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Do I really need a video doorbell?
A video doorbell is the latest technology craze, but is it worth the hype? In this blog, Dr Harry Brown tells us how his reluctant household was eventually sold by the peace of mind and additional security his latest gadget offered.
I always thought that having a video doorbell would be an useful addition to our household, but my wife said this was yet another gadget that we did not need and there was nothing wrong with our current ordinary doorbell. Our set up was simple, cheap and and did the job, so why do we need an upgrade, she asked?
Who could argue with this logic? Yet, when I saw a good deal by a well-known retailer, I wanted to give it a try. Even if my wife still thought it was a waste of money!
After some research, I had already decided to buy the Ring Video Doorbell 4, which was bundled with the Chime. Fortunately, I found a deal which matched this setup and my potential purchase was the cheapest I had seen at the time. So, I bought it.
The company Ring is now owned by the internet retail giant Amazon who purchased it in 2018, just five years after it was launched. Ring has come a long way in 10 years (I suppose that is light years in technology time) and I have found it to be worth every penny, Better still, my wife now admits that she thinks it is very useful and is glad we bought it!
I chose this particular product because it was recommended by a lot of people I knew. Being owned by Amazon and integrated with the Amazon smart speakers, sometimes known as “Alexa” was also a bonus. There are a variety of video doorbells available on the market with many different aspects to consider when purchasing a system.
No electrical power needed
The first decision after purchase was to either have the doorbell wired for electrical power. Since there was no pre-existing electrical wiring in our house, it would have involved a lot of cabling and drilling through door frames and the easiest solution was to simply have the battery-powered version. The kit came supplied with a compatible rechargeable battery and the installation and software set up was quite easy, though we arranged a handy man to affix the door camera and video doorbell. The battery lasts for about two months and takes a few hours to recharge. I bought a spare battery which means there was no interruption in service as we rotate the batteries.
The set-up kit comes with a screwdriver and it only takes a few seconds to remove the faceplate. With the internal workings exposed, the battery pops out by simply pressing a large button. The reverse process of inserting the freshly charged battery and screwing in the faceplate is easy and quick. The spare (also rechargeable) battery I bought from Argos and cost me just shy of £20 and was well worth it. I then charge up the other “spent” battery ready for its use next time. There is also the option of having a solar panel option to power the video doorbell but I did not purchase this offering as having two rechargeable batteries works well for me.
The setup is simple, including attaching it to the home Wi-Fi and this is achieved via an easy to use app on my smartphone. The chime unit is attached to an integral electrical plug and connects to the mains via a standard electrical point and so obtains its power from the socket. It makes a loud audio sound when there is motion detected or someone rings the doorbell. The chime unit is customisable via the app to provide a decent array of tunes which are easy to change and is fun. Being an Amazon product, this video doorbell system neatly fits in with the collection of “Alexa” smart speakers which I have already set up. Each Alexa will announce “there is someone at the front door” unless muted when the doorbell is pressed by a visitor.
The set up can be either be customised or the defaults taken and there is so much to customise and these can include motion sensitivity, notification settings, volume as well as video settings and much more. It is not difficult to do just go through all the options and can all be done from the app.
Roll-back options for added security
Once set up, the next decision is to pay extra (yes, I know another subscription) to store the video interactions on the “cloud”. It is useful both for security and it means you don’t always have to scramble for the phone to check in with live events. With the cloud storage you can view the video at any time up to 180 days and this costs currently £3.49 a month. I think it is worth it and a simple timeline means you can roll back to the desired video interaction.
My version of the video doorbell comes with built in roll-back option which makes available the four seconds preceding the activation of the motion detection which can be handy. This roll back facility is in colour (but no audio) just like the live video and stored video which both have colour and sound.
There is also a nighttime mode and it is easy to see what is going on. One night I even saw a fox run across our front garden after activating the motion detecting system (It did not ring the doorbell!). The video and audio (when available) is crisp and clear.
The main uses of the video doorbell system are security and interacting with people at the front door. The security aspect is obvious and because of the motion sensor, a video is taken of anyone who comes to the front of the house. The sensitivity of the motion sensor can be varied and it is reasonably reliable but sometimes is activated by a passing bus, car or someone walking on the pavement outside the house. We have just accepted this and does not really bother us. The motion sensitivity can be finessed a little but I have left it for the time being on the default setting.
The motion sensor also allows us to see when people come onto our property, but do not ring the doorbell. For example, when we had a team looking at the garden as we were installing new broadband and we were alerted when they arrived.
However, the most useful aspect of the whole system is the interaction with someone at the front door. If the doorbell is rung, all the Alexa smart speakers in the house tell us by announcing “there is someone at the front door” and the chime device plays the pre-selected tune. At that point, using a smartphone or a tablet not only can I (or my wife) see who is at the front door but we can also speak with them. I converse with whoever is at the front door from inside the house or even anywhere in the world via my smartphone. In addition to the audio, this can be supplemented with the video as well.
The biggest advantage of this system is when a delivery driver arrives at home to deliver a parcel and we are not there. This has happened several times and we have asked the delivery driver to either leave the parcel at a secure place or with family round the corner and they have kindly obliged each time. Once when we were abroad, we had a conversation with a delivery driver and the delivery options were discussed. The audio and video was very clear and we made successful alternative arrangements. Equally, when we have had a friendly visitor at the front door, we could tell them we were not at home and made arrangements to see them at another date. Having clear audio and video in all the interactions is a big plus.
A video doorbell is not an essential item and we can all manage with a simple doorbell but when smartphones came along, many people thought they were a gimmick and were happy with their simple mobile phones. Yet, within a few years smartphones have become very common and replaced the standard simple mobile phones prevalent at the time. I am sure that video doorbells will accumulate more bells and whistles and become standard issue in many households.
Dr Harry Brown is a retired GP, Leeds, medical editor of Pavilion Health Today. He loves new gadgets.