August Doorbell Cam review: Knock, knock: August's Doorbell Cam helps you see who's there
A square gizmo that looks nothing like your standard door buzzer (and may even confuse people expecting a regular doorbell), August's $199 Wi-Fi Doorbell Cam can alert you to visitors via your existing mechanical chime (it doesn't work with digital chimes or intercom systems), but it's also equipped with a lot of smart functionality. With a built-in 140-degree camera, 1,280x960-pixel live streaming video resolution, integration with the brand's own Smart Lock, clear two-way talk, and responsive push alerts, this doorbell is definitely smarter than the model you have at home today.
But it isn't perfect. The square design didn't fit on our door frame (and might not fit on yours, either). Motion-related alerts and video storage features are supposed to be added soon, but aren't ready yet and the Doorbell Cam doesn't integrate with IFTTT, SmartThings or any other major smart home platforms.
Even so, its performance and Smart Lock integration set it apart, making August's new Doorbell Cam a product worthy of your consideration -- especially compared to the other smart doorbells we've reviewed so far.
August, you're such a square
There's one really obvious (potential) problem with August's Doorbell Cams -- something that could make DIY installation much more complicated. Yes, these buzzers look nice. Really nice, in fact. They even come in four colors -- silver, gray, copper and red -- to suit all sorts of aesthetic tastes.
But they measure 2.9 inches tall by 2.9 inches wide. That isn't that big, but it's significantly bigger than a regular ol' doorbell, measuring less than an inch wide.
And since these units have to be hard-wired to a traditional mechanical chime, you don't have a lot of leeway in terms of the install location (unless you're comfortable rerouting your wiring, and possibly having to tear into brick or another surface that requires a special drill bit). Also, many wired doorbells are installed on door frames -- and while door frame width can vary, 2.9 inches is definitely pushing it.
That begs the question, why did August opt for this square design? To support the built-in camera and all of the other tech packed into this thing? Maybe.
August definitely isn't the only smart doorbell maker that went this route. The circular SkyBell 2.0 is roughly the same size as August's Doorbell Cam at 2.75 inches tall. The now-defunct Doorbot was 5.7 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide, and its successor, Ring, is about the same at 4.98 inches by 2.43 inches.
Be sure to measure your space before you settle on the Doorbell Cam, because its size/shape could rule it out automatically if you're dealing with a small install space -- maybe even more than the other models out there, as it's the widest.
Otherwise, the installation went smoothly, with a couple of small exceptions. August provides plastic wire connectors that aren't especially easy to use, so we used electrical tape instead. And, when you're attaching the base plate, there's a small security screw in the bottom that helps the base plate and the face plate connect and power the doorbell -- this wasn't that easy to line up, so it might take a little extra effort, but it's an important step that helps ensure solid contact between the two pieces of hardware.
Configuring Doorbell Cam
After the install, download the Android or iOS August app. This is the same app that you'd use for August's first- and second-gen Smart Locks, its Wi-Fi-enabled Connect lock accessory and its new keypad lock accessory, which makes things simple.
If you don't already have an account, the app will walk you through the setup, including configuring your doorbell. August sent me a beta version of the app and this part of the process wasn't particularly seamless, though this may have been partly due to some local Wi-Fi network spottiness. Here's how it's supposed to go:
- If the LED indicator on your doorbell is flashing green (meaning you've installed everything correctly), select Start Setup in the app
- Name your house and the door where the buzzer is installed
- Make sure your phone is connected to your Wi-Fi network and it will search for the doorbell
- It will then connect to the doorbell over Wi-Fi
That's it. It should take just a few minutes, but I got a handful of error messages during the connection step that slowed things down a bit. It did work eventually, though -- after five or six tries.
An inside look
Once your Doorbell Cam is connected, you can access it through the August app immediately. While I did miss the motion-triggered alerts and optional video clip storage that the team promises to launch in short order, overall usability and performance for this doorbell was better than the other three models I've reviewed.
First, the August app is easy to navigate -- the launch page lists any houses with related products. Click on your house -- I named ours CNET's House, and you have access to any and all August devices connected at that location. We set up a first-gen August Smart Lock, a Connect accessory to get the lock on the Wi-Fi, the new Bluetooth Keypad and the Doorbell Cam to get a sense of how all of the products interacted in the app. This was extremely straightforward.
Whenever someone rings the doorbell, any phones with access to this account or these products will get a push alert (you can extend either 24-7 or limited access to other people, depending on your comfort level). Click on the push alert and "accept the call," and a live video feed will appear showing you who's at your front door.
From there, you have the option to talk to that person via your phone and the doorbell's built-in microphones and speakers. And, if you have a Smart Lock too, you can unlock or lock your front door straight from that video streaming page. This feature really rounds out the usability of this app and highlights the value for folks using both the Smart Lock and the Doorbell Cam together.
Imagine a relative with limited mobility -- they could theoretically pull up a live feed, see that a friend or family member is at the front door, talk to them and even unlock the door -- all without having to walk to the door.
And, everything worked pretty well. The alerts were prompt, the two-way talk audio quality was solid, the 1,280x960 resolution was decent and had minimal lag time and the lock was responsive 9 out of every 10 times I triggered it from the doorbell's live streaming page. (Keep in mind that a front porch or other obstruction can affect lighting and making it much more difficult for the Doorbell Cam to make out faces and other details.) This pretty good performance is unique to the Doorbell Cam, as all of the other models I've reviewed have fallen short in at least one notable way.
The standard-definition DoorBot had serious issues with lag time and overall video quality; Ring was more polished, but its 720p live stream was laggy on occasion and didn't offer a video feed as an on-demand feature (this is about to change, as Ring recently announced an all-new Ring Pro with on-demand live streaming and a planned software update that's supposed to give the original Ring live streaming capabilities). SkyBell 2.0 allows for live streaming and some other advanced features, but had a 640x480 standard definition video feed (this has changed too, as SkyBell has released a newer version called SkyBell HD with the promise of improved video quality).
Still, I do wish that August's Doorbell Cam had an IFTTT channel or at least some sort of partnership with another manufacturer. But, its integrations with its own Smart Lock -- our favorite connected lock to date -- makes a difference.
August isn't the first brand to add a smart doorbell to its repertoire, but its Doorbell Cam is definitely a step in the right direction for the category. Where previous models suffered from significant lag times, standard-definition live feeds and more, this model seems to nail more of the basics. Even so, we're interested in revisiting the review after August adds its upcoming advanced features, like motion detection and video storage.
There's also a clear concern about whether or not it will fit where your current doorbell is installed and if not, whether or not it's worth it to reroute your wiring to a different spot. And again, the August Doorbell Cam, along with other smart wired models, will only work with a traditional mechanical chime.
The $199 Doorbell Cam is now for sale on August.com and at Best Buy in the US. International availability is in the works, but August hasn't shared a time frame just yet; prices translate to roughly £130 and AU$275 at the current exchange rate. Overall, if you can get past the potentially tricky install, this smart doorbell could prove to be a truly useful upgrade.