As part of GearBrain's series of smart home technology available to renters, we are this time looking at doorbells. More specifically, we're looking at smart video doorbells which include a camera, microphone and internet connection so you can be alerted to the door wherever you are and have a conversation with the visitor, even if you're away from home or out of the country.
Why you should get a smart doorbell
Apart from being undeniably cool and futuristic, video doorbells can help you record a burglary or question the person loitering on your doorstep at night without opening the door, even when you aren't actually home. They also sense nearby motion (during the day and after dark, thanks to night vision), so could potentially record crucial evidence of someone vandalizing your car, or another incident outside.
Alerts are sent to your smartphone when someone presses the buzzer, but also when the bell's motion sensor detects movement right outside your property. Wide-angle lenses with HD sensors mean it's easy to see the whole doorstep, and some models include night vision to help produce clear footage after dark.
Ring Video Doorbell 2 with HD Video, Motion Activated Alerts, Easy Installation
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Smart doorbells also offer a cloud storage service, so you can save, view and share recordings made by the camera, further cementing the feeling that your home is more secure with the video doorbell than without it.
As well as monitoring, alerting, recording and communicating, smart doorbells can be configured with If This, Then That (IFTTT) to interact with other smart home devices. For example, a doorbell can be set to flash your smart lights when it is rung, have Alexa read out a message on smart speakers throughout the home, or switch an outside light on when motion is detected nearby.
Can renters install a smart doorbell?
The answer here is yes, but with some major caveats. A lot of smart doorbells are wired into a property for power, and that may require more work than most landlords are willing to allow.
Even if your landlord says yes, fitting a wired doorbell will likely require professional installation, upping your costs and meaning you would have to pay again when you move out — unless you leave the expensive device behind. Again, this is something your landlord is unlikely to green-light.
Thankfully, there are some wireless smart doorbells which feature a camera, microphone and internet connection, but which are powered by rechargeable batteries. The buzzer might still need to be attached to the wall or door frame with small screws or 3M adhesive tape, but these actions are unlikely to upset the property owner and are reversible when you move out.
The wireless approach is also something homeowners may like as well, particularly if they don't want to pay to install wiring if none currently exists.
What about my neighbors' privacy?
Although smart doorbells don't have all of the same abilities as security cameras, they are closely related and may be seen as a breach of privacy if installed too close to another property. While cameras on smart doorbells are designed to work best at close range, their HD sensors record in high detail and people walking across the street will be visible and possibly identified.
If your door is within sight of a neighbor's garden, or other sensitive areas like a school playground, then you should let people know before putting a device like this on your front door. Because they store the video they record (for a certain amount of time) it's simply good practice to make neighbors aware — and then label and delete the footage appropriately.
You should also be careful when installing a video doorbell in an apartment complex, as its camera will be looking out onto a shared hallway and possibly into your neighboring properties when their doors are open. Speak with your building's management before fitting a video doorbell to check there are no rules against installing one.
Finally, it is highly recommended that you check the camera's date and time are correct, so any footage that needs to be used as evidence of a crime (an attempted burglary, for example) is correctly timestamped.
Video doorbell options available to renters
The Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell can now be bought for just $80 from Amazon, which owns the Ring smart home company. The doorbell can be powered by your existing wiring, but crucially can instead run off a rechargeable 5,200mAh battery.
Battery life will vary depending on how often motion is detected, how many times the bell is rung, and the outside temperature (cold weather reduces battery life). Conservative estimates peg the Ring's battery life at one month, so you will need to take down the buzzer and charge it fairly regularly to make sure it is always working.
On that note, however, our experience with this device's successor, the Ring Video Doorbell 2, saw battery life vary massively depending on how it was set up. We at first found it responded to motion every time a person or vehicle passed the property, meaning it was recording snippets of video every few minutes, all day and night. The battery lasted just a few days in this state.
Toucan Wireless Smart Video Doorbell, 180 Degree Full HD WiFi Security Camera With Motion Detection, Indoor Chime, Night Vision, Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz
However, by adjusting the camera's sensitivity to motion we saw this improve to several weeks or even a couple of months of battery life, while still working correctly.
Ring's doorbells work with Amazon Alexa, so you can ask the assistant to "show my front door," and footage will appear on your Echo Spot and Echo Show, or on your television via an Amazon Fire TV stick.
Both versions of Ring doorbell work with the company's protection plans, which include cloud storage of all video for 60 days, the ability to watch recorded videos at any time via the smartphone app, and share videos with friends, local residents or law enforcement. On that note, Ring footage can be requested by the police if you leave the request feature enabled in the Ring smartphone app. To learn more, head to this GearBrain article.
The basic plan costs $3 a month or $30 a year, while Protect Plus costs $10 a month or $100 per year and allows for unlimited devices (Ring also sells security cameras and floodlights) and an extended warranty. Below is a breakdown of what features are included as standard, and which are added with each of the two tiers of Ring Protect:
Ring Protect feature listRing
And if you're concerned you won't hear the doorbell ring — or you don't always have your smartphone by your side — you can also add the $29 Ring Doorbell Chime which helps renters hear the doorbell inside the apartment.
An option that could also work for renters is the new Ring Peephole Cam, which fits to to either side of your door's peephole. This means the camera and buzzer button are on the outside, while the battery pack is on the inside of your door, with the two pieces connecting to each other through the peephole.
You'll have to remove the peephole from your door, but installation is said to be quick and easy, and the process is reversible - a bonus for renters.
Away from Ring, there unfortunately aren't that many battery-powered (and therefore renter-friend) video doorbell options. A few options exist on Amazon, but mostly from lesser-known companies, so we're not able to vouch for their quality. That said, if your rented property already has a regular wired doorbell in place, it is. simple job to swap this out for a wired smart option from Ring, or alternatives like the Nest Hello or August Doorbell Cam Pro. Wired options are also offered by smart home companies Eufy and Arlo.
When it comes to smart doorbells, renters have far fewer options than property owners. Thankfully, the options available are some of the best-reviewed and highest-praised out of any doorbell, wired or wireless.
If you need help installing any smart video doorbell or other smart home products, you can visit HomeAdvisor.com to find a local trusted professional.
Arlo Video Doorbell | HD Video Quality, Weather-Resistant, 2-Way Audio | Motion Detection and Alerts | Easy Installation (existing doorbell Wiring Required) | (AVD1001)