The Tech Wrangler is a bi-weekly column in which Forbes Vetted deputy editor Dave Johnson explores the best values in consumer tech. These are not necessarily the least expensive products in their class, but represent the crossroad of price and performance—in other words, money well spent.
Whether you love smart home tech or you’re dubious about the idea of filling your house with cameras, speakers and voice assistants, you can probably agree that at the very least, smart doorbells are a pretty good idea. They let you see who’s on your porch—you can answer the doorbell and chat with a delivery guy from 1,000 miles away—and have a video record of everything that happens on your front steps. And while most smart doorbells work more or less the same, prices vary more or less. So what’s the smartest buy in a smart doorbell?
I’ve had a smart doorbell for years now and love the sense of security they offer—sure, a porch pirate might still steal my stuff, but I like to think my video doorbell offers a small amount of deterrence. And either way, I have a video record of what went down and who did it. On a more practical basis, a smart doorbell lets you answer the door remotely and get a notification when someone steps onto your property.
Most people know all about Ring’s line of doorbells—Ring, after all, is the smart doorbell that got its start on Shark Tank and is now sort of the Xerox or Roomba of video doorbells. But is Ring always the right choice? I’ve got my own hot take.
Ring Is A Little Too Pricey
As I alluded to earlier, when you say “smart doorbell” or “video doorbell,” most people think of Ring. And the company deserves that reputation: The brand’s various Ring models are generally excellent and have largely defined what we all now expect from a smart doorbell.
The latest version of the Ring Video Doorbell—the 2020 model—costs about $100, but you’ll almost certainly want the optional chime. That’s a gadget that plugs into an outlet somewhere inside your home and amplifies the ding-dong when someone presses the doorbell. Without the chime, you’ll need the hearing of a bat-dolphin hybrid to be able to hear the Ring through your door.
It’s relatively easy to install, but you’ll definitely need to screw it into your door or wall, which could be a no-no if you’re renting. Once set up, the Ring offers a nice 1080p HD display and can detect motion in front of the door to alert you to activity even before someone rings the bell. It has night vision mode for all-day monitoring and two-way audio so you can carry on a conversation as if it were an intercom. You can wire it into your home or rely the integrated battery. The battery runs for about six months, but to charge it up you need to remove the whole unit from the wall and carry it inside to plug in. Don’t like that? There are other Ring models that feature removable rechargeable battery packs instead.
Of course, we live in a subscription-based world now, and to get the most out of your Ring—like cloud storage of captured video—you’ll have to pay about $30 per year for a Ring Protect plan.
Wyze Is The Smarter Choice
As you can see, the Ring is fine. But I prefer the Wyze Video Doorbell Pro. Wyze might not be the best choice for everyone, but I’m willing to bet that it’s the right option for most people—and it certainly is for me. Why? Well, it delivers pretty much all the key features of the Ring at a better price, has a couple of better features and it’s even renter friendly.
So here’s the deal: Wyze bundles the chime (which you plug into an outlet inside the house) with the doorbell and offers both for $90 or less, depending upon where you purchase it. That saves you at least $40 compared to the Ring, and yet it still competes very, very well on a feature-for-feature basis. You can hardwire it to your home’s doorbell line or use the integrated battery (which, like Ring, lasts for about 6 months on a single charge).
Unlike the Ring, though, you have the option to stick it on the door with powerful adhesive tape. Sure, you can screw it in—installation takes only a few minutes—but as a renter these days, I appreciate being able to install smart home gadgets without putting holes in walls.
And while Ring offers a 155-degree wide-angle video, Wyze goes all-in on a fisheye view—it lets you see all the way to the ground to glimpse packages that have been delivered and head-to-foot views of visitors. And because it supports faster 5GHz Wi-Fi (the Ring doorbell is limited to slower 2.4GHz), it plays better audio and video, with fewer glitches and less buffering.
The list goes on. Wyze has a slightly higher resolution than Ring (1440 vs 1080), while also including night vision and two-way audio. Starting to see why I prefer the Wyze Video Doorbell? Finally, the icing on the cake: The Cam Plus subscription that gives you access to your videos from the cloud is $15 per year—half the price of Ring.
It’s Possible To Spend Too Little On a Smart Doorbell
As I often say, I believe in finding the best value, not just the cheapest product. That’s why there are definitely video doorbells out there that I don’t especially recommend.
Consider the Kangaroo Smart Photo Doorbell, for example. I’ve tested this product extensively and had hoped to be able to recommend it. After all, it’s under $30, akin to an impulse buy. But it is far too limited.
On paper, Kangaroo has some compelling selling points, like a renter-friendly stick-on installation, motion detection, a bundled chime and cloud storage for a modest $2 per month. But Kangaroo is a photo doorbell—it takes a sequence of low resolution (640 x 480-pixel) images and plays them like a GIF animation. It’s enough to let you know something happened on your porch, but it’s far too low res (and easily overwhelmed by direct sunlight) to be practical as a smart doorbell. I’d recommend giving this a pass, even for under $30.
What do you think? Tell me if you agree with my opinion, and what other essential tech I should write about by nudging me on Twitter at @davejoh.