Imagine being able to see who is ringing your front door, even when you’re not home. How amazing would it be to have a two-way conversation with that person? How about the added layer of security of recording video when someone approaches your door, even if they aren’t supposed to be there? All of this is possible, and not in some distant future but right now. In this blog post we’ll review the two premier brands and their three collective products, comparing the Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell versus SkyBell 2.0 Wi-Fi Video Doorbell versus the SkyBell HD Wi-Fi Video Doorbell. We’ll also peak at the up-coming August Doorbell Cam recently announced.
Although both of these brands offer products which are quite similar, there do exist a few key differences in both quality and function that separate them. When we started off, we began with the SkyBell 2.0 testing at my house, and my friend Holly tested the Ring at her dwelling. Then during our testing the SkyBell HD was released so I tested that, too. And at time of publishing there is the new August Doorbell Cam, which isn’t yet actually on the market and is expected to ship in 5-7 weeks per the manufacturer’s web site. We tested what we could get our hands on, and here is what we learned about each device.
FORWARD: In the case of all the hardware here these devices are larger in size than your Standard Door Bell Button units. Before you purchase either, make sure to check out the size/specs of the unit that interests you. Some of them require wiring, and all of them have a footprint that is most likely larger than your current button.
In the case of Holly’s home, either device would have fit nicely in the physical space, but she did not have existing low-voltage wiring and had no choice but to go wireless. Of the units tested here, only one of them allows fully wireless function.
At my home both my exterior doors are all recessed, rather than flush with the exterior brick. My existing door bell buttons on both my exterior doors sit in a rather narrow section, within the door jamb. Due to this I was actually unable to fit ANY of the units we tested in this space without some modification or trickery.
You’ll see that I had to create a very pathetic looking wooden structure (shown in my photos) in order to even test the SkyBell devices at my home. This was the only way to (temporarily) test the unit since it was too big to fit down in the existing door bell location.
If I were going to keep a unit permanently I would have to devise something (perhaps from wood, or even metal) that would work similarly to my home-brew 90-degree wooden block. But this would add both hassle, and cost, for this custom resolution.
So again, depending on where your door bell button needs to go, as well as whether or not you have wiring going to your buttons (as we’ll talk more about later), these details will dictate which, if either, of these units are feasible for you. Ciao!
SkyBell 2.0 (non-HD)
Let’s get the biggest difference out the way, which ultimately determined which unit Holly would test and which one I would. By design the SkyBell 2.0 (and their HD unit) are only compatible with low-voltage transformer power. You can read more about the power options they have HERE, but this immediately meant that only I would be able to test the SkyBell Wi-Fi Video Doorbell. Holly’s house lacks a hard-wired system, but mine has a low-voltage setup already. Note that the Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell can accept power, too- but can also run off just battery if you prefer. It is also the ONLY unit we test here that can run fully on battery, even though many of the other units have battery backups built into them.
You’ll see in my photos below that I also purchased a new chime/bell because my existing one was old and not working so great. Our home has a front and side door, with a doorbell button at each location. For testing purposes here I installed the SkyBell 2.0 at the front door location only. Installation was quick and easy, and I’ve provided various photos captured during the initial software setup process in the gallery below.
Overall things seemed to go pretty smoothly during setup, with the hardest part being the fact that, as noted in the section prior, the device doesn’t fit in the intended location at my particular home. Assuming you have the proper wiring, and a wide enough space to mount the SkyBell 2.0, the installation in total should take less than 20 minutes. Once you’re done adding the device to the app you can configure options, such as allowing the bell to alert you not just if the button is pressed, but also if it is simply triggered by motion.
Immediately after getting the unit setup the first thing I did was request a live feed. This is one of the key differences between the Ring and the SkyBell 2.0 or SkyBell HD, where the SkyBell-brand units allow on-demand access to the camera in the unit. I immediately noticed connectivity issues, even though my phone was showing a 50% or better wifi signal in the same spot. Even though my SpeedTest results indicated more than ample connection to the front porch, the camera continued to under-perform. Even after I extended my network connection using a new Apple AirPort Express Base Station as a wifi extender, I still had issues.
This was the beginning of the end for me, as the app would drop my connection constantly. There was a 64-bit compatibility upgrade for the app released during the tail-end of my testing, but it was too little, too late. As you’ll see below, the video quality was sub-par (640×480), something that the new HD-version covers in the next section. But even beyond the low-resolution, the video feed still suffered from odd discoloring. Add the poor connectivity and you’re left with a poor overall user experience. For example, during my testing I danced around in front of the camera, but it would only rarely trigger a motion event. Another complaint is that, as shown in my Apple Watch screen capture, the notification when motion was triggered was the SAME notification as someone actually ringing the bell.
