What Is a Smart Doorbell and How Does It Work?

Smart doorbells go beyond basic visitor notification, bringing convenience and safety features like answer-from-anywhere and a live video feed.

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A smart doorbell is an internet-connected replacement for a traditional doorbell. It can “ring” a smartphone or other device in your home, and integrate with a smart home automation system to display real-time video from your front door. Note that “smart doorbell” is virtually synonymous with “video doorbell” because most have video cameras included — something to watch for if you’re researching. Doorbells, of course, notify you of a visitor’s arrival. Smart doorbells expand on that basic function while bringing new convenience and safety functions to your front door.

Door-Answering Features

Smart doorbells are a lot like security cameras, only with a button visitors use to get your attention. When visitors push the button you’ll get a notification on your smartphone or other device, whether you’re home or out and about.

Most smart doorbells offer real-time video and two-way audio, which gives you some options. You can still answer your door, but you’ll have a little more information.

Because you know who’s there, you can: 1. Decline to answer the door if you’re home; 2. Leave the door shut but talk to them via two-way audio on your smartphone (similar to an intercom) no matter where you are; or 3. With certain smart doorbells like Eufy’s Video Doorbell, play a pre-recorded message like, “You can just leave it, thanks!” Screening your visitors or answering the doorbell from anywhere with your smartphone is not only convenient, but also a safety feature. You’re not giving away whether you’re home or not. And you don’t have to open your door.

Smart assistant integration and voice commands can enhance your door-answering experience. Using an Alexa voice command, such as: “Alexa, show me the front door,” Arlo’s Video Doorbell can send its live video feed to Amazon Echo devices with a screen. Google’s Nest Hello also display its video feed with voice commands, and can be set up to automatically send its live video feed to a Nest Hub screen when a visitor presses the doorbell button.

Security Camera Features

Smart doorbells are basically security cameras with additional door-answering features, so here are some smart doorbell security camera functions. Smart doorbell cameras with AI (artificial intelligence) person recognition can filter out “false positives” so you don’t get a bunch of motion alerts for tree branches on a windy day. More advanced AI systems are not only better at recognizing people versus general motion, but can even identify familiar faces and package deliveries.

When choosing a smart doorbell, one significant question is whether to go with built-in memory versus cloud video storage. Google Nest requires a subscription and cloud video storage to enable many of its features, for example, but stands out with its 24/7 continuous recording. Most other cloud services only record short clips when motion or sound are detected. It’s good to have a cloud backup in case the camera is stolen, but it also sends your data outside your network while using internet bandwidth to do so. Conversely, the Eufy Video Doorbell exclusively uses 4GB on-board storage to maintain up to 30 days of footage to keep your data local, but it’s more susceptible to theft. Subscription costs are another factor with cloud storage services, and we’ll cover that one a bit later.

Installation

Smart doorbell power sources generally fall into three categories: GFCI outlet plug-in, batteries or low-voltage wiring (or a combination of wired plus battery backup). It’s important to know your installation options; not every home has outlets near enough to the front door, or working low-voltage wiring.

The Nest Hello can be wired to low-voltage wiring (16–24V AC) or plugged into a regular outlet with a power adapter (100V, sold separately). The Ring Doorbell 3 can run exclusively on its rechargeable battery pack or hook up with optional wiring. Battery power generally makes for the easiest installation because there’s no wiring to worry about, but the size will also tend to be a little larger to contain the batteries.

For any power source options, installation is pretty simple. Generally you’ll just affix the housing onto a wall and then put on the cover.

Costs

With some smart doorbells, you’ll need to decide whether you want to pay for a video storage subscription service.

The Nest Hello is $230 and requires a subscription to get Nest Aware functionality (essential to get the best features) and cloud video storage. You’ll pay $5/$10/$30 per month for Nest Aware and 5/10/30 days of video storage.

The Arlo Video Doorbell costs around $150 plus a $3 per month optional subscription (again, pretty much essential).

Ring Doorbell 3 models range from $100 to $230, and subscription tiers cost $3 to $10 per month.

The Eufy Video Doorbell has options from $160 to $200 and is fully functional with its local storage. It offers additional online storage options ranging from $3 per month per camera to $10 per month for up to 10 cameras.

Nick Wiesneski
As a writer, handyman, and general Renaissance guy, I draw on my broad set of skills and experiences to bring clarity to my writing. I enjoy putting my skills to use for good, helping people, and solving hard problems.​ I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and enjoy finding big and small adventures with my wife and two daughters. I recharge my batteries with fresh air and exploration of the great outdoors by foot, or boat, or four-wheel-drive. Personally and professionally, I try to leave it better than I found it.