Smart Video Doorbell Buyers Guide 2020

How to check if your house can support a doorbell camera, and which models will work for you.

If you’re going to have just one home security camera, then a video doorbell is the one you want. Video doorbells see everyone who approaches your front door and can usually see a good chunk of your front yard too.

But how do you know if a doorbell camera will work with your house? Do you have the right voltage? The right chime? What if you can’t mess with your existing wiring? What if you don’t have existing wiring?

This guide is here to help. This is the complete rundown on what you need to support a doorbell camera, and how to choose a model that will work for you. Go forth and never miss a package again.

Do you have an existing doorbell?

Most doorbell cameras use your existing wiring and chime setup.

Most video doorbells use your existing doorbell wiring to power the camera and work with your chime (the thing that makes a sound when someone presses the doorbell). As part of the installation process, you’ll remove your existing doorbell and rewire the electrical connection to your new doorbell camera.

Sound intimidating? It’s not as hard as it seems. But first, you do want to make sure you turn off the breaker that powers your doorbell connection.

If you don’t have a doorbell, or if you’re a renter who can’t modify your existing doorbell system, there are some alternatives to a doorbell camera that might work better for you.

Check your doorbell’s voltage

Video doorbells have voltage requirements, most commonly 16V AC to 24V AC. You may find some models that support lower voltages, such as the Ring Video Doorbell 3, which works with 8V AC to 24V AC. FYI: doorbell cameras do not generally support DC connections.

You can check your doorbell wiring’s voltage a few different ways:

  1. Check the doorbell transformer. Transformers are usually located near your main electrical panel, but sometimes they’re hidden in weird places, like your garage, attic, or a front closet. You may have to look around.
  2. Use a multimeter to check the voltage of your doorbell’s wiring. This is the most accurate method, since transformers can degrade over time and produce lower voltage than what’s listed.
  3. Check the inside of your doorbell chime’s case. It may be listed there.

If your house was built within the last 50 years or so, you should have the appropriate voltage. But the voltage in older houses may be too low, or your doorbell transformer may have degraded over time.

You can adjust the voltage by hiring an electrician to install a new transformer. (You probably don’t want to tackle that one yourself.) Or, you can opt for a doorbell cam alternative.

Check what kind of chime you have

If you have a doorbell, then your house has one of two kinds of doorbell chime: mechanical or digital. Mechanical chimes use literal bells to create their sound, whereas digital chimes play recorded tones through a speaker.

You can usually tell what kind of chime you have from the way it sounds. Mechanical chimes don’t let you adjust the tone, and they sound like a bell (or two) being struck. But digital chimes sound recorded and may let you choose from a few different tones.

When in doubt, you can open up your chime box and take a look. If it has a speaker inside, it’s a digital chime. If it has a couple of pistons inside, it’s mechanical.

Knowing what kind of chime you have will help you choose a doorbell camera. You can check which chimes are compatible with the model you’re looking at. Ring, for example, has a list of compatible mechanical and digital chimes.

Megaphone icon
Prefer a wireless chime?
A lot of doorbell cameras give you the option to skip your existing chime altogether and opt for a wireless chime. You plug these into an electrical outlet near your doorbell camera, and they’ll play a tone when someone rings the bell.

Best battery-powered doorbells (no wiring required)

If you can’t use an existing doorbell connection for your video doorbell, then you can opt for a battery-powered version. These doorbells don’t require any wiring. You simply mount the baseplate near your front door and attach the camera.

Best battery-powered doorbells
ModelRing Video Doorbell 3 PlusEufy Video Doorbell (battery version) Toucan Video DoorbellRing Video Doorbell 3
Image
Price$229.99$199.99$89.95$199.99
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Battery-powered doorbell cameras usually have fewer features than hardwired versions, and they need a wireless chime that you can plug in. You’ll also have to keep an eye on the battery and recharge it when it gets low.

Best doorbell camera alternatives

If you can’t install a doorbell camera at all, then don’t worry—there are other ways to watch your porch.

Over-the-door cameras and peephole cameras are becoming more popular. Like, doorbell cameras, they let you see your porch and yard, and they alert you when they detect motion from visitors (or package thieves).

Best doorbell camera alternatives
ModelRing Peephole CamRemo+ DoorCamPanasonic HomeHawk Outdoor Security Camera
ImageRemo+ DoorCam
Price$129.99$199.00$149.95
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The Ring Peephole Cam is the best doorbell alternative out right now, but it does require an existing peephole. Over-the-door cameras have easier installation and don’t require as many mechanics.

