SkyBell Video Doorbell review: The second-gen SkyBell is one stealthy door buzzer

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The Good SkyBell version 2.0 has responsive push alerts and a solid video feed that won't leave you wondering who's at your front door.

The Bad You can't record or save footage, and the two-way-talk feature is spotty at best. It has to be hard-wired, and it won't work with intercom systems.

The Bottom Line While SkyBell is a bit persnickety at times, it comes closer to delivering on its claims than the competition.

7.0 Overall
  • Features 7
  • Usability 7
  • Design 7
  • Performance 7

The $200 SkyBell smart video camera-equipped doorbell is different than BOT Home Automation's now-defunct Doorbot and newer Ring buzzer. Where Ring boasts a 720p video resolution, the option between a battery or wired installation and an activity log (but no on-demand live streaming), SkyBell has a 640x480 video image, a wired-only setup and on-demand live streaming (but no activity log).

Still, they share core features. When someone rings the doorbell, you will get a push alert that links directly to a live video feed so you can see who's there whether you're in the basement, at the grocery store, or on a remote beach (as long as your phone has a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, that is).

It's the quality of these basic functions that set SkyBell slightly above Ring. SkyBell certainly wasn't perfect -- it suffered from inconsistent audio, and you can't currently record video or save clips -- but its lower-quality VGA camera never once suffered from the same streaky bandwidth fatigue that made it tough for Ring to clearly display who was at the door. Get SkyBell for its relative reliability, but don't expect this new release to feel like a fully realized product just yet.

Installing SkyBell was a huge hassle at first. As a doorbell novice, I didn't know much about digital versus mechanical models and was not fully prepared for the intricacies of these two buzzer types. The beauty of Ring is that folks who don't have a wired setup can skip that whole discovery process and move straight to the good stuff -- actually using the device.

SkyBell does not afford you that luxury. You have to hard-wire your SkyBell, and you really need to know if your current buzzer is digital or mechanical before you buy. My house doesn't have a wired doorbell, so I took my SkyBell review unit to a house that did.

Removing the existing doorbell and replacing it with SkyBell was a little trying. SkyBell offers a couple of baseplate variations so you can angle and adjust your model as needed, but there's very little room between the base and faceplates, so the blue wire covers provided simply didn't fit. So, I switched to electrical tape and was able to shove the wires far enough back that the two pieces fit together.

SkyBell's impossibly tiny Allen wrench and difficult-to-use wire cover. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The final installation step involves the world's tiniest Allen wrench and a near-microscopic screw that fits underneath the doorbell to secure everything in place. It took me several attempts to get this right.

Thankfully, configuration was pretty straightforward. Enter a long activation code (located on your SkyBell box), hold the doorbell button down until the light flashes red, and follow the Android or iOS app instructions to connect to the SkyBell network and then to your local Wi-Fi network. That part took about five minutes.

But I ran into a fairly significant problem at this point: the doorbell was chiming continuously for no apparent reason. A visit to the SkyBell site revealed that this house had a digital doorbell, that's a computerized chime instead of an actual chime. SkyBell units support digital bells, but you have to buy a separate piece of hardware called a Digital Doorbell Adapter. This is a small $12 circuit gizmo that you have to install at the source of your digital chime.

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