SkyBell HD, the best video doorbell so far

Good video, fast startup, neat design.

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Credit: SkyBell

Some time ago I wrote about the Ring doorbell and concluded, as I wrote in a subsequent review of the company’s Stick Up Cam, that “While I liked the product conceptually, the startup lag (the time between detecting movement and when recording begins, usually a delay of a few seconds) is long enough that fast moving people like the Fedex guy can come and go before the device starts recording” and I lamented the so-so video quality. 

In the Stick Up Cam review I also discussed that my Ring doorbell had been “bricked” by a firmware upgrade that couldn't be fixed without physical interaction with the product (this would be rather tricky if the device was on your holiday home several hundred miles away) and that the product support was very poor … all of which lead me to downgrade the original Gearhead score of 3.5 out of 5 to a 2 out of 5.

As an aside, let me note that a reader asked me whether I felt bad when I give a product a bad rating and the answer is, yes, I sometimes do. I know that most companies want to do the right thing and are trying to produce quality products but good intentions don’t make up for over-paying for something that doesn’t work as claimed. So when a vendor is selling something that they have to know is inadequate, it’s hard to feel even slightly sorry for them. Indeed, one of the things I found really wrong with the Ring Doorbell was that the video quality shown on the web site was far better than the actual video quality I observed. 

Anyway, given that experience, I was interested to get my hands on a product that competes with the Ring doorbell, the SkyBell HD from SkyBell Technologies, Inc.

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In common with the Ring, the SkyBell HD, priced at $199, is fairly easy to install. Unlike the Ring, it doesn’t have a battery so it has to be hardwired into the bell power supply. At just 2.8 inches in diameter, it’s a simple replacement for many traditional door bell buttons. The SkyBell HD sits on a relatively small wall mount that’s screwed to the wall and it’s tricky to level it on stucco so that the camera is horizontally level (a rubber gasket between the frame and the wall would to make it easier to ensure it’s horizontal). 

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Setting up the SkyBell HD smartphone software follows the usual pattern: Install the smartphone app (iOS and Android are available), create an account, connect to the product’s Wi-Fi in the smartphone settings, return to the app, provide regular Wi-Fi credentials, return to house Wi-Fi, etc.

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The SkyBell support b, g, and n wireless network formats but only on 2.4GHz; I use an Eero Wii-Fi system and while I’ve had problems with other Wi-Fi-enabled products that don’t like Wi-Fi systems that use the same SSID for both 2.5GHz and 5GHz bands, for some reason the SkyBell HD didn’t have a problem.

Let me digress for a moment and complain about the rash of Wi-Fi-enabled products I’ve been seeing recently that only support 2.4GHz and get confused by mesh Wi-Fi system like the Eero. If your product doesn’t support these kinds of configurations you should make it very clear as consumers will spend a lot of time wrestling with your product set up to no avail and hate you for wasting their time.

One clever addition to the SkyBell HD is a Digital Doorbell Adapter kit ($12.95) which allows you to disable your indoor chime from the app; parents will small children that they would prefer to stay asleep will like this feature.

So, the video quality: You can select 480p, 720p (Good), 720p (Better), or 1080p with 640 by 480 video resolution at 30fps and a 120 degree view. I’ve found the image quality to be very good with good color rendition even at night. There's on demand live view as well as live view when the button is pressed and the start up is really quick (Wi-Fi delays and issues not withstanding). You can take a still photograph and the motion detection so far appears to avoid false triggering (for example, it successfully ignores passing vehicles). Finally, the SkyBell has two way audio so you press the “Speak” button in the app, you can talk through the SkyBell HD and either give the bell ringer instructions or, if you are so inclined, shout at the kids to get off your lawn.

A really great feature of the SkyBell HD is that there are no annual fees for video recordings! You can review activity history as well as replay and download captured video.

The company says it’s thinking about an API and obviously has some kind of interface already because IFTTT, Amazon Echo, Nest, along with a few more products and services support integration with the SkyBell HD. 

I’ve been running a SkyBell HD for just over a week and I’m impressed; it’s the same price as the Ring but I’d suggest much better value with much better video and, so far, I’ve not found any significant flaws. I’m giving the SkyBell HD a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

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