32 Questions for Choosing the Right Doorbell Security Camera

As you know the front door is the gateway to your home. It is the first place people go for parties and to sell you stuff. It’s also the first place criminals will try to gain access to your home. 

Security camera doorbells also called smart doorbells, provide a number of features for both invited and uninvited guests. I’ve put together a list of 32 questions I asked when I was considering an upgrade over the standard doorbell.

I began looking at security camera doorbells for two reasons. First, by dumb bell just stopped working. We moved into a brand new house less than two years earlier, and the doorbell just stopped working. 

Second, we found someone keyed our peephole. It was a strange thing to have happened, but it happened. With these two reasons in mind, I began researching my options for a doorbell

Below are the questions I asked in my research 

1. What is the minimum internet speed required?

Because most of the doorbells are Wi-fi enabled (cameras that use your home wireless internet connection to send and receive audio and video) it is important to know how much bandwidth the camera will consume. Ask yourself how this will impact the other devices you have connected to your home network?

Also, consider your current internet connection. Does your internet already seem slow? Do you have poor picture quality when you are streaming youTube? Adding in a doorbell that also used the internet will make these problems worse. 

Before purchasing a doorbell, look at the number of devices you have connected (smartphones, smart TVs, laptops, etc) to your internet. If you have a bunch of devices, and your internet seems sluggish, consider removing some devices, or upgrading your internet. Another option to consider upgrade your wireless router.

2. What is the field of view?

The field of view is how wide your doorbell can see horizontally and vertically. FOV is important for motion detection, recording, and snapshots because you can’t record what you don’t see. 

To better understand the field of view, take a piece of paper and place it on a table. Write the letters FOV on the side facing up. The side that has FOV has a viewing angle of 180-degrees. Now fold the paper to make an “L.” The side of the paper that has FOV is a 90-degree angle. The side that has no writing has a field of view of 270-degrees. 

Finally, crumple the paper into a ball, and throw it away. 

In general, doorbells should have a field of view of 180-degrees or more. Make sure your doorbell has a wide angle and the features you need. 

3. What recording length do you need?

Recording length is the length of time your doorbell records after detecting motion. These times will vary based on the manufacturer, the lens used, and the technology used in the camera. The recording length can also change based on how the camera is being powered.

If you buy a camera that has too short of a recording length, then you may miss the action. If you have a camera that has a recording length that is too long, you may be wasting the cameras’ battery

Before buying a camera check the camera recording length. I’ve found that a recording length of a camera should be at least 30 seconds. In general, the longer the recording time the better, as long as it doesn’t reduce the battery life a lot.

4. What is the video resolution?

Simply stated, video or snapshot resolution is how clear the picture is when it’s taken. Video resolution is most commonly associated with your TV picture. Currently, there are three resolution categories: standard definition, High definition, and ultra-high definition. 

Most of the cameras on the market will be high definition. Within HD, there are a number of resolutions. For example, you may see 720p, 960p, and 1080p. 

Video resolution is important because it helps with identifying people, places, and things. The higher the definition, the better you will be able to see little things like scars, marks, or tattoos.

If all other things are equal, the higher the resolution the better. While UHD maybe be available, currently, there isn’t enough difference between UHD and HD to justify the price increase.

5. Does the doorbell work as a standalone?

Another question to consider is if the doorbell can work independently or does it have to be apart of a system. There are a number of doorbells that will only work a part of a security system. This means you will have to purchase a complete system, with professional installation in order for the doorbell to work.

A camera that can work independently may save on monthly costs, and allow you to complete a self-installation. These cameras may cost more upfront, but may not have a high monthly fee.

If you decide to purchase a camera that is apart of a system, be aware of the monthly or yearly costs. These cameras may be low cost or free but will come with a monthly cost.

Personally, I wanted a camera that worked independently of my security camera system. I was concerned with having all of my security eggs in one basket. Also, I didn’t want to be locked into a security system provider. I felt the more hardware we had with our system, the more difficult it will be to change provider. 

6. What are your installation options?

In general, security doorbells can be installed using the existing batteries, the camera battery or both. Before buying a camera decide how you will power the camera. There are benefits to powering the camera each way.

The main benefit of using the existing wires is that you don’t have to worry about the camera battery dying. The wires will power the camera as long as there is power to the home. Another benefit is you don’t have to cover the hole left by removing the old battery.

One benefit of using the camera battery is you can place the camera where you think it should be. Moving the camera can increase the field of view and detect motion sooner.

Another benefit of using a camera with a battery is you don’t have to worry about dealing with your homes’ electricity. If the thought of working with electrical wires makes you nervous, then find a camera with a battery.

