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Best video doorbell cameras for 2021: Ring, Nest, Arlo and more

Video doorbells are evolving and getting smarter every year, so we've tested the best of the best video doorbell cameras to help you decide which is right for your home.

Video doorbells are getting smarter all the time, and come on, who hasn't wished they had a doorbell camera at one time or another? OK, maybe you hadn't considered it yet, but it's true that doorbells in 2021 are adding some serious smarts to their traditional counterparts, from security alarms to two-way talk and auto-responses and even radar monitoring

But not all video doorbell cameras are created equal -- design, installation cost, video quality and video storage subscriptions for each doorbell cam can vary immensely.

If you're not sure where to begin in your search for a smart video doorbell, I've rounded up my favorite video doorbell camera models below. I've also offered a few general pointers on finding the best device for you. So if you're looking for the best video doorbell, chances are it's among those we've tested. We update this list periodically.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Arlo's wired Video Doorbell cam is easy to install, performs well and has competitive features and cloud storage fees starting at just $3 a month. With a cloud storage subscription, you get access to advanced functionality like custom person, animal, vehicle and package alerts.

The Arlo Video Doorbell, our pick for best video doorbell overall, also features a built-in siren, two-way audio, motion detection zones and arm/disarm modes.

Read more about the Arlo Video Doorbell.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Google's newest video doorbell costs $180 and is a breeze to set up, whether you've got doorbell wiring or not. When we tested it, we were impressed with the free, out-of-the-box smarts, including package, person, vehicle and animal alerts and three hours of event storage. While these features won't match the ones you get with a subscription -- with Nest Aware or another service, like Ring's or Arlo's -- they're a solid place to start if you're hoping to just try out a video doorbell for the first time. A nice bonus? The Nest Doorbell (battery) also works well with Google Assistant-powered devices like the Nest Hub.

Read our Nest Doorbell (battery) review.

 

David Priest/CNET

Editors' note, Dec. 14, 2020: Ring has been called out for its partnership with local police departments in the US, leading privacy advocates to express concern about the data Ring shares with law enforcement and how they use that information. In December 2019, thousands of Ring doorbell users' personal information was exposed, leading us to stop recommending Ring products.

Ring has since updated its security policies, from offering customers a Control Center dashboard to more easily access privacy and security settings to requiring two-factor authentication. We have resumed recommending Ring's products with this caveat: If you have concerns about Ring's privacy policies, make sure to familiarize yourself with its privacy statement. You can read more about how we factor Ring's privacy policies into our recommendations here.


The Ring Video Doorbell Wired is one of the best deals on the market: It's a fully functional video doorbell, with 1080p resolution and the standard notification features, including motion alerts and person-only alerts. The Ring app is easy to use, and gives fairly quick push notifications when people approach the door. The Ring doorbell camera also offers two-way talk and reliable night vision and video recording with subscription.

Ring's $3 subscription service allows for 60-day video storage and a handful of other useful features, including Smart Responses with Alexa.

Read our Ring Video Doorbell Wired review.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Peephole Cam is Ring's answer to apartment doors -- or any doors with peepholes. If you don't want to -- or can't -- drill into a door frame to install a hardwired or battery-powered doorbell, the Peephole Cam is a solid alternative.

Entirely battery-powered, the Peephole Cam replaces your standard peephole in a few simple steps. You'll still be able to see through it like a regular peephole, but you'll also be able to pull up a live video feed of your front door on demand and talk to any visitors. If you subscribe to Ring's Protect cloud service, you'll also be able to view saved clips.

With its streamlined installation and clever workaround for apartment-dwellers, the Ring Peephole Cam is definitely worth considering.

Read our Ring Peephole Cam review.

 

David Priest/CNET

Arlo's $180 wireless doorbell is essentially identical to its wired version -- other than the fact that it relies on a battery instead. Wireless doorbells tend to be pricier (the comparable Ring 4, for instance, is $200) but they offer convenient solutions to anyone without doorbell wiring.

The Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell has a great image, smart notifications and a dependable design. The real standout features are the expansive 180-degree field of view and affordable $3-a-month subscription for 30 days of event storage and other perks.

Read our Arlo Essential Wire-Free Video Doorbell review.

 

How CNET tests video doorbells

Testing to determine the best video doorbell is similar to testing any other home security camera. First I download the corresponding app and create an account (if I don't already have one). While a lot of products include tutorial booklets in the box with your purchase, I prefer to start with the app. A good app includes detailed steps on the installation process, as well as how to connect to your Wi-Fi network and actually get the smart device up and running. It's your one-stop shop for taking your doorbell setup from start to finish.

Make sure the doorbell is installed based on the manufacturer's specifications -- either hardwired doorbell or battery- or solar-powered. As soon as it's connected and I'm able to view the live video feed, I check the settings. I make sure features like motion detection or activity zones are enabled (they aren't always turned on by default) to get a complete sense of what it's like to use the product -- and to see how well the device actually works as a replacement to a regular, nonsmart doorbell. 

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What to look for

Does it work with smart home platforms? If so, do the smart features work well together? Nowadays a smart home device is expected to work with at least one major smart home platform. Amazon AlexaGoogle Assistant and Apple HomeKit are the main ones you need to look for. 

How's the latency? If your smart doorbell camera takes a long time to send a push notification after someone rings your doorbell, then you risk missing your visitor completely. You also need to be sure you're getting notifications when something sets off the motion detector, as you can set the motion sensor of most video doorbells to notify you of activity happening near your door, even if no one rings the buzzer. If you have latency problems, start with your Wi-Fi connection. If it isn't strong where the doorbell is installed, you might consider moving it (or, more easily, getting a Wi-Fi range extender). But it could also be the way the software works.

How's the live view? Doorbells are often exposed to direct sunlight, but many others are installed under porches, near shady trees and in all sorts of other settings. It's important that the camera has night vision and can handle any of these scenarios so you don't get stuck with a nonfunctioning product that can't see faces under a porch. 

How's the two-way audio? If the doorbell's microphone and speaker don't work well, you're going to have a tough time communicating with whoever's there. I tested this out multiple times to see how the doorbell's audio sounds over my phone. 

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