You should really get a video doorbell: These three are our favorite

CNN —  

Video doorbells offer a simple starting point for those interested in smart home security, and offer a little extra peace of mind for anyone anxious about unwanted visitors or stolen packages. For the last few weeks we’ve been testing an assortment of video doorbells from various companies, assessing features, subscription plans and capabilities. We found three that should fit your needs, no matter how much information you want on the world beyond your front door.

Best overall video Doorbell

Ring’s Video Doorbell 2 Pro uses radar to give you highly accurate motion alerts, has stellar looking video with a wide, tall field of view and crisp audio, and can even show you on a map the route someone took as they made their way to your door.

Best Ring alternative

The Arlo Wired Video Doorbell has a sleek design and is easy to set up, plus it gives you clear video, a multitude of settings to fine-tune the video quality, and an affordable price.

Best wireless video doorbell

The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is ideal for someone who wants a wireless battery-powered doorbell, and still wants the added peace of mind and the security of Ring’s quality video capture, alerts, and extensive feature set.

Best overall video doorbell: Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2 ($249.99;

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The Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2 has a tall, wide field of view that captures everything at your door — it’s a setup we wish every video doorbell offered. Plus, a robust set of sensors, including radar, gives you not just accurate alerts but the ability to reconstruct the path a visitor took to your door, handy for checking to see if anybody was casing the joint. It’s the most expensive video doorbell we tested, but we think the rich feature set is worth it.

As noted in our full review, installation of the Doorbell Pro 2 took us about 15 minutes. It’s a hardwired doorbell, and it works with your existing chime when you install the included Pro Power Kit. We think the Pro 2’s small footprint and design is more appealing than the larger Ring Video Doorbell 3 and Doorbell 4. The entire installation process is well documented in the Ring app, complete with troubleshooting steps and all of the required tools — save for an electric drill, which we highly recommend — are included in the box.

The Doorbell Pro 2’s super-wide, tall field of view (150 degrees by 150 degrees of coverage) gives you a head-to-toe perspective on your porch, perfect for spotting packages and identifying visitors. The Arlo Wired Video Doorbell and Logitech’s Circle View Doorbell offer similarly wide fields of view, and frankly we feel all video doorbells should offer a similar perspective. Both livestreamed video and captured clips were clear and free of any pixelation. Color night vision makes it easy to identify what you’re looking at in clips captured in darkness. Pro 2 leverages its smarts to record a short clip of video just before any movement is detected. The pre-roll video gives you information about what was going on just before the camera was triggered, and is only found in Ring’s higher-end doorbells like the Pro 2 or Video Doorbell 4.

The Pro 2 can detect motion at “any distance,” according to Ring, but they suggest limiting its motion detection to only check for movement at up to 30 feet away, and consistently and reliably detected events within the specified range we set in the app, and didn’t send any false alerts. This is thanks to the radar technology inside, but also due to how far Ring’s motion detection algorithms have come. False motion alerts were few and far between on any Ring doorbell we tested, much improved since we began testing Ring products a couple of years ago.

Ring’s aptly named Bird’s Eye View uses satellite mapping data and the doorbell’s onboard radar to map the path a person or animal took as they approached the doorbell. You can then view that map — in real time or when viewing a recorded clip — to see if a person walked up straight to your door, across your yard or maybe to a window first before arriving at your door.

No Ring product can alert you when the camera detects a package and when the package is picked up. It’s a weird miss and is common on other doorbells. Google’s Nest Hello doorbell, for example, has had this feature for a few years now as long as you sign up for the Nest Aware monthly subscription service.

The Doorbell Pro 2, like the rest of Ring’s products, integrates with Amazon’s Alexa platform (which makes sense, as Amazon owns Ring) and Google Assistant. Meaning you can ask your Nest Hub or Echo Show 8 to show you a live feed from the Pro 2, or use your smart devices as electronic wireless chimes to alert you when someone rings the doorbell.