Further reading

What features do you want?

Doorbell cameras come in a wide price range depending on which features you want to pay for.

There are so many doorbell cameras on the market these days that you have your pick of prices and features. If you want to spend less than 100 bucks and still have a basic camera by your door, you can do that. And if you’re fine spending a couple of Benjamins, then you can get some really cool features.

Essential features: $50–$120 price range

Essential doorbell camera features: 

  • Two-way audio
  • Night vision
  • High-definition resolution (720p or 1080p)
  • Motion detection

At a bare minimum, doorbell cameras tell you when they detect motion and let you see and talk to visitors on your porch. Even a basic doorbell camera will have features like two-way audio and motion detection.

These basic cameras don’t cost a lot—we’ve seen doorbell cameras priced as low as $20. Generally speaking, the more you pay, the better the quality. But you can find a decent model for around $100.

Best basic doorbell cameras

These doorbell cameras offer all the basic features, and sometimes a few extras. For example, the Amcrest Video Doorbell offers cloud, local, and NVR storage options.

Best basic doorbell cameras
ModelAmcrest Video DoorbellRemoBell SRing Video Doorbell 2Energizer Connect Smart Video Doorbell
ImageRemoBell S
Price$99.99$99.00$99.99$49.99
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Advanced: $150–$250 price range

Advanced doorbell camera features: 

  • 1080p or 2K recording
  • Person detection
  • Package detection
  • Animal detection
  • Vehicle detection
  • Custom motion zones
  • Facial recognition
  • Built-in siren
  • Continuous video recording
  • Emergency call function

Now here’s where things get fun. Advanced doorbell cameras can tell you exactly what they see, and some of them can even recognize familiar faces.

These cameras give you much smarter alerts than a basic model. Instead of saying, “Motion detected,” they can say things like, “Package detected” or “Aunt Martha is at the door.” You can also adjust the settings to only alert you about things you care about. That way, you don’t get a notification every time a car drives down your street.

Expect to pay more for advanced doorbell cameras. They usually cost in the neighborhood of $200, and you’ll often want to sign up for a monthly subscription plan to get cloud storage and additional smart features.

Best advanced doorbell cameras

The Google Nest Hello is our favorite video doorbell, but there are excellent advanced options from companies like Vivint, Arlo, and Eufy as well.

Best advanced doorbell cameras
ModelGoogle Nest HelloVivint Doorbell Camera ProArlo Video DoorbellEufy Video Doorbell (wired version)
ImageNest HelloVivint Doorbell Camera Pro in front of a cellphone showing a live view from the camera featuring a little girl and a woman.
Price$229.00Quote required$149.99$159.99
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Not all of these models have every single advanced feature on our list, but they all offer a huge upgrade over the basic doorbell cams.

Further reading

Do you want home automation support?

Most doorbell cameras work with either Alexa, Google, or both.

Doorbell cameras are often one of the first devices people get when they’re building a smart home. These cameras almost always offer a couple of smart integrations, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

A lot of smart video doorbells also work with IFTTT, which lets you create “recipes” between your doorbell camera and your other smart home devices, like smart door locks, smart light bulbs, and smart electrical outlets.

Video doorbells that work with Amazon Alexa*: 

  • Ring Video Doorbell (all models)
  • Arlo Video Doorbell
  • Toucan Video Doorbell
  • Google Nest Hello
  • August View
  • Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro
  • RemoBell S
  • Eufy Video Doorbell

Video doorbells that work with Google Assistant*: 

  • Google Nest Hello
  • August View
  • Eufy Video Doorbell
  • Maximus Answer DualCam Video Doorbell
  • RemoBell S
  • SimpliSafe Video Doorbell
  • Ring Video Doorbell (all models)
  • Ring Peephole Cam

Video doorbells that work with Apple HomeKit: 

  • Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell
  • Robin ProLine Doorbell
  • Yobi Video Doorbell

* Not complete lists

If you’re an Apple HomeKit devotee, then you have fewer options for doorbell cameras with direct integration. HomeKit works with only three doorbell cameras. But you might be able to develop a roundabout solution through IFTTT if you want a different model that still works with your other smart stuff.

Further reading

Would you rather have professional installation?