Above are various photos ranging from installation, to unboxing, to testing of the SkyBell 2.0 Wi-Fi Video Doorbell device. Below is a short video taken at night, to show off just how poor the video quality could potentially be with this unit. Day time video was only marginally better. Check it out:
Overall, I really wanted to like the SkyBell 2.0 Wi-Fi Video Doorbell, since it is a sleek looking device with a simple, intuitive app. And right now it is $149, the cheapest of the three items reviewed here. However, the poor video and still-photo quality (in both daytime and night modes), the connectivity issues, the lack of proper notifications (it would fail to alert me when someone rang the door bell 50% of the time), made for an overall underwhelming experience. Note that both SkyBell units tested are listed (at least the HD is listed) as works with Nest, though I was unable to provide a test of these features at this time since at home I don’t have Nest Aware services at this time. Since SkyBell unveiled a new, better unit, that was next on my list to test.
It is interesting to take note that the new SkyBell HD unit has a completely new app to download rather than using the same old iOS app. It is also worth noting that the new HD version is iOS compatible only, as of this publication (November 2015). Though I suspect they might eventually release an Android or Windows Mobile app, this could be a limiting factor right now for those who purchase. And like the SkyBell 2.0, you need to have power. This unit cannot run wirelessly like the Ring can.
This unit is quite similar to their prior unit, but there are definitely some note worthy improvements. First ones we observed was during setup, with a nice new bracket that mounts on the wall. I’m a big fan of the screw-down terminals they added for the wiring, the included drill bit and all the hardware. In general the kit included to get this device up-and-running is much improved from the prior generation.
It is necessary for me to point out that my unit arrived not working correctly. It didn’t want to hold a charge, so I sent it back to SkyBell. They tested my SkyBell HD and ultimately charged it up, and returned it. Since then it has functioned fine, and there has even been a software update that improved things. But still I want to mention that my unit was not functioning correct until they tested & charged it back at HQ.
Because there is a new/different application for the SkyBell HD versus the old 2.0 unit, there are some good (and bad) changes. For example, you can now see the exterior temperature listed (See gallery below), though it varied greatly from what my outside thermostat read, so I didn’t give it much trust. Setup was equally as simple as before, but the overall user interface is cleaner and nicer.
However, gone is the feature to export your recorded videos. Not only can you no longer save it to your camera roll, there isn’t even a share function like some competitors have. Additionally, there is no indication as to how long the videos are, nor scrubbing during playback. All in all the video quality was improved, but these other changes were for the worse.
Here are some photos taken unboxing, during setup, and operation:
With the SkyBell HD you still have on-demand video, which is a very nice feature if you want to check on your home even when there is no motion or button press. When viewing your feed of recordings you can see each is labeled (such as User Watching, Motion Activated, Button Press). Loading up a video for later playback is quick, as was answering a call, typically. There were a few times that I would see the app lock/freeze, or that establishing a connection took a while. And ending a call also was very slow, sometimes taking over a half-minute to complete & exit. (See photos above, showing this laggy process)
My wife loved the fact that you can change the LED color on the top and face of the unit, and immediately requested that I change it to match her purple front door. At night this was a particularly attractive option, where you could pick a color from a matrix not much unlike the Philips Hue color bulbs we have at home. During a call the button was solid white, however, probably to help illuminate the face of the caller.
Overall we found the SkyBell HD was a decent unit, but it wasn’t our top pick. Even with the updates provided to the app, it doesn’t have the granular adjustments the Ring offers, it lacks sharing of video snippets right now, and it just felt a bit less polished of a user experience. It would rate as “good but not great” if we had to summarize the whole device experience. We’d rank the video quality as being just a slight notch below the Ring, but definitely very close.
Ultimately many people don’t have a hard-wired doorbell, and since either version of the SkyBell requires such, it eliminates a certain group of potential users. If you do have hard-wiring available, and purchase the new SkyBell HD unit, you at least get closer to the Ring in quality, but as you’ll see next, the Ring still reigns supreme.
Since many homes don’t have low-voltage wiring in place for a door bell, the only unit in this test that would work for you is the Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell which can operate purely off the battery inside. This was the case for my friend Holly, who tested the Ring at her home where her prior/existing doorbell was already a wireless system. There are plenty of wireless doorbell systems on the market today, but the Ring adds many features that go beyond the usual RF-type device, and is worth your consideration.
Setup was overall the same experience as the SkyBell, with a simple and straight forward experience to connect to your home wifi. However, it became immediately obvious that the quality of the Ring door bell’s iOS app we tested was far superior to the competition. Sadly, the Ring lacks the ability to call upon the video feed on-demand, though they have promised this in a future software update. When comparing the SkyBell 2.0 & HD to the Ring, the Ring’s iOS app blows away the competition.
If you are installing your Ring entirely wireless then keep in mind you’ll need to have a smart phone capable of receiving the button press alerts. If you want a noise-maker at your home when setting the device up wirelessly, you’ll want to purchase the Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Chime, which is what Holly opted to do.
However, if you are lucky enough to be using existing low-voltage wiring in your home, existing mechanical and electrical chimes can still be utilized, just like with the SkyBell. Either way, both units have the ability to chime in the house, and alert your smart device, but only the Ring can run fully wireless, if you desire. Where the Ring itself runs on battery power, the Chime gets plugged into an outlet inside your home.
We did find that the Ring Chime receiver would have a slight delay, but it was negligible. Also, the Chime can be quite loud if you want it to be (volume is adjustable) and works very nicely overall. Since the Ring has a motion sensor, those events will trigger the Chime inside the house. This proves to be a huge added security benefit that was lacking from the SkyBell devices, which both have motion sensitivity, but provided no audible feedback for this in your actual home.
Another big differentiation between the SkyBell and the Ring is quite obvious from the photos you see in this blog post: VIDEO QUALITY. Even though the new SkyBell HD gave us improved quality, it was typically grainy and pixelated when we compared it to the Ring, giving the Ring a bit of an edge. Without a doubt the most crisp and clean video came from the Ring, providing a better true-to-life color palette, as well as a finer, cleaner looking image. Low-light images on all of these devices were subject to the same issues any other security camera we’ve seen before, but hardly a deal breaker for any of them.
With the Ring we observed a fish-eye effect that bothered us at first, making it “peep-hole-esque” when viewing the imagery. But given that this provides a FULL 180-degree view, you learn to get used to the effect for sake of the broad viewing angle. Compared to the SkyBell HD it seemed to have a slightly wider view-angle, beyond the cleaner images.
Another interesting aspect of the Ring is that you only get a trial of their cloud recording. They normally charge $3 per month that will provide you access to the last 6 months of recordings. Keep in mind that none of these devices are not going to continually record, and instead only snippets are taken during a motion-sensor triggered event. Also, all devices will record an event where the doorbell itself (button) is pressed.
However, the SkyBell devices are providing you a cloud recording service at no charge, with no mention anywhere about future costs associated. So if you want this feature but want it for free, Ring might not have you covered. Still, recording video is only good if the quality is worth recording, and that was only really the case with the Ring, which also allows scrubbing during playback, and easy video sharing.
Below is a gallery showing off setup, installation, and other random tidbits during our testing of the Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell.:
Here is a short motion-triggered video that the Ring captured at Holly’s place during the day:
And here is another motion-triggered one at night from the Ring:
And lastly one triggered by motion as far away as the street, before she dialed-back her distance sensitivity on the Ring doorbell:
To date the only real complaint we have is trying to hone in sensitivity for the zones based on where the doorbell is situated. You’ll see a screen shot where you can set that, and it was great because we were able to eliminate false alerts from cars driving by. As a matter of fact the Ring was the only device that was more than just on/off for motion, but actually offering a granular adjustment that was unmatched.
However, as the walkway up to Holly’s house is to the far left (see images) and flush to the house, there continue to sometimes be missed alerts (motion not detected) in this tight zone. This may be just a limitation of the hardware, but we hope a future software/firmware update might help with this as well. We did have a chance to interact with the Ring customer service team for some questions (regarding notifications & zones) and they were prompt and quite helpful.
For those of you running Android devices, Ring offers an Android app, which you cannot get on the SkyBell HD. So again that, plus the ability to run wireless, definitely gave the Ring a leg-up on the competition. Now before we conclude, there is one more device to mention.
August Doorbell Cam
As we began wrapping up our testing of these devices, a new one was announced: the August Doorbell Cam. We reached out to August to get our hands on one, but received only a simple reply that they would look into things, and nothing more. With their web-site showing a 5-7 week lead time we’ve decided to postpone testing of this unit until such time that it is more readily available to the general public.
However, based on data we received from friends using the August Smart Lock in their homes, it sounds like they have a very polished app experience. And the specifications of the August Doorbell Cam sound solid, with both Bluetooth and WiFi built in, integration with their existing locks eco-system, and four gorgeous colors. They offer both Android and iOS apps, but the device does require wiring. So again, if you need an entirely wireless option, this isn’t going to work for you.
Down the road we would really love to test the August Doorbell Cam, and see how it stacks up against the others here. Since my house is the one with wiring, I’ll likely be the one to give it a crack. Stay tuned to our blog, and I’ll add a link here to this post if/when we get our hands on one in the future.
By now it should be fairly obvious that we much preferred the Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell. It offered a more versatile set of options (wired vs wireless) and applications (iOS vs Android). It provided a far superior quality of video versus the SkyBell Wi-Fi Video Doorbell, and still better than the SkyBell HD. Plus you get an overall smoother interface within the smart phone application.
If you’re shopping for a smart door bell, there is a reason the Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell is the top-seller, has more than three times as many Amazon reviews, and gets 4-stars (versus the SkyBell’s 3-stars)– the Ring is the one to buy!
Stay tuned here for updates, especially when the August Doorbell Cam is available. Thanks for reading!