If you sign up for Ring’s Protect subscription service, you can turn on Alexa Greetings for the Pro 2, which allows Alexa to answer your door if you can’t get to it. The greetings are good, in theory, but in practice they’re confusing and awkward. The greeting will play, regardless if you’re home or not, whenever you don’t answer the doorbell ring in the mobile app. In our testing, in situations where we were home, visitors were greeted by Alexa, then told that we weren’t home and asked to leave a message before we got to the door. You can say, “Alexa, stop” to the Pro 2 in order to stop greetings after they’ve started, but we’d rather have greetings automatically turned on or off based on location.

Ring Protect, the company’s subscription service, starts at $3 per month or $30 per year. The basic paid plan covers a single camera, and video clips are saved for 60 days. You can download and share those, along with photos, and can enable people-only notifications as well as receive rich notifications that include a video clip in the alert. At $3 per month for a single video doorbell, Ring’s plan is affordable and in our opinion worth paying for.

For $10 a month or $100 a year, you can add as many cameras as you want along with 24/7 monitoring of Ring Alarm, the company’s home security system (and our overall pick in that category). This makes sense if you’re going to upgrade to a full system and want professional monitoring.

With sharp video that shows everything at your door, accurate motion detection that maps out people’s paths and an affordable base subscription, the Video Doorbell Pro 2 was an easy top pick for the best video doorbell in 2021.

While we think its products perform very well, and are often best in class, Ring has run into controversy given the company’s sharing practices and agreements with local police departments. At the beginning of June, Ring changed how police departments can obtain footage — requiring them to make any requests from Ring users public — adding accountability to the request process and mitigating some of the anxiety over their relationship with law enforcement.

Best Ring video doorbell alternative: Arlo Wired Video Doorbell ($119.99, originally $149.99;

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For those who find Ring’s relationship with law enforcement agencies across the US troubling, then Arlo’s Wired Video Doorbell is our top pick for best Ring alternative. For $149.99, Arlo’s solution pairs a sleek design with clear video and handy motion alerts.

Arlo not only delivers crisp and clear video, but it has an even wider-angle lens than the Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2. This allows you to see from the floor to the ceiling. The lens doesn’t have as pronounced a fish-eye view as other doorbells, which makes for better video. If you have a slower internet connection, you can reduce the quality down to 720p or 1080p from the default 1536p.

Installing the Wired Video Doorbell was a breeze. Remove your old doorbell, connect the included power kit to your existing chime and power up the doorbell. From there, fire up the Arlo app and follow the on-screen instructions. It also has a really sleek design, with a big, easy-to-press button that illuminates with a circle of LED lights as a person approaches the door. After a few seconds, the lights begin to fade and eventually turn off. Really nifty.

The Wired Doorbell has a maximum motion detection range of just over 16 feet, roughly half the distance of the Ring Pro 2. There’s a motion detection test built into the Arlo app that helps you figure out the ideal level to help eliminate errant alerts.

When a motion event is triggered, Arlo can identify multiple objects and label them. If a bird or a dog walks past the camera and it detects motion, the clip will be labeled “Animal” in the app — same goes for a person, vehicle or package.

Looking through the library of captured clips, there were a few occasions when Arlo labeled a clip of an animal as a person, but the great majority of clips were accurately identified and labeled.

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You’ll need to sign up for one of Arlo’s Smart subscription plans to take advantage of the object detection features, set activity zones and get access to view 30 days of video history. The Premier plan costs $2.99 per month for a single camera or $9.99 per month for up to five cameras. The Elite Arlo Smart plan ($4.99 per month for a single camera, or $14.99 per month for five cameras) offers all of the same features but stores up to 4K video if you have cameras that support that resolution (the Wired Video Doorbell doesn’t). You get a 90-day trial of Arlo Smart to test these features, if you’re a new customer.

Arlo works with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as the automation website If This Then That (IFTTT) so you can ask to see your front door on your Nest smart display or log every time someone rings your doorbell in a Google Sheet.