A few doorbell cameras offer a professional installation alternative.

Most doorbell cameras require DIY installation. But maybe you’d rather kick back with a mint julep rather than mess around with electrical wiring all afternoon. In that case, you can opt for a doorbell camera with professional installation.

The most obvious models are the ones that work with the biggest professionally installed security systems: Vivint and ADT. Just keep in mind these aren’t standalone products: they’re for people who want a whole security system that also offers a doorbell camera.

Best video doorbells with professional installation
ModelVivint Doorbell Camera ProADT Doorbell Camera
ImageVivint Doorbell Camera Pro in front of a cellphone showing a live view from the camera featuring a little girl and a woman.ADT Doorbell Camera
PriceQuote requiredQuote required
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If you want a standalone doorbell camera with professional installation, some companies do work with third-party contractors to offer a pro install option.

Standalone doorbell cams with professional installation: 

Further reading

Is your Wi-Fi connection strong enough?

Doorbell cameras need a strong, consistent Wi-Fi signal to work properly.

Nothing kills the fun of a new security camera faster than a weak Wi-Fi connection. And your porch can be a tricky place to get a strong signal. Front doors and walls are thick and often block an otherwise strong Wi-Fi network.

Most video doorbells require an internet download speed of at least 2 Mbps. Keep in mind, that’s just for the doorbell itself. If your family already uses a lot of bandwidth playing games or streaming videos, then you’ll need higher speeds.

Best Wi-Fi range extenders

If your internet speeds are good, but the Wi-Fi on your porch is bad, then you can try a Wi-Fi range extender. These can boost the signal closer to your front door.

Best Wi-Fi extenders
ModelNETGEAR Wi-Fi Range ExtenderTP-Link N300
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Price$38.50$19.33
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Best mesh Wi-Fi system

Our favorite way to get even, consistent coverage across your entire house is a mesh Wi-Fi system. These are especially useful for larger homes. If your porch is pretty far away from your internet router, then a mesh system might work better for you.

Best mesh Wi-Fi system
ModelAmazon EeroNETGEAR OrbiGoogle Nest
Image
Price$249.00 (3-pack)$369.99 (2-pack)$299.00 (2-pack)
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Best internet service plans

If your internet speeds are flat-out too low for a doorbell camera, then you can always upgrade to a faster plan. If you spend a lot of time staring at loading screens, then a faster internet plan can make the rest of your online life easier too.

High-speed internet plans for smart homes
ProviderMonthly priceDownload speedsLearn more
AT&T Fiber$49.99$50*100940 MbpsView Plans
Verizon Fios$39.99$79.99200940 MbpsView Plans
Xfinity Internet$20$80251000 MbpsView Plans
AT&T Internet$49.99$50*100 MbpsView Plans
Viasat Internet$30$150^12100 MbpsView Plans
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* For the first 12 months with a 1-year agreement.
w/Auto Pay + taxes. Equipment charges may apply.
For the first 12 months. Some packages require a 1- or 2-year contract.
^ For the first 3 months.

Further reading

Recap: How to prepare for and choose a video doorbell

Check your wiring, feature set, and Wi-Fi connection to get the best video doorbell for your home.

Doorbells are great for home security and as a foundation for your whole smart home. You’ll have the best experience with your new doorbell cam if you know how to choose the right model for your house and your needs.

Check your existing doorbell: Most doorbells require an existing doorbell connection to work. If you don’t have one (or can’t modify your doorbell), then choose a battery-powered doorbell cam or a doorbell camera alternative.

Consider what features you want: You can get a basic doorbell camera for pretty cheap or an advanced, smart video doorbell for double the price. Decide if you just want basic features (like two-way audio and motion detection,) or if you want to opt for advanced features (like facial recognition and package detection).

Decide if you want smart home support: Most doorbell cameras work with either Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Some also work with IFTTT, and a few work with Apple HomeKit. Make sure the doorbell camera you choose works with your favorite smart home stuff.

Consider professional installation: If the electrical installation is a bit much for you, you can get professionally installed doorbell cameras from major security system providers (like Vivint and ADT) or from companies that partner with third-party contractors, like Google Nest and Arlo.

Check your Wi-Fi connection: If you have a weak Wi-Fi connection, then your doorbell camera won’t work very well, no matter how much you paid for it. Make sure you have fast enough download speeds and that your Wi-Fi signal reaches all the way to your front porch.

Further reading

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