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Nest Doorbell with battery review: The free features we've always wanted

Google's Nest beats Amazon's Ring, thanks to a handful of free features. But can it best the rest of the competition?

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Google's $180, battery-powered Nest Doorbell isn't just a wireless version of 2018's Nest Hello. It's a totally new device, with different specs and unique perks. It's also not replacing the older video doorbell (which is now called the Nest Doorbell (wired), for those keeping track). Both devices are staying on the market and catering to different customers: the new doorbell is primarily for those without doorbell wiring already in place.

This approach to video doorbells isn't new, and neither are most of the features Nest's wireless doorbell brings to your doorstep. You're getting almost everything you'd expect from a big-brand wireless doorbell in 2021: two-way talk, high-def resolution, a 145-degree field of view with a 3:4 aspect ratio, smart alerts, facial recognition and a few other cool perks.

Read more: Nest Cam 2021 review

These features add up to a great product, particularly when compared to Ring's most recent wireless offering. And as I tested out the new Nest Doorbell over the course of a week, I really loved the general interface and impressive performance. In spite of the doorbell's great design, its $6 monthly fee and a few lackluster features left me feeling just a touch disappointed. If you're a Google loyalist or just someone looking for a solid video doorbell without subscribing to its monthly service, the Nest Doorbell (battery) will absolutely meet your needs. For everyone else, there may be better options.

8.0

Nest Doorbell (battery)

Like

  • Smart notifications
  • Free features
  • Great performance
  • Value (without a subscription)

Don't Like

  • Expensive subscription
  • A slightly limited field of view

The basics

The new Nest Doorbell is a $180 wireless video doorbell, and immediately that puts it below the price of competitors like the Ring Doorbell 4 and Arlo Wire-Free, which both cost $200. What's really cool is, many of the best features come right out of the box, no monthly subscription to Nest Aware necessary. For instance, while you need a subscription for facial recognition, you don't for person, vehicle, package and animal-specific notifications. You'll also get three hours of event storage for free -- meaning you can check back on recordings from earlier in the day if you're busy at the moment they happen.

These features worked well when I tested them, distinguishing effectively between passing cars and package deliveries, for instance. In addition, I was impressed by the low latency of the live video stream. When I set up the wireless Nest Doorbell side-by-side with the Arlo Wire-Free video doorbell -- the wireless version of our favorite video doorbell -- then moved in front of them while viewing the live stream, Nest showed the movement in near real time, whereas Arlo had a 3-second delay.

A few seconds may not make much difference in some circumstances, but it can make a big difference on occasion -- like when you're communicating via two-way talk.

The battery-powered Nest Doorbell comes in four colors: Snow (white), Linen (beige), Ivy (dark green) and Ash (gray), and it looks great. I prefer its aesthetic to the boxier Ring doorbells and Arlo's chunky design.

Google's doorbell also works as you'd expect with Nest smart speakers and displays. These devices can function as doorbell chimes, and you can also call up the video feed with Google Assistant on your Nest Hub, where you can also initiate conversations with visitors. If you opt into Google's $6-per-month Nest Aware program, you'll get facial recognition and 30 days of event video history, too.

The good, the bad and... well, there's no ugly here

This video doorbell isn't going to turn the industry upside-down, but it's got some cool features going on. I'm especially excited to see those smart notifications -- which have been gated behind a subscription on most comparable doorbells -- included for free.

What I'm less crazy about is the field of view and aspect ratio. I've harped on this in the past, because it seems so many major developers struggle to get it right (Ring's devices with wide-angle lenses are particularly bad). Luckily, the new Nest Doorbell gives a better vertical field of view than many others, including the older wired model. That means when someone is standing only a foot away from the device, you're still going to see them, head to toe.

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The Nest Doorbell (battery) has an appealing, minimalist design -- and it looks better than the boxy Ring and chunky Arlo.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The 3:4 aspect ratio means you don't get as much horizontal coverage, which, depending on your setup, can matter a little or a lot. My entryway at home is fairly narrow, so losing some degrees of horizontal coverage isn't a game-changer there. But at the CNET Smart Home, it meant serious blind spots both on the front porch and when I tried it at the side entrance.

I like vertical coverage more than horizontal, if I have to choose one. But I don't understand why I have to pick. Arlo's video doorbells come with a 180-degree field of view and 1:1 aspect ratio, and that means solid coverage in all directions.

Another thing that feels good but not great is the three hours of event storage. Three hours will be enough for many circumstances, but if something happens at 2 a.m., that footage will no longer be available by the time you wake up. That's a bummer -- especially for anyone seriously considering buying the battery-powered Nest Doorbell and forgoing the subscription.

Speaking of the subscription, Nest Aware starts at $6 per month -- double the cost of comparable services from Ring and Arlo. For subscribers, that means the $20 price difference between the battery-powered Nest Doorbell and its direct competitors will evaporate within seven months of the initial purchase. That said, the facial recognition you get and 30 days of event storage are respectable features to come with that monthly fee.

What about the Nest Hello?

Google fans might be wondering about how the new Nest Doorbell stacks up against the erstwhile Nest Hello, and the good news is, this is an upgrade on almost every level. The wireless Nest Doorbell has smarter features across the board, and while the Nest Hello had a better field of view technically, the aspect ratio of the new device gives better vision of the areas more pertinent to most users (think: higher and lower, at the cost of that side-to-side vision). Finally, that older, wired Nest Doorbell still costs a lot more, at $230.

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The Nest Doorbell (wired) still has one trick the new wireless device can't match: 24/7 continuous recording.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The one big perk the older doorbell has is that it allows for 24/7 continuous recording, which the new doorbell, even if you hardwire it, won't. That's just going to be a deal-breaker for some people who want that maximum level of security. It shouldn't count too hard against Nest, though, considering no major wireless video doorbells offer that feature.

Should you buy it?

The Nest Doorbell (battery) is a solid contender in an increasingly competitive market. Video doorbells are getting smarter and more affordable all the time.

If you're just looking for the top wireless video doorbell, the Arlo Wire-Free will be the best fit for most.

If you're looking for a wireless video doorbell with smarts that aren't dependent on that monthly fee, then Nest's new doorbell without the subscription might be a good and affordable alternative for you. Ditto if you're a Google loyalist and want to use it smoothly with all those Google Assistant-powered smart speakers and displays. Either way, you won't be disappointed with what you get.