The Arlo Wired Video Doorbell is attractive, easy to install and set up and has a wide field of view that ensures you see everything you possibly can. Its monthly subscription includes object identification and high-quality video storage that make it worth the asking price.

Best wireless video doorbell: Ring Video Doorbell 4 ($199.99;

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The $199.99 Ring Video Doorbell 4 is an ideal option for renters or homeowners who might not want to make permanent modifications to their residences since it can be powered via removable batteries or a hardwired connection. And regardless of how you power the Video Doorbell 4, it offers all of the mainstay Ring features.

The Doorbell 4 delivered clear and crisp video with audio to match when we viewed the stream in real time or when alerts came through on our phone. We’re also pretty pleased with the quality of the alerts, as we didn’t receive any erroneous motion alerts from something like a leaf blowing by. Instead, alerts were properly triggered when a person appeared or when a package was delivered. Video quality was nearly on par with the Pro 2 and other Ring doorbells as well. And like the Pro 2, the Doorbell 4 gives you pre-roll video of the moments before a motion alert is triggered, to better tell you the full story of whatever happened.

Installation is simple, whichever method you choose. You can use rechargeable and removable batteries to power it, or hardwire it to your existing doorbell power and chime. It’s hard to estimate how long a battery will last on each charge, due to numerous factors such as motion alerts, recording frequency and so on. If there’s a standard outlet near where you’re installing the doorbell, you can purchase Ring’s Plug-In Adapter for $24.99 to keep the battery charged at all times. Alternatively, you can buy a second battery for $29.99 that you can have charged and ready to go.

Those opting for the rechargeable route can pair it with a Ring Chime to easily hear when someone is at the door. Like many of the other doorbells we tested, you can also pair the Doorbell 4 with Amazon Alexa and get notified on Echo devices when someone is at the door.

You might be asking yourself, well, what about the Video Doorbell 3? It’s $20 less and looks nearly identical, but you’ll miss out on the pre-roll video, which provides context around what triggered a motion alert. For our money, we’d spend the extra $20 and get the Video Doorbell 4.

How we tested

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Instead of drilling countless holes in our front door jamb, and in order to test nearly a dozen different video doorbells at the same time under identical conditions, we built a testing rig. We installed all of the video doorbells just as you would on the outside of a home, only instead of using existing doorbell wiring, we took advantage of plug-in power adapters to provide the necessary power to each unit. If a video doorbell could be hardwired, that’s what we used in order to provide a consistent experience.

We hung the testing rig on the outside of our house with the middle of the rig at a height of 48 inches, the recommended height for video doorbell installations. The area the doorbells overlook is what we’d classify as a medium-traffic area with people, pets and random animals crossing their path at all times of day.

After installing and going through the setup process for each respective video doorbell, we went through the settings and tried to match as many of them across the board as possible. For example, if a video doorbell allowed us to set an activity zone for it to monitor, we created one as big as the camera’s field of view.

Over the course of a few weeks, we would monitor which doorbells were picking up the same motion activities, be it our dogs being let out early in the morning or having someone drop off a package. We paid attention to how reliable any motion alert labeling was and how soon a motion alert would arrive on our iPhone, iPad or Pixel 5.

We also tested how reliable two-way talk is by having a family member press the doorbell button, answering it on our mobile device and then holding a conversation.

We took into account the subscription model for each video doorbell, if applicable. Lastly, the warranty was considered when rating the results.

Others we tested

Kangaroo Doorbell Camera + Chime ($24.99, originally $39.98;

If you want a video doorbell to serve as a deterrent and don’t care about fancy features, the Kangaroo Doorbell Camera deserves a look. It doesn’t record video or even let you livestream your doorbell when someone rings it. Instead, you’ll receive an animated GIF of whoever or whatever triggered a motion alert or rang your doorbell. Included in the box is a wireless chime you plug in inside your home.

For $2 or $4 per month you get 365-day cloud storage of any captured content, a 90-day activity timeline and Kangaroo will reimburse you up to $300 for a stolen package when you subscribe to the lower-priced plan, or $800 for any stolen packages on the higher-priced plan.

Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell ($199.99;

As far as features are concerned, the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell nearly matched its wired counterpart. However, its range of motion detection is much shorter at 9 feet and the overall design is bulky. It’s by far the thickest video doorbell we tested and it sticks out quite a bit in our testing rig.

If you don’t have the option of installing a wired video doorbell (perhaps you’re renting and your landlord would prefer you didn’t make any permanent alterations) and don’t want a Ring product on the front of your house, then the Arlo Essential Wireless Video Doorbell is a good pick.

Logitech Circle View Doorbell ($199.99;

Logitech’s Circle View Doorbell is the only Apple HomeKit-compatible doorbell we tested. Every interaction, from setup to livestreaming to video recording, is done through the Home app on your iPhone or iPad. Tight integration with Apple’s HomeKit platform, including notifications on your Apple TV complete with a picture-in-picture live video feed, make it attractive to Apple fans. If you pay for extra iCloud storage — 200GB or higher tiers — the Circle View Doorbell will use Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video service to store video for easy access without counting against your iCloud storage plan.

During testing we experienced random disconnect alerts followed a few seconds later by an alert letting us know the doorbell had reconnected to our home’s Wi-Fi network, which is something we’ve experienced with a personal Circle View Doorbell we have installed at our front door. Otherwise, we like the Circle View’s wide field of view, and if you’re invested in Apple’s ecosystem, the Circle Doorbell is worth looking at.

Nest Hello ($149.99, originally $229.99;

Google’s Nest Hello video doorbell has been around for a while, but it still holds its own against the competition. It’s one of the more attractive doorbells we tested, and as you would expect it integrates nicely with Google Assistant and the rest of the Nest lineup.

For $6 per month you can add as many Nest cameras to your account as you want, access 30 days’ worth of video history and get access to more advanced features like activity zones and intelligent alerts for things like package deliveries, and you can turn your smart displays and speakers into security devices.

Ring Video Doorbell Wired ($59.99;

Ring’s Video Doorbell Wired is a capable and impressive offering, especially when you consider the price. Its compact design makes it easy to install even in the tightest of spaces.

As its name implies, it’s a wired installation, but it doesn’t support your existing chime. Instead, you’ll need to buy a Ring Chime that not only plays a sound when motion is detected or someone presses the doorbell button, but it also acts as a hub to keep your doorbell connected to your home’s network.

Ring Video Doorbell (2020) ($99.99;

Ring’s Video Doorbell has the company’s iconic design and can run on a battery or be hardwired. It’s equipped with adjustable motion zones and settings, and captures 1080p video. At $99 it’s affordably priced, and is easy to install and set up. The battery isn’t removable, however, meaning you’ll have to remove the entire doorbell from the mounting plate to recharge it.

Ring’s subscription service, Ring Protect, costs $3 per month for 60-day video history, people-only motion alerts and improved notifications. If you want a Ring Video Doorbell but are shopping on a budget, this one is worth a look.

Ring Video Doorbell 3 ($179.99;

The Ring Video Doorbell 3 is a slightly less capable version of the Ring Video Doorbell 4. For $20 less you’re giving up only one feature: pre-roll video previews. In other words, the Video Doorbell 3 lacks the ability to record and play back a short clip of what happened before the motion alert was triggered.

It does include, however, a removable battery pack, hardware connections, HD video with night vision, dual-band Wi-Fi support and interchangeable faceplates. It’s a big step up from the standard Ring Video Doorbell, thanks to its added features.

Eufy Video Doorbell 2K (Wired) ($199.99;

Eufy’s Video Doorbell Wired aims to trade out the monthly subscription cost for a model that offers internal storage (4GB, to be exact) and even recording at 2K resolution delivers room for about two weeks of videos. Like our two picks, and many others on this list, it offers a wide-angle view in a relatively small build. We had some issue getting it to properly identify items in the frame, but the video quality was both crisp and clear. This doorbell won’t work with your home’s current chime but includes a wireless chime in the box to make up for it.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: