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Smart doorbells are way less invasive than smart cameras in the home

The Nest Hello is officially up for grabs, and as someone who never managed to get their hands on any of the Ring Doorbells, I totally want one. I already have a Nest Cam IQ sitting on a bookshelf in my living room, and I love the way Nest products can interact with Google Assistant.

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But the biggest reason I want a smart doorbell — regardless of brand — is because, as the title of this article says, they're significantly less invasive to the user than a camera watching their every move.

Cameras like the Nest Cam IQ do a great job of catching intruders once they're inside, but there's a level of privacy sacrificed.

My Nest Cam IQ is positioned with a perfect viewpoint of both my living room and my front door, meaning that if anyone tries to break in, I'll be able to see their face as soon as they open the door and follow along with what they're doing. Of course, I can also use my camera as an intercom through the app, and warn them that they're being watched so they (hopefully) leave without taking anything.

I can even set dead zones in the camera's field of view so that if it detects motion from, say, my TV or the tree behind my kitchen casting shadows into the living room, it won't send me false notifications. That's all great (at least in theory; I still get false notifications all the time), but it's also a little creepy to have a camera always watching, even if it's one you set up and control.

Sure, you can set your camera to automatically turn on when you leave and back off when you come home, but that doesn't always work perfectly in my experience, especially if you have more than one resident with this feature set up on their phone. I'm not particularly worried about anyone hacking into my Nest Cam, and even if they did, they'd mostly just see hours of footage of my fiancée and I working on our laptops or playing Spelunky on the Xbox, but it's just nice to have a certain level of privacy in your home.

That's where smart doorbells come in. At the root level, they serve the same purpose as smart cameras in the home: notifying the owner of unwanted intrusions and capturing footage. But the biggest difference is that these doorbells obviously sit outside of your front door — leaving you to yourself inside.

I love the idea of smart doorbells. Just like with smart cameras, you'll be notified of any unusual activity, and with the Nest Hello you can even set up a Google Home to alert you when someone's at the door. This can be great when you're out at work and expecting a package — as soon as the delivery driver comes to your door, you can use your doorbell to tell them to leave the package on your porch.

Smart doorbells and cameras provide different kinds of protection, and you might be better off buying both.

A smart doorbell could also potentially help you cover more entryways, depending on the layout of your living space. The window to my spare bedroom/office is directly to the left of the front door, and at the moment there's nothing keeping watch on that room (don't get any ideas now). With a Nest Hello or Ring Doorbell, I could keep watch on both entryways, and even get a decent view of the parking lot ahead.

Of course, smart doorbells aren't perfect. If you live in an apartment like I do, your landlord might not let you install one — not a problem with smart cameras, which don't require any installation and simply run off of a power outlet. There's also the matter of not being able to see intruders once they're inside. Once again, that comes back to having a smart camera in the house and deciding if a daily perceived lack of privacy is worth potentially catching a home invader.

I think in the end, the best solution is to have both a smart doorbell and a smart camera to cover the most ground and balance out each device's setbacks. But if I had to choose just one, I think I'd go for the smart doorbell. Break-ins are always a possibility, but I feel safe in my neighborhood, and the practical applications of a doorbell for catching delivery drivers or telling friends to let themselves in seem far more useful to me than a surveillance camera watching my every move.

Do you have any smart home tech? And what would/did you choose between a smart doorbell and a camera? Let us know in the comments below!

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Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

12 Comments
  • A friend just had her exterior camera stolen. The thief blocked their face all the way up to the door, then covered the lens while they unscrewed it from the wall. An exterior camera like a smart doorbell can be see in advance and countered, defeating the purpose of it. An interior camera seems more likely to remain hidden until the person's been caught on tape.
  • Aside from being eyesores on the front of your house, their obvious location and size makes them easily noticed from a distance and, like jsabo said, it's easy to see it ahead of time and cover your face to steal the package or the unit itself. Ultimately I don't see a whole lot of practicality with these other than the rare chance that you need to talk to someone. But UPS won't deliver signature packages to a voice and at best you may be down the street and have a chance to tell the delivery guy to please wait a few mins.. but otherwise there's no practical features here for the masses. People don't normally have multiple frequent guests that require facial match. For simple security, you'd be better off with something like a Blink cam.. At least with blink you can put them any and everywhere, which is good if you don't have a traditional entryway where you walk straight up with head held high. Plus they can be placed out of reach and offer a similar immediate notification to your phone. And there's no monthly fee.
  • I got a Honeywell Skybell Trim. It is much less obvious and obtrusive than a Ring, even the thinnest Ring. (I need the thinness to fit on my door frame.) Skybell is also free, with no monthly fee...
  • I'll definitely be adding a Blink Video Doorbell to my Blink XT as soon as it goes on sale.
    IMHO, they're out-valuing everything else on the home security market right now by a wide margin.
    Literally half the price of Ring or Nest.
  • I held out on Ring and waited for Nest since I went "all in" with Google Assistant and Home. So far, it has been pretty darn good. Video quality is great and detection is even better. I like how all of my Google Home devices say when someone rings the doorbell.
  • Ring doorbells must have some shoddy wireless chips in them. I work for an ISP and we got inundated with calls from people who got Ring doorbells for Xmas. Some people even moved their 300mbps router to within 10 feet of their door and they were still really hit and miss.
  • I waited for the Next Hello... I was going to purchase the Ring since they have a better monthly service fee, but Nest Hello finally updated and made a cheap $5 plan. From prior reviews it seemed like Ring had a lot of issues; something I'm hoping is not the case for Nest. I got my unit yesterday, but couldn't complete the install since I don't know where my transistor is (likely the attic under three feet of insulation. I decided to check out a pro-installation company, but was pretty bummed to hear it's $200 for install, plus my 5-year pro-install warranty would not be supported since I opened the box. So I think I'm going to climb up in the attic to figure it out myself... kind of a pain. I also have 5 Arlo Pro (outside) cams. They're pretty good, but not great at a distance (if you're looking to identify someone clearly). They could also be stolen if someone was ballsy enough to bring a latter. But, they're easy to swap out batteries (no wires) and record for 7 days without a fee.
  • My Nest Hello installed easily and is awesome so far in every way. Sucks that you can't find your Doorbell's transformer. Mine is located right inside the chime itself. Good luck. It's worth it.
  • Captain 105 - If you have a crawl space under your house, check in there. Thats where I found mine.
  • Does nest replace your camera if it's stolen?
  • Why would they?
  • There is absolutely 0 to buy any of Nest or other cheap "security" and "smart" products for your home. They are nothing but fashion accessories. You also give away to Google what's going on inside your home and in front of the porch cause everything goes through Nest cloud instead of being local. If you are concerned about security there are dedicated products that actually do that and take security quite seriously but they do cost hell a lot more than these ding dongs.