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5 Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Doorbell Camera

Smart video doorbells are convenient for home security, but do your homework

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Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Getty Images (2))

If you’re away from home much of the day, take trips often or can’t sprint to the door when you hear a knock, a doorbell camera can help you and your home stay safe.

The best part: The two-way microphone, accessible through a companion smartphone app, lets you converse with a visitor without them knowing if you’re actually home. You can see the loved one or whoever else might be at your door, but they can’t see you.

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At the end of last year, more than 28 million households, about 22 percent of U.S. homes, owned at least one video doorbell, according to Parks Associates market research. Doorbell cameras are among the most popular smart home devices, depending on the survey, with smart TVs on the top of the heap and smart doorbells, speakers and thermostats jockeying for the other spots. 

But before you buy a video doorbell, consider the extra costs and upkeep that you may not have realized. 

1. Fees required for service you’ll likely want

Purchasing the video doorbell is the first step. While most models let you talk with a visitor live through the app or a compatible smart display or television for free, you’ll need to pay extra to access previously recorded videos stored on the company’s servers in the cloud.

Built-in features like LED night vision, high dynamic range video and weather resistance are standard on brands such as Amazon’s Ring, Blink or Google Nest. The devices themselves, depending on the model you choose, can run from $49 to $349.

Beyond paying extra for video recordings, other bells and whistles — such as Nest’s 24/7 continuous video monitoring, emergency detection and 911 notification services, and Ring’s flood and freeze alarms and pet tags — cost more. Plan prices can range from $4.99 a month for a basic plan up to $20.99 a month for multiple features.

Alternatives include systems from Eufy, Lorex, Reolink and TP-Link that instead record on micro SD memory cards within the doorbell and don’t require a monthly plan.

2. Battery charging is a necessity

Even for models that connect to your existing wiring, video doorbells have a battery that needs to be charged every few months.

While models vary, charging the battery typically requires removing it from inside the casing and connecting the cable to an AC plug or USB port. Some people invest in a solar charger for models that support it.

To keep your doorbell in service while the battery charges, you can opt to buy a second battery, which varies in cost depending on the doorbell manufacturer. A Google Nest battery starts at about $15; an Amazon Ring battery starts at about $35.

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The battery removal process can be challenging for those with limited mobility or dexterity. In hotter or colder climates, batteries may lose their charge faster than at more moderate temperatures.

3. Your old doorbell chime won’t work

If you’re used to hearing the ding-dong of the doorbells that have been in homes for years, you’ll have to pay for a new chime box, which costs about $40.

You won’t need the chime, but you will need to keep your smartphone on because the app will notify you there when someone approaches your door. You can choose the sound.

And you can choose the types of notifications, such as people, pets and packages while filtering out other video, such as motion and vehicles.

4. You and your neighbors will be caught on camera

As video doorbells get more powerful with wider camera angles, better resolution like 4K video capture and color night vision, know that your trek to the mailbox, your neighbors’ daily walks — or work in their own yards if your house is somewhat close to the street — and even the ramblings of a local bear, may be recorded without consent.

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Consider making your neighbors aware of your new device. If they object, you should be able to adjust the angle and view to give them privacy while still protecting your home.

5. You might be connected to a ‘neighborhood’

You may be asked to join a community of nearby homeowners, kind of like a neighborhood watch feature, when you set up your system.

Called Neighborhood on Ring-branded video doorbells, this opt-in setting uses your home address to create a radius around your property. If anyone shares an alert on the app about crime or safety within that radius, you’ll get a notification on your phone. The same is true when you share an alert.

Communities across the country — including Akron, Ohio; Baltimore; La Marque, Texas; Montgomery, Alabama; Philadelphia; and Shreveport, Louisiana — have been offering free doorbell cameras to some residents as a deterrent to crime. The video isn’t automatically shared with police, but officers investigating incidents in your neighborhood may ask you for your footage.

Ring doorbells are also part of a network called Amazon Sidewalk, a low-band wireless network that Amazon turned on by default for all its Ring doorbells and Echo smart speakers in 2021. You and your neighbors with these products are sharing a small portion of your internet unless you turn off the feature, according to Consumer Reports.

If you lose power or Wi-Fi, being part of the network can ensure your Ring and other devices remain online. The network also connects to Tile trackers attached to items frequently misplaced or a CareBand tracker, designed for a loved one with dementia, and allows you and others on Amazon Sidewalk to find them. But you need to be informed to weigh the added connectivity with privacy concerns.

Always investigate devices’ security

While a video doorbell makes it easy for you to watch who’s coming and going, hackers may have access to your camera. A March 2024 Consumer Reports investigation found concerning security flaws in some brands sold through Amazon, Sears, Temu, Walmart and other popular digital marketplaces.

In April, the Federal Trade Commission sent PayPal refunds totaling more than $5.6 million to more than 117,000 Ring customers after Amazon settled a lawsuit alleging that the company’s security failures allowed employees to have too much access to customer videos and hackers to gain control of some devices.

Video: How to Make Your Front Door Easier to Open

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