This is a personal preference, but I chose a camera that has the option to use electricity or battery. I am currently using the battery because I wanted to place the camera a little higher. 

7. Where are the recordings stored?

When your doorbell records a motion or ring, the recordings have to be saved somewhere. You have two options for storing recordings: locally, or in the cloud. There are benefits to storing recordings in each place. 

If a recording is stored locally, it means that it is stored on a hard drive or SD card. A recording that is stored locally can only be accessed locally. This is both a strength and a weakness. The benefit of storing recordings locally is that the recordings are more secure. The weakness is that local recording has to be manually shared to friends family, etc.

Cloud storage is when a recording is saved on the manufacturer’s hard drive. The customer simply configures the save settings, and the company takes care of the rest. The benefit of using cloud storage is that you don’t need to use your own hard drive. Also, another benefit is it is easier to share the recordings with friends and family.

There are also a few drawbacks to using cloud storage as well. One drawback is the limited amount of time you can keep the recordings. Companies may elect to delete recordings if they are greater than 6 months long. Another drawback is the potential for a monthly cost. Some security camera companies will charge you a monthly fee to store your recordings on their hard drives.

This is also a personal preference but I like the ability to store my recordings in the cloud, where I can access them anywhere and at any time

8. Are there any monthly costs?

This is an important question that customers forget to ask, and salespeople forget to mention. The question is Are there any additional monthly costs, and if there are, what do those costs cover?

As I mentioned in question number 7, there could be an additional cost to store your recordings on the the cloud. Also, a company way charge a low monthly convenience or maintenance fee. 

Also, some companies have multiple fee tiers, which increase the number of features the more you pay. For example, the free tier unlocks 5 days of free cloud storage. While a $10 tier may unlock a 6 month unlimited storage.

Personally, I pay a monthly fee with my doorbell, it is a low cost, but I don’t like paying the additional cost. Find a doorbell with no monthly fee, or one that has a low monthly fee with all of the features you need.

9. What is the operating temperature you need?

Another tip to finding the best doorbell for your home is finding out the operating temperature range that the camera is able to work within. Here in the upper Midwest, we can experience winters as cold as -15 degrees Fahrenheit. There are a number of cameras that will not work at that temperature. 

All sorts of weird things can happen if you purchase a camera that doesn’t work for your climate. Everything from reduced battery life, to a frozen picture can occur if you install a camera that isn’t right for your weather.

Before buying a camera, review the highest and lowest temperatures from the last few years. Find a camera that still works in these conditions. 

10. How important is the price?

Price is the first thing I looked at when deciding on a doorbell. But price shouldn’t be the first and last question you ask when deciding on a camera. Price should be the deciding factor when you’ve found 3 or 4 doorbells that meet all of your other needs. 

When thinking about price, thinking about the total cost of ownership. The total price should include the upfront cost, installation costs, and monthly service costs. Now use the total cost of ownership to decide which camera has the best price.

Another way to look at price is to think of value. Will the chances of your home be robbed be reduced if you have a security camera? If your home is robbed, what will be the cost to replace the stolen items?

11. How good is the mobile application? 

The mobile application may be the most important feature of any security camera system. 90% of my interactions with my security camera is through the mobile app. 

Mobile applications have a number of features that can make or break your user experience. Consider these features when deciding on a doorbell security camera

  • Can you configure your camera through the app?
  • Can you view live events through the app?
  • Do you have the ability to view recorded video through the app?
  • How difficult is the app to navigate?

Before buying a doorbell, check user reviews for their thoughts on the cameras mobile app. Check a few different websites including the manufacturer’s website and Amazon to get a full picture.

12. Are there any push notifications?

Push notifications are sent to your phone from your camera or another. These notifications can be text messages or notifications that pop up of your home screen. 

Push notifications are important because they will let you know if someone is at the door. With push notifications, you will never miss a motion or a knock at the door.

Also, find a doorbell that allows you to change the sensitivity of the push notifications. There are a number of doorbells that allow you to turn off notifications for a period of time if you don’t want to be interrupted.

13. Are add-ons worth it?

Doorbell add-ons are different products that companies will see to “enhance” the functionality of your doorbell. These add-ons include, solar panels, special covers, etc. 

The question is, will these add-ons help the camera do its job better, or are you wasting your money. I can tell you from personal experience that some add-ons are definitely worth the price. For example, I have a doorbell that is powered by a battery, I purchased a solar panel that attaches to the doorbell and I haven’t needed to charge it yet.

I recommend buying the add-ons 6 months after buying the doorbell. Waiting about 6 months will let you know if you really need the add-on, or was it a part of a larger impulse purchase.

