The smart home is getting smarter every day, with new gadgets offering ways to smarten up the most mundane household devices. Even doorbells.
What once was a little, nondescript buzzer can now be a window to the outside world, packing in a camera so that you can see who's there from your smartphone – and even talk to them without opening the door (or yelling through it).
The Nest Hello just released in the UK and follows Ring's upgraded Video Doorbell 2, offering a pair of appealing options that vary significantly in terms of design, installation demands, and overall features. Which is the best connected ringer for your soon-to-be-smarter door? Here's what we think, based on our reviews.
Design: Hello simplicity
As seen with its smart thermostats, Nest's calling card is sleek and simplistic in a very Apple-esque manner. So it's no surprise that the Nest Hello very much embodies the same ethos, albeit for a device slapped onto the front of your door.
It's tall and curvy, featuring a visible fisheye camera at the top and a big button at the bottom to be pressed by visiting fingers. A modest Nest logo and LED sit in the middle, with the latter pulsating and and changing colour when pressed or when it senses motion.
Ring's Video Doorbell 2 really can't compete on looks. It's a bit chunkier and certainly less refined; if you remember the days before smartphones, you might find the Ring's design reminiscent of the Sony Ericsson T610. The camera sits in the black portion up top, while the glowing button is right above the Ring logo on the lower segment.
Your tastes might swing either way, but the Nest Hello has an alluring elegance to it that the more utilitarian Ring 2 doesn't quite match.
Verdict: Nest Hello
Installation: Hassle or no?
Now here's where you'll see pretty dramatic differences between the two devices: the Nest Hello requires professional installation, unless you're handy with electrical wires (please don't test your DIY confidence in this regard). And the Ring 2 doesn't.
The Nest Hello needs those wires running through your wall and out to a power lead going into an indoor wall socket, which means a fair bit of work and likely a helping hand from an electrician. If you don't have a trusted professional for this need, you can pay Nest an extra £100 to send a contractor from an independent third-party. Yeah, it's not cheap.
Meanwhile, the Ring Video Doorbell 2 takes about 10 minutes to get sorted – all you need is a drill and you'll be able to get it mounted. The Ring 2 uses a rechargeable battery, which should last about six months on a charge, so it's easy to just slide in the cell and get up and running. That said, you're out of luck if the battery dies while on holiday - no such worry with the Nest Hello.
That said, you can hardwire the Ring 2 if you please, although the cost-effectiveness of battery operation is a difficult perk to ignore. There are benefits to both approaches, but in terms of ease and cost of installation, this category is a clear win for the Ring 2.
Verdict: Ring Video Doorbell 2
Features: Nest goes beyond
Both of these doorbells are, of course, built to record video of your entrance area and help you keep tabs on who's coming to your door – and what they're up to. That can be helpful if you're having packages nabbed, or if unwanted visitors keep appearing. And it might be a helpful deterrent in both cases, just having a camera in sight.
The Ring Video Doorbell 2 begins recording when someone presses the doorbell, or optionally, when it senses motion in front of the device – and you'll get an instant alert on your phone, letting you pop into the Ring app to see what's happening and chat with whoever's outside.
You can tweak the motion-sensing zones from within the app, in case you're getting too many false alerts, although you may just have to deal with those if you have a shared walkway or live in a busy area with a lot of pedestrians or activity out front. The Ring 2 also lets you tune into a live view, in case you're expecting someone or something… or need a bit of entertainment.
Nest's doorbell essentially starts with that same feature set but then goes deeper. It records constantly if you have a Nest Aware subscription, meaning you can dig back into the footage in case something happens that you didn't get an alert for.
Beyond that, Nest Hello can also tell people apart from cats and dogs (and other creatures), plus with a Nest Aware subscription, it can also recognise people's faces. Whether that's friends, family, a roommate, or a trusted delivery carrier, you can get smart notifications and relax knowing that there's no funny business happening out front.
Better yet, while the Nest Hello and Ring 2 both let you carry on a live conversation with whoever's outside, the Nest brings the added bonus of pre-recorded canned responses – meaning you can just tap to tell the postman to leave the package, rather than psyching yourself up for potential mind-numbing small talk.
Verdict: Nest Hello
Video: Clear differences
The Nest Hello also comes ahead in terms of video quality and reliability. It records at a crisp 1600x1200 (at 15 frames per second) with HDR, delivering clear, lifelike images straight to your device – plus it's at 4:3 aspect ratio with a 160° field of view, offering a head-to-toe image of whoever might be in view. You can also swipe or tap to change what's in view.
And not only is the image of a higher quality, but as mentioned, it can also learn faces and recognise people over time. That's handy.
The Ring Video Doorbell 2 doesn't quite match up. It records at a more-than-respectable 1080p at the same 15fps, but doesn't have the same richness and clarity as the Nest Hello. And it's at a 16:9 aspect ratio (still 160° field of view), which means you'll see more to the sides but less up and down. Your call on whether that's a meaningful difference for your setup or not.
That said, we found the performance to be a bit patchy – even with a router mere feet from the doorbell. As our reviewer wrote, "Sometimes, the video quality is fine and I'll get near instant alerts, but others the feed will degrade into a blocky mess or will simply be too slow to let me see or talk to the person who's pressed the button."
The situation improved when we added in the £50 Chime Pro accessory, which acts like a Wi-Fi extender and also packs in different indoor chime options, but it didn't completely solve the issues. The Nest Hello just worked better in our experience.
Verdict: Nest Hello
Verdict: Hello Nest
The £229 Nest Hello costs £50 more and comes with the potential added burden of hardwired installation. On the other hand, you might be coaxed to add the £50 Chime Pro to the £179 Ring 2, making the entry price about even – before installation, of course.
And there are added costs. If you want the full range of features on both devices, you'll need to pony up for a subscription. Nest Aware starts at £4/month and adds the facial recognition, 24/7 recording, a video history vault, and more. You'll get a 30-day free trial to start things off, and honestly, you'll want to subscribe. Just budget that in before you buy the thing.
On the Ring side of things, you can pay £25/year (or £2.50/month) for access to a video vault, which lets you store clips or watch any that you missed in the moment. It's less money going forward, but also less feature-rich of a service.
That ethos really defines the comparison here: the Ring Video Doorbell 2 might cost you less money, but you don't get as many bonus features. The Nest Hello brings in more perks and abilities inside a more refined package, but you'll spend more on the device itself, monthly service, and - potentially - installation.
Considering the improved video quality and performance, however, we think the Nest Hello warrants the added investment. The Ring 2 is mostly solid, but the day-to-day reliability left us wanting. We didn't have those issues with the Nest Hello, and it's really a more appealing device and experience overall.
Winner: Nest Hello