, within your garage watching over your prized collection of bikes, or covering the vulnerable back window of your house. A doorbell camera, by its nature, is located to the side of your front door. So this might limit what is captured and what movement around your property triggers the video recording. Therefore it’s important to research aspects such as the motion sensitivity, video quality and field of vision to work out if it’s appropriate for your needs instead of normal security cameras.

Some smart doorbell companies also offer dedicated security cameras and allow you to connect all the devices under a monthly subscription fee.

Key points to consider when selecting a brand and model:

 

Data security

With the cloud storage, check what level of encryption and mechanisms the company uses to keep your footage safe. Also what security credentials do they hold to back up the claims on their marketing material. Is it a well-known and respected company/brand?

Which? recently conducted research into less well known brands and 11 of their tested doorbells had high security flaws.

Data security is one of the most important points when researching. After all, you don’t want criminals spying on your home, watching you and your family and knowing when you’re away from home.

Research the company. Have they had any past data leaks? How old is the company? Is there any research online or bad customer reviews that are warning signs.

Wired and wireless

Do you want the doorbell to be wired, or wireless?

One of the key points to consider with wired is that you might need to pay someone to help you install it. Also consider the source of the power. With wireless it’s typically easier to install with simple DIY experience.

Your DIY skill level

How easy it is to install, even if wireless? Does it require a drill or does it have a no-drill mounting option? Consider the security of the device itself, to stop someone walking off with it – some use special security screws.

Cloud or local storage

Local storage is storage of the video footage within your home, in the doorbell device itself (such as an SD card) or onto a separate storage device. With cloud storage the video footage is stored externally, usually in a data centre owned by, or with a connection to the manufacturer. Cloud storage typically incurs a subscription cost. The footage might only be available for a set period of time.

Sound and video quality

Compare the resolution between the different devices. Also does the device have good quality ‘night mode’. Does the device have two-way audio that is clear – best to check customer feedback online around this.

Try to find real footage online to see how wide the field of view is and the quality of the recording.

Motion detection

How sensitive is the automatic recording (or if it’s automatic at all, some are triggered after pressing the doorbell button). Does it only activate when someone is at your doorstep? Or can you set zones so you capture when a car pulls up on the road outside your house? Some providers allow you to adjust the sensitivity, which can be useful if you live in a busy urban environment.

Integration capability

If you have a smart speaker, would you want to connect the doorbell to it? Or maybe you want to connect the doorbell to other smart devices or systems you use at home.

Operating conditions

Ensure it is waterproof if you have no porch. Also consider the temperature levels it can handle for year-round reliability.

Costs and hidden costs

The cost of the unit itself needs to be considered. But does it require a subscription to actually use it and with that, what is the total cost? Also will you need add-on products for it to meet your needs?

It’s worth noting that some home alarm security providers offer video doorbells as an add-on to an overall package. This might end up to be a more cost effective option, or allow for better integration with your overall home security setup.

Police and smart doorbells

Nowadays it seems commonplace when there is a criminal incident for the police to put out a request on social media for doorbell camera footage. Police resources are stretched and formal criminal prosecution can sometimes be easier with the criminal being caught on camera.

A freedom of information request showed that the Met police had a sponsorship agreement with Ring, that included the supply of 64 Ring Video Doorbells to help fight crime.

Data protection

If you have CCTV installed you might need to comply with data protection laws, as explained by the ICO.

“Data protection laws don’t apply if the cameras cover only the user’s own private property, including their garden. Therefore, visitors caught on these cameras don’t have specific data protection rights in relation to the images captured on those cameras.”

As mentioned by the ICO, you do need to be careful. If you’re capturing footage outside your boundary, then anyone on camera will have rights under data protection laws.

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