14. Will the camera fit where you want it?

The cameras on the market come in all different shapes, sizes, and weights. In addition, every house is configured slightly different based on things like canopies, screen doors, etc. 

Before setting your sights on a doorbell, take a few minutes and do the following:

  • Map out the location of the new doorbell
  • Measure the location of the new doorbell
  • Measure the location of the old doorbell
  • When measuring, write down the length, width, and height of each location

Now that you have a few measurements, look for cameras that will fall within those specifications. One of the worst things you can do is fall in love with a camera, but it won’t fit where you need it. 

15. How well does it integrate with other products?

This question is really a multiple part question. First, how well does it integrate with security systems? Second, how well does it integrate with virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. Third. do you want it to?

These should all be important factors when deciding on a doorbell. If you already have a security system, check with the security camera to see which ones integrate with their services. Only connect the two if it doesn’t add an additional monthly fee.

Virtual assistants are becoming a larger part of everyday life. Just this morning, my wife asked Amazon “What is the weather for Sunday?” And without hesitation, Alexa was able to give the weather forecast. 

Smart doorbells have a similar feature. You may be able to say “Alexa, show me who’s at the door.” And without hesitation, your TV screen will change inputs to show you who is ringing your bell. 

The final question is: do you want Google or Amazon to have direct access to your front door? This is a question for consideration because virtual assistants are still relatively new and haven’t been perfected. Also, anyone with enough time can create “skills” to disrupt your connected device.

16. What is the audio quality?

Audio quality is also very important when deciding on your next doorbell. Many smart doorbells include a tiny microphone that is used to communicate with the person at your front door, and to hear what is happening during a motion alert.

Make sure you buy a camera that has a very good microphone. If you buy a doorbell with a poor microphone, you may experience distortion or audio cutting in and out. Another issue with poor audio quality is you will need to adjust your speakers in order to hear anything that is happening. 

17. How fast does the doorbell connect?

Another question to consider is how quickly the doorbell’s audio and video connect to your smartphone. In many cases, your doorbell is in a passive state waiting for something to happen. When something does happen, you want it to connect as fast as possible to make sure you don’t miss the event. 

The connection is especially important if the event is a push of the doorbell. You want to see who’s there as fast as possible to make sure you let that person on the other side of the door know you are home. Criminals have been known to ring the doorbell to see if there is a potential opportunity.

Find a doorbell that connects as fast as possible. Check out customer reviews on the product page to find the doorbells that have the least problems when connecting to your smartphone.

18. Does the doorbell provide two-way audio?

One of my favorite features of security doorbells is the two-way audio. Two-way audio provides the ability to send and receive voice messages through your doorbell. Cameras that have two-way audio have both a speaker and microphone in the body of the camera. 

This is my favorite feature for a number of reasons. Fist, you can appear to be home even when your not. Second, you can tell the door-to-door salesperson that you aren’t interested without leaving the couch. 

Get yourself, a camera that has two-way audio. You will be much happier not having to stop working on a task to tell someone you’re not interested.

19. How well does it see at night?

Another important question to ask is about night viewing. The ability for a camera to see at night depends on a few factors. First, what type of lighting is in or around the camera. Second, how many infrared LEDs are included in the camera’s body

I recommend two things: first, place your doorbell around a light source. This source can be a flood light, a domes light, really any type of light. Adding light will make it easier for the camera to pick-up color contrast.

Second, find a camera with multiple infrared LEDs. The LEDs will help the camera see further, thus picking up contrasts earlier. 

20. Does it detect motion?

Another important feature is the camera’s ability to detect motion. In very basic terms, motion detection happens when there is a change in infrared detection. Motion detection occurs when a large enough object enters or leaves the field of view. Once motion is detected, your camera begins to record the available motion zones.

I think motion detection is an important feature and a must have for any doorbell worth purchasing. The motion detection serves as an early alert for salespeople and criminals. Also, the recordings can begin far enough away that you can gather the entire person, not just what they want you to see. 

21. Does the motion detection have motion zones?

Motion zones provide the user the ability to set which areas in the cameras field of view the ability to create a notification and recording, and which ones don’t. Motion zones are perfect if you close to your neighbors but don’t want to be notified whenever they leave the house.

Similar to motion zones is the motion detection range. Some doorbells provide the ability to set the maximum distance motion is detected. This is nice if you live on a busy street and don’t want to be notified anytime a car drives by. 

Find a camera that has either motion zones, or the ability to set motion detection ranges. This will prevent false alerts and reduce the number of recordings you have to review.

22. Does the doorbell have theft protection?

Theft protection for your doorbell is important but not often discussed. Because most security cameras are located 9-feet or higher above ground, theft protection isn’t an issue. However, your doorbell will be low enough for anyone to grab. So the question is, how does the manufacturer prevent a criminal from grabbing the camera and running off?

Also, people may see an expensive looking piece of equipment just hanging around, and may see an opportunity. 

Look for cameras that either have built in theft protection, or have a policy in place to replace the stolen camera.

23. Does the doorbell have multiple alerts?

Another consideration when buying a doorbell is the doorbells ability to create multiple alerts within a short period of time. For example, let’s say your doorbell picks up a motion alert and begins recording. The person your camera is recording now rings the doorbell. What will happen to your doorbell?

Will your doorbell alert you to a new event, determine that the ring is apart of the same event, or nothing happens? 

This is an important feature that has flown under the radar. Make sure the doorbell you purchase generates a new notification for each event. Also, make sure the doorbell doesn’t miss events due to a cool down period. 

24. What is the Wi-Fi connection?

Most doorbells use one of two wireless frequencies: 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. There are a few differences between the two frequencies; first, the 2.4 GHz frequency is designed to work when the device is further away from the router. Second, 2.4 GHz has a slower performance its’ 5 GHz counterpart.

You will need to do one of two things. You can either find a doorbell that has the same frequency as your current router or match a router to your favorite doorbell. 

Some routers and doorbells work at either frequency, so it is important to check both your router and doorbell before making a purchase. 

25. Are the recordings sharable? 

The ability to share your recorded events with friends, family, and neighbors is a newer feature, but a feature I’ve seen used a lot in the past year. Once example of sharing recordings is when there was a suspicious vehicle driving around our neighborhood. One of my neighbors was able to post the car on social media within 5 minutes of the incident occurring

It turns out the people were looking for a friends house and where driving slow to read house numbers. 

As the above example has shown, the ability to share events can assist your neighborhood, and help fight crime. While this feature isn’t a must-have, it can be a deciding factor when deciding between two cameras. 

26. How well does the doorbell remove background noise?

Another question to consider is how well your camera removes background noise when it is recording an event? Can you clearly hear what the person is saying, or will you ear the driving by and the kids playing?

When purchasing a doorbell, look for ones that state they move background noise. Then, review YouTube videos to see how much of the background noise they are able to remove.

27. How easy is it to install?

This is by far my most important question. How easy it the doorbell to install for a person that likes to do everything himself?

Installation includes the time it takes to connect the doorbell to your router, and how long it takes to mount the hardware and hang the doorbell.

If you are installing a doorbell using the wireless battery, then the installation should take less than one hour. The installation will take a little longer if you are dealing with batteries, as you will need to turn off the breaker, connect the camera, then turn the breaker back on.

If you have to pay for this installation, it may not be worth the hazel. 

28. Does the doorbell provide snapshots, recordings, or both?

When purchasing a doorbell, decide if a snapshot or a recording is most important to you. A camera that takes snapshots will take one and three still images of the viewing area. 

A camera that creates recordings of events will take videos of a predetermined length. I like the cameras that record videos as they capture the duration of the event. In addition, you can make still images of the recordings. Finally, recordings are nice because they are usually accompanied by audio.

29. Any special equipment required?

Some doorbells require additional equipment or special phones to work. The more equipment you have more opportunities for failure. Also, the more equipment, the higher the chances something will be lost or stolen.

I recommend buying a doorbell that does not require additional equipment to work. If the doorbell doesn’t work with just your smartphone or existing tablet, it probably lacks other important features as well.

30. How advanced is the doorbell?

After you have made a list of important features you need for purchasing a doorbell, decide what additional features would be nice to have. For example, one of the newest features is face recognition. 

Do you need these advanced features, or will not having them create a situation in which you will need to buy a new doorbell in 3 years.

31. Can the doorbell unlock your door, do you want that?

Another new feature is the ability to connect your doorbell to your smart lock. Personally, I am a little weary when it comes to who, and what can unlock my front door. 

Take into consideration the companies history with security breaches when deciding on this feature.

32. Can you make it pretty?

The last, and possibly least important feature, is the ability to change the color of the doorbell. Some doorbells come with multiple face plates to match the style of the house.

This may be important if you have found multiple cameras that meet your needs and you need one thing to separate the two.

Bonus: 33. Does your doorbell look like a doorbell?

One strange thing that I’ve encountered with my doorbell is people don’t know it’s a doorbell. They will knock on the door, then when I answer, will say “you don’t have a doorbell.” Respond, “it’s right here.” 

Make sure the doorbell looks like a doorbell or you will find yourself answering the same question. You could also put a sign on your doorbell, but that might not be necessary.

Conclusion

These are my 33 questions to ask yourself before buying a doorbell. What do you think? Did I miss any? let me know in the comment section below!

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